This is a very informative article as many of us maintaining recovery are always looking for more “openness and enlightening” ways to keep us from not only ‘Relapse’ but looking to stay moving forward in recovery and a deeper meaning of happiness and fulfillment to true serenity in our lives from addiction.
I myself have started a new book that just may help you get it! It was written by one of the few living Zen Masters, Genro Xuan Lou, Laoshi of today and his pupil and Author, Clifford Stevens so at the end of this post I will share this new book release with you titled; Find The Seeker!: The pathless path to fulfillment and happiness and Highly Suggest it!
The Fix – Guest Article By Elizabeth Brico 02/21/18
“Mindfulness meditation teaches people how to accept suffering as a normal, cohesive experience, and then move on from it.”
Relapse has always been a harsh reality of addiction, but as the opioid black market fills with powerful synthetics, relapse on heroin and similar drugs grows increasingly dangerous. Fatal overdoses nearly doubled between 2015 and 2016—the majority of which are attributed to opioid-based drugs.
We are bombarded daily with news headlines—some factual, some fictitious—announcing the newest therapy, or the latest hysteria-provoking scare (does death by fentanyl dust at the grocery store sound familiar?) as we scramble to unearth an affordable and effective way to curb the tragic rise in overdose deaths. Advocates wage vicious wars using news stories and social media, trying to figure out what treatment works best; what will finally fix it?
What if one of the most promising treatments to help prevent relapse has not only already existed for thousands of years, but is free and available to anyone?
Although research is still young, several studies have shown that mindfulness meditation may prevent relapse by helping people in recovery acclimate to the idea of stress as a normal experience that can be handled without the aid of substances. Opioid addiction is especially problematic because these powerful drugs actually change the way the human brain functions. Prolonged opioid use damages the pleasure-reward system and alters the way we experience both pleasure and pain.
Opioid agonist medicines like methadone and buprenorphine are often used to help mitigate these brain changes, either for the short or long-term, but Derek Alan Crain, the Executive Director for Mindful Therapy Group based out of Seattle, Washington, thinks that mindfulness meditation can be an incredibly useful tool in concert with other evidence-based treatments.
“With mindfulness, you’re teaching patients how to tune into their feelings; you’re teaching them how to suffer,” says Crain.
The idea of teaching people in recovery from addiction how to suffer may sound counter-intuitive. After all, isn’t addiction pretty much just a ton of suffering? But when a mindfulness practitioner like Crain talks about teaching people “how to suffer,” he means providing the tools and space that will allow us to accept personal suffering as a normal, cohesive experience and then move on from it. It’s true that people with substance use disorders suffer a lot. Addiction is a vicious, complicated cycle that often reinforces itself by generating more suffering which we try to escape by using or drinking. Viewed in that light, teaching someone in recovery how to suffer makes a lot of sense.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that involves accepting experiences without judgment, including negative experiences. Rather than aiming to empty the mind or think nothing, as in other types of meditation, mindfulness asks only that the practitioner resists valuing certain thoughts and feelings over others. So, if a person is engaging in mindfulness meditation and finds herself worrying about that fight she just had with her spouse, instead of pushing that anxiety away, she would honor it.
Mindfulness asks that she recognize that the thought is there and that it’s uncomfortable, but she doesn’t quantify the experience—she doesn’t try to fix it. She can ask it to pass but she doesn’t force it away. Eventually, if someone practices this enough, she starts to understand the inherent transience of emotional states. This is very useful for people in recovery from addictions because it allows them to understand their suffering as something with an end. It also helps them to develop patience and perspective, two qualities that are often overridden by an addiction.
Ashley and Jaime are both in outpatient treatment for opioid addiction. Ashley had been using prescription opiate painkillers to mask childhood trauma for a number of years, and Jaime was addicted to heroin and pills for nearly three decades. Now, they both use medication-assisted treatment (buprenorphine), peer support, and individual counseling, but each expressed that the addition of mindfulness meditation helped prevent them from relapsing.
Jaime tells The Fix that he meditates for about 10-20 minutes each morning, using his breath as the anchor of his focus. Ashley reports that she engages in mindfulness meditation three times a week for about an hour each session—though she admits it took six months to work up from a few minutes at a time.
“I don’t think about using drugs nearly as much as I used to,” Ashley admits. “I’m more patient and more positive,” she says with a wry chuckle. “A lot of my addiction was unresolved issues I didn’t want to feel or think about. Now I’ve learned how to process them instead of getting high.”
Ashley is well-dressed, with clear skin and a posture relaxed almost to the point of ambivalence. The only visible cue to the traumatic history she discloses to The Fix is her flat affect and a slight unmeasurable distance in her eyes. Beyond that, she looks like any other middle-class young white woman. She admits that before she integrated regular meditation into her recovery, she struggled with frequent relapses. Although buprenorphine reduces the drug cravings and blocks the euphoric effects of opioids, people with trauma histories—like both Ashley and Jaime—may still have problems with frequent relapses when triggered.
Bessel van der Kolk, a Boston-based psychiatrist who has devoted his career to the study and treatment of trauma, says that “[trauma] lies in your body, so when you start taking drugs, you feel calmer. When you stop taking drugs, you have a dual issue: one is the withdrawal from the drug, the second is that you’re dealing with pain and trauma that’s still in the body.”
While medication-assisted treatments like methadone and buprenorphine have been proven effective at reducing cravings and correcting some brain changes likely attributed to drug use, they don’t target traumatic responses. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
Van der Kolk says that current addiction programs in the United States tend to ignore the curative effects of becoming re-connected with one’s body. He says we need more “programs where people become familiar with their bodies. Self-regulating their bodies should be the focus of treatment because it’s bodies [that] are stuck.”
