Have you ever been lied to? If you’re a recovering addict, the answer is “yes.” That’s because by its very definition, addiction involves buying into the enormous lie that you cannot live without your drug of choice. And cravings are an especially persuasive tool that addiction uses to sell you its bill of goods. These often strong, compulsive urges to drink or use are like two very bratty kids riding in your backseat, who are bent on doing just about anything they can to get you to pull over for their favorite ice cream. They may be firmly belted into their seats, but sure as heck don’t sound like it. They’ll scream, kick and whine until they have their way, and when they’re not getting it, they’ll scream, kick and whine even louder. And they’re smart little suckers: They’ll even tell you lies and spin crazy tall tales if that will get them their way. Of course, the reality is that you’re in charge. You’re the only one in the vehicle with a driver’s license, after all, and the only one who knows the rules of the road. In actuality, those squirmy, annoying backseat drivers don’t have a chance at getting you to your end destination (in this case, sobriety). Not letting your cravings have their way thus requires talking back to their big fat lies. Here are seven of the most common and persuasive ones, with some ideas for how to tell them off:
- You’ll never get rid of us. Your cravings are here to stay for the rest of your life. On the contrary, most recovering addicts will eventually stop experiencing cravings. Getting there, though, does take time. The longer you can go without caving in to your cravings, the less powerful your cravings become. During the first year of recovery from substance abuse, for example, it’s not uncommon to go from dealing with urges on a daily, hourly or even moment-by- moment basis to encountering cravings less and less often. (Of course, if after a full year of abstinence your cravings have shown no sign of letting up in strength and/or frequency, you can always check yourself into an inpatient or outpatient treatment center for help.) In the meantime, reassure yourself these cravings are only temporary and will pass.
- You have to satisfy your cravings right this minute. There is no other option and you have no other choice. The truth is that you really can choose to give your energy to something else right now and that you are responsible for the choices you make. Thankfully, you’ve got far more options than what your cravings are telling you. If you’re not sure about that, take a few moments to brainstorm the possibilities and write them all down. You could go for a jog or head for yoga class or bring a meal to a friend. You could literally do anything other than what your cravings are saying you must do right at this minute.
- If you don’t satisfy your cravings right this minute, you will be miserable/unable to cope/fall apart. This big fat lie is one of the more sophisticated ones, because it caters just enough to reality to seem almost believable. The reality is, after all, that your chemical dependency could have begun as a way to cope with some form of stress, unhappiness or a dual diagnosis like anxiety or depression. Here’s what you need to remember in telling this falsehood to get lost: when you used to drink or use drugs as a coping mechanism, you weren’t actually coping, because you weren’t really dealing with your problems, and in fact, when you were in active addiction, these problems only got worse. Healthy coping, in contrast, will strengthen your capacity to work through your problems and come out on the other side. If you’ve been in treatment, you’ve been developing these new coping skills and have them in your arsenal.
- These crazy urges are officially proof that you’re an abnormal freak show. The more abnormal your cravings can make you out to be, the more likely they’ll be able to convince you that you’re too much of a freak to be successful at abstinence. The truth is something else: cravings are normal in recovery, and chances are that if you’re not experiencing them, you’re abnormal.
- You’re all alone in this; nobody will understand. Here is where you pick up the phone and prove your cravings are lying. Call your sponsor or recovery coach. Call a friend in recovery. Or, if you’re in a 12-step group, call on your higher power. If that doesn’t help, get in your car and drive to a recovery group. Taking just one look around that room full of other slightly disheveled, needy and brilliant people in your same shoes will convince you otherwise. You are never all alone. Countless others are in the trenches of recovery with you.
- You won’t relapse if you stop at just one drink/one hit. You can tell this big fat lie to take a hike by recalling all the times when you couldn’t stop at just one drink or just one hit. Chances are, you probably won’t be able to remember even one occasion when you were able to stop at “just one.” In the spirit of the familiar mantra from Alcoholics Anonymous, you can’t have just one drink; it’s impossible for you, because you’re an alcoholic/drug addict.
- You’ve done so well in recovery lately, you deserve to satisfy this urge. Actually, you deserve so much better. You deserve to be “happy, joyous and free.” For that matter, because you’ve done so well in recovery, you deserve a real celebration. But if a sense of entitlement hasn’t worked for you before, or has only fed your addiction in the past, here’s another way to send this lie running: I’ve done so well in recovery that satisfying this urge now would be like punishing myself for my achievement, and that’s just stupid.