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From the moment I became sober back in 2012, I’ve been on a constant journey to improve who I am as a person. This is something I learned from going to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Meetings, a sponsor, and the steps taught me that drugs and alcohol were but a symptom of my disease. I had a major problem with living life.
My journey throughout the last four years has been incredible, and I am a much different person. Like a good addict, I always think I need more. Today I am grateful that I can focus that on self-discovery and self-improvement rather than self-destruction. This path led me to research something called mindfulness.
My name is Chris Boutte. I am currently the Lead Alumni Coordinator for American Untitled design (11)Addiction Centers, and I’m based out of Desert Hope in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am not a doctor or therapist. Heck, I only went to college for a semester. I’m a bit of a recovery
However, I am a bit of a recovery nerd, so I spend a lot of time researching the disease of addiction and learning how to strengthen my own recovery. For a few months, I kept seeing articles about something called mindfulness and how it could be used to improve work, relationships and life in general. Out of curiosity, I wondered if it could help people recover from addiction. I happened to find a book called The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery, and it intrigued me.
Since reading the book and learning how it can benefit people struggling with addiction, I decided to enroll in a six-week mindfulness course. I loved it so much that I then enrolled in the next course, which is about teaching mindfulness to others. Since practicing mindfulness, I feel my recovery has improved greatly, and I also realized that AA and NA had already taught me some mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
One of the best descriptions of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic as well as the Center for Mindfulness. He says, “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness practice is all about increasing one’s ability to have very short instances of moment-to-moment awareness for longer periods of time. Some of you may be wondering what this has to do with anything, and others may already be thinking about how this helps with addiction recovery.
Perhaps there never will be a full answer to these questions. Opinions vary considerably as to why the alcoholic reacts differently from normal people. We are not sure why, once a certain point is reached, little can be done for him. We cannot answer the riddle.” -Alcoholics Anonymous Page 22
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous was written in the 1930s, but now we have many more answers due to technological advances and research into addiction. Addicts and alcoholics have an issue with the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain has a slew of responsibilities, and one of them is impulse control. I truly believe that I had addictive traits long before drugs and alcohol came into the mix, and impulse control was always an issue. Us addicts instantly react on our impulses, which is why there’s often no thought before the first drink or drug. By increasing our moment-to-moment awareness, we’re able to pump the brakes before we pick up that first drink or drug.
AA and NA Taught Me Mindfulness Without Me Knowing It
Like most addicts in early recovery, I was a hot mess. I was restless, irritable and discontent. I didn’t know who I was without drugs or alcohol, and I didn’t know how to act. I had a sponsor who constantly reminded me not to trust my thinking because it’s what put me in my awful situation. That made sense, so I started taking suggestions from others. The cliché sayings the men and women of the fellowship were telling me was my first glimpse of mindfulness, and I didn’t even realize it then.
“Take it one day at a time.”
Although mindfulness is about moment-to-moment awareness, this was a stepping stone. They told me to just stay sober one day at a time. I had an issue living in the past or worrying about the future. I’d often ask myself, “How am I supposed to stay sober forever?!” They taught me that I only had to stay sober for today. When I was craving, I only had to stay sober for that hour, that minute or that second.
The Three Questions
I had a lot of anger issues when I got sober. I blamed the world for my problems, and I also had an unexplainable ego. I truly thought that my way was the right way, which caused me to get into a lot of arguments and put myself in bad situations. Someone in a meeting taught me to pause and ask myself these questions:
“Does it need to be said?”
“Does it need to be said right now?”
“Does it need to be said by me?”
This took quite a bit of practice, but it taught me to pause. It taught me to be mindful of what I was about to do. While I still sometimes said things that I immediately regretted, it started to happen less and less.
How am I feeling?
Working on my fourth step taught me to be mindful of the way I was feeling. I used to get resentful, sad or anxious, and I couldn’t figure out why. Even if I knew why, I would judge myself for feeling the way I felt, or I’d judge the other person for making me feel that way. The fourth step really helped me get clarity as to why I was feeling these emotions, and it gave me the opportunity to work on my issues. Mindfulness and acceptance go hand-in-hand.
In the online mindfulness course I was enrolled in, I noticed many people were having trouble with the practices. Assuming that I was the only recovering addict in the class, I started to see that the fellowships of AA and NA had already given me a jumpstart on mindfulness practice.
How Mindfulness is Improving My Recovery
I am by no means a mindfulness expert, but I’ve been practicing mindfulness for a few months, and I can see how it’s been strengthening my recovery in a variety of different aspects. They sometimes say in meetings that after you get some time, it’s not about not picking up, it’s about dealing with life on life’s terms. Meetings, a sponsor, and step work are still a valuable part of my recovery, but mindfulness has been added into the mix, and it’s continued to improve my day-to-day life.
Stress and anxiety are feelings that aren’t limited to addicts alone. They’re part of human nature. There are days where I can feel overwhelmed from the time I wake up in the morning. Juggling work, a seven-year-old, friends, family, and recovery can sometimes cause my mind to race. Also like most people, I begin to worry about the future. “How am I going to pay this bill?” or “How am I going to complete this next task?” are regular thoughts many of us have. Mindfulness helps me recognize these feelings and bring myself back in the moment.
The best part about using mindfulness as a form of stress reduction is that I can literally do it anywhere. I’ve found that I begin having stress or anxiety the most in the morning on my drive to work, and it may not even be for reasons related to work. To come back to the present moment, I place my hand in front of my A/C vent in my car and feel the cool air coming through. I recognize the way the steering wheel feels in my hand. I start to notice the colors of vehicles around me and the weather. I may even mindfully listen to the song playing through my speakers as a way to be brought back to the moment, and I feel much better after only doing this for a minute or two.
My listening skills during conversations have become much better because I’m able to stay in the moment much better. I can listen to clients, coworkers, friends and my son with more focus. I’ve seen how this has helped me with simply providing somebody with my undivided attention rather than fiddling with my phone, thinking about other tasks or judging what the other person is saying.
The Ultimate Perks
For me, the primary benefit of mindfulness is acknowledging happiness and joy. Due to human evolution, our brains are designed to focus on the negative as a form of survival. Mindfulness has taught me bring attention to my happiness and serenity. In early recovery, I remember being more mindful of just feeling well physically and mentally because I was free from active addiction, but eventually I stopped noticing it. Today, I can bring attention to my positive feelings more than ever, and it’s truly a great experience.
The byproducts of mindfulness are endless, and I hope this article helped shed some light as to how it can help you in your daily life no matter who you are or how much clean time you have. I highly recommend that if you’re like me and wish to add to your recovery tool kit, research some mindfulness practices and continue to strengthen your recovery.
#sober #self-improvement #self-discovery #self-destruction