August 18, 2017

Overcoming Addiction with Mindfulness


I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. I also used to take highly addictive sedatives on a daily basis. I haven't smoked in 10 years and haven't taken any kind of mood altering drug in 4 years. I don't have cravings for them at all anymore. I don't even take pain medication now. Before, I wanted to run away from the uncomfortable feelings inside me. Now, I prefer to live through my experience, whatever it might be, because I learned how to do that.

Coming off of the drugs was one of the hardest things I've done. When going through withdrawal, I remember just sitting in the middle of my chaotic thoughts and feelings, not even knowing what was real and what was not, and just peacefully smiling to it all. I had gotten ready for it. There was only one thing I made myself remember: Just sit behind it all with peace.

Whatever we are addicted to makes us feel good. So we seek it out over and over again to recreate that feeling. Addictive behavior can also be a control strategy to reduce negative emotions like anxiety, anger or depression.

Addiction is the exaggeration of the basic human instinct to move away from pain and move toward pleasure instead.

But there is a way to deal with this very human instinct. Being able to sit with your thoughts knowing that you are the one in control, not them, is the most empowering and liberating thing. Change doesn't happen from one moment to the other. Mindfulness is a lifelong practice. But it will also be your greatest ally.

1. Recognize your habitual behavior by being aware of your thoughts and feelings

It's important to understand that we act out of habit. Addiction triggerssituational and emotional cuesmake us engage in addictive behavior. It's a very human response.

We all have strategies to cope with our uncomfortable emotions and thoughts. Some people take a bath when they are stressed, some watch television. Others eat cake when they are sad. This basic desire to move away from our internal turmoil and make ourselves feel good is in all of us. In itself, this instinct is not bad or evil. We are human, after all, and always will be.

Change can happen when we realize we act out of habit. That the same process happens in us over and over again. We operate on autopilot, and these habits are in charge of what we do, because we are unaware of them. If we train the mind to concentrate on the present moment and notice the thoughts and feelings that arise in us, we can recognize our internal habits.

2. Be the non-judgmental observer of your internal mechanisms

But we can step back and take a good look at them. Not do anything, just look. At the thoughts floating in our heads, the feelings and emotions in our bodies. There's nothing inside of us that we need to push away. Look now. At the thoughts that always tell you that you need to engage in addictive behavior. Look at the emotions that make you feel like you have no other choice.

Don't judge them. Just look. They are just thoughts. Just feelings. Floating around in the human shape that is you. There's nothing to be afraid of in there. Practice sitting with them. They are just visitors.

3. Choose your action instead of automatic behavior

Now that you see your internal mechanisms, you have a choice. A choice to act on them out of habit or to move toward change. To build something new.

Thoughts are just thoughts. They are only true if you believe them. Now that you see them, you can act the way you choose to act. Whatever is happening inside of you, when you are the observer of it all, you can be who you choose to be. You can choose your response to it all. And peace is always an available choice.

Practice concentrating on the present moment. Be aware of what is happening inside you. Whatever it is, it's fine. You don't need to run. You can just observe and understand. Throughout your daily life, you can always practice being the peaceful observer behind your thoughts and feelings. You will gain a strong understanding of the fact that they can't control you. That what you do can be your choice.

Now that you see your internal mechanisms, you can notice that gap between your carvings and engaging in addictive behavior. That instinct to move away from pain and move toward pleasure will always be there, lurking somewhere in the back of your mind. But as you practice looking at it as the non-judgmental observer, it will become more and more like background noise that you can barely hear.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

"You are the sky. Everything else–it’s just the weather." - Pema Chödrön

6 comments:

  1. I don't have the words to express how grateful to have found your website. In desperate need of peace. Love and light to you, my friend

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    1. I'm glad. I wish you peace. Let me know if I can help with anything. Much love

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  2. Thank you for your beautiful site! I look forward to your new articles everytime! I suffer from social anxiety and your site is very helpful for me!

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing, it means a lot to me. I'm very happy you find the site useful. Sending you much love.

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  3. This article was very helpful to me.

    I have a small typo to report:
    In the 2nd paragraph of section 3, it currently says "You can choose your response it all."
    I'm guessing it was supposed to be "You can choose your response [for? or to?] it all."

    Thank you for sharing these insights and experiences!

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    1. Thank you for your comment and the correction! Much appreciated. Have a great day:)

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