You may be wondering how mindfulness can help therapeutically. You are not alone — the reaction of many people, when introduced to mindfulness, is “Is that it? How is that going to help me quit or make me feel better?” How does mindfulness in recovery help? Is mindfulness necessary for a successful recovery? Mindfulness is a state of mental awareness and focus that has been traditionally used in meditation practices, and has recently become popular as an element of certain types of cognitive-behavioral therapy, such as the therapy found during and after drug and alcohol addiction treatment.
Although mindfulness is not difficult in itself, it requires a certain amount of self-discipline to focus only on the present moment, and not to get caught up in thoughts about the past and the future. For this reason, exercises in mindfulness can be helpful in giving a focus to mindfulness.
Examples of mindfulness exercises are the raisin exercise, in which you take your time looking at, smelling, listening to, and eventually eating a raisin, and the body scan, in which you work through your entire body, just feeling the sensations of each body part. Read on to learn some helpful steps to achieve mindfulness in recovery.
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“My mind is full. Does this mean I’m mindful?”
We all have a lot going on inside our minds at any given moment. Thoughts about money, family, work, traffic, what to make for dinner. The list is never ending. But this isn’t ‘mindfulness’ In understanding what mindfulness is, it helps to practice mindfulness yourself. When you are mindful, you are aware of both your external surroundings and your inner experience, including your own responses to what is going on around you, in the present moment. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware without becoming attached to anything you are experiencing. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. During a mindfulness practice, the goal isn’t to remove all unwanted thoughts. Rather the goal is to acknowledge the thoughts for what they are, and allow them to come and go freely.
How Mindfulness in Recovery Helps With Addiction
You may be wondering how mindfulness can help therapeutically. You are not alone — the reaction of many people, when introduced to mindfulness, is “Is that it? How is that going to help me quit or make me feel better?”
One of the most basic ways it makes people feel better is by slowing things down, so you aren’t rushing from one activity to another, or even one thought to another. By quieting the mental chatter, you can achieve a sense of tranquility that is often the reason people choose to use drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, and opiates.
Another way that mindfulness in recovery can make you feel better is by allowing you to start to notice many wonderful sensory experiences that occur in everyday life that we often don’t notice. When you allow the beauty of the world around you to fill your consciousness, the world doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be.
1. Be Present
“Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.” The Buddha
Is it possible to be somewhere without actually being there? Of course it is. It’s the way most of us live every day. We’re talking to our kids or watching TV or sitting in a meeting, but our mind’s a million miles away. Usually, we’re feeling stressed about something that happened in the past or feeling anxiety about what might happen in the future. Or we’re distracted by our phones, our attention splintered by the relentless urge to type, tap, or swipe.
Only rarely do we focus on the present moment. Yet when our attention is continually somewhere else, we go through life on auto-pilot, never really seeing the richness of life or fully realizing our own potential. It’s like living with blinders on.
Mindfulness in recovery is about being present, increasing our awareness, and opening our eyes to the reality of now. This moment.
2. Recognize Your Thoughts as Thoughts
“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that—thoughts.” Allan Lokos
Most of us give little attention to the thoughts that fill our head. They’re just sort of there, like background noise we’ve learned to tune out. But whether we notice them or not, our thoughts are the driving force behind our feelings and actions. What we think about ourselves and others determines how we carry ourselves in the world, how we interact with people around us, and how effective we are at managing our life.
It’s easy to confuse our thoughts with reality—to believe that what we think is always true. In fact, we’re all prone to false assumptions, misconceptions, and unfounded beliefs.
Mindfulness in recovery teaches us to become aware of our thoughts, empowering us to let go of harmful ideas that work against us.
3. Focus on your breath.
This is the easiest, and one of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness. Your breath is ever-present, and ALWAYS available to you. You can choose to focus on your breath each time you feel yourself getting upset, or you can choose to take a moment each day (typically morning) to set a time for a few minutes, close your eyes, and count your breath. Notice the sensation of the air entering your lungs, and leaving your lungs. Notice how your body starts to ease and soften as you take each breath in and out. Focusing on our breath allows us to return to the present moment and recognize everything is okay right here and now.
4. Practice gratitude.
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more.” Melody Beattie
Gratitude has been known to completely shift the lives of those in long term recovery. Oftentimes, when first getting sober, mentors will suggest writing a daily gratitude list, and for good reason. Gratitude is one of the most overlooked tools we have in long term recovery, but its a key component for mindfulness in recovery. It doesn’t cost any money to be grateful and the benefits of practicing gratitude are exponential. According to studies, writing a daily gratitude list not only helps with physical health, but dramatically improves our emotional and spiritual health as well, which are key factors in living a well-rounded, full life clean and sober. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and overall well being.
Gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. In order to practice gratitude, simply write a list each day of 5-10 things you are truly grateful for. This list could start out with simple things like “health, family, recovery”.
5. Forgiveness of self and others for mindfulness in recovery.
“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” Maya Angelou
Let’s face it, every single person has been presented with difficult life challenges that cause us to hold on to resentment towards ourselves and others. In recovery, forgiveness is not an option. We inevitably find that if we cannot find a way to forgive, we will face a moment where we will want to pick up that first drink or drug to ease our pain of the past. Letting go of hard feelings is one of the most important mindfulness skills we can learn in recovery. If we want to sustain long term recovery and our relationships we built, we must learn to let go of the past hurts. Forgiveness allows us to reframe our experience to find the gift in any situation.
Forgiveness is a process where we choose, in each moment, to let go of the past. It is not an overnight process, but one that can take weeks, months or even years to fully let go of hurt. To conquer mindfulness in recovery, you can practice forgiveness by writing a letter to the person you feel harmed you and choosing to read it to a third party, preferably a therapist or licensed substance abuse counselor. We do not advocate writing a forgiveness letter and sending it to the person who you feel harmed you but instead process your emotion safely with someone who is emotionally unattached to the situation.
Mindfulness in Recovery with Harmony Ridge Recovery Center
The more you practice being mindful, the more beneficial it will be for your mental health, and it does take time to see the full benefits. Science has proven that our brains can habitually implement any behavior that we practice frequently for eight consecutive weeks. So what may take concerted effort to start with can soon become a natural part of your daily routine. To learn more about mindfulness in recovery, or any step of the addiction and recovery process contact our team at Harmony Ridge Recovery Center.