Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.

By David Joel Miller.

Don’t let urges knock you down.

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Urge surfing is an idea that comes from substance use disorder treatment. Learning to cope with urges can help prevent relapses into depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and many other mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

A coworker and I discussed the similarities between surfing on the ocean and surfing urges. He is an avid surfer and tells me that not having a good relationship with the waves can leave scars. Ignoring urges and what is causing them can leave mental and emotional scars.

What is an urge?

Urges are sudden, intense impulses to do something. People with urges often feel compelled to act. When the idea enters the mind, it can become a compulsion. Urges can be intense, unpleasant sensations. Once the urge arises, it is hard to avoid acting on it. Wrestling with urges results in a lot of relapses into unhelpful thinking, and unhealthy behaviors.

Urges rise and fall.

Urges, in the early stages, can come on slowly and gradually, other times they rise rapidly, like a heavy ocean swell. You could easily be swept away before you realize the danger of the urge. The challenge with urges is to maintain your position without being carried away by the urge. Typically urges last 20 to 30 minutes.

Concentrating too much on ocean waves leaves you unprepared when they arrive. You should prepare for the rising and falling urges ahead of time also.

Wrestling urges, wears you out.

The typical response to urges is to try to avoid thinking about them and resist acting. The more you struggle, the more tired you become. Trying to not think about something makes the thought grow. To defeat urges you need to do two things. First, do not give in. Sometimes giving in and sometimes not amounts to intermittent reinforcement, one of the hardest things to overcome. Second, don’t exhaust yourself swimming directly into the urge. Practice floating above the surface, riding out the comings and goings of urges.

Urges can affect your thinking, your feelings, and your behavior.

Surfers who develop a negative attitude don’t last long. If you engage in self-criticism, telling yourself you should have caught the last wave, you need to wait for the next one; you don’t surf, you get washed ashore. Having cravings and urges is a natural part of recovery. Don’t beat yourself up for having urges. Having urges can make you feel like you’re not doing recovery correctly. Don’t let your urges take you places you should not go. Stick to the behaviors that will further your recovery.

Make peace with your urges.

Surfing the urges allows you to reach a place of neutrality where you neither wrestle the urge nor give in to it. What you need to do is to step back from the urge and begin to watch it as an outside observer. From this vantage point, you will see that your urges rise and fall. If you can stay in this relaxed state for a time, the urge recedes.

Accept that it is okay to feel however you are feeling.

You do not have to take action to change your feelings. Your life is a real life. There are things you like about it, and there are things that you will not like. Sometimes you will feel happy, and sometimes sad. Sometimes you will be calm, and sometimes you will be anxious. The key to making peace with your feelings, and not being swept away by urges, is to learn to recognize what you are feeling without rushing to change that feeling.

What feeling is coming up for you?

As you feel the urges rising, work on identifying what that feeling is. Are you feeling anxious, depressed, or frustrated? When urges rise, you may be thinking about others. Are you telling yourself it’s not fair that you must quit drinking or drugging, while others are continuing to do these things?

Learn the signs of oncoming cravings.

A water surfer notices the wave coming. Begins to paddle before the wave reaches them. They are up to speed when the wave reaches them. Notice the onset of uncomfortable feelings when urges are on the rise. Pay attention to increases in unhelpful thoughts. Watch your body for signs of negative emotions, that pain in the neck, the queasy stomach.

Practice urge reduction skills before the urge waves wash over you. Learn grounding techniques, scanning your body for tension, and use other relaxation methods. Breathing is especially important when it comes to keeping your head above water. Positive self-talk, affirmations, and grounding techniques can keep you prepared for the next round of urges.

New Book Bumps on the Road of Life is now available in Kindle format for preorder. It will be released on 11/13/17. The paperback version is ready now.

Bumps on the Road of Life.

Your cruising along the road of life and then wham, something knocks you in the ditch.

Sometimes you get your life going again quickly. Other times you may stay off track and

Bumps on the Road of Life.

Bumps on the Road of Life.
By David Joel Miller

in the ditch for a considerable time. If you have gone through a divorce, break up or lost a job you may have found your life off track. Professionals call those problems caused by life-altering events “Adjustment Disorders.” Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of Adjustment Disorders, how they get people off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Bumps on the Road of life

Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

More to come as other books are completed.

Thanks to all my readers for all your support.

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Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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How safe is the neighborhood in your head?

By David Joel Miller.

