By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.
“Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgment.” – Stahl & Goldstein, 2010. A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.
Because addiction is a mental illness riddled with self-sabotaging defense mechanisms used to distract from, escape and avoid the present moment, learning to sit with feelings and experiences is crucial to successful recovery. In fact, therapeutic practices in recovery – i.e., individual counseling, process groups, couples and family counseling – require individuals to sit with surfacing emotions, cognitions and past experiences in an effort to heal.
Mindfulness is a practice which extends that therapeutic experience – being fully present – from a one-hour session to a lifelong application. The benefits are numerous, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll highlight five:
- Sit. Stay. Heal. – It may sound like commands for a canine companion, but in fact it is the unofficial mantra for mindfulness. Sit with yourself – your pain, feelings, thoughts and experiences. Stay with the moment. Heal from the wounds – self-inflicted or otherwise. Healing is recovery.
- Judgment-free zone. – Mindfulness is a practice; not a punishment. There is no judgment. The latter is a vital aspect of recovery, since guilt and shame play a devastating part in active addiction. If you find your mind wandering outside the moment, don’t criticize yourself. Just breathe, and come back to the present moment. It’s about progress; not perfection.
- No filter. – Like a selfie with no enhancements, you wipe your mind free of filters. Keep it simple. Simply see yourself and others as human – sharing the same life experience with unique circumstances and coping mechanisms, but all fallible and in need of love and understanding.
- Serenity now. – Active addiction is chaos. Mindfulness is a practice in peace.
- One moment at a time. – Getting caught up in the “what if’s” typically leads to relapse, which is why 12-Step programs reiterate one day at a time. Mindfulness focuses only on the moment. You are sober in this moment. Stay with that.
As grateful as we are for it, we are all aware recovery can be a very scary and trying experience, especially in the beginning of the journey. There are always obstacles; personal and otherwise. Consequently, there are triggers. Without the proper support and tools to assist us, it is difficult to succeed and avoid relapse. Accessing support and daily practices, like mindfulness, is one beneficial way to empower ourselves on our individual journeys to successful recovery.