Zen Meditation Benefits in Recovery

Zen meditation benefits people all over the world, but it can be especially helpful for individuals in recovery. Addiction to drugs and alcohol doesn’t just damage your body, it wreaks havoc on your mind and spirit. Individuals that fall victim to addiction often begin using recreationally. The sense of euphoria is attractive to some, while others are drawn in by the opportunity of escapism.

However, as your body develops tolerances to the chemicals, your mind develops emotional dependencies. To achieve the same effects over and over, you need large doses and harder drugs.

By the time you realize what’s happening, it’s usually too late to stop. Your body would go through intense chemical needs for the drug while your mind longs for the connection it provided.

Addiction is a disease. It robs you of your physical health and creates an unnatural dependence on a foreign chemical. But it doesn’t stop there. Addiction stunts your ability for spiritual growth and erodes a healthy psychology. That means people suffering from addiction are prevented from forging meaningful relationships, forming healthy connections, and finding peace and fulfillment, all on top of the physical toll addiction takes.

Because of all this, addicts entering recovery have a lot of healing to do and some programs don’t rise to the challenge. For a long time, rehab was something strict, harsh, and even isolating. Fortunately, many of today’s addiction recovery programs offer comprehensive treatments that target and address many of the symptoms of chemical dependency and the cognitive effects of cutting off that sense of euphoria.

Based on the tenets of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a large portion of addiction recovery requires the addict to identify thoughts and behaviors that are destructive and harm the recovery process. Then, therapists work on helping recovering individuals learn and implement healthier alternatives.

However, there are also some mindset shifts that you can take the initiative on as you are going through recovery that is not expressly covered in your program. One of them is the ideas and benefits of Zen meditation in recovery.

Zen Meditation and Spirituality in Addiction Recovery

 An artist named Dustin Kensrue write a song that ends with the poignant line, “Though all would bow to me ‘till I could drink my fill of fear and love, it’s not enough.” It’s an intense verse but the singer is trying to convey that seeking pleasure ultimately leads to disappointment. Even if he had everything he could possibly acquire, it’s human nature to want more.

This is called the pleasure paradox. The idea that trying to find fulfillment in pleasure ultimately leads to pain. When pleasure can’t be achieved, you are disappointed and when it is achieved and it’s not enough, you are disappointed still.

This point is crystallized in drug abuse and addiction. Many people are drawn into addiction seeking pleasure, escape, and fulfillment only to become enslaved to a chemical.

In order to combat the negative effects addiction has on your mind as you go through recovery, many programs will have an emphasis on spirituality. Alcoholics Anonymous started as a faith-based program with the second point in the twelve traditions being to submit to the authority of God.

Individuals may also employ the tenets of Zen in their recovery in order to live in the moment instead of dwelling on past regrets and future stressors.

What is Zen Meditation?

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism coming from the Tang Dynasty of China and the word “Zen” means meditation. The central ideas Zen meditation has to offer has impacted the world, even helping athletes and martial artists like Chuck Norris approach their sports with focus and discipline.

Most people have heard of Zen meditation as a general concept of peace and clarity. You may even have a mini Zen garden in your home, with the idea that the soothing peacefulness of trickling waterfalls and soft sand will help you center yourself.

Those little slices of Zen are fun. However, while mastering a Zen lifestyle is much more difficult than raking through a small patch of sand, the basic idea remains simple: live in the present.  In fact, Zen Buddhism often views the present as the only time matters, the past being obscured by vague recollection and false memories and the future being unknown.

The principles of Zen teach that each moment in life is a peak experience that’s full of depth. If you are dwelling on the past or worried about the future you are deluding your understanding and experience of the present. Zen is also about training your mind to process sensory experiences more quickly. The faster your brain can process what is in front of you, the better you are able to experience the present.

