A craving can hijack your brain. Like a bad case of food poisoning for your mind, it can overtake you and leave you feeling totally powerless. In the moment, the desire for a drink can feel larger than anything else, including your intention to not pick up. So when you get seriously thirsty, what’s a strategy that will save you? If your buddies aren’t answering the phone and you’re staring a bottle down, playing the tape through is a craving crusher that will help. It’s a mental exercise that is easy to do anywhere and at anytime.
Let’s say you’re out at a restaurant with friends. A tray of drinks is brought past your table. You glance down at the menu and notice a cocktail you haven’t heard of before that sounds enticing. It’s enough to make you crave a drink, and after dinner you consider stopping by a bar for a cocktail. Just one tasty cocktail. Right? Your brain is pulsing with this thought as you stop at every light. Are you going to head home or to the bar?
Here’s where you play the tape through: imagine life as a movie, and your drinking gets the starring role. Play a movie through of how that one tasty cocktail would go for you, based on your past experience. You probably would order a few more at the bar, because one has never been enough for you in the past. And then you might stop at a liquor store on the way home, because you never want the party to stop when you leave the bar after a few. You’d end up spending more than you wanted, not to mention that you’d be driving drunk. You wouldn’t stop at one tasty cocktail. You’d get a bottle and keep the party of one going at home. In the morning, you’d wake up with a splitting headache, wondering why you let yourself do it all again. You had hopes for giving up drinking, and in this movie, you’d be disappointed in yourself, exhausted, and hungover.
After playing that tape through, the single cocktail wouldn’t sound as enticing. A craving bubble can always be burst by a cold, hard serving of reality.
Playing the tape through can help with any type of craving, from a hankering for sweets to a cigarette to pills. If your brain is begging you for a quick fix, play that quick fix out to its longer end. It will remind you that immediate gratification has a downside, which doesn’t align with your new long term goals.
Mental exercises are important defenses against picking up a drink because they’re free and easy. They don’t require cell phone reception or changing your physical location. Ideally, you can avoid triggering situations and talk about cravings with a support network of peers. But if a craving strikes and you need a quick tool at your disposal, you can turn your brain from an enemy into an ally. Watch a movie in your mind, and remember that the first drink isn’t ever the last one.
As Workit Health's Community Lead, Kali Lux leans in to the culture gap between addiction, recovery, and medicine. She's interested in finding solutions that work for substance users better than drinking or drugging does, and believes Workit is one of them. She's written extensively on her own experience through addiction into long-term recovery. Connect with her on Twitter @kalireadsbooks.