What does Driving for Uber and Recovery From Addiction Have in Common?

What does Driving for Uber and Recovery From Addiction Have in Common?

I decided to become an Uber driver. I was in a new phase in life and found myself alone a lot. My world was getting too small, too soon. The extra money would be nice and connecting to people, even momentarily, was appealing.

So I started the car.

What does driving for Uber and recovery from addiction have in common? More than you think.

The relapse prevention tools I had learned over the years of riding the waves of life in sobriety showed up in the back seat of my Uber driving in the form of empathy, joy, & kindness.

I had learned from the hours logged on my yoga mat and meditation cushion that my addiction had severed the connection between my mind and my body. My body held feelings that my mind refused to feel and accept. So I numbed.

I got clean and sober and began incorporating yoga and meditation as one of my top go-to recovery tools. Slowly, pose-by-pose, breath-by-breath, I began to access and accept the deep rivers of emotion that were buried in my tissues, fascia, and soul.

One time in yoga class during hip openers I started sobbing on my mat for no apparent reason. I asked the teacher about it after class and she told me the body remembers our experiences; our history. The yoga postures wring the trauma and dis-ease out of the body and the teacher assured me that my experience was a common one.

The emotions were brought forth in yoga and meditation for me to see, accept and begin the healing path.

I gained something else that class. This was my first real glimpse at self-compassion. I drove home thinking, “Holy crap, I have gone though a lot (and put others through a lot) and maybe it was time to recognize that and to befriend myself. “


Empathy, particularly self-empathy, was foreign and felt strange to me. Yet I somehow innately knew it held one of the keys to healing the cycle of addiction in my life. So I stayed with the experience of empathy even though it was uncomfortable and stirred up lots of doubt.

Over time, I saw that empathy is a very helpful relapse prevention skill. Empathy for others and myself is critical to me remaining happily clean and sober. The Big Book of AA states, “We stopped fighting everyone and everything.” Empathy, according to Brene Brown, gives me the ability to connect and be with my own pain and suffering and that of others.

When practicing empathy, I feel close to others and myself. Empathy acts as a bridge over the gap of disconnection and loneliness; both of which fuel addiction.

Driving Uber one night made that connection via empathy so incredibly obvious.

I was picking up passengers in Boston. It was the week before Thanksgiving and I was on Commonwealth Ave picking up a Boston University student. She got in the car and we exchanged hellos.

I felt a heavy air that I wanted to bypass and ignore. It scared me a little. I noticed being uncomfortable. I paid attention and thought I would ask her about herself. She said she was a freshman at BU and it was her first time being away from home. I suspected that heaviness was from being homesick because of my own experience as a freshman away at college.

Empathy arose within me and I recognized it.

I felt vulnerable but shared with her my own experience of being home sick that first semester in undergrad school. She opened up like a beautiful rose and shared how this had been the longest she had been away from home and how much she was missing her parents and sibs. She couldn’t wait to get home the following week for Thanksgiving Holiday to see them and “sleep in my own bed.” We chatted about being homesick and away from those we love for the two-mile drive through the Boston traffic.

When I dropped her off she smiled big and I felt how much lighter she was.

So was I.


One dark winter night I was driving in Massachusetts’s second largest city, Worcester. My Uber app pinged to pick up a male in an industrial part of the City. I felt a bit hesitant, as that section of town was not one I felt entirely comfortable in, especially at night. I am a small female.

I went to the back of a warehouse and waited for my passenger feeling apprehensive. Eventually a young man came from the back of the building and got in my back seat. I hit the app for directions to the drop off location and we were off.

I glanced in my rear view mirror trying to asses if I was safe or not. I wasn’t sure. The young man smiled. I relaxed and I asked if he just got off work. He replied that he had. We talked about his job.

Then there was silence between us. One of the most helpful skills of an Uber driver is figuring out if your passenger wants to talk, listen to his or her music, or just simply sit in silence. So I let the silence between us grow and waited for an internal cue or external prompt.

