Using drugs or alcohol probably didn’t start out this way. At first using was something you enjoyed doing. But now, you may feel the need to use drugs or alcohol just to make it through the day.
You can feel better without using drugs or alcohol. Separating yourself from your addiction, engaging in self-reflection, and discovering and relearning other coping mechanisms are all ways that can help you feel better without substance use.
Think about your coping skills toolbox
I just wanted to use. No–I tried to speak the right direction in my mind. It worked for me early on in my recovery because it was the only tool.
Think of your coping strategies as a toolbox. When you feel the urge to use drugs or alcohol, opening this toolbox and using the tools inside of it can help you overcome the feeling. Your tools can include new coping skills and strategies that make you feel better. But they can also include unlearning the coping skills you are currently using to deal with stress, pressure, and daily life. For example, unlearning how to pick up your drug of choice or contacting your connect.
Coping with life
Removing drugs and alcohol from your coping skills toolbox means replacing them with something else. This takes time. The recovery journey requires self-reflection to rebuild the life that frees you from addiction and makes you feel better.
Here are some tools that you want to use when you need to cope emotionally:
- Build your recovery capital: Recovery capital is anything that you gain in your recovery that can support you. It can be coins, quotes, self-affirmations, prayers, etc. that you can use and lean on when you feel you need motivation.
- Start journaling: Writing and journaling can give a place to process your thoughts and separate yourself from your feelings.
- Consider what has worked in the past: Before you started using or drinking, what helped you cope in the past? Returning to old coping strategies such as playing sports, creating art, dancing, etc. can help you reconnect with yourself.
- Build a network of support: It’s hard to face recovery, stress—life alone. Surrounding yourself with a community of people who support you will help. This can include loved ones who want to see you get better, a recovery coach, sponsor, mental health professional, support groups, etc.
Coping with cravings
Distraction absolutely works. Just keep busy and the craving WILL go away.
Here are some coping strategies that you may want to add to your toolbox when coping with cravings to use or drink:
- Distracting yourself: Tell yourself “I don’t have to use today. I can use tomorrow.” Try aromatherapy, wash your face, take a shower, talk to someone, go to the movies, etc. Taking your mind off the urge to use and putting elsewhere can help.
- Grounding yourself: Different people need different things to recenter, stay present and focus on their strengths. This could be done visually, through words of affirmation, mediation and deep breathing, or by feeling objects around you or that you carry. Find which of the five senses (sight, touch, sound, taste, smell) you like best and create a new habit you can use during hard times. This worksheet may help you keep your mind grounded.
- Reaching out for support: If you need to talk to someone about what you are feeling, remember that you are not alone. If you want to use and don’t have a friend or person around to release those feelings, you can find a recovery coach who can help you. If you need immediate help, you can reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or using the chat box at 988lifeline.org. You can also text “MHA” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. Warmlines are an excellent place for non-crisis support.
The voice of addiction
Is it the voice of myself or the voice of addiction? It’s hard to tell the difference. You are not your addiction.
The longer you use, the higher tolerance you have. It becomes harder to ignore the compulsion–the voice that tells you that you need to use. But that voice is not your voice. It’s the addiction talking. To heal, you must find your voice and separate yourself from your addiction. Try asking yourself these questions:
- What is important to you besides using?
- How can you think about focusing on the things that are important to you?
- What can you do besides your drug of choice to feel better?
Breaking up with your addiction is hard to do. Like any relationship, you may find it difficult to just leave because your addiction has been there for you for so long. Working through the relationship and treating the addiction as something outside of yourself can help. Consider writing a letter to break up with your addiction. Or using this tool can help you reflect on your experiences with addiction, read others’ experiences, and figure out next steps. Remember, you are you—not your addiction.
Life is hard, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. Finding ways to feel better without using drugs or alcohol takes time. You may have to try different things multiple times until it feels right, and that’s ok. No one can walk your path to recovery but you. No matter how long it takes, you deserve to heal.