Category Archives: Triggers and Cravings

About the Big Craving: a Favorite Trick That Always Worked For Me

3 of series of 3 posts on cravings

In my first six months of getting clean, I had lots of using thoughts and many full-blown cravings. And though I employed the various tricks to “stop the thought” or “kill the craving” that we looked at in the previous blog posts, sometimes with a particularly strong craving I found myself overwhelmed. I was a hair’s breadth away from using.

You know the moment: your mind already knows exactly how to find the drug, which hotel to use at, the excuses I’d give my friends so as to drop under the radar for a day or two, and so on—all elaborately planned out in detail. (Sometimes this plan took less than a second or two to formulate; it was that fast.) Whenever this happened, I knew I had to bring out the big guns, so to speak.

Continue reading About the Big Craving: a Favorite Trick That Always Worked For Me

How to Kill a Craving

 

2 of series of 3 posts on cravings

The good news first: that intense, physical craving will generally last only 30-90 seconds unless you start moving toward drug use. If you can wait it out, or counteract the craving, it will pass soon enough.

Say, you are triggered and then have a pleasurable thought—what’s called a “euphoric recall”—about your using days. Almost always it’s only the pleasurable part of the high recalled. The disease doesn’t want you to remember the whole story.

Continue reading How to Kill a Craving

Is It Also Time to Quit Cigarettes?

If you smoke cigarettes, now is also a great time to quit them. Not just because quitting is good for you—which it is—but because ditching cigarettes actually increases your odds of successfully quitting meth . . . big time.

Here’s a tough statistic. If you smoke cigarettes, you have a 45% greater chance of relapse.

Why? Mostly because of chemicals added to the cigarettes that serve as “addiction boosters.” These addiction boosters actually open up the same receptors in your brain that are affected by meth. This means smoking cigarettes while trying to stop meth makes quitting much more difficult because you’re continually triggering those receptors in your brain into thinking meth is soon to follow. To put it simply, your brain associates the cigarette fix with a meth high. Continue reading Is It Also Time to Quit Cigarettes?

Telling On Yourself

 

When you’re triggered or have a craving to use, one of the best things you can do to counteract it is to “tell on yourself.” That means talk about it with someone—give them the gory details of your flashback, craving or fantasy. You’ll be amazed at how confessing a craving will lessen its power over you. For your sobriety, it’s crucial that you find a best friend – several if you can – with whom you can be completely honest.

If you are working a CMA, NA or AA program, this person will most likely be your sponsor. But even though you tell your sponsor everything regarding your addiction, I think it’s very important to have other sober friendswith whom you can come completely clean too. I’ve got a handful. The more sober friends you have who understand, the better. When we keep our urges to use secret, we’re far more likely to relapse.

Early in my recovery, out of nowhere, the thought crossed my mind that on my next trip into Los Angeles, I could have a one-night party. (After all, I’d been sober over six months at that point, didn’t I deserve a little reward?) So within ten seconds, I planned what lie I would tell my friends in Palm Springs, the lies I’d tell to my L.A. friends who thought I was coming to visit, planned exactly where I’d stay to party, from whom I’d buy the drugs (online) and exactly how much I would pay for an eight ball. Really. In a matter of seconds. My monkey mind ran with it, planned the whole thing out.

In maybe ten more seconds, I was floored by guilt. Immediately, I extended the thought to include how awful the end of the party would be, how I’d feel when I crashed the day after—then I realized: Who was I kidding? I’d never partied for just one night in my life. My usual run was 3 to 5 days, always 5 toward the end. No, if I used, I’d party for days then crash briefly and rationalize that, since I’ve lost my sobriety already, I might as well party for a while longer. And so the cycle begins all over again. I might go on another year-long run, or worse. When my mind played thorough this possibility I was relieved because the urge to use, the sudden fantasy, had been busted. Still, I knew what I had to do.

The next morning, I took two sober friends aside and confessed the whole thing to take away any power that it might hold if I kept it secret. I eventually shared about it at a group level later in the week, disempowering the fantasy even more. Having a friend, or several, you can share everything with is crucial to sobriety. Because we have to learn not to shame ourselveswhen our disease rears its ugly head. It’s not a weakness of character to be triggered or get lost in a using fantasy. It’s what the malfunctioning brain of an addict does—craves more drugs.

How we treat that craving is the key.Don’t keep it secret. Take away your disease’s power over you by “telling on yourself.”

You CAN quit crystal meth. Learning strategies to better maximize the possibility of truly quitting is what this blog is about. I hope it’s helped. Peace.