When you are alone in your own head – are you in a really dangerous neighborhood?

The idea that your own thinking can be suspect is common among recovering people. One definition of the disease of addiction is that our brains go over to the other side. An alcoholic’s brain will continue to tell you that you need another drink long after the point of intoxication.

What if there was a way to make your head a safe neighborhood to inhabit?

Recovering people are quick to remind the newcomer around those tables that “Your own best thinking got you here.” There is nothing more natural than for an alcoholic to think about drinking. We know that a depressed person’s mind is full of dark and gloomy thoughts.

Some of the triggers for a relapse are of course the places and events of everyday life. But the brooding thoughts in your head can take you back to depression, anxiety or an active addiction. Relapse triggers are found both inside and outside ourselves.  

But simply avoiding your own thoughts is not enough. Avoiding anxiety producing situations does not make you less anxious. Not in the long run. As Jon Kabat-Zinn told us “Wherever you go there you are.”

Bill W. seems to agree, telling us that if an alcoholic needs to avoid places where liquor is served then they still have an alcoholic mind.

In the early stages of recovery, the thought of being alone is scary, particularly being alone with nothing to keep you busy. Avoiding your own thoughts is a common way to avoid negative thoughts, but you know they are still there.

Some days it is as if your own mind is out to get you. Your mind may be a scary place but that head of yours is the only home your mind will ever have. Can you learn to live comfortable in that neighborhood?

There are ways to clean up that dangerous neighborhood in your head. Dr. Kelly McGonigal tells us “Your mind can be a safe place to be.”

What is the process you need to undertake to make your own mind a safe place? How might you set up your own internal “Neighborhood Watch” to keep out those unwanted thoughts?

Mind remodeling projects are at the heart of good therapy. Change your thinking to change your life. Working through all those monsters that lurk in your head, cleaning out dysfunctional thoughts and challenging irrational beliefs can all lead to a healthier mind. But there is more!

In the early days of the recovery movement, before there were twelve steps, they began with just three steps. Back then the first step was “Clean House,” one meaning of which was getting rid of all that mental and emotional garbage that might get you sick again.

The steps also include that last step, “working with others” which tells us that our problems, addictions and poor mental health, are often because we think too much about ourselves and not enough about others. The reverse side of that coin, codependency, thinking only of others and not making our mental and emotional health a priority is just as bad.

The part of the mental neighborhood clean-up project that gets neglected is that part about “prayer and meditation.” Somehow it seems a whole lot easier to swallow the prayer part than the meditation. Some of us are inclined to go way off on a religious tangent which can keep us busy and avoid our own heads but it still hasn’t cleaned out the garbage and rebuilt our mental landscape.

That second part “Meditation” is just hard for a westerner to swallow. Some of you probably read that “Medication.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a pill that could cure our addiction or poor mental health? Meds can help some things but they can only go so far. You also need to engage in some mental exercises that strengthen those “right thinking” muscles.

Why are we westerners so afraid of meditation? Well, it seems like a whole lot of effort and even then who knows if you are doing it right? It needn’t be that difficult.

Here are some simple thoughts on using meditation to clean out that run-down neighborhood in your head.

Take out the garbage first. Let go of anger, fear, resentments, all those negative emotions, as much as you can at this stage of your recovery. As you learn more you will do better.

You can’t fix a car when you are driving it at 65. You need some down time for the nerve cells in your brain to grow and heal. Quiet meditation is the time for that. This does not require years of practice and a set of robes. No offense to those who have spent years learning meditation but yes even a few minutes a day can pay off big in making you comfortable in your own skin.

The important thing is not to freak every time a bad or negative thought runs through our mind. That though is just out for exercise. Notice the thought, then let it go. Holding on to that thought, wrestling with it and trying to prevent it leaving will cause more wreckage in your head.

Check out more on the dangers of trying to avoid thinking about things in “Don’t think about Elephants.”

Don’t rush to get away from negative thoughts. This is called “Distress tolerance.” Most of us ran from our negative thoughts so much that they kept us from being safe in our own heads.

Remind yourself this is a real life, sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. Let the thought come and go. Same with physical discomfort. Most of us are used to scratching every itch, physical and mental. Most of the time if you leave that pain alone after a bit it will go away. If not, learn that you can feel discomfort and you will not fall apart.

Hope these suggestions get you started on you mind renewal project. If you have done some mental remodeling let the rest of us know how it worked out.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books