The idea of living in the moment sounds pretty simple but it can be difficult for anyone, let alone someone going through recovery. Our past failures shake our confidence. It’s easy to think, “I’ve failed so much in the past, I can’t hope to be successful in recovery.” Or maybe your focus is on the future. “What if I complete a recovery program only to relapse later.” Those thoughts are automatic and it takes an effort to refocus on the challenge at hand.

Mental and Spiritual Discipline in Recovery

It sounds counterintuitive, but when an addict first becomes sober, he may feel as though his life lacks meaning. It’s fairly common with people who take on difficult tasks and go down long and challenging roads. While having an active addiction is not recommended at all, having something to fixate upon and strive toward gives the false sense of having a purpose. Then recovery becomes your life’s primary endeavor. In that case, you’ve focused on a singular goal for so long, you never thought about what you would do with success.

Of course, recovery is never really over. Individuals in recovery may complete a program but recovery continues and the urge to relapse may come and go throughout your life. That’s all the more reason to find fulfillment apart from whatever goal you are chasing. Zen meditation in recovery can offer a way for individuals to extract meaning from life by living in the now. Focus on completing your program. Focus on helping others through their programs.

Discipline your mind to give full attention to the present so you are able to do your current task to the best of your ability.

What If I Have Other Beliefs?

Since Zen meditation has no supreme deity and doesn’t place an emphasis on following strict moral codes as other faiths, Zen is considered a philosophy rather than a religion, which means it can be applied to a number of belief systems.

As a whole, the principles of Zen are used to help individuals become aware, present, mindful, and virtuous. In order to achieve this, individuals often participate in mindfulness exercises, which include seated meditation, guided breathing, clearing the mind, and being conscious of the sounds, smells, sights, and sensations all around. These practices can fit into anyone’s daily routine and aren’t necessarily exclusive to any one culture, worldview, belief, or geographical location.

In terms of addiction recovery, Zen helps addicts understand the extreme attachment that they have developed to substances to which they’ve been addicted and that clearing your mind and practicing mental discipline can help ease any feelings of stress and self-consciousness.

Seek Addiction Recovery Today

If you or someone you love suffers from chemical dependency and would like to learn more about recovery and addiction treatment options, Pathway to Hope is here to help. Our team of recovery specialists has guided countless individuals in finding their way to sobriety through addiction treatment. Don’t wait—call us at (844) 557- 8575 or contact us online, so we can discuss recovery programs and treatment options today.

Practicing Self-Love: A Journey Through Fear and Uncertainty

I was an addict before I even knew what addiction was. From the time I was a child, I indulged. I overindulged in almost everything I could. I would play video games through the night and watch the sunrise through the window.

Obsessing over practicing my soccer kicks until my parents dragged me inside was a daily occurrence. But perhaps one of the most damaging things I would indulge in was self-loathing. This habit of self-loathing followed me through my adolescence and into my adulthood. After I entered recovery, I was told I need to start practicing self-love.

The tragic part was that I didn’t even know where to start.

After years of honing my recovery and working on many facets of myself, self-love is still an area I struggle with. But, despite my daily battle not to beat myself down mentally, I’ve picked up some great methods for practicing self-love. While I am far from perfect, I’m on my way.

Self-love and the Addict

I am in no way unique. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics struggle on a daily basis when it comes to practicing self-love. Whether we used as a result of self-loathing or don’t like ourselves because of our addiction, the point is we aren’t practicing self-love. One of the main themes of recovery is learning to accept and love ourselves and others.  

So how exactly do we accomplish this seemingly impossible feat?

For years, I toiled away in self-loathing. Even with multiple years of recovery, I would find myself incapable of finding one good thing to say about myself. Completely at a loss, I was unsure of how to truly start to love myself. I would hear people in meetings share about finding peace with themselves. I became completely desperate for some sort of relief, wanting what they had.

Finally, at three and a half years of recovery, I decided things needed to change. I began to start implementing not only a program of recovery in my life but a program dedicated to practicing self-love as well.