Hit “Delete”: 2 Important Actions to Take Now if You Haven’t Already Done So

 

1. Delete All Using Contacts

You may think deleting old using contacts, including your dealer’s, is something to be done before quitting. If you can do any of this beforehand, great. But, for many of us, we can’t actually do these absolutely necessary actions until after we begin our recovery in full.

All those old using contacts need to be deleted. The dealers, the party buddies, the project tweakers. All erased so that you can’t retrieve them. And don’t forget to delete the phone numbers in your call history, as well.

2. Delete Social Media, Too

Sex hookup sites. Craigslist. Even Facebook for some. All social media that you employed in your using career needs to be deleted. If your Facebook is overwhelmed with using buddies, create a wholly new account and send friend requests only to your non-using friends. Then delete your old account altogether.

Putting your hookup sites on “hold” or merely adding “HELL NO” to drugs or “NO PNP,” is a slippery slope. It’s best to delete your old profile, with all your old buddy lists, at once. If you keep your old username and all the partying buddies on your favorite list, what’s the point?

If you are serious about your sobriety, you must delete your old “party” accounts. Don’t do this alone. Have a sober friend sit with you as you delete the accounts. Avoid the temptation to check the last emails and notices, just cancel your accounts altogether.

Only later, once you are many months into your recovery, or whenever you feel it’s right, create a new account as a sober person. State in your profile that you are “in recovery” and “absolutely no partying or drugs.” In short, give yourself some time away from the internet at the start of your quitting.

Nothing can take a person out quicker than an offer to party with a hot hookup. So don’t let it get that far. Avoid all social media that intersected with your using and create new accounts that are for your sober life and friends.

And When You Get a Call or Text from an Old Using Friend…

If for some reason you can’t change your number—and it needs to be a very good reason—here are some steps you can take:

Don’t answer any unrecognized number. Once you delete all your using contacts from your phone and computer, don’t answer any calls that come through with only a number identification—it’s probably an old using buddy. Let all unknown callers go to voice mail. Screen your calls.

Respond by texting only. So a using friend calls and leaves a message. Don’t call back and speak to them. Respond with a text. Something like: “I no longer party. It was affecting my health. I wish you well. Peace.” Keep it short, sweet, and do not invite a response. A side bar: I was surprised by the responses I got, even though I didn’t invite them. All, without exception, were supportive. “Good for you. Be well.” “I’ve tried but can’t just yet. I hope you can.” “Do it, buddy. Do it.” Why such positive and encouraging responses? Because in their heart of hearts, every tweaker wants to quit. Every one of us knows how deadly this drug is and where it will ultimately lead. It’s not universal, but in my experience it is overwhelming: most meth addicts, deep down inside, want to be rid of the demon. They just don’t believe it possible.

Delete incoming and outgoing phone and text histories. Don’t forget to delete any record of that call/text from your using friend. Be vigilant about this. You don’t want their number to be stored anywhere that you can find later. Remember to delete both incoming and outgoing histories. Thinking that you don’t have to delete this history is actually setting the stage for relapse. So hammer down that delete key and remember…

You CAN quit crystal meth.

And a side bar: unlike my advice to you above, after I got clean, I did keep in contact with one former person in my meth circle: my dealer. I loved the guy. He was one of the kindest and most decent human beings I knew, just lost in the darkness of meth. Due to a grateful intervention by the Los Angeles Police Department, he was forced to quit one month after I got clean myself. (I was with him, standing at his side, at his trial.) He is now one of my closest friends in recovery. Now, almost six years after his arrest, the records are expunged and he heads a design team for a major corporation you all would recognize. He is well respected by his coworkers and friends. His life is happy, joyous and free from meth. Sure, he regularly attends CMA and AA meetings to give back the gift of sobriety that was given to him. But the dark days of meth are years behind him. Remember, this was my dealer! Anything in recovery is possible.

Today if you decide to start the journey. Learning what to expect during the quitting process can be very helpful. Then not only are you prepared for what’s coming, but can find strategies to better maximize the possibility of truly quitting. I hope the above helps. Peace.

The Latest Scientific Data About Recovery from Crystal Meth

(SPOILER: IT’S SOME VERY GOOD NEWS!)

Since the publication of Quitting Crystal Meth: What to Expect & What to Do, several new studies have been published on meth recovery, withdrawal timelines and what to expect during the first six months after quitting. I’m happy to report none of the studies conflict or contradict what you’ll read in the book in any substantial manner, but they do augment and, in some cases, give a few new insights into our first year of recovery.

When the second edition is published in 2018 (it’s important to keep up with the latest data), I will include all of this information and, hopefully, more. For now, however, I didn’t want for you to have to wait. So here’s what the scientific and medical community has learned about our journey of quitting.

