There are many reasons behind how an addiction develops. Perhaps you were reaching for something in drugs you never got from your parents. Perhaps you were trying find something in the highs of drinking that doesn’t exist elsewhere in your life. Or maybe the drugs and drinking was a way to handle the pains and heaviness of life. Whatever the reason, mindfulness can bring to you what you might have been looking for in drinking and drugs.
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming conscious of your internal and external environment. It is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting the existing feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding activity. Recent research on mindfulness suggests that it can be incredibly healing and restorative. For this reason, many psychologists, drug counselors, and sober living homes are beginning to incorporate mindfulness into their healing programs.
Daniel Siegel, Director of The Mindsight Institute at UCLA and author of the book, The Mindful Brain, has been studying the effects of meditation on the brain for over 20 years. He has come to recognize that meditation and mindful awareness can alter brain function, mental activity, and interpersonal relationships. More importantly, Siegel has used mindfulness with his patients suffering from various mental illnesses, including addiction and other forms of stress.
Essentially, he uncovered that mindfulness practice could help those parts of the brain that regulate mood to grow and strengthen, stabilizing the mind and enabling his patients to achieve emotional equilibrium and resilience. Mindful awareness, wrote Siegel, in his book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, can directly stimulate the growth of those clusters of neurons called the resonance circuits, which enable resonance with others and self-regulation of moods. These are key emotional skills for recovering addicts who are in sober living.
In an article Daniel Siegel wrote for the journal, The Humanistic Psychologist, he outlines 9 benefits, of many, that an individual might experience when practicing mindful awareness. They are listed below.
- Body Regulation – When the body is stressed, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system becomes activated and the flight/fight system in the brain is turned on. However, mindfulness turns on the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to bring the body back in balance. The heart rate slows down, breathing becomes long and slow, and muscles in the body relax. This can be incredibly important for recovering addicts who are in sober living. Many addictions develop because of a learned pattern to turn to drinking or drugs when stress is high. However, learning to relax the body instead is a much healthier way to cope with stress.
- Attuned Communication – The kind of bond that a mother has with her child is experienced through attuned communication. However, this sort of connection with another human being doesn’t just happen between mother and child; it can also happen between friends meeting for coffee or a couple out on a date. Attuned communication is when two human beings feel as though they are a part of one resonating whole. You might even feel this sort of connection with a stranger, if you look into their eyes, and tune into who they are. Siegel points out in his article that attunement has been a part of every culture around the world and is a part of healthy relationships, particularly between children and their caregivers. Tumultuous relationships in childhood might be another contributor to addiction. Learning how to have healthy, attuned relationships can support sobriety and even prevent relapse.
As Siegel noted, mindfulness can directly stimulate the growth neurons, which enable resonance with others and self-regulation of moods. Experiencing deeper connections with oneself and others can significantly support sobriety. This article began a list of benefits that mindfulness can bring to a recovery addict who is in sober living. The second article in this series will continue this list of benefits.
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