Strategies from the Recovery Toolbox: Mindfulness

I often write about being a person in long-term recovery from behavioral issues—issues which brought me to many of the common places people who have struggled with these issues face: jails, hospitals, and treatment programs.

Recovery being possible for absolutely everyone, my life turned from one of sadness and pain to one of achievement, joy, and happiness. While past situations were not what you would call “positive,” I can honestly say that I am grateful that they brought me to the place I am now, working in a career helping others like me and living a life with purpose. It is a true gift to have my feet hit the floor in the morning with purpose, knowing that I am able to do good work in this world not only because of my education and professional background, but because of my personal experiences.

Another gift that being a person with behavioral health issues has given me are the recovery tools I have learned about and used over the years. At first these tools were simply needed to help me stay clean, but over time they have enabled me to live a much more balanced life—a life where each day I get to live beyond my wildest dreams!

In this article I am going to share these ideas, concepts and tools that first helped my recovery and now help me live a spiritually balanced life.

First, let’s discuss being present and living in the moment—concepts that I think about and employ on a daily basis. Today being present is made even harder because of the fast-paced, technology-driven lives we live. Years ago, your partner’s boss was not able to reach them 24/7, and when you went out to dinner, your guests were more likely to be focused on you and the conversation, not scrolling through articles and vacation photos from people they went to high school with on Facebook. With that said, all hope is not lost!

We have all heard the term one day at a time, a concept that in its most basic use is meant to help people in recovery from being overwhelmed with thoughts of needing to stay clean and/or sober for the rest of their lives. It is much easier to just think about needing to stay clean for the rest of the day or in this current moment. The roots of this idea go back much further than the beginning of the 12-step movement. They are a central theme in the development of Tibetan Buddhism.

The same concept also applies to other parts of our lives. For example, many can relate to having hundreds of emails and tasks to complete at their job. When I think about all of the tasks all at once, as if completing them all at once is even realistic, I get so overwhelmed that panic ensues. On the other hand, when I take a realistic view and think about the fact that each small task needs to be completed one at a time, I am able to relax and center myself. Then I am much more able to complete the tasks.

Another area where this concept helps is in the overall way that we view or approach our lives. You do not even have to be a former drug addict to have regrets. In the same way, we all have things that worry us about or futures: retirement, our kids first date, or what the holidays are going to look like next year. The fact is, by staying locked in the past and stuck focused on the future, we are unable to pay attention to the one time we actually have some control over—that time is now!

The important thing to remember is that everything is a process—there is no destination and nobody practices these things perfectly. With that said, below are some tips I employ that have helped me live a much more balanced and effective life.

Breathing

Sometimes when I am stressed I notice something very strange—I am hardly breathing! In the car, at your desk, or in a meeting, mindful breathing is one of the most important things to help us feel safe and grounded. The most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath: the inhale and exhale. Sometimes, it might help to take exaggerated breaths—deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds).

Gratitude Lists

One of the most important lessons I learned in my recovery was the power of gratitude. As a general practice it is good to list out three to five things you are grateful for in a journal. Some people text or email the daily list to themselves, while others write them out on paper. Even if this is not possible in the moment, I have found that mentally listing out 4-5 things I am currently grateful for can change my mood when am in a challenging space (e.g., stuck in traffic).

Physical Exercise

It’s not just good for the body! Exercise helps memory, self-esteem, sleep, and gives you more energy. There is a reason there is something called the runner’s high—exercise is good for your brain! Do not be afraid to try new things. If you are stuck in a rut doing the same forms of exercise, try different ones!

Forgiveness

When we forgive someone, we make the choice to give up our desire for revenge and feelings of resentment. You also stop judging the person who caused you the hurt. Instead of revenge, resentment, and judgment, try to show generosity, compassion, and kindness. While this is not easy, research on the health benefits of forgiveness finds that it helps people to live longer! Remember, when we do not forgive, we are the ones who suffer!

Being Kind to Others and Yourself

Being kind to yourself in everyday life is in in my experience, one of the best things you can do. One of the best ways to be kind to yourself is by being kind to others. Putting positive energy into the world around you will make you automatically more loving and forgiving towards yourself. By being kind to yourself, life will become lighter and your relationships will improve. Here is a short list of things you can do to show kindness towards yourself:

  • Invest in yourself: We all have demands and responsibilities on us (e.g., kids, partners, jobs). Remember, it is not selfish to put yourself first sometimes. By doing so, you are then more able to help others!
  • Kind Actions: Being kind to yourself takes action. Make sure you take time to do things that you enjoy (e.g., exercise, fishing, reading books you enjoy, getting your nails done).
  • Appreciate yourself: Sit down with a journal or your smart phone and write things you enjoy about yourself. It doesn’t have to be big things—the important thing is to appreciate yourself both for the little things and the things you may take for granted about yourself.
  • If you stumble, be your own best friend: Don’t beat yourself up! Remember, nobody is perfect!
  • Take a laugh-break: Take time in everyday to enjoy things that make you laugh—it really is the best medicine!

It has been a true gift to have learned to use these ideas and tools over time—they are some of the gifts given to me by being in recovery. Please share these ideas and remember that getting more centered and focused on wellness takes time, but you are worth it!

Wellness     Health and Wellness

The views expressed by the blog post author are their own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Policy Research Associates, Inc.

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