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The Importance of Meditation in Recovery

In 12-Step recovery, Step 11 is devoted to the use of prayer and meditation. Early in recovery, many addicts will read a book that has a spiritual message and call that meditation. While they may devote long periods of time to the practice of prayer, not all addicts in recovery practice meditation. Yet, it is an even more important component of recovery. Few recovering addicts know much about meditation at all. They believe it is sitting in a lotus position for long periods of time with your eyes closed, not speaking or moving. For many of us, this almost sounds like torture. And for addicts with a very busy “monkey mind,” it can very well be.

What is Meditation?

Meditation can be a wide variety of things. It is the time devoted to practicing a period of “mindfulness”. Simplistically, meditation can be likened to “paying attention” very closely to no specific thing, idea or situation. Beginning meditators are surprised to find that they can practice many forms of meditation and find the type(s) that suit them best and create the beneficial quietness of mind that will allow them to gain inner peace.

Formal meditation practices range as widely as the spiritual traditions that foster them. All religious creeds have some form of meditation practice that they espouse. Catholics, Presbyterians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindis and all other religious or spiritual practices utilize some form of meditation.

Why Practice Meditation?

For the most part, addicts have no form of self-regulation. They lack the ability to sit with emotional discomfort, having learned few or no skills with which to cope with stressors or their emotions. Most addicts go straight to their drugs, alcohol or other addictive behavior the minute these feelings occur. Quite often, there is no delay in having those feelings arise and the use of the addictive substance or behavior, with little or no thought process in-between. Most addicts lack the tools to make carefully thought out decisions about whether or not to take action. Instead, they “react” to stimuli rather than “respond” to it. This is problematic since their only skill is to escape into addictive behavior.

Meditation allows the addict with the broken stress response to sit still for moments, allowing thoughts to run through their active mind without reacting. Thoughts of using, drinking or addictive behavior can be seen and recognized as they occur, without instant reaction to the thoughts. Being still with these thoughts gives the addict pause to consider whether their reaction is real or imagined. Many times, stress creates a “fight or flight” response. This increases all of the hormones necessary for an emergency response to the thought. Seldom is there any form of emergency present; it just feels that way. The meditator can then assess whether the feeling coming up of emergency really is an emergency.

Being in Tune

Meditation gives the addict skills in sitting still with discomfort and emotions. This allows the addict to feel and identify what is happening with them on an emotional plane. Very few addicts are familiar with their emotions. When asked, they can usually identify only anger, shame, or rage. Seldom do they know feelings such as contentment, peace or happiness because addiction seldom allows these emotions to surface. Chemically-induced well-being lasts for so short a time that most addicts have forgotten that feeling.

Meditation brings a deep sense of peace and contentment when practiced regularly over time. Addicts are so used to the instantaneous relief provided by alcohol, drugs, or behaviors that they have little or no patience. Meditation will increase this benefit as well.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW/ASW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, she has a CATC-IV credential. She is also a lecturer and workshop provider for meditation, mindfulness and issues arising in long-term recovery. Kelly is currently writing a book about the spiritual principles in 12-Step recovery.


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