Meditation is one of the greatest tools we have available to us in any stage of recovery. There are many different ways to meditate, and mindfulness can be beneficial in many ways to people in recovery. When I was new in recovery, meditation was extremely difficult and it seemed rather unrealistic to actually sit in silent meditation regularly. However, meditation is a huge piece of twelve-step recovery, showing itself in the 11th step.
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation has many benefits, and it is unfair to say these are the only ones. However, these are a few benefits that I have seen from meditation in my own life and those around me. Personally, I meditate every day, and it is one piece of my recovery that I make sure to take seriously. A healthy recovery is well-rounded, and meditation is not the “silver bullet” that can cure us itself. It is just a piece of the puzzle of recovery that helps us find balance.
When we meditate regularly, one of the things we gain is patience. This patience can help us with anxiety, anger, and in moments of difficulty. Meditation helps us to slow down, and not react so strongly. We learn to respond rather than react by quieting the mind a bit and learning to go with the flow a little bit more. With some regular practice, we find that we are able to pause in moments of adversity and respond with a little more wisdom. When we have thoughts of using or of acting in a way that may not be healthy, a meditation practice can help us have patience with those thoughts and not immediately act upon them.
When we meditate and slow the mind down a bit, we gain clarity. This is what the eleventh step is talking about when it says that we are to seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand God. Through meditation, we can gain some clarity into what our higher power’s will is for us. Whether you are a religious person, agnostic, or atheist, meditation brings some clarity to your life. In mindfulness meditation, we practice seeing what arises in the mind, noticing the thoughts, feelings, and experiences. James Baraz says, “Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different.” As we practice bringing awareness to what is going on in the mind, we are able to see more clearly the habits of the mind, what the next right step may be, and what is causing us pain and what is bringing us joy.
Meditation can also help us relax quite a bit. Meditation can help us relax in two ways; it can help us in daily life when experiencing adversity, and it can help us slow down before or after our day. In moments of difficulty, meditation can be a great tool for us. Meditation doesn’t always need to be a formal sitting practice (more on that later). We can pause throughout the day and take a few deep breaths. It may help us with clarity and patience. It is as the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “As we go through the day we pause when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the next right thought or action.” When we take a moment to focus on the breath or notice the thoughts and feelings, we are able to respond more wisely.
Meditation may also help us relax when we sit in formal meditation. At the end of the day, meditation may can relieve the stress of the day. The tenth step in twelve-step programs encourages a daily inventory. Some people write an inventory at the end of their day, but meditation can be a useful tool for this step as well. At the end of the day, you may meditate and see what thoughts, regrets, resentments, etc. come up. We may also meditate at the beginning of the day in order to set a good tone for the day ahead. In early recovery, I meditated for ten minutes every morning, just to help calm my nerves and anxiety before facing a new day.
Tips to Get Started
Meditation can be overwhelming. The thought of sitting in silence and focusing on the breath is scary for some of us. I know it was (and still is sometimes) for me. Many addicts have very active minds, especially in early sobriety. This makes meditation difficult, but also makes it very fruitful. Here are a few tips that I have found help when beginning to investigate a meditation practice.
When you begin to check out a sitting meditation practice, it’s okay to start with short meditation periods! When I started, I thought I had to sit for 20 or 30 minutes, as that was what I heard that others were doing. However, meditating for that long was incredibly overwhelming and not really beneficial for me. Try starting with 10 minutes, 5 minutes, or even 1 minute. Get a feel for meditation and see if you can build up to longer times. Keep in mind that longer meditations are not necessarily better for you if you are new, and the short periods can really make a difference!
In my personal experience, having a regular routine is very helpful when trying to get sober. Set a time every day that you are going to meditate. It may be in the morning, before bed, or at some point in the middle of the day. Find what works for you. Remembering that you don’t have to meditate for 30 minutes at a time, find 5 minutes during your day that you can consistently dedicate to meditation. When we meditate regularly, we are able to build upon our practice and grow. Make a commitment to yourself to meditate every day for the next week or month, and see what happens.
Pause in Daily Life
As we touched on before, meditation is not just in formal sitting practice. We can meditate during the day in brief moments. Find some time to pause during your daily life and take a few deep breaths. Slowing down for brief moments like this helps us bring continuity to our meditation practice and remind ourselves to bring awareness to what is going on. This is a great tool when we are angry, in resentment, anxious, or overwhelmed. All you have to do is stop and take a few deep breaths. I had a sponsor instruct me to take three deep breaths at one point during the day, so I set a reminder on my phone. Every afternoon, the alarm would go off and remind me to take three deep breaths. Pausing helped me face my anger and anxiety and connect with my higher power. The practice of taking a few deep breaths definitely played an important role in keeping me sober. When the thoughts of using came up, I took a few deep breaths and just let it go, knowing what the result of using would be.
Meditation has been an amazing tool in my personal recovery. I also sponsor many young men with whom I have seen meditation play an important role. I think one of the most important things to remember with meditation (or any practice in recovery) is that we have to find what works for us. Sit in a way that works for you, let go of judgements about what meditation “should” be, and take care of yourself!