The Benefits of Meditation for Addiction Recovery
Meditation and addiction are opposites when viewed in the light of meditation being an opportunity to check in with one’s self in the here and now, whereas addiction causes one to check out from the here and now. For those in addiction recovery, incorporating meditation and mindfulness in one’s everyday life is extremely beneficial in aiding one’s return to self and successful sobriety.
Recovery from addiction or health-harming behaviours is a process. To remain healthy, those in recovery need to examine their past, acknowledge mistakes that have been made, view who they are non-judgementally and lead a new life free from toxic habits. While these changes are for the better, they can also be overwhelming. Particularly for those in early recovery, feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression often accompany one’s thoughts early in the journey to sobriety.
Fortunately, meditation or the practice of mindfulness can help alleviate these negative feelings and help those in recovery maintain a degree of emotional balance. Being mindful through meditation allows us the opportunity to develop the capacity to see clearly the negative emotions and feelings of inadequacy we have about ourselves for what they are so that we can let go and release ourselves from this unnecessary and self-inflicted suffering.
Mindfulness is about experiencing the present moment, the now.
Being mindful is concentrating on the immediate without the interference of past memories or anticipation of the future getting in the way. As a non-judgemental form of observation, meditation brings about self-awareness and cultivates the habit of being aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions, but not allowing them to carry us off into a vortex of thought. Instead, we simply view them as they are and come back to concentrating on the present.
By practicing meditation regularly, we come to recognize that emotions and thoughts are transitory in nature, they come and go – that’s the purpose of our beautiful minds – to think. But sometimes, we get lost in thoughts that are detrimental to our health and well-being, and meditation allows us to remember that though we have thoughts, we do not have to act on them. We can let them just be. They too will pass.
Developing this self-awareness is especially useful when cravings arise, as those who are mindful will be adept at simply observing the thought, not letting it take control or then act on it. In addition, this practice of mindfulness also enables those in recovery to spot warning signs early on and act accordingly to avoid relapsing.
Not only does meditation help to heal the psychological mind but numerous studies have shown that it is beneficial for one’s physical health too. Mindfulness reduces our production of cortisol – the stress hormone – which signals when danger is about to arise. While useful for near-death situations, cortisol is actually very damaging to our bodies when it is produced in excess for long periods of time. Hence people rightly saying stress is a killer.
Meditation lowers blood pressure, decreases tension-related pain, boosts energy levels and increases the body’s serotonin levels which work to improve our mood.
At the root of every meditative practice is the quest for detachment and inner calm. With this is mind, meditation greatly compliments the recovering addict's goal to establish a distance between themselves and their desire to return to unhealthy habits.
But how to meditate?
To begin with, remember it is not so important how one meditates but simply that one does mediate. For those looking to incorporate exercise into their lives alongside meditation, Tai Chi and Yoga are wonderful moving meditational practices that help to cultivate mindfulness.
For those who want to try it on their own, there are numerous guided meditation resources on the web in the form of apps, podcasts and YouTube videos.
HeadSpace is a great introduction to meditation, offering a free 10-day program (Take10) and trial that asks you to commit only 10 minutes a day to find calm and clarity. It is available for both iOS and Android phones or desktop access. You can always replay episodes you’ve listened to before and you don’t have to purchase the program.
Another free resource is the Tara Brach website. She is a psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation and even has a “New to Meditation” section on her site for those looking to try even just a one-minute meditation.
Whichever way you choose to mediate, we wish you wellness, peace of mind and a successful journey to recovery.