In order to overcome your chances of beating cravings for drugs or alcohol, you will need to be proactive about your recovery.
In the short term, there are some obvious things that will help a person to get through the trial that is early sobriety. Going to an inpatient treatment center is by far the best possible choice that a struggling alcoholic or drug addict could make, but there are other things as well. For example, going to AA or NA meetings or other support groups on a daily basis can be helpful in overcoming cravings.
But let’s assume for a moment that a person has already done the basics–that they have asked for help at their point of surrender and they went to inpatient treatment and they are following up with aftercare and attending some sort of groups or meetings daily. That person who is following through with all of those things–believe it or not–is still a fairly high risk for relapse. Even if you do everything that is suggested there is still a chance that it is not enough.
So what can a person do in addition to the basics? What can a person do in addition to the standard plan of inpatient treatment followed up with support groups of some type? How do we increase our chances of remaining clean and sober?
I can offer a few suggestions that worked for me. The first thing I would suggest is to never give yourself permission to deviate from all of those things that I just described above–going to inpatient treatment, following up with your aftercare, and attending support groups such as AA meetings or the alternatives. If you don’t follow through on the basics then it doesn’t make much sense to chase after any advanced techniques.
Second of all, I would argue that you should try to seek out mentors in your early recovery journey. So there are a few avenues through which you might do this–one is to follow up with whatever the inpatient rehab recommends to you, which will likely be IOP (intensive outpatient) and or possibly counseling with. Both will include regular contact with a therapist. Now the key is not just that you are seeing a therapist or that you go through the motions of talking with a therapist or sponsor, but that you actually dig into the work with that person and try to make positive changes in your life.
I know from personal experience that seeing a therapist without the intention of recovery is not going to produce any kind of decent results. In other words, has the alcoholic or addict surrendered completely, and are they willing to do whatever it takes in order to recover? If not, then seeing a therapist or counselor or sponsor is not likely going to help them. Now you might argue that this person could help to convince the addict to seek professional help, such as by going to inpatient treatment. However, that is not really realistic, and it is a poor use of everyone’s time. The addict or alcoholic does not really need to be “talked into” treatment–instead, they need to experience more pain, suffering, and chaos so that they eventually hit bottom and surrender to a new solution. Talking to them does not seem to make any difference at all, and if you are skeptical of this statement you can go to just about any Al-anon meeting in the world and ask the people there if this is true. Sadly, the people at Al-anon, who are all dealing with a loved one in addiction, will confirm that you cannot simply talk a person into surrender, and that they have to arrive at it on their own.
Now another thing that is crucial in terms of overcoming cravings is to set up your life in such a way to reduce the amount of them. Science has recently proven that you only have so much willpower throughout the day, and that it diminishes until you are able to sleep again and “reset” yourself. Now you might be saying “but wait! I thought that recovery was not about willpower, and that willpower is never enough to beat an addiction!”
That is partially true. However, even if you are working a recovery program that does not depend on white knuckling it and using raw willpower to beat addiction, you are still going to need willpower in order to force yourself to work that program. In other words, it does not work to use raw willpower to resist alcohol and drug cravings directly, but you can use willpower to convince yourself to attend an AA meeting today, or to meditate, or to write in a journal, or to call your support network on the phone. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to go hang out at the corner bar or the crack house just because you think your recovery is strong enough. Arrange your life in such a way as to reduce the amount of triggers and cravings that you encounter. You will find that the most important part of doing this has to do with relationships. You are going to want to spend time with people who are working on recovery and distance yourself from toxic people.
So step one is: Avoid the triggers. But you also have to realize that triggers are inevitable and that they will happen to all of us at some point, so we still need a strategy in place.
That strategy should be based on the lifestyle changes that will help us to overcome cravings on a daily basis. In other words, certain things can help us to deal with cravings and triggers, and we should be doing those things every single day as part of our new lifestyle.
So….what are those things?
You will have to experiment to find what works best for you, and I suggest that you listen to your mentors in recovery and your peers in a support group to get ideas and suggestions for this. If you keep pushing in recovery then eventually people will suggest things such as daily meetings, writing in a journal, meditating, exercising, working with newcomers in recovery, reading recovery literature, working with a therapist, and so on.
My advice to you is to try all of this stuff and more, and to give all of it a serious and sustained effort in order to see the real benefits of it. So don’t just meditate once and then say “meh” and move on to the next thing. Instead, try meditating every day for 30 days. Get advice and suggestions from various people about how to meditate. And so on. Dig into it, explore it, and give the suggestion a real chance to work in your life.
So the idea is to build up a lot of healthy habits in your daily life that will help to protect you from relapse. If you go to meetings every day, exercise, write in a journal, and talk with others in recovery then you are off to a solid start. Maybe your exact lifestyle will look a bit different, and maybe you will stumble on different strategies from these, but the core idea is the same: Remove the bad habits from your life and start to replace them with healthy lifestyle changes. Create strong positive habits that support your new life in recovery and by doing so you will be more likely to prevent relapse.
It is tough to pick up the phone and reach out when you have a craving–so if you are already in the habit of reaching out to support systems every day, then this becomes more automatic and super easy. Make it easy to practice relapse prevention by making it into a lifestyle. Make those things into daily habits for yourself.