Taming the Beast (In Your Head)

Go on.
Just one drink.
You’re a champ, you can handle it.
Who’s gonna know?

taming the beastFor a recovering alcoholic, or an addict of any kind, these are the voices and insinuations you hear in your head throughout the tempting days of early recovery and beyond. It’s not like an alcoholic wants to continue the destructive behavioral patterns associated with alcohol abuse. At a certain point it just gets out of his/her control. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one side of you is clinging to sobriety in the hopes of righting the course of your life, while a darker, more insidious part of you is hell bent on self-destruction and the continuation of your addiction. The ability to control the monster inside, to quiet the voices of temptation, and fight off the urges of addiction… that’s the true test of recovery.

This entry isn’t meant to paint a horrific or over-dramatized portrait of addiction, or to lend it any more power or personification than it deserves, but to point out the conflict that rages inside the hearts and minds of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts all over the world.

Addiction is often called a “disease,” a term which gets debated frequently in the medical community. However it doesn’t feel like a sickness when you’re living through it. It feels more like a part of you is in rebellion, working tirelessly to betray you to the vicious hunger of the addiction itself. Once substance abuse becomes a chronic problem, a certain part of your brain starts to work against the greater of your health and wellbeing. It becomes a slave to the substance and actively subverts your best efforts to control these actions. It’s like having a traitor inside your head at all times. Your very own personal Judas, except it’s a drunken, raging monster version that crashes through your life leaving a wake of damage behind.

Taming the Beast

If we keep thinking of this “inner addict” as the Hyde monster from the previous metaphor, or perhaps the green raging Hulk from the Marvel Avengers movies, we can see that reasoning with the thing isn’t going to get you anywhere. You have to see this inner addict as a kind of animal with basic instincts. You are the responsible adult and the inner addict is the rampaging child. In order to get it under control, there are a few basic steps you can put into practice.

1. Study the beast.
Like a hunter stalking prey, learn the triggers that tend to set you on the path of relapse. These can be people, environments, images or sounds, even times of day or year.

2. Anticipate the beast.
Once you have some clues to the behavioral patterns of the inner addict, be on constant watch for the triggers that it’s about to make an appearance. Ask yourself daily, even hourly if you must, “Am I in danger?” If an episode is on the horizon, take proper precautions.

3. Be prepared to redirect the beast.
Having your inner addict come charging at you full of rage and fury and need is like standing in the way of a tank. It will bowl you right over. But if you can learn to redirect this energy, you stand a chance of outsmarting it. Have a backup plan for triggers. When you are in danger of relapsing, have a fallout location where you can go and wait it out without having access to drugs or alcohol. Have a hobby or person that can distract you until the beast collapses and goes dormant again. Outwit and out-maneuver your enemy by being alert, vigilant, and prepared.

4. Stay Strong.
Each time it happens will be different and sometimes you’ll fail. Don’t lose sight of the goal, which is a life of sobriety and health. Stay strong and keep your head in the game. That’s the only way to win against the inner addict.