5 Great Tips for Practicing Self-Love

Much like recovery, practicing self-love can seem very foreign at first. It requires a strict regimen that must be followed diligently. I decided that the only way to start was just by doing it. I began asking people I saw in the rooms that appeared happy with what they were doing. Opening myself up to the suggestions, I began doing the following things:

1. Implementing Positive Affirmations

We’ve all heard the term “positive affirmations” thrown around. Well, it turns out, they’re an especially effective tool when practicing self-love. A positive affirmation is a specific statement that can help you overcome self-sabotaging negative thoughts.

They help you visualize and believe in the things that you’re affirming to yourself. Positive affirmations help you to make positive changes to your life and career. Using positive affirmations can also reduce stress and depression.

I was constantly beating myself up mentally. Rather than continually employing that negative train of thought about myself, I began to start using positive affirmations. By redirecting negative thinking, it began to change the way I viewed myself and the world around me.

I’m a firm believer in the power of energy. Positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative. By inviting more positivity into my life, I began to start believing the good things about myself. Rather than honing in my flaws or shortcomings, I began to celebrate my strengths.

2. Cutting Out Negative People

Perhaps one of the hardest ways to practice self-love is by removing the negative people from your life. A toxic relationship is characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic person that are emotionally and potentially physically damaging to the other person.

Toxic relationships can refer to romantic relationships, family members, or friendships. Anyone in your life who is not adding to your recovery is taking away from it.

Many times when we are subject to a toxic relationship, it negatively impacts our self-esteem. We begin to take on the negativity surrounding the other person and turn it inward.

Self-blame and self-loathing are common occurrences when it comes to dealing with toxic people. If we want to practice self-love, we need to be strong enough to walk away from the negativity, no matter how difficult this may be. It is not only empowering but one of the most effective ways to love ourselves.

When I removed the people who were hurting rather than helping, I found comfort in their absence. I began to feel better about myself for doing something so difficult. My life became better without the negativity, and all of the energy I was dispensing on the toxic relationships I could spend on loving myself.

3. Treat Yo’ Self

I am also a firm believer in treating yourself every once in awhile. Sometimes practicing self-love can be as simple as going and getting your hair done, eating at your favorite restaurant, or taking a personal day to read on the beach.

Working hard and putting others first are great attributes to possess, but sometimes you need to put yourself first. Allowing yourself to enjoy a new pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on is a great way to show yourself some love. Taking care of your own needs is necessary before you can really take care of the needs of others.

But as with all good thing, limitations should be set. Constantly indulging in using outside things to derive happiness is not healthy. Self-love needs to come from within first and foremost. Remember, the external things won’t fix the internal problems.

4. Getting Healthy

As a direct result of active addiction, my health and nutrition definitely fell to the wayside when it came to my priority list. Using drugs and alcohol takes a heavy toll on our bodies and overall physical health. Taking care of my body in recovery was a key element that I was missing.

I was still eating junk food at my leisure and negating any sort of physical exercise. This had a severe negative impact on both my physical and mental health. When you eat poorly, you feel poorly. My lack of concern for my physical health was directly correlating to my low self-esteem and self-loathing.

I decided to begin focusing on my body in a positive manner. Believe it or not, practicing self-love means taking care of yourself. I began to start watching what I was eating more closely and joined a gym. Today, I work out several days a week.

This newfound concern with my physical health has helped me on my journey towards self-love. I’ve given myself fitness goals, and it feels great to accomplish them! Not to mention the plethora of physical benefits that come from working out and eating right. The endorphins released during a workout are feel-good chemicals the body produces naturally that elevate mood.

But again, as with treating yourself, it’s important to limit yourself when it comes to working out. We are addicts in the end, and we can turn anything into an addiction, and this includes dieting and working out. It’s important to not allow it to cross the line from beneficial to harmful.

5. Seeking Outside Help

Lastly, perhaps the most important thing I’ve done when it comes to practicing self-love is that I’ve begun seeking outside help. Outside help is using other methods other than just the program of recovery when it comes to dealing with issues in your life. I have finally stopped resisting and fearing the stigma surrounding therapy.

