Personal Growth


By: Aspen Stoddard/staff writer

After more than a decade of using substances to avoid my “self,” one of the hardest parts of transitioning into sobriety was learning new tactics for dealing with the cycle of anxious thoughts spinning constantly in my mind.

Sure, I understood the idea of living one day at a time, but the fear of having to sustain this thought-battle in my mind permanently taunted me. How would I ever get through? It was right around this time period that my therapist suggested meditation.

“Have you ever tried?” she asked. I had not. I started to get a little angry: I needed real help. Being inside my mind was part of the problem.

“It works for me,” she said. “I find I have more energy afterward.”

I tried not to laugh. I imagined myself sitting cross-legged on some maroon rug trying to keep my eyes shut. I wouldn’t last ten seconds. My thoughts churned inside my head like hurricanes. There was no way I would be able to quiet my mind. In fact, I believed trying to sit still would only make the thoughts worse. I also thought that meditation was a practice that one needed to grow up with in order to efficiently perform. I’m a small-town girl who has experience in self-destruction. What did I know about meditating?

So instead of taking my friend’s advice, I returned to the chaos of my mind and continued struggling within the way I had grown used to.

After a few weeks, and at a point where I was feeling worn out and on the verge of running back toward drugs to ease my mind, the idea of meditation returned to me. I decided to give it a shot. I began with guided meditations, which allowed me to listen to someone tell a story.

If you have ever listened to a guided meditation, then you can probably imagine the soothing voice suggesting: find a place to sit down. You can choose a soft pillow or a cushioned-chair. Just find a place to sit down and be comfortable and then close your eyes. Concentrate on the cool air streaming through your nose. Just stay right there. Breathe. Think only of the flow of oxygen moving in and out. Allow thoughts to enter and exit your mind without attempting to interpret them. In other words, relax. Allow yourself to be.

I sat with my eyes pinched closed, my body taut with tension, and a voice in my head telling me that it was time to relax (not telling—more on the verge of panicking). I could only think about how I didn’t know what I was doing.

But then slowly something strange happened. After about five minutes into the session, I was suddenly only aware of the muscles in my body and the woman’s voice who was guiding me. I felt the circuit of energy moving in waves through me. When I finally opened my eyes, tears streamed down my cheeks. Not so much because I had an out-of-this-world spiritual experience (though, that would come later after more practice) but because of the relief my brain felt. I had, if only for that short moment, escaped from my anxious thoughts.

I escaped without poisoning my body.

One of the common misconceptions about meditation is that you must force your mind to empty. The reality is quite the opposite. Rather than forcing the mind to be silent, meditation asks that you allow thoughts to freely flow without judging them. For the addict in recovery, I think this is one of the most essential terms-—judgement. As addicts in recovery, we are professionals at judging ourselves. We are not so expert at acceptance. Meditation allowed me to begin to forgive myself for hurting myself and others. Through a steady practice of meditation, I could allow those thoughts to enter my mind and let them pass.

It has been a few years now since I started practicing meditation. I find that I am more stable when I am practicing. When I get off track and start skipping sessions, I feel myself spiraling. Meditation forces me to sit with myself, to be aware of my awareness, to allow a maelstrom of thoughts to appear and disappear without trying to over-analyze them.

But don’t just take my word for it; in a recent study by Harvard in 2011, researchers found that an eight-week program of meditative practice changes the gray matter in the brain, the region that controls stress, memory, empathy, and our sense of self.

Again, keep in mind that meditation works best as a daily practice. It’s best to find a way to incorporate meditation as part of your lifestyle than to see it as time-absorbing exercise. You don’t need a lot of time. In fact, I started with just ten minutes a day.

Check out these websites for a variety of specified guided meditations:

 

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour  of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website. You can also call us directly at 877-727-4465. 

Overcoming addiction requires a strong support system. Faith-based recovery programs are rooted in the belief that there’s no greater source of support than God himself.

Faith-Based Recovery vs. Traditional Rehab Programs
Faith-based recovery programs take a holistic approach to addiction recovery. They treat addiction as a disease that affects the body, mind, and spirit. Key principles behind this approach include:

  • An exploration of one’s spirituality is seen as a way to promote peace and connection.
  • Participants are encouraged to trust God to provide the support they need to begin the healing process.
  • Instead of being greeted with shame or judgement, participants are urged to practice self-compassion and forgiveness.
  • Letting go of the past is the only way to work towards a brighter future.
  • God is powerful and all knowing, but individual human beings aren’t expected to have their lives all figured out. Past mistakes are simply part of your personal journey.

Faith-based recovery programs encourage participants to explore their relationship with God through meditation, prayer, reflection, and Bible study. They are guided and encouraged to find a personal way to connect with a higher power for strength and emotional support.

Participants in faith-based recovery program still receive counseling, nutrition education, stress management support, and evidence-based treatment for any co-occurring disorders. The only difference is that the exploration of one’s spirituality is integrated throughout every step of the treatment process.

