Craving and Temptations, Part of our Human Experience
Part of being human is to have cravings and temptations. The brain likes the feel-good feelings that are released through dopamine and the other happy chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins which are released when a person consumes substances like drugs and alcohol and engages in behaviors like eating or having sex. Once the brain develops a pattern for a pleasurable chemical release, it’s not a happy camper if one tries to take away that pleasure, which is what makes addiction recovery so difficult.
Do We Have to Fight the Battle?
It’s common for us to look at the substance or behavior as an enemy. Each day we have to get up and fight the dragon once again. This can become very discouraging since fighting the dragon every single day, usually means that we will lose another battle sooner or later. We keep hoping we are not going to lose the war, but as we enter into the perceived battle each day, our hope begins to wane and we begin to have less hope and confidence in our ability to change our behaviors once and for all.
Change our Relationship to the Craving and Temptation
Another approach to facing daily battle, is to change our relationship with the craving and temptation. What does it mean to change our relationship with the craving and temptation? It means we no longer see a battle field or a boxing ring every day, but rather a human that wants to feel good, being careful that we don’t look at the human as being defective just because it wants to feel good. Instead of fighting the desire, the craving, and the temptation, we see it through the lens of curiosity. Where we would normally criticize and condemn ourselves, we become curious about why we do what we do and feel the way we feel. Some questions we can ask ourselves when the craving hits and we are pounded with temptation to act out is:
● Isn’t this interesting what just happened. All of a sudden, I have this strong urge or compelling desire to go act out?
● I wonder what just happened to create this urge?
● What do I notice happening in my brain? Are feel-good chemicals being released?
● On a scale of 1 to 100, what do I notice about my desire to act out right now? (100 being the strongest desire)
● What sensations am I feeling in my body right now?
● Where in my body do I notice the sensations?
● Are there other bodily signs of excitement and arousal?
● If I point to where I feel these sensations in my body, where would I be pointing?
● What if I look at this desire as a WANT and not a NEED? My brain wants it, but my body doesn’t need it to survive.
Temptations and Cravings like Floating Bubbles
What if our metaphor changed from fighting a dragon to bubbles floating harmlessly, but curiously through the air? Imagine that you’re sitting in a comfortable chair and a friend is five or six feet away. With a large bottle of bubbles, your friend starts blowing bubbles your direction as you’re quietly sitting in your chair. You would first begin to watch the bubbles. Notice their size, some are large, some are small. Observe how quickly some of them burst in the air while others linger around for a while. Be aware of those that are headed toward you and then pop as they make contact. Notice how harmless the bubbles are. What if you saw these bubbles as cravings or temptations. They’re just floating along, different sizes, different shapes, but one by one they eventually burst, they do not last forever. You’re sitting there quietly observing them with a great deal of curiosity, but you simply allow the bubbles to be there, recognizing that they’re not going to hurt you. You don’t have to push them away, fight with them, or just want the bubbles to stop. The two of you can co-exist. Eventually the bubbles will all disperse, as will the wave of temptation and craving.
Observing and Finding Calmness
Notice how calming this metaphor can be. Instead of saying “I will double up by fists and smash each bubble before it hits the ground”, you say “I will simply observe them as they float away and burst.” You don’t have to suppress or act on the bubbles. There are too many bubbles to fight, so you just let them float by, charting their own course as you think, ponder and observe.
Proving to the Brain the Craving and Temptations will Pass
The brain doesn’t think cravings and temptations will ever pass. Part of getting out of destructive patterns is proving to the brain that there can be cravings and temptations and you can walk through them. Yes, it can be a little uncomfortable to have bubbles being blown toward you. It might be distracting, frustrating, and irritating. But realistically, there’s little harm as you sit and observe. In order to get out of the destructive pattern, it’s necessary to change your relationship to the urge, craving and temptation instead of trying to change or get rid of the urge, craving and temptation. Pleasure and the desire the brain has to feel good is part of our humanness. This part of us can be a driving force to accomplish a skill, degree, or to be with people we love and care about. So, we actually don’t want those happy chemicals to disappear altogether, we do however, want to change our relationship with them so we can have the joy and happiness we seek.
© 2018 Rod W. Jeppsen
Clinical Mental Health Counselor
Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist, CSAT
Certified Gottman Therapist
Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist