General Coping Strategy

In the beginnerís mind there are many possibilities;
in the expertís mind there are few.

Ė Shunryu Suzuki

You can be sure that your future has a wide range of high-risk situations waiting for you. Research shows that the difference between coping success and failure is whether or not the person actually employed a coping tactic during the crisis. Tools and strategies to help you develop effective coping tactics and actually use them at the critical moments are presented on this and the following pages. 

The challenge that faces you is enormously difficult; and, it is vitally important that you succeed. Remember, any thought of the incentive is part of a chain of internal experiences and external events that lead to relapse. The general strategy is to keep as much distance as possible between you and the incentive:

  1. Avoid the bait of a relapse chain, if not
  2. Escape the chain early, if not
  3. Escape the chain late, if not
  4. Prevent a lapse from becoming relapse

The sequence of internal states and external events that lead to relapse develops momentum as it proceeds. It becomes progressively more difficult to interrupt the sequence as the sequence progresses. The slope is steep, so it is important to execute coping tactics as early in the sequence as possible.

The path to relapse begins much earlier than most people realize. Some antecedents of relapse, also known as Hot Stimuli, evoke conditioned emotional reactions [such as arousal, craving, or desperation for relief], which stealthily distort your perception and how you appraise the choices available to you. Typically, High-Risk Situations begin at the moment there is contact between one of these hot stimuli and your attention.

  1. Your first line of defense is to prevent unintentional trance formation by recognizing that Hot Stimuli are meaningless — they causes problems because they are salient and so can distract you from what is meaningful. Have respect for the trance formative power of Hot Stimuli and keep your distance.
    • Do not make a fetish out of not thinking about the incentive as that may elicit an Ironic Process. A model for your relationship with the incentive may be a veteran vegetarian who perceives sights, smells and thoughts, meat as pointless distractions that are hardly worthy of attention.

  2. If a hot stimulus does capture you attention, you must escape its influence without delay. The longer you allow your attention to linger or to follow the path of least resistance, the greater the likelihood your state-dependent faculties will be altered in ways that promote relapse. The longer you wait to initiate a coping response the more effort it will require. A wide range of methods to help you are described below.

  3. Even when your first opportunity to act comes after you realize that you are in a high-risk state, it is not too late. You will still be able to act in accord with your interests and principles; although doing so may require you to use emotion-focused coping skills to enable you to access your best cognitive resources.

  4. The final line of defense is to prevent a lapse from turning into a complete relapse and the loss of everything. The principles of the Enlightened Path protect those who follow it from the bait of magical thinking and defeatist rumination

Some strategic points

  1. Keep as much distance between you and the incentive
  2. the second arrow. Some suffering you cannot avoid so forget about it; focus you energies on the suffering you can avoid - especially the suffering you cause yourself [e.g., RSF, demoralization]
  3. live mindfully - cultivate your ability to awaken yourself
  4. stick to the basics - follow the rational plan even when things seem hopeless -do not give in to demoralization, even when it feels valid.[from the rational perspective: of course it will feel valid. your appraisals are state-dependent and when you are demoralized that is the way the world will look, not how it actually is [meta-cognitive awareness.

The next page describes different ways of responding to High-Risk Situations; some will be better matched with your personal characteristics and circumstances than others. Please experiment with the best candidates to get into the habit of responding mindfully to warning signals in real-time. Pay special attention to how things play out. If one tactic does not work well, discard it and try another. Strengthen the promising ones with practice.

I encourage you to modify them to suit your particular traits and circumstance. Remember, this is a collaboration, so please feel free to communicate with me or another clinician during this exploratory stage of developing methods to cope with the crises that you are bound to encounter.

The Management of Cravings

Craving is the experience of resisting the pull of the incentive. If you used the incentive as soon as you experienced the slightest desire for it, you would not experience much craving. In fact, the only way to experience a craving is to resist an urge. Some theorists view craving as the experience of exerting energy to resist the pull of the incentive, while others view it as the experience of frustration at not getting the incentive. In any event, if you do not give in to them, cravings subside on their own.  Each time you override a craving, the incentive's power to elicit craving in the future diminishes. 

Subjective experiences such as cravings or urges are not necessarily unpleasant and certainly not as painful as relapse. They may seem to last forever but, in fact, they do not. Each has a finite duration, usually seconds or minutes, rarely hours. According to one client, “Cravings are the experience of addiction leaving the body.”

There are many possible triggers for cravings and urges, but what keeps them alive is thinking about them. Anything that keeps the idea of using the incentive in mind, elicits cravings and urges. Fighting against the desire to use the incentive is counter-productive. Instead consider the methods presented on the following pages to change your current motivational state:

  • Overt Behavioral Tactics such as physical exercise, playing music, initiating social contact.
  • Covert Tactics such as imagining the dreadful consequences of relapse, practicing a meditation exercise, mindful observation of the experience of desire
    • Intentional Trance Formation Protocols such as hypnotherapeutic inductions, suggestion, visualization.


Specific Coping Tactics >>

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