Marina burst through the door of her small apartment, located in the city’s tough-as-nails west end; she barely felt herself turning each lock and securing the deadbolt. Her heart was beating out of her chest, pumping furiously as her anxiety began to overwhelm her.
She fell to the floor and wrapped her arms around her legs, burying her face in her knees as she rocked. The day’s events flooded her consciousness, loud and angry and intrusive. At 26, Marina felt the weight of a hundred lifetimes; she felt beaten, bruised, battered and lonely, as though she was being buried alone and alive. These panic attacks were nothing new to the former addict, but each new episode felt as terrifying and debilitating as the last.
Marina rocked for what seemed to her like forever. And then she remembered to breathe.
When Marina was six years old, her father had run out on her mother, leaving her in the care of “an alcoholic slash drug addict slash everything a mother probably shouldn’t be,” she describes. “Now I know she did her best, given the circumstances. But when you’re six and watching a parent fall apart, you don’t get it. There is no reason a six-year-old has to become the parent.”
As so many stories go, Marina mirrored her mother’s behaviours; it wasn’t long before Marina too became dependent on drugs and alcohol. By 12, Marina was as well versed in drug use as her mother had been. “It was so textbook, right?” muses Marina, now 30. “I wasn’t getting validation or proper care at home, so I turned to the only thing I knew. That’s dangerous reward-seeking behaviour, but again, sometimes you just don’t know any different. You think it’s good. You think it’s the only way.”
For over 10 years, Marina battled addiction, moving in and out of low-income housing and befriending toxic people. It was only after a serendipitous meeting with a former pastor who urged her to find help that Marina even considered recovery a possibility.
A new age
Marina’s “guardian angel,” as she refers to him, led her to a 12-step group where she felt, for the first time, safe. At these meetings she felt validated, supported, and full of hope. Eventually, she enrolled in an outpatient program at a local rehab facility, where she continued her journey of recovery.
Still, Marina wondered, how could she feel the same at home as how she did during the meetings, during her time with her therapists? How could she remember to be present in the moment, to accept her feelings, to relieve herself of her pain and to feel strong enough to continue her process of recovery? What else but drugs could be that powerful?
Meditation is an ancient practice, the act of focusing entirely on the moment, the here and now. Also referred to as mindfulness, many experts have sung the praises of meditation for those seeking recovery – the act of meditation permits the regulation of emotions, relief from stress and sadness, and promotes an overall better sense of contentment and calm.
For those in recovery, meditation has a particularly positive impact, as it’s a safe, natural replacement to medication, and serves as an alternative or a partner to regular therapy sessions. While some dismiss meditation as a fluffy, imaginary treatment, science backs it up – meditation has been proven to activate the prefrontal cortex of the brain, allowing for the release of endorphins and the regulation of neurotransmitters, which aid in a person’s sense of relaxation and happiness.
Those in the early recovery will find meditation significantly different from the highs they’re accustomed to experiencing. Scientists have likened the high of meditation to a runner’s high, and comes without the crash of alternative methods. The high of meditation lasts long after the practice has come to an end.
In fact, the act of meditation is so powerful and so beneficial that even those who have been out of recovery for years still find it immensely helpful. Not only is it safe, it’s free, can be practiced anywhere, and is proven to work.
How to meditate
There is not one single way to meditate; there are literally thousands of ways to do so. All are equally effective. Whether you’re in early recovery, have been on the path to wellness for some time, or are a friend or family member of someone in recovery, the following are some ways you can meditate and find a sense of peace.
Concentrate. This is exactly as it sounds: all you need to do is concentrate. You may choose to focus on a single object, like a candle a few feet away, or an image in your mind. You may focus on your breath, paying attention to it coming in and going out. You may choose to count rosary beads, or listen to a repetitive sound, such as that of a drum or a gong.
If you’re a beginner, don’t be frustrated if your mind starts to wander. Start with a few minutes at a time. If you notice that your focus starts to shift, just bring it back. Over time, your concentration is bound to improve.
Be mindful. When practicing mindfulness meditation, the goal is to be aware of every thought as it comes up. There is no need to judge or get too involved with the thought; you simply have to observe and be aware of each thought and feeling you experience. As you become better at this practice, you’ll get a sense of how your thoughts and feelings move. You might discover how quickly you judge an experience based on past events in your life. The point of this kind of meditation is to stop judging, and eventually you’ll come to feel less anxiety and more feelings of well-being and peace.
Keep it simple. You may choose to sit or lay down comfortably, closing your eyes, and just breathing. Pay attention to how your body moves as you breathe. There’s no need to control the strength or speed of your breath. You just need to relax. Practice this for three minutes at a time.
“This is how I heal.”
Marina, now four years sober, credits meditation as her saving grace. “I will always be a supporter of rehab facilities and support groups – you can get into addiction alone, but you sure can’t get out of it alone,” she muses.
“But it’s inevitable to feel challenged days into recovery, weeks into recovery… God, years after recovery,” she continues. “And it’s in those moments that you need to be your own peaceful warrior. Meditation is key for that. This is how I continue to heal.”
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