By Brittany Hopkins, MS, LAPC, NCC
Day Treatment Counselor
Rather than thinking about all the things we have going on throughout the day, mindfulness focuses our attention on what is going on in the present moment. Not only that, mindfulness teaches us to nonjudgmentally acknowledge and accept our thoughts, feelings and experiences in the present rather than trying to suppress or change them. Mindfulness is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”.
Along with other aspects of our gender-specific treatment at MARR, mindfulness can be helpful for dealing with challenges specific to women in recovery. Women thrive on relationships and connection to others. We help clients build healthy relationships that can foster an environment to flourish. However, women often come into treatment having focused much of their time on the needs of other people in their lives, while neglecting their own needs and interests. Staying busy by meeting the needs of other people can distract women from their own uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and experiences. When they are constantly doing things for their children, husbands, friends, church groups, bosses, etc., they can block out anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger and other unpleasant feelings. Just like substance use, it becomes another way to numb and disconnect.
The thought of being in the moment is radically different from the normal way of experiencing the world for individuals seeking treatment. Avoidance of unpleasant thoughts, feelings and experiences is a hallmark characteristic of individuals with a substance use disorder. They often feel they cannot tolerate their current emotional state, and look for ways to relieve it. Drugs and alcohol become an escape for women coping with putting other things first.
Incorporating mindfulness into treatment can help individuals accept that uncomfortable experiences are temporary and they don’t have to be numbed by using substances. Cravings are one of the uncomfortable experiences that individuals can learn to cope with by using mindfulness. Cravings are time limited – they have a beginning and an end. Accepting cravings as an uncomfortable experience, but one that is passing and doesn’t have to be acted upon, can greatly help in total and lasting recovery.
The practice of mindfulness in treatment can allow women to get in touch with their emotions. It can also be the beginning of helping women prioritize their own needs. By setting a time each day to practice meditation, women can acknowledge the importance of their own self-care and make a commitment to doing something positive for themselves. At the Women’s Recovery Center, we integrate these practices into our gender-specific program. We offer group meditation in the weekly schedule as well as other activities, including yoga, that incorporate the concept into their daily practice. Mindfulness is not just about finding peace in stressful situations, it’s about connecting to your inner self and saying I am in control of my emotions.