Mindfulness in Recovery

Staying sober requires that we develop skills that further long-term abstinence. While there are many ways to achieve recovery, I would like to discuss Mindfulness as a tool that has been valuable to me and a host of clients I’ve worked with over the last 29 years.

Mindfulness is a concept that talks about the practice of focusing your attention and awareness based on the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation. It has been popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness continues to be taught independently of religion.

My sense is that while Mindfulness is a relatively new approach to addiction recovery I have found this concept to have merit. It’s very likely that you’ll find this approach does not conflict with your current program of recovery. I quit using alcohol and drugs over 33 years ago and feel like incorporating the practice of Mindfulness has been very helpful in various parts of my sobriety…..and my life.

While I am certainly not an expert I would like to give you one way to practice mindfulness.

Perhaps you’re at a stage in your recovery where urges, cravings and addictive impulses overwhelm you. Perhaps you feel anxious more than you’d like, or perhaps you’d simply like to add another tool to your toolbox. I sense this method might be helpful to you. I like to explain Mindfulness by way of the acronym S.O.B.E.R. This idea was pioneered by Alan Marlatt, a pioneer in the the approach of mindfulness-based relapse prevention

(S)top
(O)bserve
(B)reathe
(E)valuate
(R)espond

Stop – while you may not be able to stop using or engaging in distressing thoughts or behaviors for a week or a month or a year, you can stop for 10 or 15 minutes. Being Mindful suggests that you engage in the practice of making a concerted effort and engaging your will in the process.

Observe – this refers to the ability and practice of observing how you feel, observing how you feel in relation to your experience, your distress, your inner thoughts and dialogue. Becoming aware of how you feel (observation) allows you to begin to identify what is distressing to you.

Breathe – simpler than it sounds. Have you noticed times when you were holding your breath? Ever watch a movie during a scene in an action flick or love story where you were trying to anticipate the outcome or you were feeling tense? I am sure I could find statistics which gave me an approximate number of times where we hold our breath during the day. However, more than knowing how often, it’s important to just be aware that we do this. Breathing relieves tension, it allows us to center ourselves, and can serve as a reminder that we’re human.

Evaluate – this simply means that you begin to make distinctions and assessments about your behavior at the time you’re feeling distressed. Here’s a question you can ask yourself: does how I feel and the decisions I am making serve me? I have learned not to think of things as good or bad, rather, do they serve me or not.

Respond – after you stop, observe how you feel, breathe, and evaluate your experience, it is time to respond mindfully. This essentially means that you are making a choice to have a different experience after you practice the previous steps. Responding mindfully means that you can make a choice to give yourself a few more minutes before you engage in dysfunctional thinking or before you give in to any chemicals you might want to use. Make sense?

My sense is that recovery is a choice. Every ‘thing’ we do either moves us in a direction of long-term sobriety or pushes us to engage in using behavior, which tends to be less than flattering to our ego. The concept of Mindfulness makes sense to me as I see sobriety as a skill that you can develop. I hope you will choose to have a different experience and perhaps you’ll find that this tool will be helpful. If you find recovery through a support group or therapy group, I applaud you. If you find that a therapist and anti-craving meds has been your path, congrats. Whatever you decide, begin to do something. My experience is that recovery looks different for everybody.

Good luck on your path.

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