Diffusing Drug Cravings with Mindfulness Urge Surfing

As defined by author Jon Kabat-Zinn of University of Massachusetts Medical School, mindfulness is: “A gentle effort to be continuously present with experience…paying attention on purpose.”

With practice and commitment, mindfulness is a tool that can help people work through a variety of common concerns, such as: mood swings, stress, depression, grief and impulsivity. And now, it is being used with success to help people in drug treatment manage their addiction issues for lasting sobriety.

A newly released book, Mindfulness-Based Sobriety (Turner, Welches and Conti; 2014), relates mindfulness techniques to relapse prevention. According to the book, mindfulness begins by focusing awareness on one’s own breathing. If and when the mind strays—to thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges—it’s completely normal. However, the trick is to observe yet not react to the distractions.

 The key to appreciating mindfulness is twofold:

  1.  Be aware and accepting of urges, cravings, emotions, and all aspects of your experience, while not driven to act on them.
  2. Base motivation and actions on what need to be done in order to move towards a life worth living.

mindfulness, urge surfingWhen cravings or urges arise, a person in drug treatment learns how to acknowledge the urge without “fusing” with or acting upon it. Cravings, like waves in an ocean, tend to rise in intensity, crest and then subside. Also like waves, the process typically repeats itself. Mindful awareness of this pattern is called “urge surfing,” a term coined by the late Alan Marlatt, psychologist and developer of Relapse Prevention Therapy.

Experiencing and accepting the rise and fall of cravings and urges without reacting can be liberating for individuals who have surrendered to their urges with alcohol or drug use in the past. With a new sense of empowerment, individuals with a foundation in mindfulness will base their actions on what they need to do to achieve the life they want.

To learn more about using mindfulness to manage addiction issues, please sign up for Gateway’s free CEU webinar on Jan. 30, 2014, from 12:30-1:30 p.m. The trainers are Dr. Phil Welches and Nick Turner, substance abuse experts and co-authors of Mindfulness-Based Sobriety: A Clinicians Treatment Guide for Addiction Recovery.

Purchase the book with curriculum on Amazon.com today.

Reduce Chances of Relapse by Planning Ahead for Holiday Social Affairs

holiday planning, stress, relapse prevention, recoverySince the holidays can be a stressful time, the more planning you do ahead of time, the more prepared you will be for challenging situations…and the more you will enjoy yourself this holiday season! Take that extra time to give yourself some T.L.C.

We recommend that you:
• Maintain your regular routines as much as possible, such as sleeping enough.
• Get proper nutrition and don’t overdo unhealthy holiday treats.
• Take medications that may be prescribed for mental health disorders.
• Keep your appointments with your healthcare practitioners.
• Attend 12-step and other support groups. Many recovery groups convene on holidays.

If you will be going to social gatherings where alcohol may be served, here are some helpful strategies to help you avoid a relapse:

• Try to find out who will be attending the family, business or neighborhood gathering. Knowing who will be there will help you feel more in control, and anticipate questions or comments from friends, family or strangers.
• Give yourself permission to excuse yourself for some time away from the people or any situation that is uncomfortable for you. You can go to a quiet place, step outside, or even go home, if needed.
• Bring along your favorite non-alcoholic beverage for your host to serve.
• Call your sponsor before to talk through your goals for the gathering. Keep your sponsor’s phone number handy so you can call for help if needed.

Remember, with Gateway, all you have to do is call. If you, a family member or friend is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse this holiday season, call 877-505-HOPE (4673).

Summer of Recovery

With summer quickly approaching, it’s easy to suddenly find yourself with a calendar full of commitments—which can be a lot of fun engaging with friends, exploring, learning new things and meeting new people. But for those in recovery, your most important commitment is your commitment to recovery. Being busy and having a plan is good but being too busy and feeling overwhelmed are signs that you need to slow down and strike a healthier balance.

Focus on adding new activities that support your healthy lifestyle

Depending on where you are in your recovery, it is important to follow your recovery plan and promote a healthy lifestyle that supports the new you. When you truly engage and enjoy life, the chance of a relapse is less likely. Consider activities such as art or other creative outlets; yoga and Pilates; outdoor activities like walking, biking and swimming; preparing healthy meals  with your farmers market finds; learning a new skill or craft; and giving back by helping others or volunteer work.

Plan ahead, structure your time and set a schedule

Create daily schedules so your life has the structure it needs to succeed. Be sure your schedule allows for activities that support your recovery, such as exercise, time for reflection and a healthy diet. If possible, try to get at least 8 hours of sleep; this will maximize your energy, improve your focus, support your immune system and combat cravings for junk food.

When you plan ahead, you may take advantage of affordable classes offered at community centers, YMCA, park district, even stores like Home Depot and Michael’s–from dance and art classes to DIY tricks of the trade. There are a lot of festivals, art shows, concerts and farmers markets to explore during the summer months as well.

Remember to have a back-up plan in place for risky situations. If you decide it’s okay to go to a concert or wedding with an open bar, bring along a sober friend for extra support or, if possible, drive separately in case you want an option to leave early.

Take time for emotional rest and relaxation

A short break during lunch to breathe in fresh air or a walk around the park—time for reflection, spirituality, meditation, praying and journaling are key tools for you to use to manage stress and re-energize.  Choose what works best for you and dedicate a little “me time” as often as you can.

And if you ever do feel unsafe, Gateway Foundation encourages you to ask for help.

“One of the biggest pitfalls a person in recovery can fall into is not asking for help when it is needed. Contact your counselor, sponsor, even get back in touch with treatment providers to determine the best plan for you moving forward,” says Gateway Foundation Clinical Supervisor Nick Turner. “Asking for help can sometimes make a person feel weak, but it is really is a sign of strength, openness and determination.”

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