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How Headspace supports my sobriety

by Rhett Burch

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I experienced my first panic attack at the age of 20. It drove me into such a state of confusion and fear that I spent the evening in a hospital bed.

I began self-medicating with alcohol to curb the anxiety and in 2011 the wheels fell off. I was the lone survivor in a massive house fire, leaving a very close friend to perish. I was diagnosed as having generalized anxiety, PTSD, depression and panic disorder. I began having traumatic nightmares, reliving the fire. I couldn’t handle the anxiety, the fear and the nightmares and I began to rely more heavily on alcohol.

In January 2014 I hit an all-time low. My addiction was killing me and the fear was so overwhelming I rarely left my apartment. Concerned with my health, my family took me to multiple doctors, one of which was a neurologist. A scan of my brain revealed that my brain had atrophied and through years of alcohol abuse and intense stress it now resembled that of a man twice my age. My options were limited and my loved ones were desperate. A week later I checked myself into a drug and alcohol treatment hospital hoping that by some miracle I would be able to get and stay sober. I had no idea how much my life was about to change.

I held no regard for meditation and certainly didn’t understand why I had to practice it; “How is this going to help me stop drinking?”

I was introduced to mindfulness meditation while in treatment. I held no regard for meditation and certainly didn’t understand why I had to practice it; “How is this going to help me stop drinking?” I didn’t know anything about mindfulness but after my first session I felt different, I felt less distracted and a little relief. I continued to practice while in treatment and upon returning home to New York City I made it part of my morning discipline.

While flipping through a psychology magazine, I came upon Headspace, and again my life would change in ways I couldn’t imagine. I began doing the exercises each morning right after I’d written out my gratitude list. The more disciplined I was, the more I understood the concepts. My ability to implement these ideas into my daily life improved and with it my life took flight.

It was two weeks ago that I returned to the same neurologist who had first examined me. This time I was sober. The atrophy was large and they feared that my brain was showing signs of muscular sclerosis or epilepsy. That was all the information I was given before they placed me in a metal tube for a 20-minute MRI of my brain. I was too preoccupied with everything to think of how I would react in this machine; I hadn’t had a panic attack in over a year but this was different. As the machine pulled me inside I began counting my breath from 1 to 10 and starting over. The machine creates noises that resemble the sounds of war: deep, repetitive sounds that reverberate in the heart. I didn’t judge the sounds in the moment. I just watched what was happening, tried my best to remember the lessons, and I kept breathing.

Last week I was given the results of my MRI. The atrophy had shrunk significantly and my brain is otherwise perfectly healthy. I have been sober for 14 months now and I have been practicing Headspace for most of this time. It has changed my way of thinking and being. I have replaced fear with positive thought and action, and I am helping others do the same.

My most sincere thanks,

Rhett Burch (@rhettburch)

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was not paid for their writing.

Rhett Burch

Rhett Burch is a writer, mental health advocate, mentor, and public speaker living in Brooklyn, NY. He spends much of his time in hospitals and institutions speaking to men and women who struggle with mental illness and addiction related issues. Rhett recently celebrated two years of sobriety and offered insight into his struggle on whitelightwords a collection of essays offering hope and experience to others. He continues to practice mindfulness meditation each day using the Headspace app and considers it a cornerstone of his recovery.