On Cravings:

  • After you get through that awful first month of withdrawal, though you may feel much better emotionally and physically, studies show that “cue related” cravings actually begin to increase. These cravings usually peak during the third month of abstinence.

This was a surprise to me, at first, but, as I thought about it, I began to see how this fits into the current timeline outlined in the book. Though the more acute withdrawal symptoms from using tend to ease up over the first month, lessening as time goes by, one’s cravings from “external cues” (triggers from people, places or things) or “internal cues” (triggers from emotions) begin to intensify substantially. Though the brain is healing and you might be experiencing a “pink cloud” (see the “Withdrawal” excerpt from the book), your mind is poised to be triggered. Here, it’s important to follow the book’s instruction on how to avoid, triggers and counteract cravings (see “The Honeymoon” and “The Wall” chapters). Two related blogposts on triggers, how to avoid them and, ultimately, deal with them, are here and here.

  • Another study shows that after you’re clean for six months cravings decrease substantially.

So to summarize in brief: science says six months is the magic number for the easing up of cravings, with three months being when they are at their peak. Knowing and expecting the upswing in your cravings during months two and three can help you prepare for them. And holding on to the fact that after that third month the cravings dramatically start to fall can give you hope to get through the early months. It get’s better, but it’s somewhat of a rollercoaster at first.

On the Healing of the Brain:

There’s some very good news from the new scientific data available on brain healing.

  • When tested, meth users who were abstinent for five years or more and non-meth using control subjects had similar neurochemical levels. In short, after 5 years the brain can often show no sign of meth destruction.
  • A group of meth addicts were compared to a control group of age-matched non-meth users.  Just upon quitting, the meth addicts performed far worse on measures of cognitive performance and neuropsychological functioning, as well as emotional distress. But, after a year of continuous abstinence from meth, these subjects performed comparably to the healthy control subjects.

And for those of you who have severe brain impairments, like hearing voices and bouts of continued paranoia, take comfort in this:

  • Among those meth users who stayed clean for a year, those with the worst brain-damage related impairments showed the greatest improvement when retested.

It’s not exactly new information as the book notes the one year mark as a significant turning point. However, in the book, the “magic number” for major brain healing is two years (anecdotally, I found that was usually when the fog had seemed to completely lift). But the scientific data tells us that usually this significant healing happens earlier. It is something I will change in the next edition.

Bottom line and great news: for most of us who can stay clean for a year or longer, studies show substantial thinking improvements and visible brain healing. For most of us, the brain can come close to being completely healed in time.

So spread the news: it gets better. This takes only two things: not using meth and clean time.

Let any addict who’s struggling in their early months know these new facts:

  • The cravings will probably increase in month two and peak in three, but they will have decreased substantially by month six. (As I recall, it was around this time, my cravings and using dreams dwindled into obscurity.)
  • As far as brain healing goes: it does heal dramatically in merely one year.

Great news… Evidence-based… Facts…

 

 

Trigger… Thought… Craving… Using… (Part 1)

A song comes on the radio that you first heard while using. Or a person you once partied with walks out of the grocery store as you arrive. It can be as innocent as the straw a waitress sets next to your iced tea. Any of these people, places or things can trigger memories from your “old” life when you used. These memories—called triggers—usually lead to other thoughts about using. This thinking about using often evokes a longing that leads to a craving, an intense feeling in which you suddenly want or need the drug. If unchecked, using is often not far behind.

The sequence is: Trigger… Thought… Craving… Use.

Triggers are everywhere. You’ll learn them, and then learn to avoid them when appropriate. For instance, the smell of bleach for one addict triggered memories of bathhouses and drug-fueled sex parties, so for the first year of his recovery he had to get rid of all the bleach in his apartment. For people who smoked cigarettes while high, smoking can be a troublesome trigger. The good news is that triggers often become less potent over time. The certain song that, in your first month, sent you into a mad craving tizzy may, after several more months, lose its power over you. With time, the potency of your triggers and the cravings mellow.

Successfully quitting meth has a lot to do with learning how to check these cravings and interrupt the sequence of Trigger-Thought-Craving-Use. Just know these triggers and cravings are to be expected. Don’t worry—they can be dealt with successfully without relapsing. The fact is triggers and cravings are part of recovery.

There are two kinds of triggers.

External triggers. These are things outside yourself that trigger a using thought. Like a text from an old using buddy. Or a certain online hookup site. Or the neighborhood where your dealer lived.

