Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This guide is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If your symptoms are acute, call 911.
As we step out of addiction, we all go through moments where we feel a deep craving for the substance/behavior that was the source of our addiction. It’s likely that you’ll experience this even more during early states of recovery.
Don’t despair, these attacks will subside as you recover – I promise. It’s important to know how to navigate them, so you can get yourself out, instead of succumbing to the addiction cycle again. Every time you say no to a craving, you take another step into the light.
These episodes feel very similar to an acute anxiety attack or panic episode.
Your mind, your body and your spirit feel overtaken by the need to revert to your addiction. Think of it as your addiction rebelling – whether it’s alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, or even a relationship. What does your addiction want? To win. To take over and keep you captive.
To identify if you’re having an episode, check in with yourself. Are you feeling any (or multiple) of the symptoms below?
While this feels overwhelming — it will pass. You will be ok. Again, if you believe this to be an acute situation, where sudden onset symptoms have you in need of urgent care, please call 911.
Your goal is to calm down and take control. Remind yourself that what you’re feeling is an automatic response to your body and mind screaming for the relief of addiction — and that you are strong enough to ride this wave out. This is a normal part of early recovery, and by navigating it you will grow your recovery “muscle.” I try to imagine this as riding a wave. It has a beginning, a peak, and an end.
Breathing grounds us and shifts us into a more centered perspective.
Find a place to be alone, if possible, and start "box breathing":
This may feel obvious to you, but it’s always good to have radical clarity on the addiction’s goal and what it wants you to do. (For me, it was always drinking. My mind fed me the lie that I would feel better get out of my pain if I drank “just one.” But it was never just one.)
Honesty and direct identification of what is happening is part of you taking control back from addiction’s hands.
Now that you’ve understood what your addiction is screaming for, you have the choice to see that voice as separate of yours. (My addiction’s voice sounds and feels just like mine - feeding me excuses and reasons to justify my drinking “one last time”. Yet, guess what? That is not my voice. That is the voice of my addiction.)
Once I understood that the voice in my head, raging and screaming was not the one that came from my TRUE self, of my higher-self, I could separate myself from this episode - which made me feel more empowered.
Look at the voice of your addiction separation and compassion. Look at it as a screaming toddler who just wants to have their way. Your answer? Not today.
My higher power is God, who’s also reflected in Universe. Yours may be Energy, Mother Nature, God/Goddess, Buddha, Universal Consciousness or any other.
During an episode, you feel more alone than ever. Godless and groundless is the most dangerous (and painful) place to be. This is why it’s so important that you are intentional about creating that connection - whether for you that means prayer, meditation, being in silence, taking a walk, reading, or journaling.
If you are agnostic, reach connection with your higher self - the elevated version of you, who reflects your highest wisdom, serenity, and wholeness.
What do I do in this step? I find a quiet spot, close my eyes and talk to my higher power. I pray. I talk it out. I ask questions. I either fall on my knees or sit on my ass. Sometimes I sit in my car and meditate. Whatever works for you. The important thing is to connect with whatever your higher power is, and seek guidance. Then, just listen.
Ideally, you won’t call another human being until you have checked in with your higher power first. Once you’ve done that, reach out and connect with a mentor, coach, sponsor, teacher, or a person who is also in recovery. Why? Because only they will “get” what you are going through. Recovery is reconnection - and it starts with getting guidance and support from those who have done this before you.
Sometimes just talking to another human being is enough to ride the episode out. If you can’t reach another person, try writing down what you are feeling or use the recorder on your phone to talk it out. Talking about anxiety can be enough to take its power away.
For the first 5 years of my sobriety, I failed to extend myself self-compassion. I treated myself harshly, in a way that added shame to my own heart. Why? I guess nobody gave me permission to love myself through my process - which is crazy. If I don’t love myself, who will?
Today, I’ve learned that self-compassion is a gentle confrontation with self, followed by the ability to self-soothe, forgive and implement self-love.
Soothe yourself the way you would with childhood self; with tenderness and request for accountability. As yourself: What is the best thing to do for yourself right now?
Suggested listen: Meditations - Owning your Truth & Be Your Best Friend
Are you dehydrated? Are you hungry? (Sometimes, when you feel a massive craving to give in to your addiction, what you really need is a hamburger.) Give your body what it needs as soon as you get a chance.
When you’ve slept like crap, you are more vulnerable to deep craving episodes.
I’ve had a nap save me from relapsing more than once.
The power of scent and aromatherapy is real. Elena Brower, whom I admire greatly, helped me learn about the benefits of introducing new chemistry into the limbic system through essential oils. This is the part of your brain that operates on instinct, and essential oils can interrupt negative sensations or thoughts and shift your thinking by helping your brain create new, more positive pathways.
I’m wild about using doTERRA essential oil blends, but you can achieve this same effect with any essential oil.
When you move - especially when you exercise - your body produces the “feel-good” chemicals that you desperately need (including dopamine, which gets depleted if your addiction is drinking or using.)
So go for a run, a yoga class, a bike ride. At the very least, take a quick walk outside and see the sky. Really – close your eyes and breathe in, facing the sky. Take it all in, and fill yourself with gratitude. You are alive.
You will feel exhausted after one of these episodes - journal about your experience and then try to get some rest. Smile. Give yourself a little pat on the back. You made it through.
Like a muscle in your body, recovery is - in a way - also a “muscle”. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
I love to write about my experience and “lessons learned” from these episodes. It gives me a sense of grateful control over them - and gives me tools to navigate the next one, when it hits. Try writing about the experience of your deep craving episode to see what you can learn for next time.
If this list seems helpful and you want a downloadable audio version — one where I talk you through your craving in a Coaching Meditation, grab it here for just $25.