Practicing Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery

Practicing Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery


Before you can get into the question of how exactly we should practice mindfulness in sobriety, the question is: Why do it at all? What is the point?

There are many different benefits to practicing mindfulness in addiction recovery. The first and perhaps most important benefit is that if you are mindful then it is a defense against relapse.

When people relapse and go back to their addiction they are simply reacting with emotions and they are definitely not being mindful of their present situation. They are upset for some reason and they are simply allowing themselves to react, and their brain goes with what it knows; what has worked in the past, and that is to self medicate. In order to make a different choice when faced with an old trigger situation the brain has to make a deliberate effort. This requires some amount of mindfulness.

So what is mindfulness anyway? I would argue that it is “thinking about thinking,” or taking the extra care and precaution to consider where our thoughts are at and how we are reacting to the world. It gives us a chance to slow down and think critically about our own reactions and our behavior. This is critical in addiction recovery when one poor reaction can create a chain of events that ends in relapse and total chaos.

When it comes to the emotional roller coaster that is early recovery from addiction, mindfulness is–perhaps more than anything else–the necessity to slow ourselves down when we sense that we are reacting to something emotionally, so that we can think rationally about the situation instead of acting impulsively. If we are not able to slow ourselves down and learn how to navigate our emotional triggers then we will be far more susceptible to relapse.

So how do we actually go about being more mindful? One way is through some simple concepts, such as asking ourselves the questions “what am I feeling right now?” and also through techniques such as seated meditation. If you are struggling to find ways to be more mindful then I would strongly suggest that you ask people in your recovery program how they are able to overcome emotions and practice mindfulness themselves.

I would encourage you to ask around and get a variety of suggestions and feedback. Why?

Because not every mindfulness tactic works for every single person.

Therefore, you are going to have to experiment and figure out what works best for you.

Also, I think it is important to realize that different techniques will work for you at various points in your recovery journey.

Let me give you an example. When I was about 6 months into my sobriety, I was encouraged to try seated meditation in order to practice mindfulness in my program. So I experimented with this for a while and I tried a few different seated meditation techniques, and ultimately I drifted away from the practice because it just wasn’t doing much for me. Instead, at that time I discovered distance running and therefore I started jogging long distances outdoors, which had the same basic effect as seated meditation when it came to mindfulness and emotional cleansing.

In other words, at that particular time in my life, seated meditation was a “miss” but vigorous physical exercise was a “hit.” And either path seemed to be a big help and significant boost to my emotional health, so I opted for the one that was working for me at the time.

Today, 17 years later, I have rediscovered seated meditation and something about it is “clicking” for me now. Maybe it is the bad weather outside (so I don’t want to jog!) or maybe my emotional state has shifted somehow, but I am really getting a lot of benefit today out of seated meditation sessions. So I have incorporated that back into my practice, and I continue to benefit from both forms of mindfulness.

If you have ever met someone who was really angry all the time, it was probably the case that this person did not even realize how much anger they were carrying around. And this is exactly what we want to avoid in recovery–not the anger itself, because we are all going to experience anger from time to time, but it is the fact that this person did not even know that they were angry, did not even acknowledge that they were upset, and they just felt totally justified in their emotional outrage. So to that person, the anger felt normal, natural. They did not question the anger or wonder why they were so upset.

That is the opposite of mindfulness, and of course that condition can quickly lead to relapse if we are not careful.

Therefore we want to make a deliberate effort in our recovery to become more aware of ourselves, of our emotional state.

Another suggestion that you might hear regarding this is to write in a journal every day. If you force yourself to write down your feelings and emotions every day then you are effectively forcing yourself to be mindful, because then you have to zero in on your emotional state and clearly define it so that you can translate it into words and put it down on paper. Furthermore, if you write in a journal every single day then after a while you can glance back through your written journal and see just how far you have come in your recovery, and you will notice the emotional maturity that is happening.

When we first get into addiction recovery our emotional maturity is at a certain level, and we are probably blaming others or shifting some of our responsibility away from ourselves in some way. As we progress in recovery, if we are doing the work that we are supposed to be doing on ourselves, then we will slowly start to accept more and more responsibility for ourselves and for our own emotional state. And if you are not keeping a written journal then this can be very difficult to see or notice over time, because we are too close to ourselves, and it is difficult to judge our progress objectively.

So my suggestion to you is to become willing to explore the concept of mindfulness, and that you ask for some suggestions on how to implement and practice some mindfulness techniques, and then find the ones that work best to help you in your recovery. Good luck!