Internal triggers. These are triggers that originate from within you, usually emotions. Some people are triggered to use when very sad or depressed. You just want the low to be wiped away by the euphoria of the drug. Others, myself included, get triggered by just the opposite—joy and excitement. When something good happens, my disease tells me: “This is so great! Let’s get high to celebrate and make this greatness last longer!” Some people are triggered when they feel misunderstood, criticized or ignored. Others when they get deeply angered, irritated, or feel embarrassed. Just about any strong emotion can be a trigger for you to use—if you associate using with it. Discover which emotional states trigger you the strongest.

Here is an important way to deal with any trigger…

Stop the Thought

One successful strategy to halt the trigger from going further is to “stop the thought” dead in its tracks before you arrive at the craving. You interrupt the sequence of thought-craving before the thought part can turn into a full-fledged craving. There are many ways to do this and I encourage you to find those that work best for you.

Here are some ideas:

Visualize the “thought” as a TV screen image, then change the channel. Picture the image of that using thought on a TV screen inside your mind. Then visualize yourself changing the channel of that inner TV. Pick a positive, happy image for the new channel—say, the image of someone you love dearly, hugging you. Or your favorite view of the ocean. Something powerful that instantly elicits happy feelings. So, you visualize this channel switch in your mind, and the new positive image appears on that inner TV screen.

Think of something that evokes a powerful emotion, like anger—but has no associations with using. One recovering addict told me he “stopped the thought” by immediately thinking of a certain politician who made him furious. Just rekindling his anger toward this politician (or political party) was enough to get his mind completely off using for the moment. Who knew politics could be put to such good use? (And, obviously, if anger is one of your triggers, you shouldn’t try this.)

Snap that rubber band on your wrist. If the stop-the-thought process isn’t working for you, try a preplanned action that interrupts the thought. Some rehab centers advise you to wear a rubber band around your wrist so that, whenever you catch yourself thinking about using, you can snap the rubber band. This jogs your thinking process and stops the forward momentum toward craving and use. The sting of the rubber band on your wrist brings your thoughts back to the present moment.

These are just a few. Find your own if you’re currently triggered a lot. Stop that thought before it becomes a craving.

Next blogpost, we’ll look at cravings and how to counteract a craving if the trigger-thought-craving process has gone that far.

In the meantime, be well, keep clean and, remember, don’t pick up without calling a nonusing friend first. Sharing your thought of using aloud is another powerful way to stop the process.

We usually don’t get clean by ourselves. It takes a village.

Texting or Tweeting for Recovery

I have a good friend, a member of one of the Anonymous programs and a self-described “old fart, with over 30 years sobriety,” who goes nuts when his sponsees text him, instead of calling. “How do I know how you’re really feeling, really doing, through a text message. I don’t! I need to hear your voice!” Well, he’s got a point, but… that’s sponsor to sponsee, what about peer coaching, the more likely interaction with instant messaging? What about when one addict reaches out to another through texting?

In one study done on teenage addicts in Philadelphia (published in 2009), peer support or “recovery coaching” offered through the use of text messaging showed promising results. Ditto in this very same study for involvement in social networking websites. I found another study done of crystal use and prevention with MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) that concluded “An IT [information technology] intervention using text-messaging, social networking sites or a combination of IT communication options is an innovative and feasible way to reach and intervene with out-of-treatment, methamphetamine-using MSM.”

A web search reveals a few currently ongoing studies about how texting relates to relapse prevention and intervention, but they are not complete yet. Other than becoming addicted to such technology, or the internet in general (a wholly different post), the only other problem with IT I found is that, since most studies take several years, the technology used might become obsolete by a study’s end. In the IT world of mobile communication things change fast. But we can generalize and look at the principle. So, here’s what I’ve come to:

First, whether you’re texting or tweeting or something new in the future, information technology—changing rapidly as it is, connecting us almost instantly with another addict, be they next door or on another continent—is definitely here to stay. And, bottom line, it’s a connection. And the few studies so far seem to indicate it works in intervention and breaking a craving cycle just as talking to someone voice-to-voice does. Think of it as one more tool in our toolkit. It is still one addict reaching out to another. A model that’s worked pretty well since it was started 80 years ago in Akron, Ohio, right?

Bottom line for now: So far, the studies indicate that information technology as relapse prevention works. So text and tweet away. Just make sure you’ve got in-person, flesh to flesh contact as well. Often known as a meeting [smile] and fellowship.

 

[Note: this posting appeared in a slightly altered form in May of 2013.]

photo credit: Drriss & Marrionn via photopin cc

On Thanksgiving and Funerals – Feeling Triggered and Moving on

 

First, to all our readers in the United States, happy Thanksgiving. It’s usually a time when family gathers. So what better place to blog post about “triggers,” right?

