** I want to preface this entry by saying that, if you're planning on giving up alcohol, please speak with a healthcare professional prior to doing so.
When you face an addiction – whether it’s alcohol, drugs, food, social media, gambling, or something else, cravings are a fact of life.
They can be scary and overwhelming, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can better prepare yourself for the (at times) all-consuming yet natural moments when you seriously question returning to your previous life.
In my early experiences with cravings surrounding alcohol, I noticed specific patterns in my thought processes. Something would trigger me (like a TV show, or a post on social media, or an event in my life) and I would instantly begin rationalizing, bargaining, and downgrading my reasons for becoming sober. This automatic thinking is so powerful that it literally causes you to forget all logic and leaves you lasered in on one thing – your next drink.
The good news, though, is that these moments of ‘desperation’ usually last for mere minutes (and even less as time goes on).
The bad news is that when you’re already in an intensive state of emotional fragility, something as minute as a 15-second-long trigger can be enough to send you reeling.
The even better news, however, is that if you adequately prepare yourself to face these feelings head on, and use the tools that I’m about to provide you with, I'm confident that you'll absolutely crush every craving that comes your way.
1. Adopt these Words to Live by
I’ve found that the simple act of telling myself: ‘this too shall pass’ can be incredibly powerful. Not only with cravings, but in any negative or trying life situation.
It’s hard to give up control when we’re feeling uncomfortable. We are instant gratification junkies by nature, and therefore we want to control everything, slap a band-aid on the pain, and blur out the conflict. In sobriety, you must do the opposite, and giving up control is a difficult trait to unlearn - especially with the added issue of physical dependency (addiction) on top of it.
However, when we learn to accept that cravings are beyond our control and leave them to God/The Universe/Fate/The Void, it frees us from them. With that freedom, we’re much more capable of focusing on what matters – recovery.
2. Use Awareness & Refusal Methods
There are a couple acronyms that you can use if you find yourself spiraling from a specific trigger. I'm not going to lie, I’ve genuinely cringed in every instance of my life when someone felt compelled to teach something by using an acronym…but these ones aren’t bad, I promise. This first one particularly helped me in very early recovery.
HALT, which we know means to ‘stop abruptly’ stands for:
This tool is based on the premise that most of us find ourselves drinking or using when we’re experiencing one of these feelings. So, simply put, if you’re jonesin’, ask yourself if you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Address these four things and then re-evaluate where you’re at.
DISARM stands for Destructive Imagery and Self-talk Awareness and Refusal Method.
This method is all about identifying the thought patterns that often lead to using and developing a new perspective and level of awareness to change those patterns from recurring.
We can adjust our perception by firstly asking ourselves a series of questions that help us rationalize our urges and cravings:
“What will happen if I deny myself this (urge)?” and,
“Is it really unbearable to not give in to this craving?”.
Additionally, the DISARM method teaches us the importance of disassociating from our addiction – or the ‘voice in your head’ that tells you to drink/use. It may feel weird at first, but this is a great way to reframe your perspective. It allows you not only to separate your addiction from who you are as a person, but it also provides you with the opportunity to tell it to f*ck off whenever necessary.
I’ve heard some sober gals refer to this voice as The Beast, The Wolf, or the Wine Witch (haha). I’ve always thought of it as The Devil on My Shoulder. Whatever name you decide to give this bitch – know that it’s a great salesman. Every time you face a craving, the voice will be there, ready to make its ‘pitch’. When this happens, dismiss the voice by telling it it’s wrong and no longer has power over you. You don’t want what it’s selling anymore!
3. Remember why you Started
When you’re in a solid frame of mind, write down all of your reasons for giving up alcohol. This is SO IMPORTANT.
I often think back to my own patterns with drinking. Waking up and nursing a hangover from overdoing it the night before. Telling myself, “Never again, Brit. What the hell is wrong with you?” all morning and afternoon as I’d try to pull myself together. Then before I knew it, something would stress me out or I’d start to feel human again, and I’d get the kids to bed and think, “It’s not so bad…I’m fine!”. Cue Groundhog Day.
