The most difficult phase of the addiction recovery process is often the first few months. When a person first makes the decision to recover, they have a lot to deal with all at once. They must work on getting rid of the habits that led them to addiction, replacing those habits with healthier ones, and addressing any problems that their addiction may have caused in their personal lives. This is a lot to deal with, and it can be emotionally draining. Starting a regular meditation routine can go a long way towards helping people manage their emotions in recovery without giving in to a relapse.
Meditation is not just a modern invention or a feel-good fad. It’s an ancient practice that people have been doing for thousands of years. The purpose of meditation is to release worldly attachments, which cause suffering, and live with more clarity and peace in the present moment. This practice has a lot of obvious benefits for everybody, and it is a particularly effective way for someone in recovery from addiction to re-wire their brain and emotions healthily.
The Connection Between Meditation and Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the state of being present. When someone is in a mindful state, they notice what’s going on around them and are aware of the sensation of being in their body. They are aware of their thoughts, but they are not identified with those thoughts. In other words, mindfulness is the opposite of getting lost in a daydream or worrying about what’s going to happen in the future. It is a state of clarity and calm.
Most types of meditation promote mindfulness directly or indirectly. Many are designed specifically to help people cultivate a mindful state. Someone who struggles with alcohol or drug abuse can benefit from almost any type of meditation in recovery; the end purpose is the same, so it doesn’t matter much whether the person chooses mindfulness meditation, Zen meditation, or even a meditative form of yoga.
How Mindfulness Combats Impulsive Behaviors
When a person meditates regularly, they get better and better at controlling their thought patterns. Consider one of the most popular types of meditation, which involves sitting quietly, focusing on one’s breath, and clearing one’s mind of all other thoughts. Most people, when they first try this meditation, quickly find that clearing their mind is easier said than done. But that is normal. For beginners, the point of this meditation isn’t actually to sit with a perfectly clear mind. Rather, it’s to practice pulling the mind back into the present moment when it starts to wander.
This is a very simple meditative practice. It can be done anywhere; it’s available to everyone. But this basic exercise can have some startlingly powerful effects on every aspect of a person’s life. When someone meditates regularly, they get better at controlling their mind all the time, not just when they’re on the meditation cushion. It becomes easier for them to take a deep breath and let go of negative thoughts or reconsider a bad decision. In short, mindfulness meditation improves both willpower and emotional stability for most people.
Because of this, mindfulness is highly beneficial for people who are in recovery from addiction, especially while they are still in the vulnerable early stage of recovery. After all, addiction is an impulsive, habitual behavior that usually has its roots in some kind of emotional problem. Mindfulness does several specific things for people who are overcoming these issues:
- -It helps them recognize their impulses without feeling compelled to act on them. Essentially, mindfulness training helps people to separate themselves from their passing thoughts and feelings.
- -It helps them pause and identify the emotions they’re feeling, rather than getting swept away in them.
- -It reduces the odds of relapse by breaking the chains of mindless habit, giving recovering addicts the chance to consciously choose a different, healthier behavior.
Mindfulness can also help someone recover from a relapse more quickly. Without mindfulness, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame after a relapse, which can make it hard to get back on the wagon. A mindful approach, on the other hand, allows a person to put mistakes behind them more easily and move on.
Meditation, Emotion, and the Brain
Meditation doesn’t just change the way a person feels. It also causes physical changes in the brain. This has important implications for people who are working on breaking out of the shackles of addiction.
Scientists used to believe that the human brain did not change very much after adolescence, but today, research has shown that idea to be false. The brain actually remains quite malleable throughout adulthood. That means that no matter how old a person is, they can and do continue to build new neural connections and new habits, whether consciously or unconsciously. A worsening pattern of addiction is an example of an unhealthy change in the brain that does not happen on purpose. Taking up a meditation practice, on the other hand, is a good way to intentionally build healthy new neural connections and start overwriting old bad habits.
Researchers have found that the changes in the brain associated with regular meditation are overwhelmingly positive. Meditating on a daily basis causes an increase in tissue in areas of the brain that are associated with feelings of compassion, hopefulness, and creativity. It also reduces activity in areas of the brain associated with pessimism and fear.
True Recovery Requires a Holistic Approach
Recovering from addiction is a long process, and the early days are often the hardest. It’s important for people to seek out all the resources they can while they’re healing. Meditation in recovery is one free and simple resource that has been shown to improve a person’s mood, reduce impulsive behaviors, and regulate emotions. While it won’t take the place of other important recovery aids like social support and therapy, meditation is a positive and worthwhile investment of time and energy for anyone who is starting on their recovery journey.