It takes many years to develop certain traits that shape our personality and our perspective. Various factors come together such that an attitude is formed and based upon that, we bring about some changes in the situation with our actions.
Let’s understand this through a short story.
Once there was village, where everything was in a mess. It was losing its resources and was being tagged as a poor village. People fought a lot there. There was never a solution if a problem arose. It was slowly walking towards ruins. Then there came a sage who started preaching peace and harmony. He used to stay calm and composed in every situation. Everyone in the village started falling ill and weak. They did not know the reason for their failing health. After a few years, people started paying attention to the sage, because his health was not getting affected at all! People started feeling very different as they went near him. They thought that he has some special powers which keep him so fresh always. But he told them all that it was just about his mind being in control. He said that he rejected troubles, grief and any negative thing that coming his way. He said that he just practiced self control, which kept him always peaceful and unaffected by anything. People got impressed with him and started following his messages. It took them years to practice what he was teaching, but they had taken the initiative at-least. As there would be any fight in their house or locality, they would reject the quarrel and accept love. If there were any money related problems, they would not accept it as a problem but take it as a mutual responsibility to work towards earning more and spending in the right way. They started practicing self control too. Gradually, the condition of the whole village improved. They were happier, growing in health and wealth. Now it was called the magical village, because the environment had become so jovial that anybody who came there, found peace and joy.
So first of all, people had their problems; they had a negative perception, attitude and responses towards everything. Slowly they started recognizing their problems and wanted a solution. Then they changed their approach towards things on the basis of their observation and suggestion of the sage. They had a new perspective, new positive attitude and had better problem solving skills. It took them time, but they did it.
We all know that changing a habit is very difficult. Testimonies of people who were obese and are fit now, of people who were addicts and have been leading a sober life for more than 5 years now; those who left eating their favorite junk food and switched to healthy diet, or who moved towards studies from their play stations; they would be able to explain you better, how painful changing a habit can be.
There are times where we all slip back to our old patters, but it should be our decision and efforts to not relapse to the old condition.
Talking of addiction, slipping can surely be a reason for a relapse (i.e., continuing a habit beyond the initial slip), due to a phenomenon known as the Abstinence Violation Effect. Abstinence Violation Effect refers to the negative cognitive (i.e., internal, stable, uncontrollable attributions; cognitive dissonance) and affective responses (i.e., guilt, shame) experienced by an individual, when he returns to his old habit of substance abuse, after a period of self-imposed abstinence from psychoactive substances. AVE occurs when people attribute the cause of initial lapse to global factors and anxiety relieving thoughts like it is Ok to do it once, everybody does it, and nobody dies, etc. It cannot just be attributed to lack of will power. It could mainly be due to low resilience. Resilience is the capability and the power with which you bounce back to fight back your situations, instead of giving up.
In this post, we’d like to talk about a technique that can help you, before you slip, a technique called ‘Urge Surfing’.
What is Urge Surfing?
Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of addictions treatment, coined this prevention technique. Urge could be of anything. For example, in Shafa Home, the residents are not given any substance, be it cigarette or tobacco. They are kept away and absolutely clean throughout the treatment. They have to live a very simple life and earn their privileges, so, they do get this urge atleast to have chocolates once a while. After the treatment get over, they might have this urge to smoke a cigarette once. A person who is put on a special diet because of being diabetic, surely has the urge to eat something sweet. There are various kinds of urges we would have through the day, which we need to first recognize and then analyze them as good or bad for us. We will have to be conscious of these urges and the possible repercussions that they might have.
Urges are not necessarily to be fulfilled. They can be suppressed as well. And if they are recognized as bad for our health, we must simply let them pass. Urges arise and they eventually calm down. If you do not satisfy them, they would ultimately die.
Urges definitely create some sensations in you. They make you restless and they compel your mind to think about it again and again. For example, thinking about smoking during a meeting. It makes you so anxious, that you start shaking your legs, you lose your focus in the meeting, your start making plans of where to go and smoke with whom, what would you eat after smoking or drink with your cigarette etc.
You must start focusing on your breath first. Take deep long but subtle breaths. Start listening to your breath’s sound. Slowly, you will get back in the moment. Your focus would be back in the meeting. Then you can pat your back, because you just accomplished the first step.
Urges usually peak between 20 – 30 minutes, if we let them. Because reject them, they would not stay that long too. That urge would subside if we take it as a challenge for ourselves. But if we give in the urge, our chances of slipping for an old pattern would be more, ultimately leading to relapse. So the best way to combat them is shift your focus on your breath. While you are breathing, you must even feel that your breath is running even through those organs where your urge is causing the sensations. Fill every organ with love, oxygen and power.
If you want to surf your urges, sit in a quiet place, get yourself in ease and take your 100% attention to the body organs where your feel that your urge is causing sensations. For example, if an urge arises to drink, your mouth would start watering, so take your whole attention towards your mouth. Now notice the reaction of your body to it. Now think about the negative repercussions of what happened when you last time fulfilled your urge. Maybe, you landed up in a jail! Now make yourself the hero. Imagine that situation where you were successfully able to control your urge and let it go without satisfying it! Imagine yourself doing that again, because if you have successfully done it once, you can do it again as well, because you are indeed the hero now. Take charge of it! Do not let it take charge of you.
Thank thee Supreme power above you and appreciate yourself that you wanted a solution out of your problem. You recognized your urge as a potential harm to your recovery.
You can start urge surfing whenever you notice yourself having an urge. You can practice this on a regular basis by setting aside time to practice using the technique. You can also try shifting your attention to music or something creative.
In Shafa Home, we adopt various techniques to help our residents manage their emotions, urges and overall life in a better way.