Mindfulness: Being present to the moment in which one finds oneself.
This posting will address why mindfulness is so important to attaining recovery and maintaining long-term sobriety, and throughout the words addict and addiction are used to refer to both drug and alcohol dependency.
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.― Amit Ray
Life is challenging. Days are filled with the stresses of work, school, family, shopping, repairs, appointments, finances, and social obligations. When these responsibilities are added to the authoritative roles of parent, friend, employee, patient, doctor, policeman, mayor, or neighbor, the accumulation of stress can make the prospect of physical, mental, and emotional escape very inviting. Addiction’s preeminent purpose is to escape the experience of the moment, to relieve the addict from the responsibility of living. We drink or drug not only to escape feeling happy, sad, angry, glad, suspicious, envious, fearful, bored, or anxious, but also escape being a citizen, an employee, a parent, a spouse or significant other.
Embracing life fully, so as to experience completely even the painful stuff, seems counterintuitive given our natural tendency to resist that which seems less than pleasant. Rather than fully experiencing what is occurring now we become preoccupied with the past—wishing we could change or justify it—or with the future—hoping-scheming to avoid it. But Newton’s Third Law of Motion teaches us that the force applied is the same force received—what we give is what we get. It is logical, therefore, to expect that if one wishes to mitigate the stressors of life one must embrace them rather than resist them. This embodies the wisdom of mindfulness.
The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. – Buddha
Addiction’s theft of mindfulness is most obvious when viewed as aftermath: the addict has lost home, family, health, job, respect, and possibly liberty. No one would question at this point that the life of the addict has gotten “out of control,” that the addict’s turmoil could not possibly allow for anything approximating enjoyment or peace. But given the opportunity the addict will attest to the fact that long before winding up here, addiction was busily dissolving his or her ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, replacing them with preoccupation and disease fueled by self-destructive behavior, poor decision making, regret, and longing. In retrospect it is clear to the addict that bit by bit the consequences of inappropriate behaviors and decision making, the putting off till tomorrow what rightly should be done today, made it impossible to find fulfillment in being—being still; being with oneself; being in the presence of another or nature; being in the experience of sensations both pleasant and distressing. The addict’s grasping at material possessions, physical pleasures, and numbing-out became the normal means of attaining wholeness and peace, because long ago it had been forgotten how simple it could be to do the business of life.
One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. – Dale Carnegie
As one part of a comprehensive program of recovery, mindfulness provides the addict the means to live purposefully, serenely, and without shame. Using the techniques of mindfulness to attain and maintain recovery may be represented by the acronym REDO: Relax, Evaluate, Decide and Do, Outcome belongs to God.
Relax—At some point the addict must simply stop. Come to a halt. Call for a time out and focus through intentional breathing, guided imagery, or contemplative prayer, etc. The addict’s experience is one of either being so busy with all the “stuff” of life that he or she feels there is not enough time to do it all, or that there is nothing to do (they are bored) and that they have no purpose. Experiencing either too much or too little to do—chaos or boredom—results in inadequate oxygenation of the body and the mind’s being unable to focus. Stopping and breathing permits the addict to acquire a target. The notion of multi-tasking is wonderful, but in reality it is a mental impossibility because the mind can only consciously focus on one thing at a time. If one is preoccupied with the chaos of trying to do many things at once one is doing nothing well. Conversely, if one is aimless nothing is being done and life has become purposeless existence. Stopping and breathing permits one to relax, think, and become proactive rather than reactive or aimless.
With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Evaluate —When there is no focus either everything seems to be a priority or nothing seems to be a priority. When we stop and breathe we engage the frontal lobe which permits us to evaluate with logic rather than be controlled by the emotional midbrain. With the frontal lobe we analyze, consider, weigh, and perhaps decide to seek the advice of another to rationally determine the best course of action given this role and this responsibility. Often it is discovered that not acting or doing, but simply being still and experiencing the life in and around us is what benefits us most. This stillness may last only seconds or minutes, but for the person in recovery the period results in renewal, balance, and the centering of self which results in serenity and clearer thinking. It is in this state of peace that logic and intuition guide our decision making and help us to see clearly the thing needing to be done first.
If you worry about what might be, and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is. – Author Unknown
Decide and Do—Addicts know well the detrimental effects of perfectionism. For the perfectionist, “Do your best” is read as “Do perfectly.” But let us not confuse the two. We are humans and not gods. It is a great relief to finally permit oneself to do what one is able rather than being crushed under the weight of being a god. The acceptance that one’s best is good enough was captured by a colleague who was often heard to tell her students “You can’t always be a ten.” How true. Some days we are a ten and some days we are a six. The perfectionist is not known for patience and is, in most cases, his or her own worst critic. Patience with self is critical here. We didn’t become addicts overnight and we aren’t going to get well overnight. Rather, we give 100% of whatever we have to work with and remind our self that we did a good job. This is a message that we probably have not heard from our self in a long time. We need to tell our self “Great Job!” on a regular basis. Doing our best results in ending the day without regret because the question “What more could I have done?” does not arise. Our best is all anyone can expect, and the first person needing to be convinced of this is our self.
Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. – Eckhart Tolle
Outcome is God’s Business—After stopping, breathing, evaluating, and then doing my best to accomplish what needs to be done, I refuse to worry about whether it will “all work out okay.” At no time during the business of my day do I become caught up in worrying about whether what I did was good enough—I did the best I could. Should I reevaluate the situation later and discover that the hoped for result did not occur I can choose to be sad, but I have no need to damn myself and feel guilty for doing the best I knew how to do. Outcome is beyond my ability to control as a human being. Outcome is God’s problem, and if addiction has taught me anything it is the fact that I am not God. So, what do I do next? It’s simple really. I do it all over again. I REDO. I stop, breathe, engage my forebrain, evaluate, decide to do my best and then do it all over again.
See you in group.