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Why meditation was crucial to my recovery from alcohol

by Irina Gonzalez

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I was in the middle of my first and only month-long stay at a rehab facility when I realized that my recovery from alcohol addiction largely depended on forming new habits in my life. At the time, I was focused on just getting through every new day, “one day at a time” as they say in some sobriety groups. Soon I realized that I had slowly started to form a routine—and a life that, surprisingly, involved more forms of mindfulness than I ever thought I could enjoy before.

About a month after I had asked for help to escape from the stressed-out weeks that always ended in blackout drunk weekends, I started to create a new pattern. I met with a therapist who specializes in addiction, attended groups aiming to help those like me, and sought comfort with a few friends in whom I could confide my newfound journey into sobriety. But, most of all, I found solace in being with myself and my own non-booze soaked thoughts for the first time in years. I started to practice mindfulness regularly.

To be honest, it wasn’t intentional at first. That is until I tried finding mindfulness … without actually trying to meditate.

The first time I truly felt at peace after facing up to my alcoholism was when I rediscovered coloring books (which has since become a cultural phenomenon among adults). While in rehab, a friend sent me a coloring book and markers in the mail as a way to encourage my recovery and give me something fun to do; I soon began ending every single day by spending some time with my coloring book.

For the first time since I took an initial step toward recovery, I found myself really relaxing and transforming. My anxiety melted away as I switched from red to blue to green to purple to color the various flowers and intricate designs in my coloring book. Spending time at peace with myself and my coloring book was the first step to capturing time alone that I actually enjoyed.

Often, during my active addiction, being alone meant feeling stuck with the negative thoughts in my own head: which made me feel worthless, reminded me of all of the bad things I had done in the past, and emphasized I may never find true love or even adequate companionship.These thoughts burdened me when my stress levels rose, and I turned to alcohol to quiet my active mind. In recovery, I had to be alone and spend time with those thoughts again.

Surprisingly enough, listening to those thoughts and checking in with myself throughout the day led me to another encounter with mindfulness, this time through daily journaling. My therapist encouraged me to sit and reflect on myself at the start and end of each day. The experience, during which I wrote down either what my goals for the day were or how my day had actually gone (especially if I had any triggering thoughts or feelings about drinking), helped me to better understand some of my struggles.

As my recovery continued, however, I found myself needing other distractions and ways to keep both my body and mind occupied. Although I finally started to enjoy the time with myself and my thoughts, there was something else I started to enjoy even more: cooking.

It began by spending Sundays making myself lunch for the upcoming week. Taking better care of my body quickly became routine, and soon after I started to cook dinner almost every night during the week too. Planning meals ahead of time was an activity that I actually enjoyed. It was weirdly peaceful to know that I was nourishing myself, and an important part of recovering.

It has now been almost two years since I first realized that I had a problem and needed help. I found comfort through regular activities like coloring, journaling, and cooking. Then after a brief relapse into addiction about a year ago, I decided it was time to practice meditation.

I had heard of a “new” trend of practicing mindfulness through apps and was eager to jump in. After downloading far more meditation and relaxation apps than I would care to admit, I finally settled on a favorite, one I find easy to use and offers a lot of different “types” of guided meditations (as in content which ranges from what I might be dealing with or hoping to focus on), it felt like I was actually learning something new.

I always thought that I was terrible at meditation because I couldn’t sit with a quiet mind, but Headspace made me feel comfortable precisely because I was given the freedom to let my mind wander, just as it often did when I colored, journaled or cooked. Letting my mind be free as I sit with myself for 10 uninterrupted minutes has allowed me to get in deeper touch with some of my addiction triggers and find additional success in my sobriety.

Now that I am two years into recovery and over a year clean since the brief relapse that ultimately led me to try meditation apps, I’ve learned to embrace all of the different ways that mindfulness has been invaluable to me during this time. By focusing on healing myself with these various methods, I’ve been able to slowly embrace the best piece of advice that my therapist ever gave me: “Be kind to yourself.”

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.

Irina Gonzalez

Irina Gonzalez is a freelance writer and editor, focusing primarily on all things food, healthy living, relationships and cultural identity. When she's not writing her memoir about growing up Russian and Cuban or posting #healthylatinfood photos on Instagram, you can find her work on IrinaGonzalez.com.