Jaime, who could easily blend in with any group of average middle-aged men, echoes Ashley. “Meditation minimizes my [drug] use thoughts. It helps me realize when I’m trying to justify doing a shot of heroin or something.” He speaks with the plain, unapologetic candor of someone who has long accepted his identity as someone with an addiction, a quality often mirrored in followers of the 12-steps; a group to which Jaime proudly belongs.
He adds, “It helps with my anxiety too—I’m not as fidgety. I’m more in tune with myself and the world around me.”
Finding something relatively simple and freely accessible that can deter relapse is no laughing matter. While it’s impossible to know for certain how many of the 42,000 opioid overdose deaths reported in 2016 can be attributed to a relapse, it is well established that using opioids after a period of abstinence can be fatal. For people on opioid agonist medications, like Ashley and Jaime, attempting to overcome the blocking effects of the treatments can also lead to a fatal overdose.
Even without the risk of death, relapse can be an emotionally debilitating experience that leads some users to discontinue treatment altogether. Most of our current treatments focus on detoxification or acute stabilization, but relapse prevention is just as important—and a recovery practice that can function as well 10 weeks into recovery as it does after 10 years could be a vital piece of the puzzle.
Crain believes that another reason meditation helps with relapse prevention—in addition to its role in repairing maladaptive stress responses—is that it encourages an intimacy with the self.
Results from some rat studies imply that social isolation plays a role in addiction. Rats who were isolated and kept in cages demonstrated more addictive behaviors than those that were housed in a social environment. The phenomenon was also observed in Vietnam vets; a large number of soldiers became addicted to heroin while overseas, but a disproportionately high number of them discontinued use when they returned home to their communities. These studies have led specialists to speculate a social component to addiction.
Crain thinks that meditation helps people in recovery fall in love with themselves, sometimes for the first time in their lives. This self-intimacy, and the concurrent production of oxytocin, colloquially called the “love hormone,” helps people integrate and bond with their social communities, which is an important aspect of addiction recovery.
Meditation is not a magical cure for addiction. Although a mindfulness meditation practice can help reform and strengthen opioid-damaged neuropathways so that they are better able to respond to stress, mindfulness alone can’t treat acute addiction or prevent someone from experiencing withdrawal. It can, however, be a powerful tool against relapse.
And lastly, as Crain says, “An addict has been hiding from suffering his whole life. With meditation, you’re embracing that suffering. You’re normalizing it.”
SO as I close, I highly suggest this new book; Find The Seeker!: The pathless path to fulfillment and happiness that I am finishing for my recovery as being in long-term sobriety means continuing to learn and grow to a healthy and happy full life. We all are “works in progress” from addiction, being armed new education on the many ways to live a well-balanced and happy life is the way to go!
About The Book:
Find the Seeker! by Zen Master Genro Xuan Lou, Laoshi and his pupil, Zen teacher Clifford Stevens, takes us on an inner pilgrimage, compassionately picking us up where we are, whether beginners or longstanding seekers. Based on the wisdom and profound, first-hand experience of a modern-day Master as well as the teachings of enlightened ones throughout the ages, the book reboots our spiritual search in order to renew our limiting, thought-driven, and ego-dominated lives. Focusing on the spiritual dimension underlying Existence which all of us share, the book addresses people of all faiths who suffer, are unhappy and seek to lead more fulfilling lives.
“Find the Seeker!” is not a wishy-washy, feel-good book offering a quick fix or esoteric porridge or pandering to those who want a spiritual baby rattle to rely on. Instead, it serves as a traveling companion and guide, enticing readers with the vision of what we really are – Absolute, eternal and unconditional Being, whole and divine – which can only be directly experienced and embodied. It serves as a powerful wake-up call for those who mistakenly believe in their being separate from the Oneness and living in a state of duality, reminding us that the Kingdom of God is really within us.
Although written by one of the few living Zen Masters and using some Zen stories, the focus is not on explaining Zen, its tenets or history. The book is in stark contrast to the majority of books which indulge in superficial descriptions or sayings and provide seemingly “precise” instructions, lists of goals or steps to take which trap us into continuing our dependency on intermediaries and religious institutions or our self-delusion of being less than we really are. Instead, accompanying the authors along the age-old pathless path we have always been on, we are called upon to empty ourselves and “drop” all our preconceptions and expectations and the limited “self” which thinks it has a life of its own, as well as the heavy backpack with all our experiences and learnings.
The book holds up a mirror to our worldly existence, suffering and the intricate workings of the ego, which entraps us in the never-ending soap opera and roller coaster of life’s ups and downs. We are led to live mindfully in the here-now, delve more deeply into ourselves and to be Self-reliant – enabling our inner guru to unfold our true nature so that we can abide in the one Self. In this way seekers become finders, and we can become the Oneness we already are, enjoying the vibrant bliss and lightness of Being that is inherently ours.
The book not only appeals to people interested in Zen but spiritual seekers and people of all faiths and confessions, especially those who suffer, are unhappy, and still have unanswered questions about spirituality, God, and life. As a result, it targets readers searching for books on personal development, body, mind, and spirit, self-help, spirituality and religion, Buddhism, Zen or finding happiness, especially those recovering from addictions. Please visit their website and blog for helpful information and “Weekly Wisdom” at “Find The Seeker – Weekly Wisdom.”