Therapy has been an awesome addition to my program of recovery and self-love. I was always very opposed to the idea of therapy, feeling as if asking for help made me weak. The stigma surrounding therapy is just that–a stigma. It doesn’t mean you’re defective or crazy, it means you love yourself enough to start getting the help you may need for any issues you have going on in your life.

As an addict lucky enough to be blessed with a dual-diagnosis, attending therapy is crucial. My pre-existing mental health conditions are no fault of my own but need to be dealt with by a professional. It has given me a new outlook on life, and by accepting myself for who I am, it has helped me when it comes to practicing self-love.

Perfectly Imperfect

My journey from addiction to recovery has been a long and sometimes strenuous road. My journey with self-love has been just as tough. While I am in no way where I want to be, I’m on my way. If practicing self-love is something you struggle with, just know you won’t get it perfect at first.

Like anything, it requires much practice and commitment. But as long as you’re constantly working on it, you’re already succeeding. Realizing that I’m perfectly imperfect has been the most important lesson I’ve learned throughout both my recovery and my life—and I’m finally okay with that.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, contact us at Pathway To Hope. We can get you in touch with our admissions professionals who can help you get the help you need. Don’t delay, call today!

Finding A Higher Power: A Spiritual, Not Religious Process

A Spiritual Rather Than a Religious Program

When it comes to recovery, the program maintains a focus that is spiritually-based as opposed to religiously-based. Finding a higher power is of the utmost importance to the successful practice of a recovery program. We require simply the belief in a higher power as opposed to a god in the traditional monotheistic sense of the word. The two may not seem as vastly different as they truly are.

Throughout my journey in life both before and after recovery, this imperative difference in identity between the two was muddled in confusion and a lack of true comprehension. This unintentional ignorance coupled with religious concepts I was force-fed at a young, impressionable age kept me from the pursuit of any sort of spiritual connectivity whatsoever. Subsequently, this lack of connectivity to anything other than ambiance left me with a severe void in my life, thus fueling my addiction.

Confusing the Two

When it came to any sort of spirituality, I was doomed from the very beginning. My parents made the decision to opt to enroll me in the local private Catholic school rather than allowing me to pursue my education in the public school system.

The curriculum and overall educational standards were far superior to anything being provided in public school, and considering I was their only child, my parents insisted on the best educational experience I could obtain.

It was here I was first introduced to the tradition of Roman Catholicism. As both an integral portion of the actual curriculum as well as the social aspects of the school, these traditions were immediately implemented from my first day until my last day of school.

I entered my Catholic school’s kindergarten program and from age 5 until my ultimate departure to the public school system at age 15, I was subjected to the practices of the religion. Neither of my parents were practicing Christians, so my first exposure was in the school setting, vastly different than the other children whose families were all active members of the church community.

This lack of familial involvement in the community immediately put a target on my back for the administration, as the children of the more active members in both the volunteer and donation aspects were blatantly favored in the school.

The Birth of the Rebel

I was born with a natural affinity to the sciences and logistical thinking. This, coupled with natural inquisitorial nature, made many of the religious themes and preaching not very palpable. I was often in trouble for questioning the Religion teachers as well as presenting my rebellious streak in my lack of willingness to participate in religious ceremonies.

Over time, the combination of the discrimination I felt at the hands of the school and consistent reprimands and disciplinary actions taken against me allowed for a nice, ripe resentment towards religion to flourish.

When I finally departed the Catholic school system at age 15, I already had over a decade to foster my resentment. Upon my induction to the public school educational system, my rebellious and inquisitorial nature took on a negative connotation as I used these traits to begin my drug and alcohol addiction, which would subsequently take me on my journey to recovery.

Endlessly Searching

By age 18 I entered my first detox and rehab treatment facility. It was here I was first presented with the ideation of spirituality and the encouragement to implement a 12-step program. Remaining adamant in my disposition towards anything intangible, I immediately rejected any notion of spirituality.

