Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Becoming Immune to Cravings

Okay, so maybe immune is too strong a word. But we can get to the point where urges have much less power over us.

Consider Russ: He's a 34 year old married father of three boys. When I started working with him a year and a half ago, he already knew what made him more vulnerable to relapse. From his file I read in the notes of one of our first meetings:

"When I get weighed down with stress, like at work, temptations come more easily to mind. The list of things I need to do keeps growing, and I can't attack tasks fast enough to keep up. I get this feeling in my chest like a band is tightening. I have a harder time breathing and I'm prone to sighing more. That oppressive feeling can linger even when I get home. I may try to play with the kids, but I can't get into it. If Cheryl asks me to do soemthing I think, Why can't she do it? It's like the stress has totally taken the wind out of my sails."

Looking back at my notes from those early sessions, I also find this admission: "Neither Cheryl nor I are good at sharing concerns, feelings, frustrations. It's how we were raised. Both of our families are averse to admitting struggles and talking about how you're really feeling. I remember as a kid when we stayed with my grandfather after his hip surgery to help him while he recuperated. One of his neighbors said, 'Hubert, why are you limping?' He said, 'I'm not limping!' Likewise, I remember walking in one day after school to find my mom in tears. I said, 'What's the matter?' She answered, 'I just need to buck up.'"

Well, that's one family legacy Russ and Cheryl won't be passing on. Here are some excerpts from the notes of my most recent session with him:

"I've been breezin' through the last couple of months. It feels like everything in my recovery is coming together. Initially I thought that our sexual relationship would have to be going well in order for me to feel good, overall, about things. However, we still aren't having sex or touching each other as much as I'd prefer. We tried scheduling sex on a regular basis, but that didn't work well for us. But I just don't get upset about it the way I used to."

"I guess the biggest difference is that Cheryl and I are talking well about hard things. I talk about whether or not I get tempted. If a tempting thought pops in my head, I can share it with her. But most of what we talk about are emotional struggles, hers and mine. Even little things. She opened up to me when she lent out our rice cooker and it came back with the teflon scraped. We're recognizing how important it is to talk feelings out instead of keeping them pent up.

"It was especially helpful this month when I suffered a big disappointment at work. The chief operations officer put me in charge of a really exciting project. I thought, They're finally recognizing my talents and giving me a shot. Unbeknownst to him, some hotshot in another department went to the CEO to turn in his resignation. In an effort to keep him, the president told him he could be in charge of the project that had just been assigned to me. So they brought me into the CEO's office the next day and ripped the rug out from under me.

"I feel such a lack of accomplishment at work. I get so bored. I feel underutilized and so rarely challenged. Then, finally there's a ray of sunshine, and it's quickly snuffed out. I told Cheryl my sob story that night. She let me cry on her shoulder. The next day I talked it out with her again. In fact just about every day that week we had long, heartfelt discussions.

"Funny thing was, on Friday afternoon of that week I went to my parents' house to set the DVR to record a game I didn't want to miss. They have unfiltered internet access and all the satellite channels. A year ago, that would have been the perfect setup for a relapse. It's the end of a long week at work, especially a week like that. But that day, I walked into their house, set the DVR, shrugged off the other possibilities, and then left. I sat down in the driver's seat of my car and thought, Woo hoo! I'm in the driver's seat of my life!"

Sometimes it's hard to work in the field of addiction. But hearing from clients like that Russ about victories like that make it all worth it.

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