While physical cravings can often diminish over time during addiction recovery, I have been surprised by the resiliency of psychological urgings. The physical self may have adjusted to life without the addiction, but the emotional self can feel the pull of the addiction much longer.
Urgings and cravings are unwanted physical and psychological companions along the recovery journey. Strategies for dealing with urgings and cravings, therefore, need to be incorporated into addiction recovery coping skills.
At The Center, we utilize a type of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), created by Dr. Marsha Sinehan, who is a professor at the University of Washington. We have found the skills taught as part of DBT to be extremely well received and helpful to those we serve with a wide variety of mental health, substance use, and medical issues.
One tenet of DBT is a concept called “mindfulness,” which is the practice of being aware of what you’re thinking, feeling, and doing. Mindfulness also includes being aware of what you feel urged to do.
One study I read sought to understand how the practice of mindfulness could be utilized as part of relapse prevention. Speaking about mindfulness, the study concluded: “From this standpoint, urges/cravings are labeled as transient events that need not be acted upon reflexively.
This approach is exemplified by the ‘urge surfing’ technique, whereby clients are taught to view urges as analogous to an ocean wave that rises, crests, and diminishes. Rather than being overwhelmed by the wave, the goal is to ‘surf’ its crest, attending to thoughts and sensations as the urge peaks and subsides.” 1 Urges will happen. Recovery, then, is not leaving the water; recovery is learning to successfully ride the wave.
I know people who have been sober for decades and still identify themselves as alcoholics. For some, this may seem like a defeatist attitude. On the contrary, I consider it a prudent attitude, because I have seen the power of addiction strike people after decades of dormancy.
Relapse is possible when you think you’ve left the water, only to get pulled under by a powerful wave. Relapse is possible when you think your addiction was an acute “cured” event instead of an ongoing chronic condition that must be monitored.
Relapses tend to occur when people believe they have been “cured” and can return to substances, behaviors, or attitudes from the past without consequence. After a few days or weeks of sobriety or refraining from behavior, they say, “I got this,” only to have the addiction say, “Gotcha.”
Addiction is complex, affecting the whole person and creating a tangled web of emotional, relational, intellectual, physical, and spiritual threads that require time and patience to unravel.
Allowing for time and having patience are attributes that I’m not sure are being supported by our current state of society. We are increasingly impatient, as we are conditioned by technology toward instant results. Our concept of time is being altered by that technology, with “slow” and “fast” taking on new definitions.
In some ways, recovery should stay “old school,” with the understanding of how time, patience and face-to-face accountability lead to success. In other ways, recovery needs to become even more “new school” and shed the stigma of moral failure.
Whenever relapse happens, you must decide what to learn from the relapse. Addiction wants you to conclude you are worthless, that you’ll never be able to change because change is too hard and you’re not worth good things in your life. Recovery wants you to accept responsibility, learn from what happened, and determine how to gain support to continue your recovery.
Addiction wants you to return to isolation. Recovery wants you to reach out to others. Addiction is the voice of defeat. Recovery is the voice of HOPE. On any given day, only you can decide which to follow.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anorexia, it’s important to seek professional help. Our world-class team of eating disorder professionals at The Center • A Place of HOPE has helped many people recover from eating disorders through our focus on whole person care. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to get more information or to speak confidentially with an eating disorder recovery specialist today.
1 Hendershot et al., “Relapse Prevention.”