Cravings are an automatic avoidant reaction. I crave things when my heart can’t take in all the feelings that it’s presented with. Whether it’s a walk, a burrito, a coffee, a cigarette – all of these are distractions. So to unlock cravings, you pause – catch yourself.
Now – you’ve stopped yourself in search of a fix, looked at the situation objectively, and listened to your emotions. Now what? Yes, you have a choice, but what are the other options? In any kind of recovery, you need alternatives. Call them coping skills, outlets – it’s all the same. I’m not going to stop myself from buying the cookies if I don’t have any other options.
Part of recovery is finding your options. Cravings can be born of boredom, so this spurs a search of the self. What do you like to do? What makes you happy? What makes you feel good? It’s different for everyone, naturally, but universally healthy things are great choices. Start with breathing. In your stopping and listening, breathe deeply. Get oxygen all up in your lungs and let it out slowly, wholly. Repeat. Whether you want a cigarette or a line or a cheeseburger – slow your roll. Breathe.
Now, if you don’t know yourself very well, the search for things you enjoy can seem daunting. Try to see it as an adventure. Try new things – you might like them. Even if you don’t, the process of pushing your boundaries comes with its own exhilarating rewards. Ever done yoga? Go on youtube and test it out in the privacy of your own home. Like to read? Try it and see. Have a bicycle? Try riding it. Draw a picture. Or, if that sounds scary, get one of those fancy adult coloring books. Art is soothing – creativity is healing. Maybe you learned to play a musical instrument as a kid – try picking it back up. Or take lessons for the first time. Go outside. Visit a museum. Explore a neighborhood of your city. Call a friend.
I always find movement helpful, whether it’s movement of the body or the mind. The emotions that lead to cravings aren’t usually pleasant, and while recognizing them and taking a moment to sit and feel them certainly helps – it’s difficult. I can feel annoyed while I’m running; I can box out my anger; I can vinyasa flow my way through anxiety. Physical movement occupies the body, allowing the mind to search itself, providing clarity. I’ve had huge emotional and intellectual breakthroughs during workouts or while cleaning my house.
This all ties into the connection between mind, body, and soul. I used to be bothered by my mind and take it out on my body, whether through eating, smoking, promiscuity, drinking, etc. I didn’t realize how badly I was making myself feel because I wasn’t feeling my body. Strange as it may sound, I wasn’t in my body. Sure, I had thoughts and preferences and some nascent sense of style, but I couldn’t look at my toes and feel love for them. I never saw my thigh and knew it as a dear part of me. I hadn’t learned the strength or sensitivity of my own body – I didn’t know it. I’d feel confused when I looked in the mirror, disillusioned with the gap that I felt between what I saw and what I believed to be my self.
Yoga was most instrumental in bridging this gap, but I imagine everyone can find their own ways. Boxing and dance were big, too, even playing dress up in my own closet – physical movement, learning my body and how it works. I lift weights because I like to feel strong; I run because I like to feel able and I don’t want to be out of breath when I go for a hike or climb some stairs. Through practice – consistent, intentional practice – I got to know my body. And through that, I now have a deeper sense of self. Every inch of me is my own. I am in my neck, arms, stomach, hips, knees, heels – all of it. After 22 years in this body, I’m comfortable in it. And I love myself, so I take care of it.
I always liked reading, and that remains a strong alternative for me. Creative pursuits have dominated as well. Writing a story or an essay, journaling, playing piano, painting, researching something, planning, doing a thing for someone else. Journaling is quite accessible, and it really helps with becoming aware. Writing down how you feel is an easy way to connect – giving your body something to do [write] while your mind thinks about what’s going on inside of you.
Once you get going on the alternatives, they snowball endlessly. The frontiers of you are endless because you’re always growing and changing and learning new things. It’s good to have a wealth of options, that way you never feel stuck with one healthy choice against an entire candy aisle or a whole pack of cigarettes. You have power in this – implement your agency. It gets easier.