Coming off an addiction can sometimes feel overwhelming and filled with many challenges. All aspects of your life and health have adapted and centered around your use of a particular substance, so going without that substance can be a huge adjustment for your physical health, social networks, and emotional processing.
Yet the biggest challenge is within your own mind. Addiction is first and foremost an obsession – a mental state that makes you feel trapped thinking about your use again and again. Everything else that matters to you seems to fade away so that your substance use becomes all you can think about. Many people continue to struggle with this obsessiveness long after their withdrawal and sobriety.
Even with weeks, months, and years of not using, the urge to use again may creep back, and this is one of the primary causes behind relapses. In these times, it helps to be prepared and know how to refocus your mind, to know how to handle your obsessions, and get on with your life.
One of your strongest weapons against these cravings is self-awareness. By paying careful attention to your thoughts and feelings, you can gradually learn how to better take care of yourself, and know what you need to thrive in a particular moment. It may seem like your cravings come out of nowhere, but careful self-examination might help you find particular triggers that cause obsessions to arise or get stronger.
It might be particular places, smells, or relationships that remind you of your addicted days. It might be a feeling of anxiety, sadness, or frustration that leaves you looking for a way to let those feelings go. Many people are particularly vulnerable to cravings when they feel hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (H.A.L.T.). Once you are able to get down to the root cause behind an emerging obsession, ask yourself what alternative you can do to resolve those feelings and bring a sense of peace and enjoyment to your sober life. Through journaling, talking with supportive friends, and the help of a therapist, you can gradually become more aware of your needs in a way that will make the cravings feel “softer” in your own mind.
Memory is often selective. People choose to focus on some things and ignore others. In the height of an obsessive craving, your memory gets particularly skewed by your emotions and keeps you from seeing how things really were. Particularly in the beginning of recovery, you may occasionally experience moments of hesitancy or second thoughts, thinking about all the “good times” you had under the influence while forgetting all the struggles and pain your addiction caused. At these moments, it can be really important to remind yourself of your story, and remember the times you were afraid you were going to die or felt out of control. Reminding yourself of the reasons you decided to get help to become sober is a very important way to renew your commitment to your recovery and healing.
A full life:
Spending all of your time fighting an urge gets exhausting, and will make you feel worn down. Rather than spend all your energy fighting the urges, it’s better to think about other things you are now free to do without your addictive habit. Whether it’s a new enjoyable artistic or athletic hobby, a circle of friends, or a chance to contribute positively to the world around you, finding an alternative, positive “obsession” can give your life purpose and meaning, and take your mind off of your addiction. A regular routine of self-care, taking the time to engage in activities that are joy-giving and nourishing can be a really important way to truly thrive living a sober life.