Note: Our CEO, Dr. James Flowers, presented a workshop on “Mindfulness, Meditation, and Drug and Alcohol Use” at the 42nd Annual Conference on Addiction Studies (Spectrum 2015) conference held October 2-4 by the Texas Association of Addiction Professionals, Houston Chapter.
“Mindfulness creates space around our pain” (James Flowers), reducing the desperate feeling that instant relief is everything and self-medication is the easiest option. Mindfulness is proven to lessen cravings, decrease tension, and tame the attitudes that feed unhealthy habits. Mindfulness is, at heart, a way of accepting oneself and the way things are–not to escape from the world into some self-created nirvana, but to fit oneself for effective coping with the world’s challenges.
The characteristics of a mindful, addiction-resistant life are:
The antithesis of mindfulness is the mind that is never satisfied, that sees everything in terms of its unmet desires, that fears giving voice to satisfaction will endanger the possibility of improvement. Do you find yourself thinking in terms of “If I had more money … if I could get married … if it hadn’t rained today … then I’d be happy”? That’s the first step toward resenting present reality to the point one will try anything to escape it. There’s plenty of beauty to be found in present reality when we allow ourselves to soak it in. Forget the gray sky overhead, and stop to admire the raindrops sparkling on the grass. Emulate the eager child and look at the world’s wonders with fresh eyes every day.
As for circumstances we have no legitimate reason to be thankful for, we at least can give them permission to be what they are. Where things cannot be changed, or where change is slow in coming, neither fighting reality nor hiding from it will help. Let yourself feel the pain fully; it’s the first step to healing. Acceptance also includes accepting that not everything that happens in the future will be to our liking: let tomorrow come in its own way, and forget the fear of what might happen.
Taking it Slow
Many people live in permanent fast forward, willing the clock to run faster, mentally starting the next five tasks before the current one is finished. Mindfulness means slowing down to fully experience the now. Put aside impatience; tomorrow will arrive at the same speed without your help. Think “one task at a time” and give yourself fully to it.
Taking time for breaks
Constant “doing” encourages the idea that everything depends on us, the first step toward major anxiety issues and “racing thoughts” syndrome. Too much of that and you won’t be able to sleep at night; for that matter, much substance abuse starts with someone requesting a prescription to help them either fall asleep or stay awake. Sit back and take a few deep breaths every hour. Dare to lock your smartphone in the trunk and enjoy a long outdoor lunch in the park. Reserve the last hour before bedtime for mindful relaxation: enjoy to the full some soft music, a hot bath, or a cup of herbal tea.
The quip “stop smoking and you gain weight” has some validity; many people who quit drug or alcohol abuse try to compensate for their lost “high” with excessive snacking on comfort foods that are high in caffeine, sugar, and fat. Eating time is an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness: get a fresh salad and chew slowly, taking time to fully experience the flavors, aroma, and textures. Sip water slowly and savor the feeling of its sliding down the throat. Get out for some exercise, too, and let yourself fully feel the action in every muscle. Treat yourself to a deep massage or a spa day!
Mindfulness also comes into play in visualizing the best paths to take routinely and the best things to do each day. While no plan is completely invaluable, having one in place helps avoid wasting time on nonessential tasks or getting trapped in dangerous boredom.
Protestant work ethic notwithstanding, every religious tradition has its paths of meditation therapy and/or prayer that involve developing a clearer perspective on reality by offering your mind to a Power greater than yourself. This does not mean rejecting all responsibility. As C. S. Lewis said, those “who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.” Mindfulness involves a keen awareness of all of reality, not just the parts that are obvious to the physical eye. Unlike the drug trip that tries to create a different reality, the mindful soul knows how to look to a deeper genuine reality.
Finally, remember that it’s called “practicing” mindfulness for a reason! Don’t get discouraged when you slip back into hurry or grumbling; pick yourself up and start again. The more you practice mindfulness, the more natural it will become and the more rewarding your life will be.
Your turn: What personal experiences have you had with the rewards of mindfulness? Leave a comment below! To learn about mindfulness and other addiction treatment options at Kemah Palms Recovery, call 866.604.1873.