“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future; live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh
My name is Andy. I have been an addict from the age of 9, and I have been in recovery for over a decade. Mindfulness is something I wish I had practiced much earlier in life. Perhaps I would have been able to avoid the years of turmoil that addiction has brought me.
Mindfulness is also what has allowed me to make peace with my past and even be grateful for it. Everything that happened had to happen in order for me to be here, today, in this very moment.
What started as an innocent moment of sheer curiosity catapulted into years of drinking, smoking, and basically anything else that could help me escape from the pain i felt.
At 9 years old, I was at a family party when I spotted an unattended cup of alcohol. I quickly snuck it away to an empty room and closed the door behind me. At first, the burning, cutting flavour almost made me spit it out. What came next was a surge of butterflies in my stomach because I was doing what only the adults are allowed to do.
The fluttery feeling in my stomach was addicting. I started sneaking drinks regularly until it came to a point where I couldn’t stop drinking alcohol. Eventually, no amount of alcohol brought me that feeling of butterflies anymore so I started exploring other substances.
My mind and body were governed by a burning desperation to experience my next high. I couldn’t sit still, hold a conversation, or even sleep. Whenever I wasn’t under the influence, I would get incredibly frustrated and irritable. I pushed away everyone I ever loved or who loved me.
When I was 22 years old, I was sentenced to two years in prison for drug related charges. I went in kicking and screaming. I felt wronged, as if nothing was of my own doing, as if everybody was out to get me.
Day after day, I sat in my cold, lonely cell, forced to face reality. I became overwhelmed by the knowledge of all the pain I had caused everyone else. I no longer had access to alcohol or drugs but I still couldn’t sleep.
I made an oath to myself that once I was released, I would turn my life around.
I had myself admitted into a rehabilitation facility out of state. I wasn’t ready to face my parents, my siblings, or anyone I knew for that matter. I wanted space and time to be able to come to terms with the things that my jail time forced me to acknowledge.
“It’s never easy and it’s never over and it will be a fight renewed each morning. But it’s possible.” – Unknown
It was in rehab that I learned about mindfulness. I had to go through an alcohol and drug detox. The detox not only served to flush out the toxins and try to start reversing the physical effects of my addiction, it also helped me heal my mind.
During detox all of the feelings I had in jail began to amplify leaving me feeling broken. I felt at a loss, as if the pain and guilt would never go away. I didn’t believe that I could ever make it past that point. How could I face my parents, my friends, the world?
Mindful meditation was one of the tools that the in house therapist introduced to me to help me overcome my utter dejection.
What is mindful meditation? To me, and to my therapist in rehab, it is simply taking a second to stay still and experience the moment in its entirety, without judgement.
The first time I tried it, it was raining. It was still difficult for me to close my eyes and focus on my thoughts without breaking down, so I was instructed to just focus on my surroundings instead. I sat in my chair, and for five minutes I just observed everything around me without judgement. I watched the rain pitter patter against the windows, listened to the steady rhythm of the drops lightly landing on the glass, paid attention to the moist freshness in the air, and observed the myriad of colours in the sky shifting as the clouds slowly drifted on by.
I simply appreciated everything for what it was in the moment without adding any context, floating back to old memories, or even deciding whether or not I liked what I was sensing.
I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so alive, so relaxed, and so at peace.
As my time at the rehabilitation centre came to an end, I was able to apply mindfulness to many different areas of my life. The ability to step outside yourself for a moment and simply accept what is instead of applying the notion of what should be, what could be, or what used to be, has become a very valuable asset in my recovery.
I don’t feel overwhelmed or at a loss nearly as often as before. Of course there are still hurdles and burdens but instead of being worried about them or weighed down by them I can acknowledge them and come to reasonable solutions. I don’t even fear pain, sadness or fear itself. I recognize them as valid emotions and allow myself to feel them without judgement.
Mindfulness gave me the ability to recognize my power over my emotions and my reactions, as well as my powerlessness over other people and situations out of my control. I accept what is for what it is, change what I can, and let be what I can’t.
Have you or someone you know experienced the benefits of mindfulness? Are you thinking of learning how to be mindful? Do you have any questions? Please, feel free to let us know in the comment section.