As I sat down to write about meditation, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet meditated today. Instantly, I put down the computer to do the one thing that I have come to depend on in this journey in recovery. What I have found in researching by way of trial and error is that meditation has become Al la mode in western culture today. Literally, “In the fashion.” However, it is an ancient healing technique dating back thousands of years.
If you google meditation and click on images, a plethora of funny meditation cartoons pop up. With sarcasm like one dog telling another dog sitting Indian style that the key to meditation is to “stay.” Another personal favorite state “Meditation, the perfect excuse to sit and do nothing.” I have even seen a shirt that reads “Heavily Meditated” Ah, I love that one.
Cute jokes aside, meditation has been a viable resource for me since I chose to put down the drugs and alcohol and return to navigating this human experience as intended. I don’t know about you, but for someone like me, I need all the help I can get and that is why I am forever grateful to have this free resource and use it whenever I please. Especially when I am feeling RID; restless, irritable or discontent.
My interpretation and discovery of this healing art is that it educates an individual in the practice of mindfulness, non-judgment of self, and breath work. Yet there are a number of different forms and fashions that one may employ. If you have an open-minded approach to this practice, then personal insight and quality of well-being will abound for sure.
Different forms of meditation practice I have personally test driven include; yoga, hot yoga, guided meditation, hypnotherapy, breathwork, swimming laps, sitting while counting to five while inhaling and then exhaling, focusing on the breath. Other forms I have experienced include Buddhist style visualizations with focus on compassion and suffering, even YouTube has an incredible amount of options and subject matter, even Binaural Beats (different sound frequencies that have been shown to heal the brain while assisting new neural pathways to form).
Speaking from my personal experience, I have found there is no “one size fits all” concerning the nature of meditation. Human beings are complex creatures. One form of meditation may speak volumes to what I need but may be completely void of someone else’s needs. Yet we can all benefit from this practice whether it is five minutes or an hour a day. Heck, even monkeys meditate in hot springs in the mountains of Japan, ever seen Baraka? Check it out, beautiful film.
Back in 2015, I was struggling, hard. I was a first-time momma and around a year sober when I relapsed. My whole family was in “the know” about my struggles with addiction, so I decided to go back to detox after having a transparent and uncomfortable convo with my mother. Being that she is a supportive mother, she knew that my baby needed me (as a mother) to be clean, sober and stable.
What I know now that I was unaware of back in 2015 was that I had untreated postpartum depression and was making some serious mistakes. I was working part-time and I was in school while navigating the new venture in motherhood with very little help. It is relevant to mention I had an emergency c-section and was given opiate painkillers after this major surgery and had not taken part of a serious program in recovery. Consequently, I relapsed.
In September of 2015 I went to detox in Taos, New Mexico for seven days after which I planned on doing some continual outpatient treatment. My daughter’s grandparents knew of a guy whom was also in recovery, twenty-five years clean and he was a hypnotherapist, fancy that!
This was my first extended experience with hypnotherapy for drug addiction and trauma. Seven years prior, I attempted smoking cessation with the aid of one hypnotherapy session and it went very well. Except for the fact I was a bartender at the time and drank every day. When I drink, I smoke and being that I am an alcoholic, well the two obviously go hand in hand.
Back to hypnotherapy at 2015. I believe I had four sessions with the hypnotherapist, maybe five. He was attempting to “walk with me” through my abandonment issues with an emphasis on drug addiction. In other words, some of life’s trauma which led me to use drugs and alcohol; self-medication at its’ finest or worst, depending on your perspective.
What I remember about the sessions is that I always went into them seriously stressed out and left seriously relaxed with a sense of well-being and confidence in my abilities to tackle the necessities of the day. I think it’s worth mentioning that I always thought the sessions were around fifteen minutes when in reality they were forty-five minutes to an hour in length. The other thing I remember is that I had bouts of uncontrollable tears when the therapist would ask me questions before and after our sessions about my current state of emotions. Pre-tears of sadness turned into post-tears of joy, go figure.
So jumping forward to 2018. I had been at Mending Fences for approximately two weeks. Like clockwork, I woke up every morning at 4 AM and was up for the day with the exception of an hour siesta in the afternoon (trauma therapy is exhausting after all). I was still in detox mode from the amount of abuse I put my brain and body through from years of active addiction. A not so pleasant side effect of getting off the drugs, gross and painful.
Now, at this point in rehab, I hadn’t fully come to terms with the decision that I wasn’t going to use again, I wasn’t committed, yet. Still, I was making an effort. From 4 AM to 7 AM I would go into the dayroom and watch music videos or movies to take my mind off of the detox, life on the streets, my three-year-old and the child I had given birth to in October of 2017. Looking back, I know that my brain and body were in a serious adjustment period. Let’s call it the process of healing.
Feeling safe took a while; Time takes time, Things I Must Earn. After having to watch my back and stay on my toes every day for almost three years on the streets, feeling normal comforts was very strange and unusual. Watching music videos, drinking coffee, sitting in a warm, quiet room on a comfy couch next to a Christmas tree, even taking a hot shower; Simple things that were so foreign to me. Amenities I did not take for granted, yet had to slowly get used to again after living in survival mode for as long as I did. Loud noises, quiet noises and bright lights all shot my anxiety levels through the roof. Trauma response reveals itself in all sorts of interesting ways.
