May marks another mental health awareness month, and as such I would like to take a minute to highlight some healthy decisions that have helped me in my journey of recovery. Alcoholism and addiction are recognized in the DSM V as mental health issues, as are eating disorders and a variety of other emotional problems. But good mental health practices are not just for those of us struggling with glaring issues. As a recovering drug addict, I know that putting my focus on healthier habits improves my mood, emotional stability, and overall quality of life.
Mindfulness has been a tool used by countless cultures over many decades, and is something we learn to practice in Alcoholics Anonymous. I never wanted to meditate, and didn’t believe I could learn. While in rehab I was required to do a labyrinth exercise, and mid-way through our therapist instructed us to “listen to the birds, listen to the sound of the cars.” I realized that I had spent the past ten minutes walking in a circle and was not even aware you could hear the road from where we stood. I was so wrapped up in my own head that I neglected to notice anything around me besides the sight of my shoes moving forward.
That was when I learned to meditate, by listening to the sounds of the world around me and turning my attention outside of myself. Over time I have learned to sit still, and what started as a 3 minute practice has increased little by little. At times 5 minutes feels like torture, at others 15 minutes fly by.
After working the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I began attending therapy again. My therapist frequently asks the following questions:
- Have you been drinking enough water?
- Have you been eating vegetables?
- Have you been sleeping regular hours and for a long enough time period?
- Have you gotten any exercise?
I never want to think that any of these things will help me, but the more I practice them the more stable I feel. I also find it important to focus on what I can bring to the world around me, instead of what I can take from it.
I try to use these practices in my job to be more available and present. I also use the skills I have learned over the last year and a half to guide the girls into healthier practices by being able to tell them “this is what worked for me,” and really believe it.