One of the things you are likely going to have to deal with in early recovery is addiction cravings. These urges to drink or use drugs again can seem to appear out of nowhere (although they will always be triggered by something), and they can happen at the most inconvenient time. A traditional approach to dealing with drug or alcohol cravings is distraction, but this can reinforce the idea that urges are something you need to be afraid of. A more effective approach might be to use the mindfulness tool of urge surfing.
What is Urge Surfing?
“…an urge is like an ocean wave that grows bigger and bigger as it approaches the shore. As it grows, there’s the desire to just give in, but if you do, you’ll reinforce the power of the addiction. Instead, you can ride the “wave” by using the breath as a kind of surfboard.” – Alan Marlatt
Urge surfing is a technique devised by Alan Marlatt who was a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. It is a way of applying mindfulness as a way for dealing with cravings rather than turning to distraction. These urges rarely last more than 20 minutes, so if the person can just sit with this thought, it will eventually disappear.
Urge surfing is a skill you can develop – for example, you could practice ignoring body itches until they pass away. This ability to sit with cravings can benefit you in many years of your life, and it means you are no longer just a slave to these urges.
It is important to observe urges mindfully – this means you witness them without resistance or judgments. The only power a craving has is the power you give it.
One important idea in mindfulness is that thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations are intertwined. If you think about drinking or using drugs, you can usually expect a physical and emotional response in your body as well.
If you are new to mindfulness practice, it can be tricky to be mindful of thoughts because you might not have sufficient focus. This is why it may be better to put your attention on the physical aspect of the craving and surf this in the beginning. Once the wave of physical sensation crashes on the shore, so will the thought and emotional component as well.
As well as practicing urge surfing in your daily life, it is also going to help if you have a regular mindfulness practice such as meditation or yoga. If you do these activities mindfully for at least 30 minutes per day, you should develop a reason amount of mindfulness in your daily life.