Talking out cravings

Talking it out

Perhaps the most important craving management skill people need to develop in early recovery is to resolve a craving by “talking it out.” Many people become lost in their addiction before asking for help. They never pick up the phone. Learning to use your attachments to those who care for you to manage cravings is one of the ultimate achievements of recovery.

To ask for help, you have to have a healthy network of recovery supports—people who can help you manage your cravings. One of the first tasks of recovery is to develop this support network.

Asking for help is both important and difficult for many. Many never experienced stable, safe, close, loving relationships with caregivers when young. No one tuned into them and helped them work through painful experiences and feelings. Some suffer the misfortune of being born with a limited capacity for engaged mutuality due to illnesses such as autism spectrum disorder or antisocial personality disorder. They need extra help from those more blessed.

Disabled in loving, victims of abuse and neglect attempt to use others to fill their emptiness or to reinforce their addiction. Their addiction becomes their “Higher Power.” Because of the disability in loving, they then exploit their relationships to serve that higher power.

Recovery entails reversing this. You humble yourself in the face of your illness and take the courageous step of asking for help when you are most vulnerable. Acknowledge that you are not in control and need help. Though you have never asked before, ask someone to help you now.

Asking for help requires mindfully taking a step back from your cravings when they first arise. Realize that you are in trouble. See how you experience the “Forget it’s,” a state in which you don’t care and just want the objects of your addictive desires. Note the feeling of not caring about yourself or anyone else. See how you feel nothing and no one can stop you from addicting. When you see the “Forget it’s,” separate yourself from them and ask for help. If you do not, they will sweep you away to temporary gratification, follow by guilt, remorse, destruction, and hopelessness.

Leverage your relationships with friends, family, and recovery supports to get past the craving without addicting. You may struggle with this key recovery skill for two reasons. First, when cravings arise, you have already decided you will use no matter what. Your self will is too strong. You do not want to talk to anyone who might talk you out of addicting. You are not yet fully awake. Recognize the first stirrings of cravings. Note, “I am in trouble,” and pick up the phone before it’s too late.

Second, concerns about your adequacy make asking for help difficult. You consider needing help a weakness. The inability to humbly ask for help is the real weakness. Strong, secure people ask for help.

Practice this skill over and over, until you become adept at it. I often tell patients that this exercise and other recovery practices are like riding a unicycle. You learn by getting on and falling off. With time you learn to ask for help.

When you ask for help, you recognize the power of the addiction over your free will. You humbly accept the help of others as you talk out the craving. You surrender the “self-will run riot” of addiction. What does “talk out the cravings mean?” It means to note the craving, name it, and talk about the bad things that will happen if you addict, and the good things that will happen if you don’t. You can also use your supports to talk about things to do to distract yourself from the craving or other ways to diminish the craving. You may need to be with someone until the craving passes.

Talking out cravings is the most important achievement of early recovery. It is a first step in your ability to “self-regulate”—to use others to manage how you feel. You develop two capacities: to get humble and to get vulnerable. Both of these capacities will serve you well in life beyond just managing cravings.

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