Mindfulness is a lot harder than it sounds. A mindful state is, in essence, a state of calm wherein we can be reflective and consider our own thoughts and experiences within any given moment from a non-judgmental and purely observational perspective.
The best analogy to think of when trying to understand mindfulness is the contrast in perspectives between the spectator and participator in a frustrating traffic jam. A driver within the middle of the traffic jam is likely to be irritated, agitated, and preoccupied with thoughts of frustration. A spectator can observe the situation, without any strong feelings. They might even be able to spot a solution to the problem lying ahead, but that is not the primary point of being mindful.
What Is Mindfulness?
By considering your own mind and the frustrations and feelings you struggle with from a distanced perspective, you can gain a unique insight into your own self. It takes a little practice to really understand why you should bother with this at all, but the ultimate goal is simple: to be comfortable in a mindful state.
Many people are not comfortable with their own mind. Without even realizing it, many people obsessively seek out things to keep them preoccupied. They want to be busy, they want to leave behind the thoughts that lurk beneath the surface and focus on whatever can get them through the day and into bed.
But it’s that sort of behavior that causes thoughts and problems to fester and grow into unmanageable anxieties and unseen, unfelt, yet powerful stressors. While unknown at first, mindfulness makes these issues known to the person. They take a moment to stop, slow down, and think about themselves. For some, this experience is painful. This is why mindfulness is something to be taken seriously – in a therapeutic setting, it can help people in recovery get to the bottom of what they are really struggling with. If done outside of therapy, without prior experience, it can be more distressing than helpful.
Potential Dangers of Mindfulness
Mindfulness, in a word, is controlled dissociation. You work to take yourself out of the frustration and angst, and you learn to pause. Mindfulness is coupled with other training tools, including controlled and slow breathing, and a healthy exercise regimen. Exercise couples well with mindfulness because it gives you an extra outlet to work off strong emotional stresses, before going into mindfulness. Exercise releases endorphins that make us feel good, and exhausts the body, putting us in a better state of calm afterwards. The routine of regular exercise when slotted into the end of a day gives us an effective daily timer to ‘wind down’, going from an agitated and focused state into a relaxed and more reflective mindset.
When applied properly, at the right time, for the right purpose, mindfulness is an excellent therapeutic tool for identifying stressors and negative feelings and addressing them properly with a professional through psychotherapy.
But misused or improperly applied, mindfulness is completely ineffective at best, and distressing at worst. As mentioned before, some people have a very hard time being calm. It brings to mind emotions, thoughts, and feelings that might have taken root during an extremely traumatizing time, including addiction. Some people get addicted because they turn to drugs as a way to soothe themselves after experiencing great pain. Others get addicted, and eventually go through trauma during their addiction period.
Mindfulness is still a very good tool for people who want to work through strong negative emotions and trauma, but it takes the right approach and the right environment to make it work. Other similar techniques that show great promise include hypnotherapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
A Tool, Not A Cure
Practicing mindfulness without therapy may not be as effective as combining the two, as mindfulness is useful for learning to maintain a mindful state – and thus exploring thoughts and feelings that you may not have noticed otherwise – but it does not allow you effectively address these thoughts. We are not our own therapists. As much as we try to be self-sustaining, a hurt mind cannot heal itself. Instead, the end result is a constant loop.
With assistance, and the right help, you can make progress in whatever direction you need. Some people need help maintaining their sobriety and working on the cravings that still take control of them from time to time. Others need help dealing with traumatic thoughts and memories. Others yet struggle with depressive thinking, suicidal ideation, and anxious thoughts, including paranoid ideas and constant worries. Mindfulness can help you calm down and get a better perspective of what you’re going through. But it isn’t a solution. It’s simply an effective diagnostic tool.
Making Use of Mindfulness with Treatment
Drug addiction treatment differs in shape and form based on the circumstances of the patient, their addiction history, and the effectiveness of the different treatments they’ve already tried. It’s not easy to tell where mindfulness training is going to fit into your treatment without having a better understanding of what your treatment entails.
From the perspective of a multimodal approach, mindfulness is a good tool in the repertoire of anyone working with a trained psychiatrist for their recovery. Some people feel they don’t need one-on-one therapy and respond better to group therapy or rely on some other form of reflection (including spiritual reflection, or prayer) to overcome anxieties and feelings of guilt associated with past actions and consequences.
Addiction is not a moral disease, but a combination of stigma and the increased likelihood of developing symptoms of anxiety during and after addiction means that many people struggle with their sense of self during recovery. Mindfulness in conjunction with other forms of therapy can essentially help you be okay with yourself.
Support Is Important
Many factors go into developing an addiction. While the drugs themselves play a massive role, there are various social as well as psychological factors that typically affect a person before they fully depend on drugs. All that has to be ‘fixed’ before a person can truly separate themselves from the past and be confident in their sobriety.
But that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes the love and support of others around you to get you through the hardest days and nights, and keep you convinced that there’s a chance you will get better. Even with mindfulness-based psychotherapy, the support of your friends and family is important to keep you going, sticking to the program, and making headway in the long-term.