Within hours, my mind would become completely void of all my once rational reasons not to continue to drink. I would lie to myself and say, “everyone does it” or “life is short, there’s no guarantee of tomorrow, so why not drink and enjoy it?”. The fact is, I was not ‘enjoying it’ in the grand scheme of things. And ‘tomorrow’ may never be guaranteed, but I can guarantee you that your health, happiness, relationships, and dignity will be stripped away eventually if you don’t face your demons.
So, make a damn list and write it down. Make a pros & cons list if you want – I know for a fact that the pros will outweigh the cons (if you’re being honest with yourself).
4. Tell Someone
It can be challenging to confide in someone when you’re giving up alcohol. We often feel ashamed and embarrassed to admit we have a problem, and our pride ultimately gets in the way.
Know that what you’re doing is a sign of strength, maturity, and vigilance. Taking control of your life is always easier said than done. Many individuals spend their entire lives putting more effort into creating a façade that suggests they have their shit together, than putting in a real effort to improve themselves. And who can blame them? Real, positive, and permanent change takes an insurmountable amount of work – and the work is truly never-ending. That’s why we need support from others.
Telling someone when you’re having a craving feels a lot like getting something off your chest or admitting to a lie. When you say it out loud and admit it to both yourself and someone else, it eases the craving’s hold on you. Further, knowing that someone has your back and your best interests in mind will help ensure you stay on track.
5. Hunker Down
You would think that avoiding the places and situations in which you formally found yourself drinking would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. Most folks feel disdain over the thought of giving up their social life when they give up alcohol. It’s understandable and I get it. If you’re someone who’s extroverted, and you’d rather die a slow and painful death before spending a dull weekend at home – don’t panic or catastrophize the situation.
Being sober and social (even with other drinkers) is totally doable, but it might take some time. The most important things to remember are that it will get easier and to protect your sobriety first and foremost. Putting yourself in the line of fire too soon will more than likely result in a relapse. Use this time to get to know yourself, sober and present, and listen to your gut – it'll usually know if you’re setting yourself up for disaster.
And yes, this probably means cancelling or skipping certain events, holidays, and outings. You may tell yourself, “Well there’s no way I can miss this event, or that wedding, or this vacation”.
Yes…you fucking can.
Missing out temporarily will ensure that you don’t miss out on the rest of your life.
If you feel dead set on going somewhere that will threaten your sobriety, make sure you have a plan in place, including an exit strategy - and stick to it! If you have to ditch out early, at least you can say you showed up. 🤷
6. Distract Yourself
If you’re still put off by the idea of spending so much time at home, know that this doesn’t mean you have to sit in quiet reflection for months on end. In fact, boredom is often one of the top reasons why we drink or use. Therefore, it’s important to find ways to not only avoid risky situations, but also fill your time with other activities.
There’s beauty in distracting yourself in sobriety, because finally, we’re present enough to focus on things other than drinking. Now is the time to take up a hobby or start a project that you’ve been meaning to get to. Don’t overwhelm yourself or do anything that will cause added stress – take it slow and do things that you genuinely enjoy doing.
As you slowly start to fill your schedule with things other than drinking and partying, you’ll miss it less and less. Instead, you’ll find yourself focusing on the areas of your life that you couldn’t seem to get a good grasp on before – like your health, diet, relationships, or career. And I guarantee you’ll be shocked at how much time you ‘suddenly have’ in a day. I’ve heard many others say (myself included) that they’ve never felt more productive than they do in sobriety.
Why? Because we spend a disproportionate amount of time, effort, and energy on our drinking habits without even knowing it.
I hope these strategies find you or someone you love well in trying times.
If you’re personally struggling with your drinking, or if you’re sober curious, thinking of taking break, or trying to help a loved one, don’t hesitate to reach out. You have support on this journey whether you believe it or not!