I was too much of an intellectual to actually accept that there was something out there that reflected the concepts of organized religions. I was neither ready nor open to the idea of finding a higher power. I felt I could do it my own way without finding a higher power.

As a result of my stubbornness, upon my release from the treatment facility, I failed to actively and honestly work a thorough program. The subsequent relapse was both imminent and swift.

I would spend many nights, sick from my drug use, desperately reading my boyfriend’s tattered Bible, hoping that maybe this God everyone would speak of in recovery would come down upon me and save me from myself. He did not. I failed to realize finding a higher power was a journey in and of itself, and no foxhole prayers would save me.

And so, I suffered.

Another stint in rehab later, I found myself in the same predicament as I had before. With no seismic interior changes to speak of, I was back using drugs in the same dysfunction I always did. The consequences of my using arrived with an unprecedented quickness this time, with the threat of being evicted from my halfway house staring me in the face within weeks of my arrival.

The Death of the Non-Believer

After much imploring forgiveness and fraudulent promises, I was granted leniency and allowed to stay on the conditional meeting attendance and actually working a program. I fervently agreed to adhere to all guidelines set before me. Before the manager was even out of the driveway I found myself in the bathroom using the last little bit of narcotics I had in my possession.

However, despite it being a seemingly normal day in the life of an addict, that day was inherently divergent.

I had what they refer to in the program as my “moment of clarity”. The higher power I had earnestly declared nonexistent had reached into my life right there. I felt a peace fall over me, and in that very singular, spectacular moment, I knew that I never wanted to use again. This wasn’t the life I had pictured for myself. Drugs were no longer the object of my obsession.

I wanted to cling to this feeling forever.

I began attending meetings and actually delving into the program of recovery without apprehension. I still did not have a concept of a higher power formulated quite yet, but my internal existential dilemma had been quelled. I knew that indeed, something did exist out there in the recesses of the universe.

Through honing my program over the course of the last few years, finding a higher power became easy for me. I have been able to implement a conception of spirituality that works for me. That’s the beauty of recovery; it’s spiritual and not religious. I could finally comprehend that integral difference.

Where Science and Spirituality Meet

For me, being the logistical and scientifically-inclined individual that I am, the ideation of a cognitive higher power still exists beyond the reaches of my mind. But what I have found works in my particular case is that energy makes sense to me.

Energy cannot be created nor destroyed; it merely changes forms. It is infinite; it exists within and around everything and possesses either a positive or negative connotation. It was through finally opening my mind and possessing the willingness to find a higher power that dug me out of the trenches of my battle with addiction and joining my brothers and sisters in recovery.

While I’m not saying that my particular conception is superior or inferior to the next person’s, my journey to finding a higher power is uniquely my own. What works for me today may not in a few months or years down the road, but the benefit of it being a spiritual, not religious program is that I can utilize the freedom to conceptualize at my leisure.

If you or anyone you know is currently struggling with addiction, know that you’re not alone. Our knowledgeable and experienced admissions staff are available 24/7 to provide information and assistance in obtaining drug and alcohol treatment. Give us a call at Pathway to Hope at 844-557-8575 or contact us online.

Can Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Be Used with Prayer?

Mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) is an addiction treatment approach originated in 2010 by the late Alan Marlatt and his research team at the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. The secular program caters to each individual’s needs, but what happens when that person has a large base in spirituality?

To learn more about MBRP and how it can be used with prayer, Pathway to Hope conducted an interview with Sarah Bowen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pacific University Oregon and one of the founding researchers of mindfulness-based relapse prevention under Marlatt’s mentorship. She has authored numerous articles and guest book chapters on MBRP and related topics and is the co-author of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for Addictive Behaviors: A Clinician’s Guide.

