Mindfulness and Recovery

Posted on in Healthy Living by Rebecca E. Williams

Reducing the “I Would…Buts”


young woman with closed eyes

There are lots of reasons not to slow your mind down. I can think of 20 off the bat. You might think, I would but I’m in the middle of binge-watching my favorite TV show. I would but I’m angrily responding to social media right now. I would but I’ve got to read up on this latest depressing bit of news. You get the picture. Slowing down your mind always seems to take a back seat. And reclaiming your mind is even more difficult if you’re in recovery from addictive behaviors.

According to the latest Surgeon General report, more than 21 million Americans 12 and older in the U.S. meet criteria for a diagnosis of having a substance abuse disorder. Chances are you know someone right now who is
struggling with a drug or alcohol problem. For anyone in recovery from addictive behaviors, so many things can get in the way of sitting still. Addiction has a way of hijacking your mind and taking it on a wild ride. Your thoughts are on a continual feedback loop of wanting to use alcohol or drugs. Thoughts like, “When can I start using today?” or “How can I get more?” or “How can I get out of my commitments?” are common. The mind furiously wants to get back to using.

For those in recovery from addiction all those old thoughts need to be replaced with healthy new ones. Here’s the catch—the mind has not had a chance to rest and repair without drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors. Mindfulness offers a middle ground—a place to rest.

Mindfulness practices reach back to the early teachings of the Buddha around 4,000 years ago. Then 40 years ago leaders in the field like Jon Kabat Zinn began introducing mindfulness meditation practices to cancer patients at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to help decrease their anxiety.

Here is the main premise: Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment without judgment. As mindfulness-based practices showed success as a part of medical and mental health treatments, more professionals started integrating them for other problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis , attention-deficit disorder, autism, and yes, addictive disorders. People who practiced mindfulness meditation reported less rumination, worry, and stress and an increase in compassion for themselves and for others. People in addiction recovery reported being able to notice cravings but not act on those cravings. Mindfulness-based practices are now used in schools, prisons, hospitals, and veteran’s centers. So if you’re in recovery I strongly recommend mindfulness practices. They have an excellent track record and you’ll be in good company.

See if you can reduce the “I would buts” and begin integrating mindfulness into your life today. The good news is that these tips can be practiced almost anywhere. The tips spell B-L-I-S-S because by following these simple tips you can quickly reduce daily stress and increase your sense of calm.

B: Breathe.

Take an inhale and exhale. Good. Now take another breath. Most people are good at inhaling but forget to let go of the breath. So focus on your inhale and your exhale—now. Notice the breath enter your nose and move through your whole body. Notice the breath leave your body. Some people find it helpful to silently say breathe in calm — breathe out tension.

L: Lean back.

A lot of tension gets caught up by leaning too far forward into life. Things can quickly feel off balance. Mindfulness gives permission to lean back. Do this by noticing the chair you are sitting in. Notice your back against the back of the chair. Notice both feet planted on the ground. Notice your hands in your lap. Give yourself a moment here.

I: Instill hope.

Some people stumble upon meditation when things feel hopeless or the frustrations of daily living become overwhelming. It’s up to each of us to walk back into a sense of hope. It takes practice but trust that your mind wants you to be well. Move into well-being.

S: Stay in the present moment.

Your mind is going to want to jump around—that is normal. Gently bring yourself back to the moment. Notice your thoughts and feelings, but don’t react to them. No judgment here. Let your thoughts and feelings move through you like leaves gliding down a stream.

S: Support your recovery.

For folks in addiction recovery it’s important to add this last piece to the puzzle: You will need to activate people, places, and things that support your recovery each day. Seek out the people who understand you and the places that nourish you. All those things that sustain your recovering self are the pillars of well-being.

So the next time you flit from one thing to the next on autopilot give yourself the gift of a conscious breath—and then another. Inhale and exhale. Slow down. Become aware of the present moment. And most importantly, especially for people in addiction recovery—release judgment. Let go of your “I would buts” and connect to bliss. You are on your way to reclaiming the here and now.

As with any mental health or substance abuse condition, please take care of yourself and consult a licensed mental health professional.

Dr. Rebecca E. Williams is an award-winning author and clinical psychologist. She is coauthor of The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction. Her latest book is, The Gift of Recovery: 52 Mindful Ways to Live Joyfully Beyond Addiction by New Harbinger. MindfulnessWorkbook.com.

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