Mindfulness in Recovery Helps
Somedays it feels impossible to calm my mind. Synapsis firing and exploding all at once. Ideas crashing into one another and decisions I just can’t make. Other days I find myself depressed, hormonal, raging, confused and outright ready for a nap. It sounds manic in nature and some of us in recovery just might be diagnostically manic, but in general this can be the simple reality of being alive and sober. Our feelings have feelings of their own it seems; at times the prickly sensation of living becomes overwhelming without alcohol or drugs to drown them out. This is where I know that practicing mindfulness in recovery helps me stay in recovery.
What is needed to calm the nerves, center the brain and develop our sense of selves isn’t always obvious. During early recovery, those first 12-18 months having a meditation practice wasn’t exactly in my daily repertoire. In fact, my brain itself couldn’t actually comprehend the idea of stillness. It wasn’t ready. The 11th step of Alcoholics Anonymous outlines that prayer and meditation keeps us connected to our higher power. It wasn’t a step I put into much action. I didn’t understand that with practice, sitting still and quiet could center me and also teach me how to interact in the world with others.
I thought that if I just helped others through sponsorship or doing “things” for them it would sustain my recovery. Yet it became noisier and noisier in my brain. What was missing was that I wasn’t looking at my behaviors, my thoughts, actions, and interactions.
Mindfulness in Recovery as a Practice
This is where mindfulness in recovery as a practice complements the daily program of recovery. Mindfulness has its beginning over 2600 years ago when in the eastern world, the Buddha presented to the world the philosophy that if we follow a path of loving-kindness, wise actions and intentions, speech and the tenets of the Four-Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path1, we can live free of suffering. It isn’t just the origin of some of these concepts that can be applied for one to be mindful but starting with meditation practice in the simplest of forms that can help attach awareness of a moment to start calming the tired or crazy brain. Some examples are as follows:
When I am anxious, I will tell myself ‘May I be at ease.’ If I am at work and commonly getting stirred up, the simple phrase or intention is “be at ease, breathing in, breathing out.” I am actually meditating and walking.
When I am angry with my son or my husband, do I continue to rage or do I pause and reflect? Writing a spot check inventory (via AA) will work for sure but how do I bring a mindful practice into place to create inner grace and open up a safer space for my family to approach me? If I meditate angry it might not be a good meditation. My speech isn’t always going to be kind so I hold compassion for myself. We say, “May I forgive myself for any intentional or non-intentional harm I may have caused others” and when quieted I can make amends with right and/or wise speech and meditate with a guided meditation on forgiveness.
This works for those who we have a hard time forgiving as well. “I forgive you for any intentional or non-intentional harm you have caused me. I forgive you.” Saying these three times or many, many more times might ease a hidden pain.
When I feel happy and peaceful, I can be more aware and free to let my thoughts wander and be expressed. It becomes noticeable that through this mindfulness and awareness, I can begin to practice an attitude of loving-kindness. We meditate or “pray” to ourselves, “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I be at ease” and then we guide our thoughts to others. “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be at ease.”
These are examples of practice. I cannot walk through existence in a meditative state because then I’d not be part of the world and would likely bump into walls. So, I look at mindfulness as a moment-by-moment experience and it ties neatly to meditation as I have outlined above. I am not always moment by moment being mindful – hence – I need to practice. So, let’s say my body hurts because I have a tendency to overdo it at the gym. Many times, I have said out loud to anyone who will listen “my body hates me.” Hate is a strong word. Through an “awareness” of the pain, I can acknowledge it. Instead of naming my body as an angry agent of evil trying to put me out. I can lovingly say to it, “I see you, I feel you and what can we do to make you feel better?” I now hold more compassion for this body of mine. I am generating loving-kindness to all things, feelings and beings rather than being sucked down by contempt, anger and resultant suffering.
Suffering in Recovery
On suffering. I could create a lot of suffering around me. If I am not mindful of my sober life, I am unable to alleviate the suffering that life can cause and I can manifest. Once I begin to create suffering out of others’ actions or my own actions, then the sneaky drink devil is likely to try and get in. If I let my broken down sore body dictate my minds’ thoughts it would be easy to say “a drink will ease my pain faster than a few days of Advil and rest.” Now just that thought is enough to create suffering. I start thinking of drinking again. Then I get irritable. Then I cause others to suffer. Then a drink or a drug looks good again.
As I practice mindfulness, it gets easier to stop that thought spiral. I am loading up on new positive thoughts and feelings. Replacement thoughts of contentment and awareness remind me that the pain is impermanent and the suffering is long-term.
Today my meditation practice is gaining strength. I no longer look at it as some place I don’t belong. I am able to associate my mind to the meaning within the meditation. I am doing daily inventory. I can see where my daily demons appear and forgiveness comes quickly. My favorite saying as it relates to this practice is “Right now, it is like this.” 2
1. For more details on how the Buddha eight-fold path and Dharma teachings can aide in your recovery look at www.refugerecovery.org
2. Ajahn Sumedho
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