What are we?
Human beings are willful creatures. Every move we make is willed by combinations of nerve connections that fire and then engage with similar interconnections. Beyond the mere mechanical actions of our brains, the moods, affections, likes and dislikes, and ambitions rise and fall according to our biochemistry as well.
This is your brain on addiction.
Nerve cells that fire together, according to Canadian psychologist Dr. Donald Hebb, end up wiring together. So repeated brain sensations become more easily initiated and strengthened over time. Addiction is the runaway vicious cycle that causes mental stress when the repeated actions are interrupted. Addiction is when such uncomfortable sensations become intolerable to the point that a person will do anything to remedy this discomfort: usually meaning succumb to the cravings regardless of the repercussions.
What is mindfulness? East vs West.
Whether you espouse an Eastern or a Western flavor of mindfulness, the difference is that, basically, Eastern mindfulness—steeped in meditation—is introspective and segregating yourself from the world (“Who am I, all by myself?”); Western mindfulness, meanwhile, is relating to those things that affect us (“What’s happening to me?”). Thus, Western mindfulness is useful in a person’s attention focusing on what is happening in the present. What is happening with craving? How is it affecting him or her? To appreciate and then deconstruct these drives requires recognition. It is like dealing with a scam artist—if you know what is happening in the background, you will identify a scam and avoid its pitfalls.
According to Christopher Germer, Ph.D,
“Mindfulness is a skill that allows us to be less reactive to what is happening in the moment. It is a way of relating to all experience—positive, negative and neutral—such that our overall suffering is reduced and our sense of well-being increases.”
Past, present, and future.
People with addiction suffer from a very complex psychological set of conditions that conspire against them. If they seek help for the addiction, they have self-esteem difficulty based on their past decisions that provoked them to seek the help. Thus, a key component to mindfulness in addiction recovery is self-compassion to bypass the self-judgment that comes with fretting over the past.
On the other side of the timeline, the hopelessness of addiction prevents any sense of confidence for the future. Thus, mindfulness of what is happening in the present is the only tool that proves useful. A present that is navigated successfully portends to a future with hope.
Mindfulness in addiction recovery.
Knowing what’s going on “inside” is the first step in mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy. Self-awareness from the Eastern philosophy can only go so far, however. While useful for a sense of “self,” the missing piece is the Western motif of self-plus-the-rest-of-the-world awareness. This is important to consider, because no one can live in the world totally introspective, forever, but must deal with the world and what the world shoves back at us. Such techniques help a person suffering addiction to build skills for coping with urges and the temptations of relapse.
The impact of mindfulness as therapy has been established, now with actual mindfulness questionnaires that are useful in recovery. A trained professional can use this tool and the various benefits of specific healing processes to put addiction in its place, on a shelf and impotent, isolated from the person you truly are inside.
Guest blog post contributed by:
Dr.Gerard M. DiLeo is a medical doctor, and Certified Life Care Planner. Dr.DiLeo is also a published health author for McGraw-Hill, as well as has contributed health articles to newspapers and regional magazines for over 30 years. He was in private practice in the New Orleans area during these years, serving as Chief-of-Staff at a regional hospital twice.
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