Suddenly, he blurted out in a shaky voice “I am going to be a Father.” I was ecstatic! With heart-felt enthusiasm and joy I congratulated him. He thanked me and said he was only twenty-two. “Just a kid myself.”

He went on to explain how excited and joyful he was and how petrified he was too. This will be his first child. He shared his fears and doubts. But mostly, we shared excitement and joy.

I dropped him off at his apartment about twenty minutes later and honestly felt a sense of deep happiness for him. He felt that from me and I thought we might even hug. The inclination was there! As he left my car he waved goodbye and entered a huge tip in the app.

Joy in recovery has helped me to heal the trauma and regrets of my past. The joyful experiences of today, like this ride with this young Dad-to-be, help to rewire my brain from the patterns of self-destruction to the joy of living happily without drugs and alcohol.


It was windy, freezing cold and early morning at the Boston Seaport. It was seven degrees outside. My Uber App lit up for a pick up nearby.

If it is a major thruway with no shoulder to pull over on, Uber will sometimes send the driver to the back of the building. This is exactly what happened on this frigid February dawn.   I turned onto an alley and realized the app was sending me behind the building. I glanced in my rearview mirror to plot my turn around when I saw a businessman frantically waving his arms at me. It was clear that he was my passenger.

He got in the back of my vehicle complaining loudly. “What the hell is wrong with Uber?! They always go to the back of my building! You drove right by me!” He was really upset and angry.

My first thought was to tell him there is no safe place to pull over in the front of the building. I also thought about telling him I was just following the directions on the app.

Instead, mindfulness kicked in and kindness seemed like the best choice. So I said “I am so sorry. It is absolutely freezing out. You must be so frustrated. And I drove right by you!” I went on. “I am going to make sure we get you to exactly where you need to be as quickly and safely as absolutely humanely possible!”

He sighed and sat quiet for minute. Then we shared some small talk. He thanked me as he left my vehicle and I wished him a good day.

I actually felt pretty good about the exchange despite the rocky start. He had slightly recovered, albeit somewhat begrudgingly. For me I knew our exchange ended quite well given the potential for disagreement.

Being kind to him was the right choice.

Being an Uber driver and in recovery do have a lot in common. I see that empathy, joy, and kindness support my sobriety. Living happily and at peace with others and with myself builds with each positive experience.

One act of shared empathy, joy, or kindness builds the happiness circuits in my brain that lead to the next act of empathy, joy, or kindness. And momentum builds.

I like this path!

Photo by Thaddaeus Lim on Unsplash

No Mud, No Lotus – Using Mindfulness as a Relapse Prevention Tool

No Mud, No Lotus – Using Mindfulness as a Relapse Prevention Tool

Thich Nhat Hahn said “No mud. No lotus.” This means that if we do not go through the struggles, the hard times, and the challenges, then we do not blossom into that beautiful lotus flower. I totally get that. My difficult times have taught me volumes. I have come to think of them as blessings actually. I have learned that without struggle there is no freedom.

Freedom from what? Freedom from stress, suffering, and dis-ease; freedom from the patterns of thinking that have kept me playing small, feeling insecure, and in the hell of a deep rooted belief that I do not belong; freedom from the regret of the past and fear of the future; freedom, basically, from my own thoughts, and feelings that are the result of old conditioning.

Three practices, within the context of mindfulness of the body, have helped me to slough through the mud and lean into and live the beauty of that lotus blossom. The three practices are: noticing body sensations, breathe awareness, and observing my thoughts. mindulness

Mindfulness of the Body

Mindfulness of the body practices are accessible and profoundly transformative. Anyone can learn them. They do require some instruction and of course the discipline to actually do them. They also require patience with the slow dissolving nature of old habits of mind and ways of being before the new wisdom arises.

These practices have given me tools to calm myself when I am getting flooded with difficult thoughts and/or emotions; created a strong and viable connection between my mind and my body so they communicate with one another in healthy and helpful ways; and expanded my ability to accept the full range of human experiences that occur in my life rather than resisting what I do not like and trying to hang on to what I do like. For the most part, I have stopped taking everything so personally too.

Mindfulness of the Body is literally a relapse prevention superpower.

