Sobriety: Overcoming Cravings With Mindfulness Techniques
Updated: Jan 16
This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
So you're thinking of giving up drinking or at least at the point in your life where you are beginning to question your relationship with alcohol. Maybe you've gotten blackout drunk and lashed out at the people you love one too many times. Maybe you are sick of failing to follow through on your obligations because alcohol has continuously taken priority over all else. Maybe you feel sad because you have lost valuable time with your kids, husband or friends that you will never get back. Or maybe you are just sick and tired of not feeling in control of your life. Whatever your own personal reasons may be - you've made the decision, you are going all in, but you can't seem to get past the nagging cravings of your once beloved substance. Now what?
Well let me first say this... Congratulations! Consciously recognizing that there is a possibility alcohol might be causing you more pain than pleasure in your life is a huge and important step. Becoming aware of the negative affects it's having in your life and taking the brave step forward to seek out resources in this journey is courageous.
I named this website Mindful Times for a reason.
Let me tell you a little story...
I remember specifically one of the times in my past where I was trying to get sober. I was fed up with myself and fed up with the life that I was actively destroying because of alcohol. I knew that something needed to change and I was leaning solely on willpower to get me past the early stages of fending off the persistent and devious cravings.
My environment was toxic. I was in a relationship of 3 years with somebody who unfortunately had to endure the devil that came as a result of my blackouts. However, we BOTH loved drinking. We had drank together since our very first date. There was always 3 of us in the relationship. Me, my partner and alcohol. He wanted me to get sober, but he made it very clear that he would never give it up himself... because after all... he wasn't the one with the "problem".
After years of getting blackout drunk every single night, my getting-drunk-routine was deeply engrained in my brain. I'd get home from work, kick off my shoes, head straight to the bottle, taking a shot (or 2) before even getting out of my work clothes. I didn't know how to be at home or in my relationship without drinking.
I was about 2 weeks sober this time around. After my last blackout my boyfriend at the time promised me he would keep alcohol out of the house until I got past the heavy craving phase... who knew how long that could be. But after only a few days he was asking me if he could have a beer with dinner. Not wanting to ruin anybody's party and still wanting to hold onto my image of being "the cool girlfriend" I smiles and said "of course, that's fine."
One beer with dinner turned into 2 and then 3 and then next it was on to the liquor. I started noticing him sneaking into his office throughout the night and clearly getting drunker and drunker by the minute. The more I tried being "the cool girlfriend" and brush off my annoyance the more resentful I started to feel. Soon, there was no more hiding it.
This one time in particular, I was about to start making dinner, sober as a judge, and we were talking about how excited we were about the meal we were about to make. My ex shouted with excitement and anticipation "Okay, let's do this! But first, I'm gonna get drunk!" as he shuffled and did a little happy dance. My face went blank and he knew he had crossed the line and I was pissed because I knew I couldn't join him.
Y'all... let me tell you about the flood of emotions that rushed over me.
I felt anger, I felt frustration, I felt sad, I felt confused... I was trying so damn hard to stay sober, I was trying so damn hard to not think about alcohol, I was trying so damn hard to use every inch of willpower I could find in my body... but his excitement to get drunk made me start to question if our night, our meal, our time together really would be so much more exciting and enjoyable if I were to just have a couple drinks.
I was blindsided by CRAVINGS.
All I wanted to do in that moment was stop feeling the dread of being sober. I wanted to end the constant internal battle. I wanted to give in to my cravings and just say fuck it and enjoy the night getting drunk with him. Once that thought was planted in my head, it seemed impossible to make it go away. It grew stronger and stronger but I knew I couldn't give in. I knew if I did then that "fun and exciting" night could end with me trying to kill myself again or me taking out my anger on him. It could end in an ambulance or with the cops knocking on the door. I knew I just couldn't do it.
So I grabbed my coat, walked out the door and drove to Walmart.
Walmart. Why Walmart?
It was the closest place to me and the first thing that popped into my mind. Go to Walmart, get some ice cream, GET OUT OF THE TOXIC ENVIRONMENT. I walked around Walmart for about a half an hour. I put my headphones in and typed into Google "Annie Grace cravings" and the first thing that popped up with a video titled "Overcoming a Craving: My Best Advice w/ Annie Grace". She is my favorite and is also the author of This Naked Mind.
What is Annie Grace's #1 piece of advice to beat cravings?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever you're doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.
So, I bought my ice cream and I sat in my car. I just sat there in silence feeling the craving. No longer trying to push it away. No longer trying to ignore it. Instead, I acknowledged it and I felt it. And guess what? Being out of the toxic environment and alone with myself and my thoughts gave me the space to allow this craving to ease in intensity and eventually pass completely.
