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What is Mindfulness?

There are various schools of thought about what works best to battle addiction. Many have come from the psychiatry and medical fields and are relatively modern in nature, while others have been around for a much longer time. Most addiction professionals will agree that it takes a combination of these various methods for individuals to have successful, long-lasting recovery. As we come to understand the human condition more and more, and the things that have driven us to dangerous situations like active addiction, we can apply these methods to help us heal – in mind, body, and spirit. One of the methods that has been around for a long time, but we are coming to understand that it can play a critical role in recovery, is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the way that we remove our thoughts and fears of the past and future by maintaining an awareness of our present. We focus solely on what is occurring to us only in the moment, rather than allowing ourselves to engage in thoughts of what has happened or what will happen. When we bring our attention to what is occurring in the present, without judgement or negative emotion, we truly experience life as it is happening says Johnny K – owner of True Life Recovery addiction center in Orange County, California.

Defining Mindfulness

According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is “actively paying attention to the present moment, taking stock of what you’re thinking and feeling, and offering no criticism or judgment. Mindfulness is simply making a neutral, comprehensive inventory of what you’re experiencing. The idea of living life in the moment comes from the idea of being mindful.”

There are three key aspects of being mindful:

  1. It is intentional. We have to make a conscious effort to catalog what we’re going through, from one moment to another.
  2. It is accepting. We cannot deny what we are sensing.
  3. It is nonjudgmental. If we criticize ourselves for what we’re feeling we are not being truly mindful, just as when we think highly of our emotions we haven’t achieved actual mindfulness.

A study in the journal Clinical Psychology Review found that constant worry or stress directly leads to depression and anxiety (which in turn can lead to substance abuse); and mindfulness therapy is effective in reducing the worry that many depressive and addicted patients feel.

How Can Mindfulness Help in Addiction Recovery?

The mind and body are connected. When we take a moment in our day to allow ourselves to simply experience where we are and what is going on around us, the mind begins to quiet and the body begins to relax. Mindfulness allows us to take a moment to observe what is occurring through our senses or what we are feeling internally without placing judgement on the experience of the present. It is quite simple, but the health benefits are surprisingly profound. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as provide therapeutic benefits to men and women recovering from addiction.

A 2014 article in Substance Use and Misuse researched the effects of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) on men and women struggling with addiction. The study found that “current evidence suggests that MBIs can reduce the consumption of several substances including alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, cigarettes, and opiates to a significantly greater extent than waitlist controls, non-specific educational support groups, and some specific control groups. Some preliminary evidence also suggests that MBIs are associated with a reduction in craving as well as increased mindfulness.”  

Additionally, using mindfulness as a meditation practice is a great tool for everyone, but it’s especially helpful for those of us who are in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Mindful meditation can help us recognize that our negative thoughts and feelings can put us on the slippery slope toward relapse, without considering acting on them or having self-judgment about them. It can help with cravings and working through them without using or drinking. This is especially helpful in early recovery when self-judgment and cravings are at their strongest.

Mindfulness – Another Tool for Addiction Recovery

Practicing mindfulness is not a complicated endeavor and anyone is capable. All a person needs to do is set aside some time to observe the present moment as it is. There is no goal of achieving inner calm or actively trying to calm the mind—just noticing and observing, allowing thoughts to pass without placing any judgment on them. Overtime, results become noticeable and we feel closer to the serenity that we have been searching for on our journey toward recovery.

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