What is the key to surviving addiction triggers and urges? There are several things that you will want to learn about in your recovery journey in order to overcome the triggers that might threaten to cause a relapse. Let’s take a closer look at some of these potentially life saving strategies.
First of all is the idea of surrender itself, which is fundamental to the recovery process. Really, before you can even get started in recovery you have to have this surrender process in your life; you have to give in to your disease and accept the fact that you need help. It is not enough to surrender to the problem, you must also surrender to the solution as well.
What does that mean? It means that you need to ask for help and accept direction in your life.
The surrender process is vital to beating triggers and urges as well. For one thing, many people who are struggling with addiction do not even realize that they are having triggers or urges and therefore they remain in denial about the whole thing. If you cannot be honest with yourself about how you are thinking of drinking or using drugs then it will be very difficult to recover indeed. So you have to surrender to get through your denial. “Yes, I am having urges to drink.” Admit to yourself if necessary. Better yet, share that urge with someone else. Having this as a secret to yourself is very, very dangerous. Admitting that you are thinking about drinking to someone else might be a blow to your ego, but it can also go a long way in protecting you from relapse.
Second of all is the idea of network and support. We don’t recover alone on a deserted island. We need people in order to recover and this is something that a lot of stubborn alcoholics do not want to admit. I know this because it is a concept that I personally resisted for many years as I struggled to find the path. I did not want to admit that I needed help in order to stop drinking, I did not want to admit that I needed someone to tell me what to do. I wanted to figure it all out on my own. Pride can be a killer. Don’t let this become your stumbling block like it was for me for so many years. Instead, reach out and ask for help.
So where do you find networking and support in recovery? The easy answer is to go to AA or NA meetings. It would be difficult (impossible?) to find an easier path to instant help and support in early recovery. Not to mention the fact that it is essentially “free” (they are self supporting and never demand money from you). There are certainly worse paths that you could take other than to show up at the local AA meeting and ask for help.
Are there alternatives to AA and NA meetings? Sure. You could, for example, go to a church community instead. But I would caution you that it is generally more helpful to find someone who has specifically overcome a drug or alcohol addiction when you are looking for help in early recovery. This is because you need to be able to relate to people who can give you hope. We need hope in early recovery, hope that we can overcome the struggle in early recovery and live a better life. Therefore it helps a great deal if you can find someone who has gone through that exact struggle. Those people will know what you are feeling and what you are going through on a very intimate level. This gives you a powerful sense of hope when compared to someone who may be trying to help you but has no first hand knowledge of what it is like to go through withdrawal.
It is possible to find help and support in other ways, but it probably isn’t worth the effort for most people. Instead it is easier to just accept the fact that instant help and support is widely available in existing programs such as AA or NA. They may not be perfect (and I certainly do not follow those programs exactly) but the networking and support that you can get from them is unparalleled. Worth checking out for most, especially if you are in early recovery.
Third is the idea of doing the work in recovery.
How does “doing the work” help you to overcome triggers and urges in recovery? This is really more of a long term play in terms of overcoming your urges; it may not help you today or tomorrow and in fact it may even make it worse.
When I talk about “doing the work” what I am referring to is the fact that you have to make lots of positive changes in order to recover. Simply putting down the bottle is not enough and everyone who has gone through the recovery process certainly understands this. Instead you have to take an active role in reshaping your life and healing your mind.
Let’s look at those two ideas: “Reshaping your life and healing your mind.” What I am referring to here is the ideas of:
1) Changing the people, places, and things in your life that supported your addiction. So not going to bars, changing who you hang out with, and so on.
2) Working with a sponsor, therapist, or counselor or identify and eliminate the negative thought patterns in your mind. Anger, fear, resentment, self pity, and so on. You have to do the work in order to “heal your mind.”
Both of these things are important. You cannot just do one of them and expect for your recovery to go smoothly.
One of them is external change (people, places, and things). The other is internal change (eliminating fear, anger, resentment, guilt, shame, etc.). Both of them are important in order to recover.
Many people who get clean and sober later fail to “do the work” and they end up relapsing. Then they blame themselves or believe that they are a bad person because they went back to drinking. This is not really the case, the fact is that they failed to take the proper action. Anyone can recover but in order to do so you have to take deliberate action. Sobriety is not a given, it requires massive change. It takes energy and commitment to make those changes.
Some people believe that you cannot overcome an addiction with willpower alone. This is true in that you cannot just white knuckle it and use willpower to avoid your drug of choice, that won’t work. But even after you adopt a recovery plan in your life you still need willpower in order to stick with your new commitment. So you definitely do need willpower but it has to be placed differently than you think at first. It is not about just avoiding your drug of choice, it is about rebuilding your life and doing the work so that you are not as tempted to relapse.
Essentially doing the hard work that I am talking about is a direct way to reduce the triggers and urges that threaten your recovery. For example, when I first got clean and sober I realized at some point that I was playing this mental game in my head in which I felt sorry for myself all of the time. This was not helping me. Why was I doing that? What was the point of this self pity?
I later realized that I was doing this in order to justify my drinking. If I felt sorry for myself then I had an excuse to drink alcohol or use drugs. But I had quit those things and I was trying to turn my life around and embrace recovery now. Yet the self pity was still there, it was left over from my addiction. It was no longer helping me.
Many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have this same sort of problem. Only for them it may not be self pity–it may be resentment, fear, shame, guilt, anger, or something else entirely. It is always going to be some form of emotion or a mental “game” that runs in your mind, a pattern of thought that is used to justify your drinking or drug use.
