Finding Peace With Meditation in Early Recovery (And Beyond)
Finding recovery is a major achievement in and of itself. But getting sober isn’t the end of the journey — it’s just the beginning.
It takes continued efforts to maintain sobriety for a lifetime. That’s where meditation in early recovery and continued recovery can be key.
You can use meditation as an effective therapy tool to manage stress, promote calm, and manage difficult emotions. And believe it or not, but investing in this short, daily mindfulness practice can not only sustain recovery, it can also improve your physical and psychological health and wellness.
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What is Meditation?
Meditation involves focusing on the breath, noticing thoughts and feelings, and being in the present moment.
“Meditation” and “mindfulness” are sometimes used interchangeably. Mindfulness meditation is a specific type of meditation.
Many people start with mindfulness meditation because it is one of the most simple and accessible types of meditation practice.
Many types of meditation in early recovery can be useful. Addiction treatment programs often teach:
- Mindfulness meditation
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) mindfulness
- Transcendental meditation
- Mindfulness-based therapies and interventions
The main purpose of meditation is to gain a sense of perspective and focused attention, but also to reduce negative thoughts and feelings which sometimes hijack the brain, especially for people in recovery.
Where Does Meditation Come From?
Mindfulness and meditation have been used for thousands of years. While most people think it relates to Buddhism, it is in fact more ancient. Archeologists say it dates back to 5,000 – 3,500 BCE in the Indus Valley. Archeologists found pictures of people sitting in meditation poses, as well as descriptions of practices in Indian scriptures.
Over time, meditation has been practiced by virtually every religion and culture globally.
Meditation was introduced in the U.S. as part of yoga practice by yoga teacher Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who taught transcendental meditation.
Meditation developed as a spiritual practice, but anyone can take part in regardless their cultural or religious beliefs.
Does Science Support Meditation in Recovery?
Meditation has some major benefits, including the following:
- Reduces stress
- Improves self-awareness
- Gain a new perspective
- Increases self-awareness
- Improves the ability to focus
- Helps with emotional regulation
- Helps you let go of labeling emotions with value judgements, such as “good” or “bad”
Research suggests meditation can also help with mental and physical health conditions, including:
- Transcendental Meditation may lower the blood pressure of people at risk of developing hypertension
- Improvement in depression, anxiety, insomnia, and stress levels with meditation
- Reduce pain symptoms for those with chronic pain
- Improve mood, self-esteem, and quality of life for those receiving treatment for certain cancers.
How is Meditation Beneficial in Addiction Recovery?
For people in recovery, meditation may lead to a change in mindset and a feeling of peace, especially in the early days.
Those first few days, weeks, and months can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. After all, you are navigating life without substances, which is a daunting prospect. You can feel really stressed, hyper-aware, anxious, depressed, and experience racing thoughts.
The calm of meditation can provide some much needed peace for that unease and discontentment. Over time, it can be a reliable tool to keep yourself on an even keel, emotionally, and help you navigate through life’s challenges.
Studies indicate that meditation in early recovery and throughout addiction treatment may:
- Increase your awareness of potential triggers
- Help you both understand and manage your instincts, emotions, and urges
- Decrease feelings of stress and distress
- Reduce cravings and, potentially, increase the length of periods of sobriety
How Meditation in Recovery Helps to Maintain Sobriety
Meditation has helped thousands of people in recovery. Meditation is now an integral part of many addiction treatment centers’ inpatient programs.
More and more people are using this tool to maintain their sobriety, even in difficult times.
“I have benefited from a meditation practice from the first few months to my nine years in recovery,” says Brittany.
For her, meditation has helped her deal with grief, job loss, the end of a relationship, and even cancer in her family.
“Meditation has been a godsend for me. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through those situations with just meetings. Mindfulness really took the edge off and gave me a new (and much needed) perspective,” Brittany said.
For Laura, mediation helped her get through her cravings and obsession to use.
“I’d been sober for about a month when I felt like this craving took over my whole body. I felt like I had to use right away and that’s all I could think about.”
Luckily for Laura, she remembered that they practiced meditation at rehab.
“I remember the counselors repeating our relapse prevention plans day-in-day-out, because they said there will be times when we feel triggered and we need to remember our tools.”
Fortunately, Laura’s counselors also insisted she make a list of those tools to keep in her purse and her car if a craving struck.
“Meditating through that urge allowed me to play through what would happen if I picked up. I was able to detach from those cravings and see that I was tired, stressed, and hungry and was just reaching for what I had conditioned myself to do: use. Meditation gave me that perspective that I didn’t have to and I also didn’t have to throw away the recovery I’d worked so hard to achieve.”
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Ready to Start Meditating in Recovery?
Meditation is easy to incorporate into your recovery, even if you aren’t currently in formal addiction treatment. You don’t need any equipment and you don’t need to go anywhere.
In my personal experience, I’ve found guided meditations really helpful because I can focus on meditating rather than trying to remember what to do next. There are lots of meditation apps available for Apple and Android devices. Many of them have free subscriptions.
These are some of the most popular meditation apps:
My current favorite is Headspace because you can meditate for a certain amount of time, but it also has options like evening meditations and gentle stretching to help you wake up in the morning.
Another option is checking out meditation groups, either online or in-person.
Insight Meditation Centers are a great option, as they often offer talk and community time too. Community and connection are integral parts of the recovery process that may enhance your meditation experience.
Remember: you don’t have to do a formal meditation at all. You can simply sit in a comfortable position, take some deep breaths, and simply focus on being aware. You can count your breaths, listen to a specific sound, or feel the sensation of your feet on the ground.
Let your thoughts flow without planning. Don’t try to change how you feel or label your thoughts as “good” or “bad.” If you do find your mind wandering, simply acknowledge that your mind wandered without judgment.
A meditation teacher once told me that meditation isn’t about a mind that’s free of thoughts. He said the practice is noticing a wandering mind, acknowledging the wandering thoughts, then coming back to focus on your breath.
Meditation in early recovery is one of many tools. Call 800-483-2193(Who Answers?) today to speak with a specialist who can talk with you about treatment, which can help you learn meditation, mindfulness, and other tools to help you in recovery.