Triggers are those people, places or things that trigger your desire to get high. It could be an off ramp on the freeway you often took while heading to your dealer’s house, a certain neighborhood, a particular song on the radio, or that aforementioned family gathering at, say, one of the upcoming holidays. The advice to avoid obvious triggers is especially good in the early weeks and months of getting clean, but the ultimate goal is to be able to handle—to feel and move through—any trigger which comes your way. You can’t simply avoid triggers forever, so let’s look at an example of a trigger you can see on the horizon and how you might cope with it.

Suppose large family gatherings usually trigger you. In the past, you’ve always responded to the pressure of such situations by using, either before, during, or after (maybe all three). But now that you are clean and sober, there will be family gatherings where you’ll need to show up without getting loaded. Aside from holiday gatherings, an obvious example is a funeral. You’ll want to be responsible and support your family. So, how do you handle this triggering situation?

You handle it exactly the same as you would any sudden trigger. You lean on a sober friend.

Instead of calling someone or going to a CMA/12 Step meeting, you ask your sober friend beforehand to accompany you to the family gathering. If you get a craving, you’ll have your sober friend there by your side. You can literally lean on them, if needed.

Knowing you are likely to be triggered, you don’t run away. Instead, you prepare ahead of time. You are able to feel the trigger and have your support system in place so you can move through it. There’s an old saying that goes: feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s like that with a trigger you know you must eventually face, better awkward than backward.

As you grow in your sobriety you will become stronger and more able to handle the triggers that life throws at you. You’ll prepare by having tools at your disposal—twelve step meetings in which you can share, sober friends on whom to lean—that help you become the person of character you want to become.

Have a beautiful week. Stay clean no matter what. And let’s be thankful (from whatever country you’re living in) that we are quitting crystal meth together. If you’re just starting out the journey of quitting or have several years under your belt, it doesn’t matter. Let us be thankful that ice has melted away for today. Just for today, let’s be thankful for overcoming our meth addiction.

 

Delete, Delete, Delete

 

“Do I really have to do this?” he asked, pitifully.  “I’m not sure that I can.”

“Then, I guarantee you’ll use again,” I said.  “Not probably, but definitely. Period.”  We were talking about deleting all his former using contacts from his phone and computer.

The rule is simple: when trying to quit, put as many obstacles between you and using again as possible.  Don’t make it easy to pick up.  Make it hard work, and that begins with deleting every last one of your old using contacts.

I often work with addicts who are just getting clean and one of the first things I insist upon is that you absolutely must delete all your old using contacts from all phones and computers. In my experience in working with addicts who are trying to quit, this is often one of the most difficult things to do. It’s like giving up old friends. It’s tangibly ending that former world/life in a definitive manner.

And I mean deleting everyone involved in your using in any way. Using buddies. Dealers, obviously. Anyone who can connect you back into the using world with a single phone call, text, or email.  Bottom line: if you no longer have instant, easy access to using friends, you have a big jump ahead on getting and staying clean.

But it’s amazing how resistant people are to this simple, obvious path of action.

A complication to consider: I have Apple computers and phones and was six months into my sobriety when I discovered that my iBook’s automatic, built-in backup program, “Time Machine,” had all my old contact data saved, even though I’d deleted it from today’s list. I finally had to have my entire hard disc wiped clean to truly get rid of all that info. Also, in our world of “clouds,” make sure you don’t keep the contact data stored there either. Don’t play with fire. Put as many obstacles between you and using as you can.

And here’s another suggestion I highly recommend: change your phone number and only give it to your non-using friends. And, if for some reason you can’t change your phone number—and it better be a damn good reason that you can’t—here’s some things you can do after you’ve deleted all your using contacts, of course:

—            Don’t answer any unrecognized number. Once you’ve deleted all your using contacts from your phone and computer, don’t answer any calls that come through with only a number identification—it’s probably an old using buddy. Let all unknown callers go to voice mail. Screen your calls.

—            Respond by texting only. So a using friend calls and leaves a message. Don’t call back and speak to them. Respond with a text. Something like: “I no longer party. It was affecting my health. I wish you well. Peace.” Keep it short, sweet, and do not invite a response.

—            Immediately delete incoming and outgoing phone and text histories. Don’t forget to delete any record of that call/text from your using friend. Be vigilant about this. You don’t want their number to be stored anywhere that you can find later. Remember to delete both incoming and outgoing histories. Thinking that you don’t have to delete this history is actually setting the stage for relapse.

So we return to “delete, delete, delete.”  There’s no better way to help insure your sobriety, especially during those tough first few months, than to be free of any contact info into your old using life.  Do it.

Delete, delete, delete.