You’re cruising along in your day feeling good, just minding your business, when all of a sudden the thought of a drink pops in your head.
Where the heck did that come from?
You don’t want to drink- you understand it tried to ruin your life and you don’t do it well- but now the thought is in your head, and it's getting bigger.
Maybe you can control it now.
You could drink today and no one would even know.
You could just have one, that’s easy to hide.
Well, here’s the deal- cravings are totally normal.
Having a craving doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you are doing sobriety wrong- it doesn’t mean you are weak or that your program isn’t working- in fact, cravings are, largely, a learned response.
Meaning, we condition ourselves to associate certain things with drinking.
When you think about certain places, people, or events, you connect those things to alcohol. When your brain is triggered by a thought or memory of one of those places, people, or events, that association kicks in and you think about a drink.
These are what we call triggers.
I have a whole podcast episode about triggers you can listen to here 👇
Because drinking floods the brain with reward chemicals- we associate these triggers with reward. This is why it is so important to play the tape in your head all the way through to the end.
You may have heard this phrase before, if not, we’re going to talk about it in a minute.
There are a few things I want you to understand about cravings, and what to do to get through them.
Something I read when I quit smoking that really helped me get through each craving is: Every craving you beat, the next one will be shorter/less.
I lived by this! I didn’t want to smoke anymore- I had gotten to where I had no love left for cigarettes, I wanted them out of my life so badly- but those thoughts would creep in- when I was at work and everyone was smoking.
I spent 20 years building smoking habits.
The habit, and all those triggers and rituals and associations, don’t magically disappear because I decided to not smoke anymore. I had to re-train my brain, just like we do with alcohol, and drugs, and everything else we're compulsive about.
Of course a thought of smoking would enter my mind !And all I thought about was getting through those 20 minutes. Knowing that the next time the thought hit me, it would be weaker. I was winning, every time, making those moments less and less.
I have to talk back directly to the craving. Whether it’s a craving for a cig, to stop the workout, or have a drink.
Something I want you to think about, too, your brain has one job... to keep you safe.
When you are starting something new and different, changing things up from your norm, your brain senses the change and thinks it's dangerous.
Because your brain thinks of the comfort zone as safe. All the things you do on a regular basis, the actions you take, your habits, those are the things that create your comfort zone.
When you start doing things differently, out of the comfort zone, your brain feels you are unsafe and it wants to get you back into the comfort zone.
Not that it wants to hurt you and have you do bad things, but your subconscious is triggered by change because it feels unsafe.
The whole job of your subconscious mind is to keep you safe- and that means doing what is normal, predictable, easy, and not rocking the boat.
It will lie to you and tell you all kinds of stories about why you should drink again- all the things I mentioned earlier-
It will tell you these lies because it wants things to go back to normal so it can feel safe.
YOU have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these are lies, and you have to re-train that dialogue.
Shut it down.
Tell it to F* off.
My clients think I have lost my mind because I will tell them to flip off the liquor store or the beer aisle in the grocery store.
I tell you to do this because it works!
It sounds so silly and everybody gets a big laugh from it, but if you have to drive by your regular liquor store on your way home and it can trigger you, then give that store the big middle finger as you drive by- just so everybody, you and the committee in your head, knows and understands that is the enemy!
Walking through the store and all of a sudden there’s a huge wine display trying to get your attention?
Flip it off! Give it the bird! And laugh in your head that it can’t get you!
People send me pictures of themselves flipping off the booze and I LOVE IT!
The point is- you have to get active in telling your brain what’s going on because it doesn’t know. It just knows that things are all off balance, you aren’t doing things the normal way, it has to start reconfiguring how it’s working and what work it needs to do, and it feels uncomfortable and unsafe.
So let’s talk this through- we know triggers are going to happen.
Your brain associates memories with a flood of those reward chemicals, and, it stores memories based on different things- sight, touch, energy, sounds, people. When any one of those things is triggered, you may have an alcohol craving.
It’s not good or bad, it’s just how it works.
Don’t get freaked out when it happens.
Remember how powerful you are and that a craving only lasts around 20 minutes. There are a million things you can do in 20 minutes to distract yourself!
You CAN do this, you are perfectly capable of getting through an alcohol craving! You are strong and you can do hard things- even if you are a little out of practice.
While you are working through the 20 minutes of craving, dig into what you are feeling, under the craving.
If you can identify the feeling, then you can work to solve the feeling and get healthier overall.
Some of the big ones are:
When we are compulsive with substances or behaviors, we are typically trying to numb our feelings or escape our feelings.
The downside of this is we don't learn to identify our actual feelings and we don't have any coping skills.
When you get sober, if you want to stay sober, you have to recognize the feelings that are making you uncomfortable, and handle them in a healthier way.
In the rooms of AA I learned H.A.L.T.
This was such a quick and easy checklist for me to go through when I caught myself being grumpy or irritable.
I couldn't identify my feelings for awhile when I quit drinking. I couldn't tell you I was anxious, or fearful of the future, or more complex things. But I could easily recognize HALT, and I am always at least two of these!
Once I can identify those simple things, then I can start moving into the solution! That's where you want to spend your time and energy, on the solution!
The key to all of this is TAKING ACTION. And the best way to take action is to have a plan. Recognize people, places, and situations that will trigger you and have a plan to get through those challenging moments.
Build your life to protect your recovery and think about it in all areas of your life. Home, work, family gatherings, social situations... you have many areas of your life and you need to have solutions for all of them.
If you want a step-by-step process to walk you through different solutions and keeping your recovery on track, you can get my free Recovery Workbook here: