There is an inner strength that anyone can draw upon in order to help them beat their addiction. Indeed, entire programs of recovery can be based on the spiritual approach, and it is obvious to anyone who has struggled with addiction that there is a strong mental and emotional component to the problem. Manipulating your external environment is no doubt important, but the real challenge is within each of us.
And therein lies our power. We just need to find ways to draw that inner strength out.
This could get really obscure and philosophic in a hurry if we are not careful. It doesn’t do much good to tell someone to “tap into their inner strength” if you do not show them how to do that exactly.
It’s a bit like step 3 in AA: “Turning your will over to the care of God as you understand him.” Can someone just read that step and then implement it immediately, thus solving all of their addiction problems? Is it that simple? Or do we need to teach people various ways to turn their life over to a higher power?
I believe that it is the latter. Which is why you can walk into various AA meetings every day and find people discussing exactly how to do that, how to build this trust, how to build that level of faith, and how to deal with the real world when “life happens” to you in sobriety.
The same is true of tapping into your inner power. It is a useless concept unless we define our terms. It doesn’t really mean anything unless we can assign specific meaning to the idea of our “inner power” and tell people how to actually access that power.
So let’s try to do that.
Let’s get specific. What follows are just a few examples, mostly of how I have been able to access my own inner strength, and how it has helped me in battling my own addiction.
There are other examples, I am sure. There are other ways to “tap into your power,” and you might find different suggestions from different people. This isn’t the right way, this is just what worked for me. Your mileage may vary.
Harnessing your inner power through meditation
Meditation is one way to tap into your own inner strength. It is very powerful and it is actually quite flexible. The word “meditation” can mean quite a bit of different things depending on who you ask.
For example, you have straight seated meditation. Deep breathing exercises. Yoga. Even distance running (in my opinion) is a form of meditation. And when people speak of meditation, they might even refer to reading a daily meditation book every morning and then simply thinking about what it says to them.
I have experimented with a few different forms of meditation in my recovery journey. The main two have been the traditional seated meditation with deliberate breathing and eyes closed, the other form has been in regular distance running outdoors (no headphones, though I suppose that doesn’t really matter much depending on the person).
Both of these forms of meditation have given me some benefit. When I did seated meditation it showed me what was really going on inside. It was sort of like quieting everything down to the point where I had to actually listen to what my brain was doing. Did I have anxiety that day? If so, it became very obvious while I was meditating. If my mind was relaxed and at total peace then that became pretty obvious too. It was almost like seated meditation was an amplifier for whatever was going on in my mind lately.
This was useful for prioritizing my recovery journey. It is my opinion that you have to keep working on stuff in recovery. Continuously reinvent yourself. How do you know what is a priority though? One way is to listen to the mind. Your brain knows what is bothering you the most lately, but we don’t always listen to what that anxiety might be. When you meditate, you sort of force yourself to listen to what is really going on. The anxiety shines through. You can’t deny it as easily because you are sitting quietly in it, acknowledging it. So this may help to inspire you to prioritize and take action.
The other benefit that I get from meditation (other than mental clarity) is that it helps to balance me emotionally.
Now with seated meditation I did not necessarily like the effect of this. What it did was to lower my tolerance to stress. Meaning that, when I was doing seated meditation every day, it made it so that I would try much harder to avoid stressful situations and people. It was as if the volume knob was raised on my life, and I preferred it to be quiet. So this changed my tolerance. Instead of handling more stress in my life the meditation forced me to handle LESS stress in my life. So I would eliminate it or move away from stressful things. Normally that is a good thing, but I did not like the “increase in volume” when I was meditating each morning. I suppose if I lived in the mountains next to a lake in a log cabin and there were very few humans around me I might enjoy that sort of thing a lot more. And maybe that is the point. When you meditate every day it drives you closer and closer to this stress-free ideal in your life. Perhaps I am not ready to find that level of serenity and calm in my life just yet.
The other kind of meditation that I engaged in was daily exercise, specifically distance running. The main benefit in doing that, in my experience, is that it allowed me to better handle the stress that was already in my life. In other words, it raised my tolerance to stress that was already present in my life and it made it easier to deal with that stress.
If you go out and you run ten miles all at once, it sort of lowers the volume in your life (rather than raising it like it does with seated meditation). At least that is how it works for me. When I run long distances it makes me feel like I can handle just about anything in my life. Because the challenge of running far is very intense and it makes other day to day challenges seem far easier to deal with. Perhaps that is unique to me.
When my emotions are strong in my life, either good or bad, they are muted somewhat after an intense exercise session. This is probably my strongest tool for achieving emotional balance. When I work out really hard and exercise with great intensity it sort of mutes all of the emotions. They may still be there but they are far less important, they are less damaging. They cannot hurt me or affect me as much because the exercise is so intense.
I am not sure if I explained that very well but the bottom line is that, for me, exercise is a form of meditation and it gives me tremendous benefit. It makes it easier to cope with whatever stress is present in my life already. So those are two ways that you might harness your inner strength and they might be worth experimenting with: Seated meditation and regular exercise.
Reach deep and surrender completely
In terms of actually “beating addiction” perhaps the most important thing from a mental perspective is that of surrender.
I am not sure that you can choose to do this though. Say you have a struggling alcoholic who cannot seem to break through denial. They don’t want to sober up. You can say to that person “Why don’t you just surrender to your disease, everything will get so much better for you.”
Does that really work? Does the alcoholic then say “Oh, you’re right, let me just go ahead and surrender now, and then we will see what happens.”
No, that is not realistic. The alcoholic does not just casually choose to surrender one day. If it were a casual choice then addiction would not destroy people so thoroughly.
But it’s not a choice that you make casually. It is a choice that you make that is very intense, right up there next to the choice to self destruct. It is not a decision that anyone can make lightly. It feels like jumping off a cliff. “Hitting bottom is not a weekend retreat.” It is not this thing that is fun to do or that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. It is one step away from being suicidal for many people.
So how does that help anyone? If you cannot just tell someone to surrender, then what actions can they take that will help move them closer to surrender?
It’s all about denial. The alcoholic must work through their denial. Anyone in their life that is enabling them is impeding their progress towards sobriety.
A good primer on this is to go to Al-anon and learn the principles and concepts around enabling. You might also learn about how to set healthy boundaries and what you can do in order to move a person closer to surrender.
You cannot force someone to surrender. But you can make it so that you are no longer enabling them, you are no longer part of the problem. Then it is up to them, it is up to their level of misery, it is up to fate. Because at some point they will hopefully become miserable enough that they will surrender on their own. And if you are enabling someone then you not allowing them to become miserable enough.
It is pain that motivates someone to surrender. Pain and misery. Therefore, you must never deny an alcoholic of their pain.
Maybe they get into legal trouble and they are headed for jail or prison. You have the means to keep them out. Do you intervene?
The hard truth is that you should not deny them of their pain. Their actions brought them this pain and misery, so do not deny it to them. The pain is there to move them closer to surrender. If you deny them their pain then you just make it easier to stay stuck in addiction.
So that is just a little bit about how the inner game of surrender can manifest in the real world. Those are real actions that can be discussed in an Al-anon meeting that have a direct impact on how quickly an alcoholic might surrender to their disease. You can’t force them to do anything, but you can still have an impact. So you want to be sure that you are not part of the problem, that you have healthy boundaries, that you are not enabling the alcoholic.
Doing the mental work that is required to cultivate gratitude
One of the keys to long term sobriety is being grateful every day.
How do you achieve this?
It is a bit like learning how to spell when you are in elementary school. Most people don’t approach spirituality and gratitude this way.
Perhaps they should though.
If you want to be grateful in your life then you need to do the work involved. You don’t just show up to AA meetings and prop your feet up and expect for life to be easy now that you no longer drink alcohol every day. That is not realistic.
No, if you want your attitude to change then you need to do the work in order to change it. This requires a daily discipline. This requires a daily practice.
First of all, why gratitude? What good is being grateful in sobriety? Is that really all that useful?
Yes, yes, and yes. Gratitude is one of the most powerful spiritual tools that you have in recovery.
I would go so far as to say that if you are truly grateful, even with nothing else at your disposal, you are immune from relapse in that moment. Your recovery is bulletproof when you are truly grateful. It is quite powerful.
So we need to cultivate gratitude in order to protect our sobriety. This is inner transformation away from selfishness.
What do people even mean when they say “I want to be more spiritual?”
The word “spiritual” is loaded. People have different meanings for it.
I want to suggest to you that this is 90 percent of what is truly important when it comes to “spirituality in recovery.”
Yes, there is prayer and meditation. Yes, there is a higher power concept and faith and hope. But all of those things are only about 10 percent of what is really necessary in terms of your recovery.
What is most important is your spiritual attitude. And that can be selfish or it can be grateful. And even if you are “being spiritual,” you won’t stay sober if you are also being selfish and you lack gratitude. The gratitude is what helps you to maintain sobriety. When you are selfish instead of grateful it makes it much easier to justify a relapse.
I mentioned that cultivating gratitude is a bit like learning how to spell when you are in elementary school. So what you might do is to take out pencil and paper every day and make a gratitude list. Don’t just make one list, make a new list every single day. Every day! And then tear it up and throw it out. Every day.
Why do this?
So that you train your brain. You train yourself to be able to generate gratitude out of thin air. Why am I grateful today? Give myself ten reasons, now. Go! Can you do it in less than 2 minutes? Can you list 50 things in ten minutes?
If you practice this every single day then you can hit those numbers easily.
This is extremely helpful when you are miserable one day in the future and a drink is sounding pretty good. It is good to be able to generate instant gratitude.
If you want to talk about tapping into your inner power, this would be a prime example of that. Anyone who can cultivate gratitude is drawing on their inner power. I can’t really think of anything more powerful than this, than to be able to shift your attitude, to be able to turn a negative into a positive, to be able to take a tragedy and learn a lesson from it. That is the power of gratitude. And it is a mental exercise, nothing more.
Gratitude is a mental exercise and therefore we are building muscle with it. Your gratitude muscle is weak when you first get sober. Everyone is like that. You are used to being selfish in addiction. So you have to build it up, work on it, practice it. Gratitude is a daily practice. For me it is the most important part of spirituality.
Without gratitude, I relapse. Because I become selfish and I feel like the world owes it to me to get drunk.
But when I am grateful I can appreciate anything. Even the earth beneath my feet. Even existence itself. So, no need to get drunk. I am happy with things as they are. That’s the power of gratitude.
We all need to cultivate this if we want to stay sober.
Draw out your inner thoughts by writing in a journal every day
OK, let’s continue with the practical applications here.
Try writing in a journal every single day. Just force yourself to write down your thoughts, your feelings, your anxieties.
After a year of doing this, sit down one day and glance back through it and see how much you have grown, how much you have progressed.
This is power. It’s an awesome thing to do, to see.
And in writing that stuff down you free your mind. You open up a space where new mental stuff can happen.
Think of it as a pitcher of water. Your brain fills up with anxiety. If you journal every day and write that stuff down, it is like emptying the pitcher out. This gives you more mental clarity to move forward with. There is less mental baggage and anxiety running around upstairs.
Try it. It might really help you. Write it down, every day. Just sit and write. See if it brings you peace, clarity, strength.
It works for me.
Find an outlet such as meditation or exercise that helps achieve emotional balance
Look for other outlets as well.
Try meditation. Take a yoga class. Do some martial arts. Do Tai Chi.
Try exercise. Make a 90 day commitment to walk every single day. Or jog, if you are physically able.
Or go to AA meetings and ask people for suggestions. Ask them what actions they take to achieve emotional balance and mental clarity. Get new ideas, test them out.
Find what works for you.
It is your responsibility to find what works. Keep testing until you find your routine.
Your daily practice.
The daily habits that will lead you to inner strength. That will lead you to the life that you really want to live.
What about you, have you found inner strength in your recovery? What were the specific techniques that you used to achieve this strength? Share it with us. Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!