When A Craving Feels Like A Crisis
Treat It Like One!
One of the most uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms can be cravings — the intense pull, the overwhelming desire to take the substance or conduct the activity. Cravings are downright cruel. It is like just when you make a commitment to yourself, these demons dance around you to tease you and taunt you back into self-harm.
These cravings can be heartbreaking, especially when you begin to see your mind scheming for how it can possibly get out of the detox to return to your addiction. This is where you see the very depth of your soul, the yearning for something more, the longing to relieve the pain.
During withdrawal, it is almost impossible to see past the immediate craving and the despair that it creates. But if you can, if you are able to journal or record your experience through this time it could become a true inspiration to show you the tremendous battle you have fought.
While some people see cravings as a test of commitment, I prefer to see them as a crucial opportunity to learn how to love yourself. There is no getting around it, cravings are distressing and brutal. And so are many aspects of the world you are living in. When the cravings cease there will be other pain and challenges in their place. If you can learn how to care for yourself through these cravings, then you are moving towards being able to reconnect with your true spirit.
But how do you deal with cravings? How do you love yourself through the process? It really comes down to what form the cravings take. In my experience they can range from:
· immediate and overwhelming waves that feel like a crisis or emergency.
· A distressing emotion hanging heavily in the back of your mind.
In the early days of detox and healing, it is likely that the cravings will take the first form, and you will need to respond accordingly with an emergency response.
The Emergency Response
The problem is that while cravings can last only a few minutes when they feel big and sharp and overwhelming, we can get ourselves trapped in a cognitive and emotional loop. It can play out like this:
· A sensation of craving arises
· We feel guilty or ashamed for having a craving
· We begin doubting ourselves and our ability to recover
· We feel guilty and ashamed for being a loser
· We seek to avoid these hurtful feelings
· We crave the substance/activity even more to dull the hurt
Somehow you need to break this downward spiral of self-defeating thoughts and painful emotions. In the old days when someone was being hysterical, they would get a slap in the face to pull them out of the hole. I would not recommend this method of dealing with cravings, but the theory is the same. You are seeking something that can bring you back to this moment and stop you slipping further. Here are some ideas:
· Breathe. There is nothing more important than your breath. It is there with you always to help calm you and restore your sense of peace. The next chapter includes a short breathing exercise that can help turn down the volume on a craving crisis so that you can deal with it more constructively.
· Move. Dance, run, shake, kick, punch, row, pedal or jump. Moving your body can help release anxiety and engage hormones that help you feel calm and positive. You can read more about this in the following chapter, but movement of any sort is a wonderful way to break the hold of a craving.
· Stick your head in ice water. Yep. I know it sounds a bit extreme. But it works and is recommended for those experiencing panic attacks. Basically what you are doing is mimicking a bigger crisis than the craving. You are tricking the brain into thinking that it is drowning in the Antarctic. It triggers the brain to get its act together and figure out how to survive. It makes you focus on survival and engages the body to help you cope with the crisis. Alternatively, you can keep a wet washer in the freezer and pull this out when required. Placing this over the face creates the same kind of reaction without the need for preparation.
· Listen to music. Music has a profound ability to heal. When you are listening to your favourite band or a song that moves you, suddenly you feel less alone. You feel like there is someone out there that understands you. It can support you and inspire you, and a few songs may be all you need to get through the wave of craving. I have created a playlist on Spotify called The Addiction Healing Pathway that may help see you through, and I hope it brings you much comfort and confidence along your journey.
· Aromatherapy. Smells are like magic. Through the olfactory nerves, they go straight to the brain and have the ability to trigger so many different emotions. The healing ability of essential oils is well proven, and if you are interested in this it would be great to seek out the services of a qualified aromatherapist. In the interim, find the oils that help calm, soothe or stimulate you through a craving. Lavender is always a great choice as it is a natural sedative and will help calm your distress. May Chang or Sweet Orange are also great choices to uplift and energise. A few drops in a shower, on a tissue in your shirt, or in a diffuser at home can be enough to break the destructive craving cycle.
· Television. I never thought I would be advocating television for anything. However, it does serve as a wonderful distraction when you are in the throes of craving. Putting on a show or movie that you find interesting, or one with lots of action will keep you distracted while the craving passes. This is a short-term fix though and not a long-term strategy. If you truly want to heal you will need to learn how to sit with and care for difficult emotions and sensations, and how you do this is covered in the next section. But if you really need to zone out from the distressing feelings, television is a great quick-fix.
· Sleep. If all else fails, go to bed! Many nights I stayed up getting grumpy, resenting my inability to have a drink. You know what I found much easier and much more constructive — just going to bed. I knew that this craving would not last forever and I knew that staying up was really only punishing myself and those around me. So, going to bed is always an option. Maybe team this with aromatherapy or music or breathing. Give yourself some rest and solace. Sleeping off the craving is a legitimate short-term option.
Over time, the intensity of the cravings will subside. I am sorry I can’t tell you how long that will take. But when it does, then you have a real opportunity to investigate your cravings and reclaim your power over distressing emotions. Find out how in the upcoming article — Caring For Your Cravings.
This article should not be taken as medical advice. It is based on my own experience and opinion only. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional, or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.