Early recovery can be challenging for many reasons. But, as with any degree of healing or personal growth, it is a process. So no matter how difficult things may be at the moment, remember that this too shall pass.
However, that is sometimes easier said than done. There are times when the craving or “the itch” is just too overwhelming. Strong urges to use or drink while in recovery, particularly when your new and healthier coping mechanisms are only starting to take hold, can bring a great deal of anxiety and cause you to lose sight of your commitment. In times like these, what you need is a plan to get you out of the “craving crisis” fast.
Your Exit Strategy
It may sound silly, but keeping a list nearby of things to do when you’re feeling the itch can help you calm your fears in the midst of heavy cravings. Similar to instructions you might find in any public building in case of an emergency, you can post your exit strategy around your home to prevent panic when the cravings strike.
Here are 10 things you can do when you start to “feel the itch.”
In panic situations, it is common to forget to breathe. Breathing slows the heartrate and calms the mind. Taking long, deep breaths can actually relax the body, mind and spirit.
2. Get Out
Getting outside, going for a walk or grabbing coffee or tea with a friend can get you out of your own head. Moreover, getting out provides fresh air, sunshine or, with seasons in mind, the brisk chill of a fall or winter day. The natural elements around you can ground and distract you from the cravings while working to balance your body, mind and soul.
3. Relax Your Mind
Stress is often a precursor to cravings. The lack of coping and life skills that usually accompanies active addiction tends to follow along in early recovery. Until new, healthy methods of coping and life skills become learned habits, stress can send someone new to recovery into crisis and panic. Therefore, it is important to find ways to relax the mind. Everything from running or walking to yoga, positive self-talk and listening to music with a relaxing melody no faster than your heartbeat can quickly calm the mind.
4. Employ Mindfulness
The mindfulness theory is becoming more and more popular with counselors and addiction specialists. There are numerous books on the subject, but its premise is quite simple: sit with the cravings. Rather than pursuing either a fight or flight response, just pause and patiently wait for the craving to pass. Though that may seem impossible, it works. Moreover, it teaches you to rely completely on the power of your own mind rather than an external factor.
Because cravings are often the result of unresolved issues, painful emotions, troubling thoughts or past experiences, many people find great comfort and healing in the act of journaling. Jotting down your feelings prior and during a craving crisis can also be helpful when trying to recognize your own triggers. By making journaling a daily routine, you can even prevent a bit of the itch simply because you will be able to express your emotions and cognitions that precede the cravings.
6. Get Involved
Becoming involved in things bigger than yourself and your recovery is a great way to prevent and cope with the itch to use or drink. Try volunteering at a local animal shelter, spending time in a nursing home, getting involved in issues that affect your community. You might even find ways to advocate for your own cause—addiction recovery.
Sitting in silence and closing your eyes to meditate is a great way to calm the body and mind, and connect with your spiritual self. It promotes a balance of the three and can include aspects of your culture or personal religious beliefs.
8. Return to Nature
Getting back to nature is good for everyone, whether or not they’re in recovery. Breathing fresh air, enjoying the sights and sounds of the natural world and getting reconnected with the Earth often gives way to enlightenment and spiritual awakenings. If nothing else, it provides an opportunity to see the bigger picture and gain perspective.
9. Get Active
People in early recovery can reap huge benefits from physical activity. The body and mind rely heavily on physical activity in order to stay healthy and maintain balance. The natural endorphins that kick in during cardiovascular exercise fight depression, calm anxiety and relieve stress. Walking, running, cycling, yoga, and other physical activities work well in terms of alleviating cravings.
10. Talk It Out
Talking to a sober friend, sponsor, counselor, spiritual guide or life coach is always helpful. Choosing one person to be your designated “craving crisis hotline,” so to speak, is also a good idea. Make sure at least one person is available at any time to talk you through the urges. And, again, have a back-up plan for times when the usual friend or trusted professional is out of reach.
While the above activities can help distract your mind from the cravings, remember that you know yourself best. Feel free to include other activities that you know work for you. In the beginning, finding distractions can provide temporary relief but to achieve recovery success, it’s necessary that you learn how to cope with your feelings in ways that involve personal growth. At the end of the day, remember that recovery is a process that will require patience and, more importantly, one that many before you have gone through and survived. You will too.