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Even though we take our name from a body of water, we would be the first to acknowledge that French Creek Recovery Center is not near any sort of hotbed of surfing. When the Beach Boys sang about “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” Pennsylvania didn’t come up.

But for people who are in recovery from a substance use disorder, one kind of surfing can be helpful no matter where they happen to be.

Let’s take a look at urge surfing—what it is and how it can help you overcome cravings that might threaten your hard-won sobriety.

How to Urge Surf

When it comes to urge surfing, you don’t need a board or swim gear or really anything at all.

Here’s the urge surfing process:

  • Find a quiet spot where you will not be distracted or disturbed for a few minutes, and get seated comfortably on a chair or on the floor.
  • Close your eyes so you can bring your full attention to the exercise.
  • Slowly and steadily scan your body (you might start at the top of your head and scan down toward your toes) to identify any places in your body where you are experiencing physical sensations that are connected to the cravings you are dealing with.
  • When you identify a sensation, bring your full attention to it and calmly describe it to yourself—as objectively as you can. Starting with the most intense sensation, move slowly and patiently from spot to spot as you continue to describe your sensations to yourself.
  • After you have completed that process of identifying and describing physical sensations related to your cravings, shift your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally and focus on the rising and falling sensation of each breath in and out.
  • When you are ready, start the scanning process again. Identify the sensations connected to your cravings and slowly and steadily describe them to yourself again. When you have finished, return your attention to your breathing.
  • You can repeat the process as long as necessary. As you do, you will feel the physical sensations connected to your cravings start to diminish like waves getting smaller and smaller. Eventually, the cravings will be reduced to the point where you can effectively manage them—which means you have successfully protected your sobriety.
  • When you feel as though the waves of cravings have shrunk to a manageable size, you can open your eyes and return to your regular activities. As you do, remind yourself that this exercise is always available to you when cravings arise.

Especially the first few times you try urge surfing, it might be difficult to keep your focus on the exercise. If you find that to be the case, you might find that a guided version of the practice like the one found here is helpful. Guided or unguided, the urge surfing process can be a powerful tool for addressing cravings.

Diving Into the Details of How Urge Surfing Works

Urge surfing was the idea of clinical psychologist Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, who realized that the cravings for drugs or alcohol often result in physical sensations in the body. Those symptoms of a craving might include a severe headache or a racing heartbeat or an upset stomach or any of a number of other symptoms (or combination of symptoms). When those sensations arise, it can be all too tempting to use drugs or alcohol in an effort to escape from those feelings.

So Dr. Marlatt adapted mindfulness practice to create the urge surfing strategy for dealing with cravings. The practice involves accepting that cravings and the physical sensations that accompany them are probably not avoidable and cannot simply be resisted. Urge surfing accepts that reality and addresses the problem calmly and directly, reducing the power of the cravings to result in bad decisions that threaten your ongoing sobriety.

Urge surfing, as we have noted, is a specific kind of mindfulness practice that applies directly to a recovery challenge. But more generally, mindfulness can be a helpful tool that supports your sobriety over time. You can learn more about mindfulness practice and its potential benefits in recovery in this blog post

We Urge You to Consider French Creek Recovery Center

If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, you might be feeling trapped as your mental health, physical health, relationships, finances, and more seem to crumble. It might feel as though there is simply no escape from the ongoing use of substances that are threatening to upend your life. 

Fortunately, that is not true. At French Creek Recovery Center (which, as we have mentioned, is located in the surfing-free community of Meadville, Pennsylvania), we offer personalized, effective treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. We provide medically supervised detoxification, a rehabilitation program that includes individual and group therapy, and a continuum of care that ensures you can start your recovery journey with confidence. The time to reclaim your sobriety is always right now, and we urge you to get started at French Creek Recovery Center.