This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Addiction” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step Six: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events.
Some temptation contexts cannot be avoided. This is partly because of the logistical realities of life and partly because temptation is a predator (I Peter 5:8) looking for our destruction. In moments when you cannot get out of the context of temptation, you are going to have to relate to the temptation differently. A summarizing principle for this is reframing: temptation makes danger look enticing, but wisdom (rightly) reframes temptation as danger.
1. High Risk Moment Plan:
You need a short, simple plan for moments of intense temptation. This plan should consist of fleeing temptation with good people. Don’t be cute or elaborate in your initial plan. Get away and get with people you can trust. This means you need to have several trusted friends on speed dial in your phone and you need to think through any irregular events (see point above) you plan to attend.
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 2 Timothy 2:22
2. Constructive Self-Talk:
No one is more influential in your life than you because no one talks to you more than you do. What you say to you matters… A LOT! What you say to yourself during a moment of temptation matters even more than usual. During moments of temptation, our unproductive self-talk is usually either shameful or grandiose. An example of shameful self-talk would be:
“I am such a loser. I can’t believe I am weak and struggling again. I should have known better than to think I could be sober. Why do I ever let myself believe such stupidly positive things? This is why I’m all alone. Everyone can see how pathetic I am, but me.”
An example of grandiose self-talk would be (usually before temptation):
“I can handle this. If I don’t learn how to handle situations like this on my own, then what good is being sober? I know what I need to do and am willing to do it. What is someone going to tell me that I don’t already know? If God is with me, then why wouldn’t I be able to handle that kind of situation? It’s time to start living my life. I’m tired of being cautious and fearful. Is that how God would want me to live?”
Which of these two modes of thinking are you prone to and what does it sound like? A constructive self-talk during or after temptation would sound something like this:
“I know I need God every moment to live the life he calls me to live. I’m just more aware of my need during moments of temptation than other times. God promises that his strength is made perfect in my weakness. God is not annoyed by my prayers right now. God cares for me through my friends in moments like this. Thank you God for your presence, patience, and my friends… [phone call].”
A constructive self-talk before temptation would sound something like this:
“False confidence is the most dangerous disposition I can have. Like pride, I never see it until it destroys me. God protects me from false confidence through the people he’s provided to walk with me. Freedom is not evidenced by making cavalier choices, but through making wise choices. Whenever I feel that wisdom is limiting my freedom (angry or resentful at wisdom’s implications) I need to be most concerned and most honest.”
Read 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. Notice that the reframing exercises listed above are an example of “taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” The kinds of moments in which you wrestle with the destructive self-talk styles described above are the moments when this spiritual discipline is most relevant. Use the chart below to begin to capture your characteristic style of destructive self-talk and begin to write replacement scripts. Allow every moment of temptation to expand your arsenal of ways to resist Satan’s attempt to derail your life.
3. Relaxation Training:
Temptation is stressful. Addiction is living in a state of perpetual, elevated temptation. Unless we learn to manage stress well, we may defeat temptation in the short-term but it will wear us down into submission over the long haul. Our long-term approach to addiction must take into account methods for managing stress.
“One’s ability to cope with stress – in particular, with anger, frustration, boredom, anxiety, and depression – has been identified as a critical deficit area in many theories or models of addiction (p. 13).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change
There are two forms of body relaxation that are easy to practice during times of stress. 3a. Breathing. This technique may sound odd. But deep breathing can have a significant impact upon your experience of stress. One area that the body monitors to determine its sense of safety is the temperature of the nasal cavity. When the nasal cavity is hot, it triggers the stress response. When it cools the body turns off the stress response. Think of the athlete who begins to breathe through his mouth as he runs. This causes his nasal cavity to heat up and triggers the adrenal system; part of the flight-fight stress response. Adrenaline provides an energy boost and intensifies his emotional state (hence the reactivity of competitors at many sporting events). This is one reason many people feel relaxed when they smoke cigarettes even though nicotine is a stimulant. The calming power of the breathing required to rhythmically inhale a cigarette is more powerful than the medical agent in cigarettes are energizing. Awkwardly, this means many smokers are as addicted to breathing as they are nicotine; especially if their primary appeal to smoking is relaxation. When you feel stress mounting, it is recommend that you take a few deep breaths in through your nose (drawing in cool air) and out through your mouth (exhaling the warmer air away from you nose). This will cool the nasal cavity. It does not extract adrenaline already released, but prevents the release of additional adrenaline. In this sense, it is the emotional equivalent of taking your foot off the gas pedal of your car more than stepping on the brakes. 3b. Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Consider this exercise as you do it, then we’ll explain it. Flex the muscles in your hands making a fist as you slowly count to ten (slows the pace of your thinking, which also offsets stress). Feel the slight burning sensation as lactic acid builds in your muscles. Release the grip after ten seconds. Now do the same with your forearms; then biceps, then triceps, then shoulders. As you do this, you are both focusing your attention away from your stress and countering the effects of stress in your body. The buildup of lactic acid in your muscles absorbs the free radicals that stress creates and causes us to feel tight after a time of prolonged stress. As you do this with each muscle group from your hands to your feet, you are reclaiming your body from the effects of stress while willfully focusing your attention on what you choose.
Distraction is not used with a bad connotation here. During moments of temptation, the battle with addiction is largely a battle of attention; what you focus on will determine what you do. Focusing on the addiction, even resisting the addiction, during moments of temptation only feeds the intensity of temptation. After you’ve reached out to God and your support network for help (de-isolating temptation), the best thing you can do is engage your mind with non-addictive enjoyments – distractions. When you’ve done all that wisdom allows, temptation does not immediately dissipate. After wisdom comes waiting. Passive waiting is dangerous. Make a list of enjoyable activities or relationships you can distract yourself with after temptation or during boredom. These distractions should be readily available, enjoyable, and not contributing to temptation.
5. Filling the Void:
If distraction is for moments of temptation, filling the void is for the time period between temptations. Overcoming addiction will create large segments of empty time in your life. How you manage these segments of time being vacated by addictive behaviors will go a long ways towards determining your sobriety. If distractions are short-term activities, filling the void are more long-term pursuits of hobbies. Filling the void is more about beginning to pursue the life you want than occupying your mind during difficult times. This strategy can easily be overwhelming, so it is wise to only begin pursuing one or two goals at this stage. You do not want to addictively pursue a better life; you want to healthily pursue a better life. What are one or two pursuits you would like to consider? You may find that investing in mid-to-long-term goals is as difficult as avoiding addiction. If that is the case, do not let it discourage you. It is another opportunity for growth. You are not racing anyone. You are pursuing a God-honoring sobriety. Whatever pace allows you to arrive at that destination is the right pace for you. If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Addiction” post which address other facets of this subject.