It could be argued that every addiction has its roots in the person seeking to be somewhere else mentally, emotionally or perceptually. We even use phrases like being “out of it” or “off our heads” to describe the experience of intoxication. Perhaps this other side of the mindfulness coin could be referred to as mindlessness.
Such are the preoccupations of addiction and the nature of its collateral effects there is little time or space left for being still and present in the here and now. It is difficult to let yourself be where you are if that puts you in touch with uncomfortable emotional states. The siren voice of addiction will tell you it is time to escape. Distraction provided by addictive substances and behaviours can seem a more attractive option until the harm overtakes any reward gained.
Recovery can only really begin and perhaps acquire any real depth, when a person lets go of addictive ways of processing thoughts and feelings and finds new ones that serve him/her better. Whereas previously the person may have tried to run from them, squash them or allow them to impel ill-considered reactions, mindfulness practice offers a different approach. It slows things down. It also removes the element of self-judgement about what is felt. This is a positive development for addicted people who are so often wracked with self-punishing shame and guilt. If we want to defuse its power, mindfulness suggests that we accept the feeling and engage with it, even explore it.
In this way a degree of control is restored over the emotions and thoughts and, most importantly, the actions that they may instigate. With greater self-awareness the person is no longer at the mercy of the automatic responses that characterise addiction. With the continuing practice of mindfulness the new approach becomes ingrained and with it a growing sense of personal freedom.
The integration of mindfulness practice into everyday life can form a vital part of the aftercare and relapse-prevention programme. It has the benefit of being something that requires nothing more than a knowledge and understanding of the process and an honest commitment to practice. Sometimes, as with many things, motivation is enhanced if the person joins with other recovering people applying the same principles to their lives. This becomes another form of mutual support. Mindfulness is entirely compatible with and complementary to the 12-Step programme for recovery from addiction.