When it was first suggested to me that I might try mindfulness practices to support my recovery, I was skeptical. A friend told me that my recovery would be improved if I learn to focus my attention and be acutely aware of my inner and outer surroundings.
The only reason I considered trying mindfulness is because my mind was so overwhelmed all the time and I felt this inner state of chaos in my body. It felt like a volcano was rumbling around inside of me getting ready to erupt.
AA meetings were providing me with community and I was no longer isolating. I had even gotten a sponsor and begun to do the 12-step work. None of this seemed to help with my mind being unable to settle. I had no ease in my mind or my body. That uncomfortable edgy feeling was really the only constant I felt.
Not unlike many other aspects of my sobriety, I became willing to try mindfulness practices as a support to my recovery out of sheer desperation. I was willing to try anything to quiet the critical voices that had a megaphone inside my head. Anything to settle the nervous energy that I felt like was on steroids inside of me every waking moment.
Through books, YouTube, various websites, attending a nearby meditation center, and talking to people who actually practice mindfulness, I gained enough confidence to give it a try. The app Insight Timer helped me to set a timer with the chimes of my choosing and the time intervals that were manageable for me. Prana Recovery Centers has a group on Insight Timer that connects mindfulness and recovery. The group posts are very helpful.
I started learning and practicing mindfulness very slowly and learned that I had to persevere. Like with my recovery, when I am struggling, I just stay with it. It is so important to keep trying – everyday.
These are the practices that I find most helpful:
Mindfulness of the Breath
Mindfulness of the breath is a common practice because the breath is accessible. After all, we are all breathing. Training the spotlight of my attention on to my breath is a great way to quiet my mind.
It takes practice and my mind still wonders but that is okay. I just keep bringing my attention back to my breath again and again. It does not matter how many times I have to do this in one practice.
I have been told it is like building a muscle. Every time I redirect my attention back to my breath, I make those neural connections stronger.
I find that the first ten minutes of observing my breath coming in and out my mind wanders a lot. After ten minutes, I can usually find a still quiet place where my mind settles down and is less active.
This skill of being able to direct my attention to my breath has been very helpful in moments when I am very anxious. It takes the edge of enough so I feel like I will get through the difficulty of the moment.
Mindfulness of the Body
I had no idea my body has useful information to tell me. Through mindfulness I have learned how to tune in to my body to gain valuable intel for living clean and sober.
That gut feeling that I am in the wrong place or with the wrong people is now an evident message that I listen to. That clutching of my throat or quickening of my breath are now clues that I pay attention to and act upon.
The practice of mindfulness of the body has taught me to tune in to my body and befriend it as a source of valuable information to help me live happily clean and sober.
This mindfulness practice is a huge support to my recovery. I was so shut down to the helpful language of my body. Being open-minded enough to try this practice and then sticking with it has paid huge dividends for relapse prevention.
I now feel like an integrated person out in the World trying to stay sober and do good rather than just a nervous wreck walking around with an overwhelming feeling of dread.
This mindfulness practice has been an enormous support to my recovery because I have learned to communicate more effectively. What a huge help!
It was suggested to me that I look at my most difficult relationships and become aware of how I communicate. I saw that in these difficult relationships I usually entered a conversation or dialogue with defensiveness. I could see this just was not effective. I felt disconnected from the very people I care the most about.
So I started trying different things. Like remaining silent and listening to the other person or being curious and asking questions. My intention shifted from one of being heard to actually wanting to really hear the other person. Slowly, my defensive nature began to subside.
I started to feel a deeper connection with people. It was subtle at first and then seemed to build on itself.
Learning a new tool for communicating with those I love has been the biggest support to my recovery. I do not always get it right but I always keep trying.
Being bored, wandering mind, and sleepiness all come and visit when I am practicing mindfulness. Anxiety and self-doubt usually make an appearance too.
I am very grateful for the instruction I have received that taught me these fluctuations of the mind and body are totally natural.
The more I practice the less they visit and they don’t stay as long when they do visit.
My only job is to just stick with it. No matter what – the next day, I do another practice.
In this way, mindfulness is a support to my recovery and has proven to be an amazing relapse prevention superpower!