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Addiction

5 Mindful Attitudes for Addiction Recovery

Mindful approaches can help you become powerful over addiction.

Key points

  • Mindfulness can help you develop a basic trust with yourself.
  • Mindfulness helps us stay open and curious to new possibilities.
  • Approaching addiction from a mindful perspective offers the chance to build self-knowledge and become more skillful.
mohamed_hassan/Pixabay
Source: mohamed_hassan/Pixabay

In his book Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn outlines seven key attitudes that help build a foundation for mindfulness: beginner's mind, trust, letting go, acceptance, non-judging, patience, and non-striving. [1] These attitudes are an easy introduction for people curious about mindful practices.

In my own work in mental and behavioral health, I often offer the attitudes as a practice for my clients. Here, we'll explore the first five as they relate to addiction and recovery.

Step 1: Beginner's Mind

Remaining open and curious allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise.

Imagine saying, "Hi, my name is Laura and I'm powerful over addiction." In working with clients who are dealing with addiction, my initial work focuses on increased power—of accessing inner strengths that have gone dormant, are underdeveloped, or have yet to be developed. In other words, I help clients learn to begin again.

There is a path to all things powerless, and there is a path to all things powerful. They both exist. The choice to walk the latter is one of courage, strength, and a humble presence that develops our inner character. One can even learn to be thankful for the unknown gifts that the original addictiveness bestowed.

To say, "I am powerful over addiction" is to awaken our capacity to utilize our experiences as a means to explore new forms of inner character. There is no character defect here; we simply learn to begin again.

Step 2: Trust

Develop a basic trust with yourself and your feelings. Know it’s OK to make mistakes.

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."

The above quote by Joseph Campbell is one I often use with clients. I present the quote, sit silently for a while, and allow them to contemplate it.

Often, the quote opens inner doors most clients have never entertained, and we begin exploring what the words mean to them personally. At some point, an unspoken question arises: Do they want to use their journey of addiction as this "privilege of a lifetime"?

In this sense, there can be a bright side to addiction—an opportunity. Many of my clients say they cannot and do not regret their walk through addiction because of who they have become.

Language and perspective can make all the difference in overcoming addiction—and the good news is, we get to choose. Language and perception are a choice, as long as we have more than one option. Specializing in therapeutic mindfulness, my aim is to shift clients' perspectives and language in the direction of empowerment. In the process, they learn to trust their choices and the direction these choices take them.

Addiction can be perceived as a disempowering struggle or as a personal challenge to become more skillful with our desires. When we perceive addiction from a lens of stress, difficulty, and powerlessness, we can easily see a life that is overwhelming, confusing about who we want to be, and creating feelings of failure and helplessness.

Step 3: Letting Go

When we pay attention to our inner experience, we discover there are certain thoughts, emotions, and situations the mind wants to hold onto. Let your experience be what it is right now.

We can, in a sense, observe our minds holding on to the stress, difficulty, powerlessness, and shame associated with addiction. We can see our mind trying to give us a life sentence: imprisoned by addiction. Once an addict, always an addict.

When we see this pain clearly, we can choose to let it go—to help the mind release the grip of these painful stories and associations. Addiction from a mindful perspective, with new mindful attitudes, becomes the journey of looking at our lives as a chance to be more skillful in our cravings, desires, and attachments.

Step 4: Acceptance

See things as they are. This sets the stage for acting appropriately in your life no matter what is happening.

We might see that things are not going well in our lives. But if we don't allow any pain to be added to what we see, we might choose to respond differently. We might start setting the stage for something new. We might accept the invitation to the journey that Joseph Campbell speaks of—to become the hero of our own lives.

Yes, we'll still face fear and obstacles—but when we show up to challenges with courage and strength, instead of failure and defeat, the entire game changes.

For many of my clients, in a very real way, their addiction was never a failure. It was simply a lack of knowledge or awareness about life, the world, and themselves. Think of it as trying to win a battle without any skills, weapons, or armor—of course you'll lose. Overcoming addiction with acceptance starts the journey to knowing who you are, what you are capable of, and questioning what you really want from life.

It's a journey into the depths of our humanness. Addiction or not, we all get the opportunity, in our own way, when life provides us a gate to discover ourselves. To enter the gate is a privilege.

Step 5: Non-Judgment

Be an impartial witness to your own experience.

When new clients arrive at my office, I secretly say, “Welcome to the greatest journey of your life." There is nothing sick, diseased, or wrong with this journey; it is an opportunity—and I become the travel agent helping them arrive at their destination.

When we turn away from the judgments of addiction, we turn toward new experiences.

To arrive successfully at empowerment and all things unaddicted, clients learn to prepare, know their internal and external resources, use them, become skillful, and travel with other empowered people who inspire and call forth all that is right with them. I sometimes use the words of my mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, "If you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong with you."

I invite clients to lead themselves, "warrior up," and decide if they want to enter the arena of their life. And if they choose to do so, we begin the practice of using inner swords of courage and strength.

Not everyone who enters my office wants to navigate their addiction in this way. There is no right or wrong; there are many ways to arrive. It simply becomes a choice of how you want to travel, and who you want to travel with. As with any travel, we start by assessing challenges and opportunities. We start developing an inner vision. This inner vision helps guide the journey and helps us take advantage of opportunities that arrive along the way.

We look at impending challenges and prepare the best we can. The client's external equipment becomes the people, places, and things that support his journey. His inner equipment starts by asking what he can do to create more opportunities for inner strength, self-respect, and self-exploration.

Traveling this way gives you the chance to know the part of yourself that is capable of overcoming obstacles that inherently have no power or meaning other than what you give it. Giving power to these obstacles leads to disempowerment by the sheer notion that we give our power away.

One of the greatest gifts I see from clients who travel this way is how they walk in the world with greater wisdom, courage, and a depth of human understanding. They become more compassionate to the human struggle.

Wisdom, courage, and compassion are rare qualities, and to be in their presence is a gift. I’m not saying we all need to become addicted to gain greater wisdom. Wisdom is an equal opportunity employer, graciously presenting gates of privilege in different ways—but the gifts are awarded to those who enter.

References

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living. New York, N.Y., Random House, 1990.

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