The human drive to move toward pleasure and away from pain doesn’t just manifest itself in drug and alcohol addiction. Many people endlessly scroll through social media, binge watch Netflix and eat junk food without realizing that these are unhealthy attempts to avoid difficult emotions. But through mindfulness, it’s possible to become more aware of these behaviors, change them, embrace the present moment, and find more meaning in day-to-day experiences. If you’re someone struggling with addiction, the simple addition of self-awareness could change your life — or even save it.
Negative feelings and experiences are an unavoidable part of life. The only way to survive and thrive in spite of difficulty is to learn how to accept and find value in less-than-ideal circumstances. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Many people who struggle with addiction believe that they have good reasons for fleeing from reality. Trauma, mental illness and physical injury are common catalysts for substance use. Circumstances outside of personal control, including family history and home environment, are often also contributing factors.
But people aren’t just the sum of external circumstances — everyone has the power to step back from their feelings and take control of their perspective. That’s where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is the act of being fully and nonjudgmentally aware of the present moment, accepting and identifying any feelings, thoughts and sensations as they arise. Instead of fleeing from or mindlessly diving into these experiences, practitioners are encouraged to simply observe them, identify them and let them go. Most mindfulness practices involve some form of seated mindfulness meditation, but they can also be performed while walking, eating, speaking, listening or practicing yoga.
This kind of passive, detached awareness of inner dialogue and experiences can be incredibly beneficial to people struggling with addiction. Instead of fighting or avoiding the difficult states of mind that inevitably arise during recovery, mindfulness helps practitioners label feelings — particularly, negative ones — and learn to tolerate them. With the power of detachment, those in recovery can remain resilient and level-headed in the face of events or feelings that might otherwise trigger substance use.
Finding New Meaning in Recovery
While internal monologues and beliefs about oneself, others and the world can influence addiction, mindfulness can also be used to help individuals push back against these faulty frameworks. Many people with substance use disorder have a story that they tell themselves about their addictions. They may believe that they can’t stop using substances even if they tried to, or that they wouldn’t be able to cope with specific circumstances without consuming drugs or alcohol. Mindfulness allows people in recovery to recognize supposed truths for what they are: stories they tell themselves. In the moment that a person can see a belief for what it is, they have the power to change it.
This is why mindfulness is so successful in addressing addiction. Over time, regular mindfulness practice can completely change the way that individuals relate to their thoughts and allow them to push back against dangerous behaviors that once felt automatic. From this place of peace and stillness, people can begin to reconnect with their bodies and minds, and make more purposeful decisions about how they lead their lives.
A Florida-born and based writer for The Recovery Village, Megan Hull is driven by a desire to connect individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders with the help they need. The Recovery Village is a collection of full continuum of care drug and alcohol addiction treatment facilities. With locations across the country, The Recovery Village has helped countless clients find renewed living in sobriety.