Everything in my life used to be tied to drugs. I used to make music in my studio, but I was always smoking crystal meth while doing it; I had a few girls I was “seeing,” but I got high with almost all of them (if they weren’t into it, I’d sneak a smoke in the bathroom alone because my cravings were so bad). Every one of my friends was on some substance or another. I paid my rent with cocaine, made my money from selling anything you could think of, and overall, was simply surrounded by the stuff.
The drug use to cravings connection
So, when I first got sober, everything I thought about had something to do with drugs and those related memories. If you didn’t know the technicalities, memories are reconstructions of the past. When you remember something, your brain doesn’t just pull it out of some secret drawer like you were told when you were a kid. Instead, the different areas of your brain involved in making the memory (like your visual cortex, your olfactory bulb, and your language areas) light up all over again, re-exposing you to those same old thoughts, feelings, and senses.
Knowing that, it’s not surprising that cravings are so difficult to handle. I’d think about getting high with my best friend, smoking with a girlfriend, or relaxing with drugs in my system at my favorite place, and that drove me crazy when I was trying to get sober! It’s literally maddening, sometimes to the point where you just say “screw it” and relapse to do it all over again. I told my sister the other day that when I think about smoking glass (another name for crystal meth), the thing I miss the most is the white puff of smoke that fills the room. We used to call it “Dragon’s Breath” and I was pretty talented at producing the biggest clouds. It freaked her out a little to know that I could possibly still miss something about meth after everything that had happened.
Even though I felt that it was necessary to calm her, I know that the addicts reading these pages know what I’m talking about. Of course I still miss smoking crystal meth sometimes; Given everything I now know about drugs, which is a lot given the fact that I’ve spent 12 years studying nothing but drugs and addiction, I’m surprised I don’t miss the stuff more.
How to deal with cravings
Almost every drug I know of eventually gets down to activating your reward center. Meth does so in a way that’s so extreme that I’m surprised I ever managed to come out of it. I definitely know why it felt like such hard work. So when a craving comes, don’t think of it as a sign that you are failing. If that were true, there would be no survivors of addiction. Instead, recognize what your brain is doing, step back and allow yourself to feel the cravings, then ride out the craving wave.
This technique, called “Urge Surfing,” is used in mindfulness practices like ours at Alternatives, and can help you cope with cravings in a positive way. When we’re stuck in the cycle of feeling like we are failures and so discouraged we might as well relapse and go back to drugs, we can instead practice mindfulness and accept our cravings instead of acting on them. Urge surfing helps us to meditate as we focus on how and where in our body we feel are cravings, instead of succumbing to the cravings themselves. Even though cravings feel like they’ll last forever, they are like ocean waves that rise, crest, and then become very small. So we just have to learn to ride it for a few minutes instead of giving in!
Here is an Urge Surfing exercise from a technique called Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention. Give it a shot:
As you recognize the craving and separate it from yourself, you can also reconstruct the memories related to the drug you’re craving. Think about new aspects, things that have to do with your recovery and the positive changes you are making. These will incorporate themselves into the old memories to form new ones! This, along with everything else you’re doing, will make the cravings less and less threatening, allowing you to stay sober even when they come through.
Fighting cravings is something that’s very hard to do alone! Allow us to help you by reaching out.