Meditation and Mindfulness in Recovery

woman doing yoga in lovely park

By Cristina Utti

Recovery from drug and alcohol addiction means so much more than simply to stop using.

Substance abuse is but a symptom of spiritual, psychological, and emotional maladies. Once we cease putting drugs and/or alcohol into our system, we are left with all of the feelings and thoughts from which we were trying to escape. The human body is a fascinating healer; detoxing from drugs and alcohol is quite a rapid process compared to the length of time it takes to heal our mind and spirit. Among the numerous benefits of staying clean is a clear mind. This at times can be a double-edged sword. Aspects of our life and relations with others that are not perfect (and, what is?) now stare us right in the face and heart. Things that we did not see because we were high and our mind was constantly clouded now become clear. Having the tools to cope with all of the feelings and thoughts that arise once our body has cleared itself of toxic chemicals will significantly decrease the risk of relapse. This is why meditation and mindfulness are crucial to long-lasting recovery.

Many people think of religious practice when they hear the word meditation. They may picture people sitting in the lotus position (seated on the floor with legs crossed, hands resting on knees, and palms facing the sky) chanting. Meditation is much more than that, and even though some religions teach meditation as a practice, meditation does not have to have any religious connections. Meditation is simply a means of transforming the mind. The word meditation is derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). The Sanskrit derivation ‘medha’ means wisdom. Meditation is not a technique; it is a way of life. Meditation helps us develop deep concentration, emotional positivity, clarity, and calmness. Practicing mediation regularly transforms the mind and leads to a new understanding of life.

Mindfulness means being aware, in the present moment. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh claims, “Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there.” He calls this forgetfulness, when we are caught in everything but the present. These are the feelings and thoughts that can make someone relapse. The opposite of these swirling thoughts and fears is being mindful. Mindfulness is when the mind and body are in the present moment, together. Staying in the present moment helps us to manage stress because the things that we stress over most often are not actually happening in the present moment.

Two advantages of including meditation in your life as part of recovery from drugs and alcohol is that it is easy to learn and can be done anywhere. There are many types of meditative practices.

Here are some tips for beginners:
  • Start small – Meditation is exercise for the mind. If you wanted to run a marathon, you would not get up one day and run ten miles if you have never run before. If you wanted to be a weight lifter, you wouldn’t go lift 250 pounds without working your way up to it. It takes practice and small steps. Begin with 2-5 minutes of meditation a day.
  • Breathe – Sit in a comfortable position and keep your back straight. Close your eyes and observe your breath. Breathe in and out through your nostrils. Do not try to control your breathing; just breathe naturally. Focus on the air coming into your body and leaving your body. If thoughts come into your mind, let them pass through and then refocus on your breathing. When the turbulence of negative or distracting thoughts subsides and the mind stills, a deep contentment arises from within.

This breathing exercise can be done anywhere, at any time. If you are beginning to feel stressed, you can stop for a few minutes and breathe. Be mindful of the thoughts that keep coming into your mind. Simply being aware of our thought process is the first step toward achieving peace.

Mindfulness and meditation are intertwined. The major difference between the two is that mindfulness is the ability to see things as they really are without the bias or judgment of our feelings or moods; this is the same principle as Acceptance in the big book Alcoholics Anonymous. You cannot meditate without being mindful, but you can practice mindfulness without sitting down and meditating. Mindfulness can be present in your day-to-day activities as you tune in to what you are doing instead of letting your mind wander.

Studies have proven that meditation rewires the brain, increasing the likelihood of long-term sobriety in those individuals struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol. In one study, subjects who meditated for thirty minutes daily for eight weeks showed an increase in the gray matter in the brain that is associated with memory, learning, awareness, and introspection. It also showed a decrease in the gray matter associated with stress and anxiety—huge triggers for relapse.

Here are some of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation in addiction recovery:
  • Increases awareness of one’s thoughts, revealing destructive thought patterns. 
  • Increases ability to deal with cravings. Mindfulness allows the individual to be aware of the craving and not act upon it.
  • Increases ability to manage stress.
  • Decreases anxiety.
  • Makes it easier to handle relationships that may have been damaged in addiction.
  • Decreases feelings of depression; as the awareness of thought patterns increases, they can be changed from negative to positive.
  • Helps restore emotional balance. In meditation, the focus is on one thing at a time, which has a calming effect.

A saying in AA is, “Stinking thinking leads to drinking.” Practicing mindfulness and mediation play an important role in recovery because these practices transform the thought process from negative to positive. Give it a try today; you have nothing to lose except bad feelings!

If you or someone you love are addicted to prescription drugs, please contact us now at 800.218.6727. We can help.

References:

5 Meditation Tips for Beginners. (n.d.). Retrieved February, 2016.
Hanh, T. N. (2010, September 23). Five Steps to Mindfulness – Mindful. Retrieved February, 2016.
What is Meditation. (n.d.). Retrieved February, 2016.

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