This one’s for some of my brothers and sisters in recovery today. Together, we opened our eyes onto a world without the thing we used to think made life bearable. We got up and did stuff, and it was good, or bad, or whatever it was. We lived life–until something triggered us, and for a moment we imagined ourselves somewhere else.
We imagined ourselves in a place of perfect peace. A place we may have visited early in our addiction; a place our addiction wants us to think is still there waiting for us. Having glimpsed this place, we were momentarily seized with longing for it, and this longing coursed through our body. The sudden longing was fed by every source of stress in our lives and every desire we have to get away from it.
It’s known as euphoric recall, friends, and it comes with the territory in recovery. Experiencing it doesn’t mean we have done anything wrong, but it’s usually advised that we try not to let it linger. Notice the thought, acknowledge it, but don’t invite it in for tea. Those who tend to dwell on the difficulty of recovery and see their previous life as easier and more fun. Reply to it with memories of the whole story; play the tape to the end. Of course, if our response to it is strong enough to trigger a craving, it’s harder to do these things.
Craving–especially in early recovery–means something a bit different from its ordinary usage. It refers to an intense, whole-body experience, usually accompanied by extreme anxiety. It can hit us like a truck, and the thoughts that come with it are consuming.
One day, when I was about a year clean, I was watching Jurassic Park. Jeff Goldblum’s character got his leg chewed on by a T-Rex and is lying in the bunker, feverish and semiconscious. “He’s all right for now,” one character tells another. “I gave him a shot of morphine.”
Lucky bastard, I thought. And in a moment, with no more transition, I had gone to the euphoric recall. I could feel the narcotic in my system, removing all cares, relaxing my muscles. I remembered floating in the water of all-is-well, and having a leg nearly torn off seemed a small price to pay. Then the craving slammed into me–my stomach muscles clenched, my breathing stopped and anxiety bloomed across my skin.
It could have been worse that day. I was at home, and there were no painkillers handy–I have so much respect for those whose drug of choice is alcohol and must get through cravings knowing that a drink is quickly and legally available. I’ve had terrible cravings at the house of a relative who I know takes pain meds. She’s wonderful about keeping them secured, but just knowing they are in the same house can be hard for me, especially when I am in the middle of family occasions that are overstimulating.
How do we deal with cravings? I have heard many people talk about this, and there’s no one rule. We pray, we call someone, we try to distract ourselves with something, we pace around–and, if we’ve learned this trick, we look at the clock to give us hope. Why do we do this?
Because the physiological aspect of a craving exhausts its peak intensity after fifteen to thirty minutes.
We might still be tempted, and we might still need to contact our support group or otherwise treat ourselves to an extra dose of recovery. But if we can buy those minutes, the hit-by-a-truck strength of the craving will fade.
For me, it’s been helpful to have a set of regular and rehearsed responses to a euphoric recall or a craving. That way, I don’t have to think as much. Just go into the routine. My first step is to change whatever I’m doing physically–if I’m sitting down, I get up and walk; if I’m walking I start dancing, whatever. Then I try to get something else going through my head; anything will do. Really annoying songs can be good for this. Sing it out loud if you need to. Pick one with a strong rhythm, though; I haven’t had much success with “Muskrat Love.”
Then I go into minute-killing mode. Got a show to watch, a sink of dishes to wash, a dog to feed? Own a drum? A video game? Using my hands in some way helps. As I racked up a little more time clean, and thus amassed a pile of past cravings I survived, that really helped me too. The middle of a craving feels permanent, and history can help me remember it is not.
Euphoric recall, and other things that can trigger cravings, are one of the weapons in our addiction’s arsenal. They’re another string it uses to tug on us, afraid that we’ll go too far away or become too free. Today, don’t let it win. Read this. Read A Note From My Addiction and Hell’s Concierge to remind you how this demon thinks and how it wants us dead. Share it with a friend. Today, together, we fight.