How to Minimize Discouragement When Old Cravings Won’t Die Quickly
The trouble with most self-help writing is it minimizes the journey from “I saw what I was doing wrong and committed myself to developing new habits” to “now I’m a much happier, healthier and more successful person.”
To someone on the “succeeded” end of a challenge, the journey may be easy to sum up in a few paragraphs—but to someone just starting out, every day of the battle feels like a year. And despite the cliché “a new habit takes three weeks to develop,” the high-risk period for relapsing into addiction can last a literal year.
The number-one thing to remember when you’re wondering if the only choice is between relapse and perpetual misery:
THIS TOO SHALL PASS
While it’s true that some effects of addiction are permanent (you’ll probably never be able to take “just one” without risking all-out relapse), the strength of the craving lessens every time you resist. It may take weeks or months before you can face a stressful situation without giving the old crutch a thought—but keep reminding yourself it won’t be this bad for long, and will prove worth the effort.
Progress in habit change has been likened to waiting in a traffic-light line: even after the light turns green, it may seem forever before your time to move forward. Perhaps you’ll even see the light go red again first. Be patient and keep your eyes open, knowing your way will clear.
HAVE A COPING PLAN READY
Of course, if all you do is wait for the cravings to pass, you’ll wind up like too many drivers in that traffic-light line: fuming over the delay, trying to will changes you have no power over, and building up “road rage” that increases the likelihood of doing something you’ll regret. Plan in advance to avoid your personal cravings triggers, to keep busy with important projects, to have a few healthy “distractors” (such as clips of your favorite music) on hand—and, of course, to call your support network when the cravings seem unbearable.
A SHARED LIFE IS AN EFFECTIVE LIFE
Besides calling for help in an emergency, keep attending regular support-group meetings—even when you’re “busy” or “tired” or “doing okay this week.” As with exercise, ongoing person-to-person support is needed to build resilience against the inevitable tough days.
But don’t restrict contact with your larger support network (including your family) to “official” support sessions. Mark time on your calendar to do fun things with your friends and loved ones: a day in the park, an evening of Scrabble, a leisurely lunch, time to just sit and watch the sun set.
And don’t be all take and no give: take your turn with the chores, offer to help your neighbor move, volunteer for a charity drive. If done from the heart (not out of guilt or false obligation), helping someone out is guaranteed to take your mind off your cravings and cheer you up better than substance abuse ever did. Unless you’re literally unable to get out of bed, there’s really no excuse for never offering anyone else a hand—for that matter, even people confined to bed have found ways to help out with encouraging communications or supportive prayers.
REMEMBER YOUR HIGHER POWER
Speaking of prayer, no recovering addict (and no human being) should ever forget the principles that introduce the 12 Steps: we lack the strength to fix everything on our own, and can only learn to make the best of ourselves with the help of a Power greater than ourselves.
It’s normal to be unsure of the exact line between “God’s part” and “our part,” but the important thing to remember is that the Higher Power is not there only to fix the worst of the problem and then stand aside so we can go back to handling everything on our own. Failing to stick with the later Steps—taking regular personal inventory, seeking to improve conscious contact with God, practicing the principles of the Steps in all our affairs—has a hand in most cases of relapse.
Finally, remember there’s much more to sobriety than avoiding the old life. Rediscover the dreams that speak to your heart, and practice pursuing them as if you were already sure of success. Make a habit of cancelling out negative self-talk with “I know I can do this.” Stick with friends and family who encourage you to stick with your dreams.
Even when the old life’s siren song is loudest, a “new life” vision will hold you up against temptation.