Mindfulness and Addiction

By November 13, 2021July 31st, 2023Mental Health

Whatever we were looking for as we journeyed through addiction, it certainly wasn’t mindfulness. You might even say we sought mindlessness.

We wanted to be “comfortably numb”, as the song goes. Fuller, deeper awareness of our own experience was the opposite of what we were after. 

Mindfulness does in fact walk in the other direction. Mindfulness digs towards embodied, grounded, integrated wakefulness. It creates a palpable body, inside of which we discover a spacious dimension. Mindfulness summons presence within us, a part able to tolerate all sensations, feelings, thoughts, and inner conflicts of the human condition.

A curiosity you may have noticed when playing with mindfulness: in an inner ambience of openness, acceptance, and stillness, a painful state of being sooner or later clears itself, dispelling all on its own. 

This is great news for those of us who like the idea of problems taking care of themselves without us having to do anything about it. If we can learn to provide compassionate witness to whatever is in us – that means a kind, loving, patience – we can learn for ourselves to eventually trust this natural process of consciousness taking care of its own needs. 

Simple, but not easy, like most good things!

If you’re like me, in the sense that you are influenced by the addict archetype, the idea of being more aware of what’s going on internally sounds at least a little bit threatening. The suggestion to experience what it’s like to be me more vividly…no thanks. I’m quite aware of what it’s like to be me, and it’s not that fun some days.

Mindfulness leads us towards ourselves, which is why those of us under the spell of addiction fear it, because we do not want to go towards ourselves. Ourselves is where the pain is, so we’re trying to get away from there. 

At the root of the problem of addiction, however, is the fact that avoidance of our inner sensations, no matter how justified, only makes it worse. Yes, our inner worlds are hellish sometimes. Yes, it is a natural reaction to pull our consciousness away from those hell realms to keep from fracturing. And yes, it all still needs to one day be witnessed mindfully. Because mindful loving witness heals. 

By avoidance, we turn the heap of problems that burdens us into a raging fire capable of true destruction. Because all inner soul signals suffer from the state of disconnection from love, when we withdraw our loving attention from our own inner signals, we are guaranteeing their exacerbation. 

And what’s within us is not an accident or an inconvenience. It’s not just the background hum of our life – it actually is our life. It’s us. If we’re in pain, that pain is us. All that we are yearning for is bound up in that pain. 

Mindfulness is what will take that pain and release it into a different kind of energy – aliveness, maybe even joy. Certainly, creativity and purpose. 

Ultimately, mindfulness will do for us what we tried to have happen through substances – help us tolerate what it’s like to be us. Help us transform. Reduce the volume, the intensity, & difficulty of that which we must face. Give us the power to experience our lives from a place of agency.  

Fortunately, there are many ways to be mindful. While we do need to be honest with ourselves about what mindfulness really is and what it is not, there are many paths in. We should walk in the ways that feel comfortable and most accessible to us, especially when first starting out. 

If you are able to access a kind self-witness through running, great. If a gentle flow state comes to you most easily when singing, painting, wandering in nature, great. Celebrate that. If you find peace in yoga or sit on a cushion, wonderful.

Self-validate if it is hard for you. Many of us have to spend years first building basic safety at the physiological level to be able to spend any time witnessing our own signals. 

That means learning to work with the nervous system to create and sustain sensations of safety, just being in your own skin and feeling ok. Experiment with calling upon the soothing powers of the parasympathetic nervous system, using practices like chanting and breath to help our biology work with us rather than against us. 

Above all, honor your own way. You are allowed to have a different experience than the others. Your mindfulness will be yours, as mine is mine. And the gifts you get from your mindfulness practice will be yours, too, truly yours. 

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