Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, Part 21: You can’t stop cravings from knocking at the door, but you don’t have to answer

You could stop using whatever it is that is destroying you and you will still think about it from time to time. You’ll have dreams of using. A beer truck might roll by and you’ll feel thirsty. That old life will seem good every now and then. You could have some very good reasons to stop using, but you will forget them if the craving is strong enough. Thoughts of using are just that: thoughts; but they can be very powerful if fed. They can bring down the most secure sobriety.

When people enter recovery and find they cannot stop the thoughts of use, they get discouraged and figure nothing can help; but recovery is a process. You can’t reduce the incidence of thoughts of use without first reducing their duration.

You know those people who walk through your neighborhood in pairs and knock on your door asking you to join their church? I get them in my neighborhood, too. One day, I invited them in for coffee. I gave them donuts. We had a good talk about the Bible, but I couldn’t get them to leave. They next day they were back. I didn’t want to be rude, so we had coffee again, and again, and again, and again. They were good people, but I wasn’t going to join their church, I was already set in that regard. I was wasting their time and mine also. I couldn’t make them stop. It was madness.

Then, one day when they knocked, I made an excuse that I was painting the kitchen, so we couldn’t have coffee. They were back a few minutes later in old clothes and offered to help me paint. Since I wasn’t really painting anything, I had to tell them the truth. Please don’t knock on my door anymore. Goodbye.
The next day, they were back.

Eventually, I learned that even engaging with them in the doorway was a mistake. Whenever I would hear the doorbell, I had to peer out a window. If it was them, I’d make like I was not home. Finally, they stopped coming.

Your cravings to use drugs are like that. So are your anxieties, your negative thoughts, your unwarranted feelings, your paranoia, and any of your impulses to do things that you’ll regret. You can’t stop these thoughts from knocking at the door, but you don’t have to let them in.

When you notice you’re engaging in these thoughts, that’s the time to stop them. Say to yourself, “Stop the Madness”, and those thoughts will stop for the moment you say it. Seriously. All you have to do is identify your thing as madness for you to end the power it has over you for that moment. It’s as simple as that.

Oh, the thoughts of use will come back in, like, two seconds; so soon it’ll seem like you never stopped. It’s simple, but often it’s not easy. Sometimes thoughts of use have already moved in, are sleeping on the couch, or even kicked you out of your own bed, or are holding you hostage. They’ll dig in their heels, argue, threaten, lie, hornswoggle you into believing you need to use. Getting rid of them will be like when a woodchuck chews his own leg off to get out of a trap, but it all starts with you identifying the madness.
So, do it again. Say, “Stop the Madness”, and those thoughts stops once more. Do this as many times as it takes. You will reduce the duration of thoughts of use. Time spent in thoughts of use will get shorter and shorter. You’ll get better at doing this. It’ll get easier for you to stop. Eventually, you’ll learn to see the thoughts of use coming and, like me, pretend you’re not home.

I was complicit with the people knocking on my door, but I didn’t know it. I had a choice. I didn’t need to let them in. I entertained them. I fed them. I sat with them and had coffee.

When you stop answering the door every time your thoughts of use knock, you’ll see you have a choice, too. You’ve been complicit. The sooner you terminate your engagement with thoughts of use, the sooner they lose their power over you. They wither away, malnourished. You’ll see.