Benefits of Faith-Based Recovery
No one type of substance abuse treatment program is right for everyone. Every addicted person has their own unique challenges when it comes to understanding the roots of their addiction. However, some of the benefits of a faith-based recovery include:

  • A less selfish and self-seeking world outlook
  • Fewer feelings of self-pity and regret over past decisions
  • Healing past emotional wounds
  • Confidence in your ability to handle situations that might trigger the urge to drink or use drugs
  • A renewed sense of hope and purpose
  • A connection to a supportive group of likeminded individuals

Preventing Relapse
One common concern people have when seeking any substance abuse treatment is whether the program will prevent relapse. Faith-based recovery programs work to reduce the risk of relapse by educating participants in the 5 Ps of recovery:

Purpose: Setting actionable goals and working towards dreams gives those in recovery the motivation to continue despite obstacles.
Practice: Changing your brain’s response to stressful situations and embracing healthier behavior patterns is a skill that takes practice, much like learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language.
Perseverance: Sobriety requires patience. It doesn’t happen immediately. Rather, the recovery process is a journey taken one day at a time.
Pray: Asking a higher power for guidance and wisdom combats feelings of weakness. Prayer can serve as a powerful way to cope with addiction triggers.
Praise: Focusing on positive accomplishments instead of dwelling on past mistakes robs addiction of its power. Expressing gratitude for one’s blessings also serves to provide a sense of perspective.

Participants in faith-based recovery programs often begin attending regular worship services in their communities after they’re discharged from treatment. This helps build a social connection that combats the loneliness and isolation that drives addiction.

Determining If a Faith-Based Recovery Program Is Right for You
St. Joseph Institute is a Christian non-denominal program that’s not connected to any church or religious organization. Anyone who wants to discover how deepening their faith can help them face the challenge of clean and sober living is welcome. It doesn’t matter if you’ve actively attended worship services your entire life or if you’re just now expressing the desire to explore your spirituality. To learn more, please call 888-727-4465.

meditateAt St. Joseph’s, we appreciate that the road to sustainable recovery can be long, winding, and unique for each individual. There is one strategy that all people suffering from addiction can add to their arsenal – something that we incorporate into our traditional services, groups, and medical treatments. As you may recall from time spent at St. Joseph’s, we encourage those on any step of the recovery process to explore the practice of mindful meditation.

Meditation is not the legs-crossed, loud-humming, floating-on-a-cloud-to-enlightenment that is often portrayed in the media. Mindfulness meditation for addiction recovery is a legitimate, scientifically supported method for engaging more closely with your innermost thoughts, feelings, and temptations. What’s more, meditation can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs.

Before recapping how to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, let’s begin by highlighting some of its benefits. Everyone – whether they’re dealing with substance use issues or not – can gain from meditating. Meditation is an opportunity to step back from the clamor of everyday life and look inwards. For most people, sitting quietly is a lost art. Being alone with our thoughts can be scary. Mindfulness invites us to sit, breathe, and consider those thoughts without judgment – to consider ourselves and our actions without judgment. So, what can meditation do for you in your road to recovery?

St. Joseph’s Institute believes individuals in recovery who incorporate meditation are better equipped to:

  • Handle the extreme highs and lows that often occur during early recovery.
  • Traverse cravings that often creep up throughout the recovery process. Meditation helps individuals realize that they don’t need to be victims to their thoughts, nor must they act on them when they could lead to destructive behavior.
  • Avoid a relapse by spotting warning signs early. More self-awareness can have long-lasting and positive effects.
  • Manage interpersonal relationships. People who practice mindfulness meditation grow to be more patient, understanding, and slower to anger. Applying those traits to relationships with family and friends, especially while recovering, can make a world of difference.

How can you begin or develop this journey towards a more mindful recovery? Most meditation practitioners aim to meditate every day, ideally at the same time each day. Like practicing for a sport, your meditation practice will benefit from consistency. Start with 10 or 15 minutes; then, build your way up to longer sessions. Find a quiet place. Choose a comfortable sitting position. Take a few deep breaths – and then allow your breathing to return to its natural state. Observe your breath. Close your eyes and focus on the air rushing in – and then out of your nostrils. When a stray thought or mental chatter distracts your focus, don’t be alarmed. This is normal. Acknowledge the thought – whether it’s about your next meal, an argument with a friend, or a craving – and try to let it float away. That thought is just a thought; it doesn’t define you as a person. Return to your breath.

As discussed at our facilities, there are many methods of meditation and you will find what works best for you. While “sitting” can initially be challenging and consistency is key, it’s important to remember that meditation for recovery can be practiced anywhere at any time. It doesn’t require any special equipment or expensive training. Outside of a daily routine, meditation can take the form of a few deep breaths outside of a liquor store, a reminder that you have the choice not to go in. It can be a calm moment to collect yourself before entering into a social situation where you know there will be substance use. It can be a chance to refocus on your goals before a call to your sponsor.

Take this opportunity to learn more about mindfulness and its benefits. Recently, the New York Times published a comprehensive introduction to meditation. If you’re still not convinced, read more about the science behind meditation for recovery.

If you haven’t meditated already, today’s the day to start.

Some research sources used for this article:

From mindless mess to mindfulness: Meditation practice in recovery

Mindfulness Meditation in Recovery

Meditation for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Recovery

 

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