I recently spent several weeks in a rehab facility (read nursing home) because I broke my knee. I live alone, and the medical professionals did not trust me to be safe at home while I was recovering. I met several people in that facility who were facing alcoholism’s end. Alcoholism is a fatal disease that can be arrested and treated but not cured. The people in the rehab were beyond treatment. They were waiting to die a slow, horrible, painful death. For these people, there were no meetings, no treatment programs, no sober houses, and no more chances. At the end of this disease, there is only pain, insanity, loneliness, and a slow disintegration of the body and the soul from the inside out.
I have watched two of my family members literally drink themselves to death. There are several other family members who drank heavily and probably died before they should have as a result. In the cases of my mother and my grandfather, watching them drink themselves to death for years and years continues to be among my most painful memories. What is even more tragic is knowing that it did not have to be the way it was for either one of them.
During times of meditation, I wonder why I was spared and my family members were not. During those times, I thank God for my gift of sobriety and for my life, and I ask for the strength to use this gift to be helpful to others. If one person attempts to get or stay sober because of my actions or words, then I have had a successful life.
Meditation is part of Step 11 in AA and in other 12-Step programs. The steps are meant to be taken in order. If you are thinking about taking the Steps, my suggestion is to find someone to take you through them as they are laid out in the basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous. With that said, I don’t think a person needs to wait until he or she has completed the previous steps to start meditation. In fact, meditating on powerlessness over alcohol, or whatever one’s substance is, may enhance a person’s experience with all the steps and especially Step One.
Like most drunks, I initially balked at meditation. I must admit that I sometimes like it when my head goes a thousand miles an hour. I sometimes think it is where I get my best ideas. I was once afraid I would lose those ideas if I attempted to calm the constant chatter in my head. I have since learned that there is a significant amount of power in the pause gained as a result of meditating.
The pause gives me perspective. The pause helps me find solutions to problems that seem overwhelming. The pause enables me to appreciate beauty in simple things, like beautiful baby photography, a textbook page well-constructed, bills paid, my three cats sleeping on my bed, a roof over my head, and food in the fridge. The pause helps me see that most of the things I fear are not real. The pause allows me to see the thoughts in my head as I might see images on a TV screen. From that perspective, I can choose which thoughts to ignore and which thoughts to follow.
Today, I will not leave my apartment or start work until I have meditated for thirty minutes during the week and for one hour on the weekends. I do not have a special place in my apartment for meditating. Some people choose to build altars for this purpose. Some people choose to sit in a certain way, burn incense, play music or listen to guided meditation tapes. These are all optional and very beneficial, but they are not required. Neither is it necessary to meditate for as long as I do.
On most days, I meditate while sitting on my couch and playing a YouTube video of some nature scene, which I usually match to whatever weather is happening outside. I personally find that I need some sound going on because my head will follow the sound rather than whatever thoughts my mind has churned up. I usually close my eyes, but that is not required either. I occasionally fall asleep. My sponsor tells me that is okay.
AA and other 12-Step programs call themselves spiritual, not religious. When pressed to identify my own religion, I self-identify as a very bad Buddhist. I am a very bad Buddhist because I desire much, and I sometimes suffer because of those desires. In Buddhism, God is optional. One can be a Buddhist and believe in God…or not…as one sees fit.
Every religion on Earth has a meditation practice. You can meditate whether you are a born again Christian, an Orthodox Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or anything else, without worrying about it going against whatever faith you follow. Meditating does not require that you follow a particular practice or use a particular technique. There are a million books about meditation out there. I would suggest not reading about it and just doing it. In early sobriety, I tried to avoid doing the Steps by reading about them ad infinitum. It didn’t work. I almost ran into the same problem with meditation. Just do it. It helps to find a teacher online or in person if you can.
When I first started meditating, I found it very hard to sit still. It was even harder for me to get my head to sit still. I started with five minutes. It took me a while to work up to ten minutes. Now I find that the half hour I do on weekdays and the hour I do on weekends is not always enough. If I have time to do more than that, I take it. I also accept that I got sober to live life, not to hide from it; like having to work, pay bills, exercise, and so on. I don’t always have time to spend extra time meditating. And that is ok.
What are the benefits of meditation? I have found that problems that once seemed insurmountable are manageable. I have found that I am not as reactive when people do or say things I don’t like. I find it easier to take appropriate action when I must. I find that my introversion is not a problem but an asset. I find that I don’t get as overwhelmed as I once did with large crowds, loud noise, and busy-ness. I find that I can tune out people who annoy me.
AA has not turned me into a bliss ninny. It has turned me into someone who can accept who I am most of the time with all my imperfections. It has turned me into a person who can take advantage of my assets and work to make my liabilities less problematic.
In early sobriety, I pooh-poohed the idea of meditation. Today, it is one of the most important tools in my recovery toolbox.