I struggled with drug and alcohol abuse all through my preteen and teenage years, and part of my young adulthood. I still remember the first time I got drunk. I was only nine years old, but the memory is as vivid as if it were yesterday. I was at a family party, I was curious about alcohol and decided I’d give it a try. I stole a bottle, and just a few sips later, I was drunk. I hated the taste, but I loved the way it made me feel. That was the beginning of what seemed like a downward spiral that lasted a very long time.
When I was a teenager, I got hooked on drugs. First, it was marijuana, and before I knew it, I was hooked on cocaine, along with other horrible substances. At the age of 23, I spent two years in prison for substance-related charges. It wasn’t until then that I realized I needed to make some changes in my life. So, I joined Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous in prison, and when I got out, I checked into rehab.
Things were starting to look up, for the first time in a while, after rehab. I found a job and kept attending the meetings. But soon enough, my anxiety and depression started coming back, and they brought drugs and alcohol back with them too. Before I knew it, I was back at the treatment centre.
This time though, I was determined to make it last. If the traditional ways didn’t work before, I’d try unconventional things to help me stay clean. I did, and that’s how I found mindfulness. My therapist recommended it as a way of clearing my mind from all my worries, in order to reduce the stress I suffered from during recovery. I was up for anything that could help me stay clean, so we gave it a try during that therapy session.
It was a liberating feeling, being completely in the moment and focusing only on the present. That’s what mindfulness is all about—being aware of what you’re experiencing in the moment; concentrating on every sound, smell, sight and feeling.
I’ve been clean for more than nine years now, and I still practice mindfulness throughout my day. It’s helped me not only to stay sober, but also to become a better version of myself. It taught me to handle emotions better too. During my battle with addiction and throughout my recovery process, I wasn’t able to control my emotions. I used to have terrible mood swings and get angry at even the smallest things. I felt as though I had no power over what I felt and how I reacted to it. But mindfulness has taught me to step away from any problems that may catch me off guard. It has also taught me to centre myself and think before I do or say something in the heat of the moment that I might regret later.
Being able to focus only on what’s happening right now, which is the basis of mindfulness, helped me realise how absent I’d been in other aspects of my life. For instance, while having a conversation with my Mum, I’d be thinking about a million other things. Now, I realise the importance of being completely present, instead of going through life on autopilot. This has given me the ability to concentrate more, and therefore be more efficient and productive at work and at home. I’m now truly able to focus on one thing at a time without my mind wandering around.
It has helped me with both self-acceptance and forgiveness. After realising all the damage I’d caused myself and the people around me, I started beating myself up. I hated myself for hurting my family, for having wasted all those years. I was angry. But mindfulness helped me see myself in a more objective way. It gave me a new perspective. I started looking at myself as if I were a stranger, and was able to see my mistakes in a non-judgemental way. I was able to empathise with myself. It took some time, but mindfulness ultimately helped me find self-forgiveness.
During my struggles with addiction, I always had trouble falling asleep and sleeping through the night. Often, I turned to alcohol or drugs to help me fall asleep. During recovery, my sleep was even worse. Since I could no longer use substances to help me sleep, and it was during the night that my anxiety worsened, my thoughts were constantly running wild. With mindfulness though, my anxiety and distress levels decreased. The results weren’t immediate, but mindfulness improved my sleep quality. Now, I sleep like a baby every single night!
Addiction and everything that comes with it ruined almost every relationship I ever had. By the time I got clean, I only had my family left. They stayed with me through it all, despite the fact that I constantly pushed them away. Through mindfulness, I learned to empathise with others. I found compassion, and this made me less selfish. Now, I’m able to focus on others’ needs and interests, as well as my own. I’m able to be there for others emotionally, without feeling overwhelmed.
Before I started practicing mindfulness, I’d tried just about everything to help me stay clean. Not only did this practice help me with recovery and sobriety, but it changed my life for the better in ways I could never have imagined. However big you may think your problems are, and however stressed you might feel everyday, just closing your eyes for a few seconds and focusing on your breathing can help you feel more relaxed. Making this a constant practice can be a great step forward towards sobriety and tranquillity.