We hear a lot about meditation and prayer in 12-step communities. Few people are comfortable with meditation and fewer still practice it in a formal manner. Some in long-term abstinence have become familiar with meditation as a means of quieting their busy mind, and find meditation very helpful for gaining balance. What is not discussed in sober recovery meetings are the many ways that meditation benefits recovery for those who struggle with addictions.
The Ills of Western Culture
Western culture is unfamiliar with meditation practices and seems to promote the daily insanity of multi-tasking and multi-functioning, resulting in increased stress. Our healthcare services are overwhelmed in caring for those who live too fast, are continuously stressed out, and are suffering the ills of fast-paced lifestyles. Some diseases that may result from chaotic lifestyles include heart ailments, digestive disorders, obesity, diabetes, panic attacks and anxiety disorders, depression, many forms of addiction, and cancers of many types. All of these diseases are just that--dis-ease. We are running at full throttle for too many hours each day and we are no longer at ease in our lives. We strive to acquire, achieve, overcome, overspend--essentially putting ourselves on treadmills to nowhere, except a hospital bed at a too-early age. Wellness in the Western world is coming very late to the consciousness of everyone.
How Stress Affects Recovery
Recovering addicts are susceptible to stressors. These are the day-to-day irritants that are hard to cope with. In early recovery, it is indeed challenging for most addicts to honestly identify their feelings and talk about them in the here and now. They are full of fear and rage, but cannot talk easily about their feelings from moment to moment, as they occur. Learning how to do this is an important step in the process of long-term addiction recovery. Identifying emotions is important, so there is no build-up of bottled-up feelings to be dealt with "down the road."
Learning Mindfulness to Find Peace
Yet, how do those struggling with addiction begin to know when they are becoming derailed emotionally and need to get back on track? The best way is to learn to practice mindfulness on a daily, regular, consistent basis. This can be sitting quietly for as few as 10 minutes a day initially. Most of those who have become comfortable with this practice know the benefits of self-awareness and inhabiting their own skin. This is an essential component of becoming emotionally present to oneself.
Many recovering addicts will draw back from this practice because it is uncomfortable to sit quietly alone without distraction or noise. They have practiced the art of "checking out" with substances over a period of many years and do not care for the idea of "checking in" through meditation. It may be overwhelming emotionally to feel everything at once. They will talk about the "committee meeting" in their head and how loud it gets when they try to get quiet. What makes meditation easier is learning that it is not about quieting "the committee," but letting the committee talk until those "voices" have exhausted what they have to say. All told, this takes only a few minutes, and then peace and quiet do occur. Addicts are so used to drowning out all emotions and thoughts with drugs and alcohol that they are afraid to listen. (continued...)