Urge-surfing is the process of allowing a craving or an urge to use to be fully felt without doing anything – without distracting yourself, without going and using. If we look at cravings as merely body sensations, the mind can also interpret them as just that. We do not need to make decisions or engage in behaviors just because we feel a certain way or have an urge to move. This is not an easy concept to embrace but it can be revolutionary for some that struggle with substance abuse; you are no longer fighting with yourself by trying to “get rid of” your craving. Instead you ride it out like a wave and observe that experience like a surfer, until is subsides. This will create new learning for your whole body as well as your brain.
The reason I bring this up is the other day I was holding my son and had a very annoying itch in my ear that I desperately wanted to scratch. I couldn’t scratch it because I was trying to get him to sleep so as you can imagine, the itch became more intense. It made me think of addiction and urge-surfing right in that moment so I tried it. Instead of wanting it to go away or scratching it, I just felt it, observed it, and allowed it to be there with no action. Don’t get me wrong, it was partially driving me crazy and it felt like a bug was tickling my ear, but also just observing this as what it was allowed me to ride it out. I can’t actually recall if it went away totally but it certainly lessened from when it first began to itch.
The experience I had with my itchy ear helped me to better understand the internal process of addiction. I don’t mean to demean or lessen the intensity of addiction by comparing it to my itchy ear (smile) but in many ways it is similar. Ultimately, cravings are an experience in the mind/body. Addiction is also an experience. It’s not a disease in your body that forces you to use like a robot. It is something experiential. Therefore, in many ways, experiential approaches to overcoming cravings and addiction will be quite beneficial to a substance abuser. One may need to have some clean time under their belt to be able to withstand the urge-surfing, but it can eventually be a useful tool.
So is addiction one huge itch? No. Cravings are one big itch and addiction is the constant scratching. Just because any of us feel something compelling doesn’t mean we have to act and often times, if we wait it out, it goes away or subsides to a tolerable level. I would encourage you to start trying urge-surfing with things like an itch in your body, or a desire for a coffee or sweets, or a negative emotion. Instead of “doing something”, just feel it, let it wash over you, and know it’s only a sensation.