Dealing with Cravings and Feelings

Set Up the Projector

If I wondered why I didn’t drink yesterday, I’d never get this morning’s breakfast or probably lunch made. I have discovered that my superhuman, superheterodyne, Hoover Dam-powered intellect doesn’t do me much good when I have to fight off the desire for drink or cigarettes.

I use the part of the brain that tells me that I am not a drinker and not a smoker. When some part of the brain pops up and says: “Why not?” I ask it if it would like to see some old film clips of what happens when I drink. If it wants to see them, I set up the projector and play as much as any of us can take from my archives.

Then I go and make breakfast.


Make a Big Painting

I submit not a unique idea but one that helped me much: when the irrational idea of wanting a drink came powerfully at me, I would say yes to it in my head and then follow it through, watching the ensuing consequences. Buy a big bottle of wine, no two or three, since I didn’t want to get caught having to drive out for more. Feel much better half hour later. Feel a little dizzy an hour later and want to call a lot of people and tell them lots about myself these days. But also want to make a big painting that shows exactly how I feel about everything. Screaming at the world after three hours. Asleep on couch. Wake in morning with stomach pain and head made of burnt matches and dreadful curdled sense of self. I then figure that I really don’t want to go and buy a bottle of wine and don’t.


Sitting With My Feelings

The time of recovery began when I was willing to sit there and feel whatever pain my mind and body would create and still not take the drink. I got to the point of that “sitting with” when I couldn’t find anything else that worked … moderation, only one, every-other, day … support groups … and reading … .After the “sitting with” the support group, education, and involvement with other alcoholics was of great help. BUT, the “sitting with” was only one millimeter this side of a feeling of total destruction.

After the “sitting with” I could use daily schedules, commitments, self-examination into why alcohol worked so well for me in the beginning and the beginning of a lifelong study of being an alcoholic.

Seventeen years after the “sitting with” it still remains the most traumatic memory of my recovery. There is wisdom among those of us who practice recovery in the secular way…wisdom that needs to be shared with those who approach us and say help, I don’t know how to do this thing. With so many “Ways” and the great need for each individual to find their own way … the more we share the process, the more we offer suggestions, techniques, and philosophical rantings that have resulted in our individual sobriety, the more human beings will make it.

Being sober ain’t an easy thing. If it were we would all know how it is done. For me it began with “THE SITTING WITH.” I didn’t think I would survive, but life is now things I couldn’t even imagine back at that time. Life is worth stopping.

–Ron C,  4/19/97

The Acceptance Valve

Gary Emery uses the metaphor of an “acceptance valve,” the portal through which our experience flows. Free flowing experience = emotional and psychological equilibrium. A partially closed acceptance valve reduces the flow of experience causing something like emotional constipation. In other words, resistance to experience (expressed physically as tension and “bracing”) narrows the acceptance valve, creating “friction” and causing emotional pain, just as the wires in a toaster resist the flow of electricity causing heat.

The system is self-reinforcing. Resisting negative emotions/experiences magnifies them, making them more painful than they have to be. Resistance delays efficient processing of experience causing painful experiences to last longer. Chronically clogged acceptance valves can create a logjam of undigested, unprocessed, unresolved experiences which — consciously or unconsciously — persist over time, as they are regularly “replayed” like discordant notes on a piano when triggered by thoughts and external events. Acceptance valves that remain clogged over many years represent so-called “neurotic” personalities as well as other physical and mental health problems. I believe that this process has complicity in some addictions: an inability to efficiently process experience, thus the need to medicate ourselves.

This may sound vague and almost mystical; and it certainly fits in nicely with Martin’s discussion of “effortless” and the Tao. However, it is not nearly as intangible as it may sound. It is simply a choice (or lack of one) about how we react to the FACT of experience. We all have experiences; good, bad, neutral. We cannot prevent experience, nor should we try to. But we do have very considerable choice about how we think about and react to those experiences, and that makes all the difference.

This is NOT an exercise in surrender, pacifism, or masochism. It is healing, and is in fact empowering in a great number of ways.

I am becoming overlong, but it would be unfair to sign off here without at least offering a tidbit of a technique for practicing acceptance. I find that a secularized version of the “Serenity Prayer” can be helpful: Replace “Gawd, grant me….” with “I am developing the capacity (serenity)…”

Also, direct from Emery: When a painful experience happens, you say to yourself (as in an “I-thou dialog”) “I accept that I am really pissed off that the dog peed on the carpet again … and I am moving toward my vision of a clean house and well-behaved mutt.” It is important to note that the act of acceptance is toward (and of) your EXPERIENCE; it is not about the act of the dog or the damage to the carpet; because some behaviors and circumstances can of course be quite unacceptable and intolerable.

Try it with something that is bugging you, and see if it gets you through the experience more quickly and comfortably, and leaves you calmer, able to do more effective problem solving.

— Rex A, 8/98

Re-Engage the Senses

Here’s another toolbox item: I can be going along in sobriety just fine and then WHAM! a craving hits. My awareness and consciousness fly away and I forget to inhabit my body. The trick is to re-engage my five senses: squeeze my legs and arms, touch my face and hair, hop or skip, eat a breath mint, smell a flower, etc.

My most dangerous “war zone” is behind the wheel of a car. The car goes on automatic pilot within this little plastic tube (amazingly similar to the hamster habitat, but designed for alcoholics) to the nearest drugstore or supermarket where wine is sold. So at all times I carry my Sobriety Survival Kit. It contains, among other things, a jar of bubbles, a harmonica, a kaleidoscope, Tic Tacs, raisins, perfumed skin lotion, a feather duster, a foot roller/massager, castanets, a copy of “Keepers“, (a book of the best messages from the early days of this list), a journal and pen, a clown nose, a Koosh ball, and a pair of white gloves. If I have to go into the grocery store for regular shopping, I put on those gloves because it’s impossible to reach for the liquor shelf without noticing them as a reminder of my commitment to sobriety.

Of course, all of this is just stage props if I choose to override my intention. But it has saved my ass more than a time or two.

Kindly, Sally