Noticing Body Sensations

The first useful practice of mindfulness of the body is noticing bodily sensations. I can now detect low-grade anxiety in my solar plexuses before it rises to my throat and floods my entire thoracic cavity.  When I am overdosing on anxiety, it makes a drink or a drug look like a good idea. If I am aware of any difficult emotion at the beginning stages of it, then I have a window of opportunity to take specific actions to manage it more skillfully.   Calming myself in this way helps keep small things small.   I have way less five alarm emotional fires and tend toward serenity and calm rather than chaos and drama.

I practice trying to stay connected to read my body’s language so I know what to say or what to do in order to live my values. Most of us can identify with the phenomenon of having a “gut feeling.” This is deep intuition that is a lot wiser than my thinking mind. Through paying attention to the sensations, pulsations, and internal indicators of my body, I can avoid situations and predicaments that are not healthy for me.   That gut feeling is no longer a slight whimper but often times a lion’s roar. And I listen.

Breathe Awareness

Another useful mindfulness of the body practice is awareness of my breath. My breathing will become shallow and faster when I am experiencing stress. It has this jagged edge feel to it that is a signal to me that I have to take appropriate action. The body knows. And it does not lie and tell me untrue stories like my thoughts do. I have come to trust it.

Simply noticing the quality of my breathing is an indicator of my current state of wellbeing. If my breathing is rapid, shallow, and jagged, I check out my hands, jaw, and shoulders. If they are tensed up and contracted, my body is experiencing a high degree of stress and likely pumping out a stress hormone. I am in danger of acting out in ways that are self-injurious and not at all helpful to others.

Taking deep long slow breathes helps a lot. I will inhale for a three count and then exhale for a very slow six count. For five breathes. Most times balance and equanimity begin to emerge, and a calmer, saner me is back online. Just. Like. That.

It really is that simple too. But it is not always easy. Catching the stress early, before it has its talon’s firmly planted in me, is way easier to down grade through breathing then once I am in full-blown stress mode.

Observing My Thoughts

One of the greatest assets to my recovery has been the ability to observe my own thoughts. Mindfulness practice has given me the skill to watch my own mind. Anne Lamott has been quoted as saying “My mind is a dangerous neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” She gets me.

My biggest problem has always been, and continues to be, that I tell myself something and I believe me. Then I act accordingly. Observing my thoughts gives me space to question, analyze, and assess the thought before I act or trust it. I have developed a pause button between the thought and the potential action that has helped to avoid all kinds of uncomfortable and unwise situations.

For example, just the other day I had the thought that nobody really cares about me, like truly cares. My mind then went looking for evidence to support this thought. I told myself that so and so never calls me. I thought of that group of friends that does things without inviting me.

Then I noticed this thought and was reminded that it is a familiar visitor. I was observing my own thoughts. This idea that I do not belong and that no one really cares about me is from experiences of my past. They are not true thoughts but they strut about in my head as though they are kryptonite true.

I used to react to these thoughts and sink into a funk that was difficult to get out of and uncomfortable to be in. Because of the skill of being able to observe my thoughts, I see the familiar visitor and think “Oh look at that thought.” No need to judge it or be self-critical. Just a kind-hearted noting. Then I call my wife, my sister, my brother, and/or my best friend to just say hey and connect. Sometimes it is just a quick chat or a conversation about future plans.

I get connected. I feel connected. Belonging returns. The uncomfortable visitor has moved along. It will visit again. Hopefully I am watching so the visit is a short one.

Mindfulness of the body through these three practices is a relapse prevention tool. I do not get so uncomfortable that I find it necessary to engage my addictive behavior. I don’t go as deep and I don’t stay as long.

Well worth the effort beyond measure.

No mud, no lotus.

If you are in recovery from addiction, Prana Recovery Centers can help teach you mindfulness of the body techniques and give you the space to practice in a supportive environment with others.

Mindfulness of the body practices are accessible and profoundly transformative.

Featured Photo by Yingzhao Zhu on Unsplash

Bottom Photo credits: Simon Wilkes