"Mindfulness offers a different path."

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Episode 6 -- May 12, 2020

Finding the Light: Choosing Mindfulness Instead of Checking Out

Escapism is an enticing idea during this time of fear and uncertainty as we face a global pandemic. Daily, we are bombarded with information and news about the coronavirus. For our own safety, we have to physically distance from other people, though at a time like this, we need our recovery community more than ever. Many of us are used to numbing our feelings and checking out, by way of substance use or other process addictions. Feeling our emotions is new to us and scary. How do we do this? How do we withstand it? By facing it. By using mindfulness to help us become grounded in where we are at this moment. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. We will give you more mindfulness techniques as we go, but here is an introduction to how we in recovery will benefit from mindfulness as written by Beverly Conyers in Find Your Light: Practicing Mindfulness to Recover from Anything.

In a way, mindfulness and addiction are like day and night.

Mindfulness teaches us to wake up to the present moment. It promotes a state of compassionate awareness in which we know and value our inner self and become conscious participants in our own life. With the practice of mindfulness, we open our eyes to the true nature of reality and learn how to live in harmony with the world around us.

Any kind of addiction, on the other hand, clouds awareness. It distorts reality and prevents us from connecting with others in any meaningful way. When we numb ourselves with compulsive behaviors or addictive substances, we enter a twilight realm in which reality is temporarily suspended. We lose touch not only with the outer world, but with our innermost thoughts and feelings. We come to exist as if in a trance, distracted by fleeting sensations and disconnected from our own inner being.

This is hardly earth-shattering news. After all, oblivion is exactly what many of us were looking for. We wanted to silence the frightening thoughts and feelings, to hide from the overwhelming problems, and to run from the emptiness inside. When our compulsions were active, the last thing we wanted was to "get in touch with" our inner self. Who knew what dreadful things we might find there? How could we handle a reality that seemed too awful to face?

Finding the Light

Recovery shines a light of clarity through the fog of fear and confusion. But even in recovery, our long love affair with escapism can make it hard to embrace the notion of being mindful. We're not alone.
As Merle in the hit TV drama The Walking Dead illustrates, it's easy to go through life in a quasi-conscious fog:
    Rick: "Do you even know why you do the things you do, the choices you make?"
    Merle: "I don't know why I do the things I do. Never did. I'm a damn mystery to me."
      --from The Walking Dead, season 3

Like Merle, many of us are a mystery to ourselves. We don't understand what makes us tick or why we do what we do. Instead, we go about our days doing the same things and thinking the same thoughts, carried along on a tide of seeming inevitability as if we have no choice in the matter. We develop fixed ideas about who we are, fixed notions about what we can and can't do, fixed patterns of reacting to people and situations--all without ever stopping to ask ourselves if we're happy or if what we believe is even true.

It's almost like we've been put on autopilot, seemingly awake but seldom fully aware of who we are and what we're doing. We become passive observers of our own lives.

Technology has only worsened this tendency toward quasi-consciousness. Look around and you'll see an entire society caught up in perpetual distractions. Our screens instantly transport us to places other than where we actually are. We check social media, start a game, or switch on the TV, and before we know it, hours have flown by--hours in which we've had no conscious contact with ourselves or our surroundings.

So accustomed are we to the mesmerizing distractions at our fingertips that the notion of simply being in the present moment can seem burdensome. A study published in the July 2014 online journal Science bore this out: when given a choice between sitting alone quietly for fifteen minutes or giving themselves an electric shock, 25 percent of the female and 67 percent of the male participants chose to shock themselves.

Think about it. Left alone with no devices to occupy their minds, a wide swath of ordinary adults chose an electric shock over stillness. But as startling as this might seem, it's not entirely surprising.

The truth is, it's hard for most of us to pay attention to the present moment. Unless we're engaged in something that's personally meaningful--a challenging problem, useful work, stimulating conversation, a captivating novel or piece of music--our mind tends to go on autopilot. (Think of all the times you've driven from point A to point B, only to arrive with little recollection of how you got there.) Or we look for diversions. This is completely normal. The human brain naturally fluctuates between varying states of attentiveness. It would be exhausting, and likely impossible, for most of us to be fully aware and engaged all the time. We need a mental break!

The problem occurs when we spend most of our waking hours in a quasi-conscious fog, tuned out and distanced from the reality of our own lives. Days, weeks, months, and even years can fly by in a blur, until one day we stop and ask ourselves where it all went. As people in recovery, we're not immune to the lure of a quasi-conscious existence. Our desire to live a sober, more thoughtful life doesn't protect us from slipping into a life of diminished awareness--from taking the path of least resistance.

Mindfulness offers a different path.

When we choose to be awake and present in the actual moments of our daily lives, we begin to grow in unexpected ways. We learn to let go of harmful, often deep-rooted misperceptions about our self and others. We gain a deeper appreciation of our strengths and values. We expand our capacity for love and connection. And we lay the foundation for a more contented, more meaningful life. Becoming more mindful, like the pursuit of any worthwhile goal, requires intention, self-discipline, and practice. Most of all, it requires the willingness to open our hearts and minds to a new way of experiencing the world.

REFLECTION: "Look to this day! For it is life, the very life of life." More than fifteen hundred years ago, the Indian poet Kalidasa urged us to live each day to the best of our ability. How can you live to the best of your ability today?

Author bio:
Author Beverly Conyers¿one of the most respected voices in wellness and recovery--has guided hundreds of thousands of readers through the process of recognizing family roles in addiction, healing shame, building healthy relationships, releasing trauma, focusing on emotional sobriety, as well as acknowledging self-sabotaging behaviors, addictive tendencies, and substance use patterns. With her newest work, Conyers shows us how the practice of mindfulness can be a game-changing part of recovering from any-- and everything. She is the author of Find Your Light: Practicing Mindfulness to Recover from Anything (Nov. 2019), and the upcoming Follow Your Light: A Guided Journal to Recover from Anything (Aug. 2020) as well as Addict in the Family: Stories of Loss, Hope, and Recovery (2003), Everything Changes: Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts (2009), The Recovering Heart: Emotional Sobriety for Women (2013).

© 2019 by Beverly Conyers
All rights reserved.