So when you get into recovery, these mental patterns do not just magically go away on their own. They remain in place and they generally only serve to trip you up or drive you closer to relapse. What is the point of having negative or useless thought patterns if their only function is to justify drinking? We want to get rid of those patterns. We want to heal our minds. So that is why we must do the work in early recovery. That is why we must push ourselves to get honest, to figure out what is really going on inside, and to ask for help so that we can learn how to overcome those negative thought processes. This is how I was able to identify and eventually eliminate the self pity in my life that threatened to drag me back into relapse.
Doing the work is really the “guts” of recovery. If you fail to do this work that I am talking about then eventually you will probably relapse. Or at the very least you will not be happy in sobriety as you struggle to avoid drinking. Wouldn’t you rather be happy with yourself and with your life? There is a price to pay for that happiness, and that price is in doing the work, getting honest with yourself, and reaching out and asking for help.
Fourth is the idea of personal growth and overcoming complacency. After you get clean and sober you will eventually reach a place of stability in recovery. It will no longer be an immediate threat every single day where you are bombarded with triggers and urges. In some ways, it was more simple in those first few months of recovery when you were fighting constant urges to drink, because at least then you had a plan, you went to AA, you went to treatment, you were forced to reach out and ask for help immediately. The threat was more direct and therefore your response was much more direct as well.
Now in long term sobriety this is no longer the case. You are stable now and the threat of relapse is no longer immediate. You are not going to drink today no matter what happens, and you know this now. Just for today you are safe.
The problem is that if you get too lazy for too long then this stability and this safety slowly goes away. This is called complacency. Eventually you get to a point where you are taking your sobriety for granted. This can be dangerous.
The question therefore becomes: How do you fight against this threat of complacency? How do you defeat an invisible enemy?
The key in my opinion is to assume that you are complacent. In doing so, you push yourself back into action.
Remember what it was like during your first few months of recovery. In order to avoid relapse, what did you have to do?
You had to take massive action. You had to dive right into your greatest fears, head first, and make this massive leap of faith. You had to ask for help and take advice. And you had no great hope that it would work for sure, you were blindly following others advice and just hoping that it all worked out. You did not know for sure if you could ever be happy again in sobriety.
This is what you must recapture in long term sobriety. When you are feeling lazy, when you are not taking massive action in your life, when you are not pushing yourself to change lately, you need to remember what it was like in early recovery. You must remember that immediate action, that desperation, and you must recapture it. This is how you are able to defeat complacency in the long run. You have to learn how to push yourself, how to take on new challenges, how to look deeper into yourself and conquer your fears.
I do not like the fact that most of my personal growth that I achieve only happens when I first face one of my fears. I hate that actually! I don’t like facing my fears. I would rather stay safe, comfortable, and secure in my recovery. But that is not how you grow in recovery. There is a saying that goes something like “A smooth sea does not make skilled sailors.” The same idea applies to your life in recovery. If you are not pushing yourself to identify and conquer your own problems then you are not making growth.
Personal growth in long term sobriety is like refining your life over and over again. The idea is that you make continuous improvements in your life, over and over again, from now until the day that you die. What does this have to do with triggers and urges, you ask?
Your disease of addiction is always looking for a new way to sneak back into your life. This is a process that never ends as well, which is why complacency is the final and ever lasting threat of recovery. We will always be in danger of becoming complacent, because your addiction will never give up on trying to get you to relapse.
The random nature of life insures that relapse will always be a threat. And we can never fully predict how this threat will manifest in our lives.
This is why we have to keep pushing for personal growth. We have to be able to adapt to the latest threat that our disease is making against our sobriety. If you cannot adapt to a new threat then you will eventually succumb to relapse. Being able to learn and adapt means that you have to be in the mode of learning and adapting all the time! That takes work. And it is a continuous process that never ends.
Finally, I suggest that you think about a holistic approach when it comes to defeating triggers or urges in your sobriety. Why a holistic approach?
Holism just refers to the “whole person” in recovery. So instead of looking at just spiritual health in recovery (as mainstream programs do), we also consider the other areas of a person’s health as well:
* Physical health.
* Mental health.
* Social health.
* Spiritual health.
* Emotional health.
In order to protect yourself against the threat of relapse, you need more than just spiritual health. You also need to make an effort in these other areas of your life as well.
When I was living in long term rehab, I had 11 other males who were struggling with addiction as my roommates. Nearly every one of them who relapsed while I lived there did so because of a failed relationship. This speaks to the idea of social and emotional health as being important.
When I was going through the later years of my recovery journey I had a close friend who got very sick physically. This person was out of shape and they continued to smoke cigarettes even though they were otherwise clean and sober. This illness then snowballed out of control because their physical health was so poor, and they eventually relapsed and later died as a result. After this happened, I started to notice this trend among many of my peers in recovery–they would get sick or suffer some sort of injury, and this would put them at risk to relapse for various reasons. Sometimes it was because they ended up on more medications or painkillers, but sometimes it was just the fact that they were worn down by being sick for so long. And I realized then that your physical health was just as important as spirituality when it came to recovery.
I have also watched people relapse due to poor social choices. Obviously if you continue to hang around with the wrong crowd then that is not doing yourself any favors when it comes to remaining sober. So I learned in that regard that you can relapse due to poor social connections as well. The solution of course is to eliminate those toxic relationships and surround yourself with more positive people.
Hopefully some of these techniques help you to overcome your own triggers and urges. Keep in mind that long term strategies are more important than short term tactics in terms of improving your chances at avoiding relapse.
In other words, you want to build the sort of life in which relapse is no longer such an immediate threat, and you have plenty of resources in terms of overcoming a trigger. There are many ways in which to do this, hence the holistic approach to recovery. You must first become willing to make the commitment to yourself that you want to turn your life around and live healthier. After that, it is simply a matter of taking massive action and putting these ideas into motion. Good luck with your sobriety!