Hang Ten: Riding Waves and Boosting Recovery

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Surfer in recovery riding large wave

It might sound strange, but surfing and addiction recovery have a lot in common. Surfers have to understand the constantly changing atmosphere of the ocean, be mindful of their surroundings, and master the art of balance. You’ll need a strikingly similar set of skills to manage the impulses – or urges – created by addiction.

Recognizing Urges

Created by psychologist, professor, and author G. Alan Marlatt, the practice of urge surfing has become an integral piece of recovery and relapse prevention programs around the world. This mindfulness technique has been successful in fending off even the most powerful urges that cause many addicts to slip and fall back into old destructive behavior patterns. In order to understand the beautifully simplistic concept of urge surfing, we first need to break down urges as they are related to substance abuse.

If you’re able to acknowledge these urges and ride them out, you can come out the other side with your sobriety intact.Urges related to drug and alcohol abuse occur when the mind is suddenly triggered by an outside stimulus. Whether it’s a specific smell or going to a certain part of town, these seemingly innocent stimuli can morph into powerful substance-related urges that have the potential to send recovering addicts headlong into relapse.

Substance urges come on quickly, but don’t last very long. According to research, the urges rarely last for more than 30 minutes. If you’re able to acknowledge these urges and ride them out, you can come out the other side with your sobriety intact.

Surfing the Waves

In recovery, urge surfing imitates the ebb and flow of the ocean waters; tides come in and go out with a certain predictability. Ocean waters gather force and make their way inland, but always retreat in time. It’s the same premise with surfing addiction urges. When urge surfing, rather than push aimlessly against the urge, you ride those waves out.

While urge suppression is a technique that focuses on fighting off cravings, research has shown that this technique heightens stress levels and can strain mental health during the recovery process. Urge surfing, on the other hand, offers you a mindful and meditative alternative. Instead of raging against these feelings, you acknowledge them and wait for the urges to pass.

As with all mindfulness exercises, the act of urge surfing begins with meditation. When deeply relaxed, acknowledge the existence of an addiction-related urge, but do not focus on it. Remember it’s just a temporary sensation; it will pass. Note how the urge builds, breaks, and recedes. Ride the wave to its conclusion and revel in that moment of accomplishment…just like a surfer coming out of a barrel wave.

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