“While meditating, we are simply seeing what the mind has been doing all along.”
– Allan Lokos, founder of New York’s Community Meditation Center
Let’s begin with a few home truths. You can’t beat addiction, you can’t conquer it, and you can’t just kick it down the road. You can’t be cured of it (that’s a medical impossibility, at present), but you can receive the necessary treatment, you can live a much happier and healthier life than the one you were when using, and you can wake up every morning born anew if you want.
I’m no lifestyle guru, no medical magician, and certainly, no saint, if that’s what the “born anew” comment sounded like it was referring to. I’m a recovering addict of 8 years, I’m a human being, I think I’m a nice guy, and that’s about it. I’m load of other things too, but, in essence, that’s what I am. The adjective I like best about me? Recovering. Just one word, but such a word, such importance, such a chance. I never want to lose it.
8 years may sound like a long time, and I guess it is. Believe me; I’ve lived every day of it. The good, the bad, and the indifferent. But each day, and this is the vital thing, each day ended without a drink passing my lips, and each morning of the next day was (and is) complete with hope.
Most mornings, I’ll begin with meditation. You may think that slightly unusual. If you knew me 10 years ago, when my addiction was starting to peak, you would have found the very idea totally ridiculous. However, my meditation is part of me now, has been for years, and it’s an essential part of my continuing recovery. Why? Because meditation brings peace, calm and happiness. Addiction is all about the need to escape, but who would really want to escape from these 3 things?
So, that’s the subject of this article – meditation and 5 reasons why it can help you deal with an addiction. It’s something that may just help you get through one of those indifferent recovery days, even one of the bad. Speaking personally, it’s got me through plenty.
Meditation: The Natural High
Going to get a little scientific on you now. Back in 2002, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a study on addiction and its effect on the different areas of the brain. It reported that the prefrontal cortex (your brain’s “happiness center”) is exceptionally overstimulated during an addict’s fix, and then seriously under active during their subsequent withdrawal.
Further study by Dr. Sara Lazar of Harvard University in 2005 demonstrated that those who meditate had developed a higher level of natural activity within their prefrontal cortices, and had even improved the physical nature of the prefrontal cortex itself.
In addition to this, Meditation has also been proven to release large quantities of endorphins into the brain and nervous system, providing a morphine-like effect. In other words:
Active prefrontal cortex + Endorphins = Natural High
Meditation: A Cure for Stress
Everyone gets stressed. It’s a normal and natural part of life. Addicts get stressed and stay there. Continued stress can also lead to a number of serious mental issues and disorders, such as:
Insomnia, to name a few.
A naturally effective cure for such high levels of stress can be found in meditation. Meditation will alter the way your body chemistry deals with stress, taking you out of your seemingly permanent state of “fight or flight” by giving you an addiction recovery coping mechanism to deal with it. Put simply, meditation ups your maximum stress limit, making it less impactful on your daily life within recovery.
Meditation: Controlling Temptation
Meditation teaches our brains the ability of self-control, the ability to control the temptations that are placed before us. During a typical day in my not-so-typical life, I pass numerous places that sell alcohol. Having been able to successfully hold down a job because of my sobriety, I always have money in my pocket – money I could use to buy whatever I wanted (as long as we’re not talking about a mortgage-sized price tag). I could buy alcohol many times a day. But I don’t.
Meditation, coupled with the art of mindfulness – living each present moment and experiencing everything about it – has given me power over such temptation. It has given me the necessary control, something any addict will tell you they have absolutely none of.
Meditation: Living Consciously
Mindfulness makes us aware of everything – every thought, every feeling, every experience, every action, every consequence. Living in a mindful way is living consciously. Do you ever feel like you’re on some kind of auto-pilot, constantly reacting to what’s around you in a seemingly pre-designated way, without a need for any real input, any real thought from you? Yes, well, don’t despair, because we all have. And there’s a way out through mindfulness, through living in a conscious way, every single day.
Meditation: Peace, Calm & Happiness
If meditation brought me (and taught me) one thing, it was this: Stop running. It seemed that my whole life I was trying to outrun my thoughts, my memories of the past, to escape from them. Addiction was a heavy price to pay for the tunnel I dug myself… My time in rehab, after my detox, became a time of reflection.
Any addict will tell you that reflection is a dangerous thing, but I was in the safest possible place for an addict to do it. Rehab gave me the courage to look at my life, what was still left of it, and think about how differently I could approach it. Meditation was one of the differences I was encouraged to try. For me, it worked. It still does, 8 years on. For the majority of recovering addicts who use meditation as part of their treatment, it works.
The result? Peace, calm and happiness. And a life worth living.
Learning to meditate and then practicing that learning every day has been a blessing throughout my continuing recovery from my alcohol addiction. Every one of these 5 reasons why meditation can help you with addiction – the natural high, a cure for stress, controlling temptation, living consciously, and finding peace, calm and happiness – has been road-tested and proven by myself, as well as by millions of other recovering addicts too. And you don’t have to be a recovering addict to see the benefits that meditation can bring to your life.
How has meditation helped you? What does it bring to your life? If you would like to share your thoughts and experiences on meditation, please feel free to leave a comment below, all of which are very much appreciated. A quote to end on:
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are.”
– Ani Pema Chodron, U.S. Tibetan Buddhist