5 ways that mindfulness can strengthen your recovery.
Story: Beverly Conyers
“Sometimes, I think I was happier when I was drinking,” a friend recently confided. She’s been in recovery for almost two years, but sometimes, she says, her hard-won sobriety hasn’t lived up to her expectations.
She’s not alone. Whether we’re recovering from substance abuse, codependency, disordered eating, compulsive shopping, sex addiction or any other problematic behavior, many of us are dismayed to discover that recovery isn’t the cure-all we’d hoped it would be. Yes, we know we’re on a better path, but many of our old demons are still there.
In a way, that’s not surprising. Our compulsive behaviors diverted us from the fundamental task of learning about ourself. In its deepest sense, recovery means identifying what gives meaning and purpose to our life. And that becomes clear only when we know, accept and value who we are.
Mindfulness can light the way on this complex journey of self-discovery, bringing greater depth and meaning to any recovery. Here’s how:
- Mindfulness centers us in the present. All forms of addiction are about escape, about not being present. Compulsive behaviors and addictive substances create an alternate reality in which pain and problems disappear—for a while. But a clouded mind is a crippled mind, unable to learn the skills that support mental and emotional well-being. In recovery, we work to develop those skills, a process that’s enhanced by focusing on the present. When we’re not in the present, harmful and deep-rooted misperceptions about ourselves and others go unchallenged. Lingering emotional hurts go unaddressed. When we bring our attention to the present moment, our mind begins to clear. We learn to face reality—even when it’s difficult.
- Mindfulness enables us to challenge harmful preconceptions. When we approach people and situations with preconceived ideas, we risk seeing things not as they are but as we expect them to be. This can be damaging when our preconceptions include thoughts like “Those people are snobs,” “I won’t like this” or “I’ll never succeed.” Mindfulness teaches us to challenge our preconceptions, to ask ourselves if what we believe is really true. By learning to question our automatic ideas about people, places and things, we’re free to explore new paths and discover other, possibly happier, possibilities.
- Mindfulness helps us connect with others. To disguise our compulsive behavioral patterns, we learned to present a false face to the world, and pretense became a way of life. We built walls of half-truths and outright lies that prevented us from building meaningful relationships. Yet, a healthy support network is essential for sustained recovery.
Mindfulness enables us to build connections through the practice of compassion. Compassion opens our eyes to the fact that everyone we meet has experienced hope, fear, struggle, disappointment and sorrow—just like us. When we drop our defenses and recognize that our similarities far outweigh our differences, we can offer the honesty, tolerance and openheartedness that lay the groundwork for meaningful relationships.
- Mindfulness teaches us to replace shame with self-compassion. Recovery, in a sense, is the process of learning to nurture the best within ourselves. As part of that process, we work to rein in our negative qualities and strengthen our positive ones. But many of us magnify our flaws and forget about our strengths. Although addiction is a disease, it still carries a stigma. We may come to believe that we’re fundamentally “bad” or “worthless.” The remedy is not to try harder for perfection, which is unachievable, but rather to practice self-compassion. Self-compassion means that we accept and value ourselves, flaws and all. When we learn to give ourselves the compassion we extend to others, we begin to see that we, too, are deserving of kindness, understanding and love.
- Mindfulness promotes spiritual growth. We live in a society that places a high value on busyness. Yet in our frantic quest to get things done, we often overlook the most essential task: nurturing our spiritual well-being. We have an innate need to connect with something greater than ourselves, however we define it. That connection blossoms only when we learn to slow down. Many addictive behaviors are fueled by a fear of stillness, which we mistake for emptiness. With mindfulness, we begin to see that stillness is not empty. Indeed, it is the source of our deepest wisdom. When we learn to sit with inner stillness, we begin to hear what it has to teach us. In moments of grace, we reach beyond the material world to explore the holy, transcendent and eternal.
Spending time in nature, focusing on the breath, meditating or writing a journal are among the multiple ways to incorporate mindfulness into our lives. As we learn to focus on the here and now, we discover that mindfulness can lead to a richer, more satisfying, more meaningful recovery.
About the writer →Beverly Conyers began writing about addiction when she discovered her youngest daughter had become addicted to heroin. She is the author of “Find Your Light: Practicing Mindfulness to Recover from Anything,” “Addict in the Family: Stories of Loss, Hope and Recovery,” “Everything Changes: Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts” and “The Recovering Heart: Emotional Sobriety for Women.”