Understanding Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention as the Next Step After Treatment

“I’d say that the primary training goal [of MBRP] is to help people become more aware of their own processes, specifically those that lead to addictive behavior,” said Bowen. “Through mindfulness-based relapse prevention, they learn to process their thoughts, sensations, and see how they affect their behaviors.”

The program, which on average takes six to eight weeks to complete, is designed to help clients after they’ve gone through addiction treatment by teaching them how to live in recovery.

“A second foundation is to learn things that seem to be triggering—physical pain, external objects, anxiety, and depression—and learn how to notice those triggers so that we’re not just automatically reacting to the discomfort until they go away.”

Clients may participate in both individual and group sessions at an MBRP program location, where they must learn to create a nonjudgmental, compassionate approach toward themselves and build a lifestyle of mindfulness in practice and recovery.

First, Clients Get Rid of Preconceived Notions About MBRP

Plenty of people assume what mindfulness or meditation may involve, attributing it to questionable holistic medicine rather than a science with proven evidence.

A study led by Bowen and her colleagues published in the 2014 JAMA Psychiatry detailed research results that showed recovering persons who participated in MBRP programs had lower relapse rates than those who followed traditional 12-step programs. And even among MBRP participants who did relapse, they reported significantly fewer days of substance use at their six-month and one-year follow-ups.

When asked if she met with clients who figured mindfulness-based relapse prevention as just some other new age practice, Bowen said, “[Clients] think of meditation/mindfulness and they think of feeling peaceful—and that’s not how it is. They come in and they don’t feel peaceful.”

Clients are encouraged to practice their MBRP sessions every day, which work to help clients become more in control with their triggers and negative responses.

“They work with where they are and they get what they get; the misconceptions are the primary barrier,” said Bowen. “People think they have to feel a certain way and all we do is let people understand what is happening and let them observe their own experiences.”

Mixing Prayer With Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention

Though mindfulness-based relapse prevention is not faith-based or spiritual, for clients who received addiction treatment at rehab centers that have Christian or faith-based tracks, we asked if those clients could apply MBRP techniques as a good compliment.

“There are a lot of people who are AA-involved,” responded Bowen. “They draw in a higher power. They go together beautifully.”

Bowen said in the interview that she doesn’t think faith and MBRP are opposed to one another, going further to say that she encourages clients to pursue the pair if they feel stronger doing so.

“[It’s] a lot of accepting things as they are, realizing we don’t have a lot of power. There are a lot of things we don’t have control over. It’s not our job in trying to control the universe and other people’s behaviors—and that’s because it could be God’s job. It’s not my job to run the world. It’s my job to have an eye on what’s going on around me.”

MBRP Can Help Clients Have Faith in Themselves

The program generally takes six to eight weeks, Bowen said, to complete for clients to “really sink into this,” though some clients may continue sessions after that point. During that time, Bowen aims to help clients discover a “new way to get to know themselves” as they interact with the world and regroup in their sessions.

“We can’t change the past. The way the past often harms us, is we try to change it and we’re stuck on it. The reality is: It’s over. It’s done. It’s only in our minds,” said Bowen. “If we can let go of that, we can learn from our past.”

So even though clients may choose to go through a short period of MBRP sessions, the lessons they learn about themselves and how it relates to their faith can give them strength for a lifetime.

“Ultimately, they just need themselves,” said Bowen. “They don’t need me or someone else, but they ultimately have to learn that that’s actually true.”

Need Help? Come to Pathway to Hope

If you, or a loved one, are struggling with addiction, then call one of our treatment specialists at Pathway to Hope at 844-557-8575. Our 24-hour helpline provides call assistance to anyone who would like to learn more about addiction treatment, detox services, and how to fund their drug treatment plans.

At Pathway to Hope, we care about the livelihood of each and every one of our clients, making sure to discuss life skills and relapse prevention before clients re-enter life in recovery. Clients can also partake in our Christian track program, where they can complement their treatment with group meetings about faith and spiritual discovery. So wherever your path may lead you, Pathway to Hope wants to make sure it’s the right one.