Over the last two days, I have discussed a technique I found helpful when dealing with the uncomfortable feelings and cravings associated with quitting an addiction. I called it sitting with discomfort, but I am sure there are other more technical or clinical names for the process. So far, I have talked about the mental steps involved with using this technique. The first step is to recognize the feeling of discomfort or cravings. Remember if we are not aware they are happening, we cannot effectively deal with them. The second step is to acknowledge the feelings but not give them credit or power. We do that by viewing them outside our minds and bodies. See them as something separate from us and let them sit there until they dissipate. Once they go back to where they belong, the netherworld, we gather ourselves together and go about our day feeling stronger, more confident, and more fulfilled as a person.
While this all sounds plausible and rational in theory, there is a lot involved with actually making this technique work for you. Unfortunately, it is a technique that is personal to each individual and cannot be laid out for us with step by step instructions. I have stated the basic steps to instigate the process, but we have to find the visual representation that works for us. It is important to find something that we can relate to and believe in, otherwise, we will not be able to trust the feeling as truly existing outside ourselves; and that is the key.
Visualize the discomfort
As I said, this step is going to be vastly different for everyone. This is how I went about seeing my discomfort the first time. While I do not know why I chose to sit down that day, I do remember clearly feeling the horrible discomfort of cravings. I thought to myself, I need to do something, and I need to do something immediately before I jump in the car and find a way to get my fix. I chose to sit down. Sitting there with my hands on my thighs, I tried to remember the ways I had heard people and my therapist talk about this idea in the past. The most interesting thing about my wanting to use this technique at that time was that it was never really something I put much credence in. I had heard about it, but it didn't work in my mind so I blew it off as something that might work for others, but not me.
While sitting there, one of the things I remembered was how I needed to understand that it is not only okay to feel bad sometimes, but it's expected. In fact, it is quite unrealistic to think I could go through life always feeling good. The difference between addicts and everyone else is in the way we deal with those days when we don't feel good. For whatever reason, at that moment, that sentiment resonated with me. I thought about what I was feeling and why I was feeling it. The feeling was of stress from the personal things I was dealing with and what I was feeling was anxiety, depression, and anger. I remember asking myself if I deserved to feel those things. My answer was yes. Each one of those feelings was validated based on where they originated. That felt good to me. I sat there and thought, this is just a feeling and I deserve to have a moment feeling this way. So I did. I sat there, feeling that feeling.
While enjoying the new realization that it was okay to feel bad, the next thing I remembered was how important it is to separate our feelings from our identity. Just because I feel angry, that does not mean I am an angry person. Just because I feel sad, that does not mean I am a sad person. And so on. This is when I remembered the story my therapist shared with me about seeing 'things' as separate from ourselves, or outside ourselves. I thought if it is okay to have a feeling, and the feeling doesn't define me, then why don't I just set the feeling down over there and observe it from afar rather than engaging with it and allowing it to take over me?
Before I could actually set it down though, I needed to find a way to visualize what my feelings looked like so I could see them as something from which I could separate myself. This is where individual perception and history is going to come in to play and vary from person to person. Nevertheless, how we see our feelings don't really matter, as long as we can see them. For me, I thought about my feelings as being something negative and something I didn't want around me. I thought about scary movies and visuals I had seen that represented evil and wickedness. The first thing that came to mind was colors. What colors represent evil? Hot colors. I started seeing red, orange, and yellow. I then thought about the anxiety and confusion that came with my feelings and that caused the colors to begin bouncing around quickly, violently, and without structure. The lack of structure caused the colors to begin forming everchanging shapes and symbols as they ricocheted off each other and the walls I had built for them. My visual representation had manifested. I then set that visual down, in front of me, separate from myself.
Be patient and watch as the discomfort subsides
Once I had the visual in my mind and I was safely sitting there observing my feelings from afar, the real magic began to occur. Keeping the feeling separate from myself took away some of the power but the thing that eradicated it completely was when I realized I was not engaging with it. I was just watching it. Think of discomfort and craving like a bully. If a bully does something mean to you and you react by doing something or saying something to the bully, what happens? The bully bullies you even more. But, what if you do not respond to the bully at all, what happens? They get bored and they go looking for someone who will react to their actions. That is what the bully feeds on, other people's reactions to their negative actions. The discomfort of cravings is very much the same. If you interact with them, they have you and they will continue to badger you until you give in. But, if you ignore them, they will eventually leave you alone.
As I mentioned yesterday, there are studies that show cravings only last between twelve and twenty minutes. I don't know where they got those numbers, but that's what I read. Nevertheless, I can attest to the validity of that study. While sitting there watching my hot colored discomfort bounce around erratically in the box I made for it, I noticed a change begin to occur. The colors began to change and the movements began to slow. The more I focused on the changes that were occurring, the faster the changes occurred. Cooler colors began to take the place of the hot colors and the movements began to slow and act less erratic. After a short period of focusing on the changes occurring, all the hot colors faded into cold ones and the movements slowed to a barely visible movement, and eventually, they disappeared completely.
With the, albeit temporary, disappearance of the discomfort came an overwhelming feeling of contentment, joy, and happiness. I felt stronger and more confident. I felt like myself again. I felt like I could regain my serenity and go about my day knowing I had just emerged victorious in one of the many battles that were to come. More importantly, I knew I had the skills to press on and forge the direction and success of my path into recovery.
It is important to remember that one victory does not equal complete and total healing. However, each victory builds strength and confidence and that growing strength and confidence will further solidify our resolve. Over time, we will have to battle less often and with less force but the battle may never be completely over so don't ever let your guard down fully.
Walk down your path with confidence, but walk also with intention.