Now, I want to share some specific mindfulness techniques that I have found most helpful over the years.
"We can’t change the objects that trigger our desire—those cues will continue unabated and unbidden. But what we can change is how we relate to our mental experiences of them—the word thoughts, mental images, and bodily sensations of desire." - Judson Brewer
#1. "Surfing the Urge"
One of my favorite techniques is called "Surfing the Urge". This is a technique founded by late psychologist Alan Marlatt, Ph.D.
Urges usually peak between 20 – 30 minutes, if we let them. What I mean by this last phrase is this: if we adopt an open and curious attitude about the urge and watch it without doing battle with it, then the urge will subside. However, if we go to battle with our urges they will subside more slowly. Worse, by giving into urges we can actually strengthen them and we can lose confidence in our abilities to change our old habits. This is that feeling we know all too well, of being stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction.
So how do we "Surf the Urge?"
Start with by practicing mindfulness:
Watch the breath. Don’t alter it. Let the breath breathe itself.
Notice your thoughts.
Without judging, feeding or fighting your thoughts, gently bring your attention back to the breath
Notice the urge as it affects the body:
1. Focus on one area of the body where you can feel the physical sensations associated with the urge and notice what is occurring.
2. Notice quality, position, boundaries & intensity of the sensation:
Does the sensation feel tight or loose?
Does the sensation have a temperature?
Where is the sensation located?
What are the sensation’s exact borders?
Are these borders well defined and firm like the edge of a football or soft and fuzzy like a cotton ball?
How do these qualities vary with each breath?
3. Repeat the focusing process with each part of the body involved.
4. Be curious about what occurs and notice changes over time.
5. Replace the fearful wish that the urge will go away with interest in the experience.
6. You may notice the urge crest and subside like waves in the ocean. In this way it becomes more manageable.
7. Watch it for at least five cycles of breathing (which only takes about one minute). Do you notice any changes in the intensity or size of the urge?
8. When you find your mind turning to thoughts, notice the thoughts and come back to the physical sensations of the urge.
9. Be gentle with yourself. Ride it out.
#2. Thought Field Therapy (TFT) or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Since a young age, my Grandmother had always taught me that when I felt anxious, tapping on my chest or forehead repeatedly would help ease the feeling. It ending up always working. Now knowing more of the psychology behind this method, it makes sense why it would help combat cravings.
What is TFT/EFT?
Thought Field Therapy™ (TFT) is an energy-based form of psychotherapy designed to reduce symptoms of psychological distress by manipulating how energy flows in the body. TFT is based on the premise that bodies consist of energy fields and that imbalances in this system cause physical and emotional issues. It is thought imbalances can be corrected by finger tapping specific energy points in certain sequences in order to restore an individual's health and wellness. Some claim TFT produces rapid, lasting results in the treatment of various psychological conditions, including phobias, addictions, anxiety, trauma, and depression.
This principle originates from the teachings of classic Oriental medicine, that described the body’s energy as “chi.” The Chinese found over one hundred meridian points. They also found that by activating these meridian points, they restore order to the body and mind.
You can activate these meridian points by tapping on them with your fingertips, pretty much tapping into your system’s own healing power and recovery capability.
How to Use TFT
I love me some Craig Beck, so here is his method that has really helped me. There are many other videos available on the web so feel free to do your own search and find what works best for you!
Also, Gabby Bernstein is freakin AMAZING. If you are into the spiritual "woo-woo" stuff like me, she's your gal!
What is meditation?
Meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calm seeing of the true nature of things. By engaging with a particular meditation practice you learn the patterns and habits of your mind, and the practice offers a means to cultivate new, more positive ways of being. With regular work and patience these nourishing, focused states of mind can deepen into profoundly peaceful and energized states of mind. Such experiences can have a transformative effect and can lead to a new understanding of life.
In recovery, meditation is a powerful tool that can literally change brain structure. Among the biggest changes are seen in the brain area known as the hippocampus. This brain structure is associated with feelings, self-awareness and memory. Practicing meditation in sobriety is also associated with a decrease in density of the amygdala. The amygdala is the brain’s emotion regulation center.
Meditating has allowed me to connect and form a stronger connection with my Higher Power in a way that feels best to me. It has helped me understand my thoughts and feelings and has been an extremely effective way of helping me with my sobriety. If you aren't sure where to begin, I would recommend trying some guided meditations. You can find thousands on YouTube, but I will recommend a few for you below to begin with:
I encourage you to explore all of the different mindfulness techniques available. Explore them with an open mind and find what feels best to you.
Please subscribe and share this article if you've found it helpful.
** If you are sober, or curious about sobriety, we would love for you to join our Facebook group - Mindful Times Facebook Community for support, encouragement, accountability and questions.
Private Sobriety Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/511982812958932/