Here’s what happened. My therapist at Mending Fences told me her truth in our first session on a Friday afternoon in January. She told me that I was playing with life and death and that a decision had to be made. She gave me one week to think about it and also told me (in so many words) she would not work with me if I was not prepared to choose life. A simple decision swimming in complexity.
The next seven days I thought long and hard about the wreckage of my past. The low down dirty shame that was my life. I also thought wholeheartedly about everyone that threw an enormous amount of unconditional love and compassion my way into getting me to Mending Fences (the majority being strangers). In that super early stage of recovery, my brain was not yet equipped with making the right choice, so I had to depend solely on my heart. In my next one on one with my therapist I confirmed I was ready to give it my best and thus, the work began.
My heart was finally in the right place once I made the priceless commitment to take my life back. My brain still needed time though. After making the decision, the horse therapy program became an especially useful tool in both my recovery and meditation practice. I knew I had to soak up ALL the tools offered to me at that point in time. Working with the horses was an incredible learning experience. The lessons I took away from the barn I utilized in my meditation practice and vice versa, Ah-mazing!
Gator, oh sweet Gator, the first horse I chose to work with. A Quarter horse with blue eyes known as the Zen master. Working with horses is a mediation in itself. I have always had a hard time with anxiety and panic attacks which manifests into difficulties breathing properly. Drugs and alcohol only enhance the physical ailment of not breathing properly, Bleh. It’s a sign of insecurity and a sign of fear.
Terry, the horse specialist, was always kindly reminding me to breathe, especially when I would be cleaning Gator’s hooves. Horses are prey animals, so if I am holding my breath it makes the horse nervous, giving the indication that I may be a predator. Also horses sense vibes, magical creatures they are. Horses do not judge but they teach us to be mindful and present, gentle, patient and they teach us respect amongst an array of other values. Similar ideals to what meditation has to offer.
Week three with my therapist rolled around. I was still waking at 4 AM for the day, still listening to my heart because my brain was in some other orbit, and still full of anxiety and having issues calming myself with my breath. Gator and I had connected and we got into a grooming groove every morning. Yet I knew he could feel my anxiety and I also knew I needed to be conscious of my breathing around him. Honestly, the task was hard not having normal brain function yet.
Ironically, after horse therapy was our yoga class. This Meant by lunchtime every day I was calm, collected and breathing fine. My therapist knew I had a hard time with anxiety, she recognized it in my body language and speech. She also would gently remind me to breathe, constantly. In our third session, we discussed the horse therapy and what I was doing in the morning time waking up at the butt crack of dawn. She highlighted that it would be a great time for me to meditate.
You see, coming from such a chaotic place in active addiction, it is very important to get on a routine. Although there is an adjustment period, it is essential that I start training my brain in a whole new way. I don’t have to change anything, I just have to change everything. My therapist helped me make that connection, Gator helped me to not judge myself and remain present while Terry reminded me to breathe. This all gave me motivation and momentum. I got busy working on my anxiety in the early morning before the sun rose through my meditation practice. I would cross off on the calendar every day I meditated, small victories.
By week four in treatment, I would still awake at 4 AM but now with purpose. Coffee came first and then my morning cigarette. I would check in with myself, listen to my heart (brain still on some other s#*t) and ask myself what would be best to focus on for early morning meditation. This would typically consist of YouTube guided meditations from Michael Sealy or Power thoughts meditation club on letting go of fear, worry and anxiety. Concentrating, I would check in on my current emotional state and breathing pattern. By the time I was working with Gator in the morning, I found we were connecting more and I became capable of remaining present with him; partner not predator! After a few weeks passed my anxiety became less of an issue. Likewise, my breathing patterns were noticeably different.
I often think to myself how much pain, anger, stress, and resentment (resulting in poor choices) would of been washed away by ten minutes of daily meditation. Then I remind myself to leave the past in the past. I meditated every morning for the first six months of my recovery along with the “take as needed” approach any other time I felt the need throughout the day.
Well, what about now? You may ask. Meditation is a part of my lifestyle and routine, and yes some days it’s hard to find the time. In those instances, I meditate before bed. One of the best times in my opinion.
If you recall, I mentioned earlier in the piece, there is no “one size fits all” approach to this healing tool. The results, however, are guaranteed to alleviate stress, triggers, anxiety and a world of other harmful physical and mental ailments. In my opinion, meditation has helped me discover solutions to everyday problems, both mental and physical while offering a slew of other benefits.
A few weeks before my ninety days was up at Mending Fences the fabulous Deedee introduced me to a super insightful blog called Live and Dare by a man named Giovanni Dienstmann, I invite you to check it out for yourself. There are also a number of other meditation avenues to research such as the app Insight Timer or Refuge Recovery concentrating on Buddhist based meditations. Check out a local yoga center or get on the ol’ YouTube were you may consider trading that ten minutes of funny cat videos for some inner relaxation.
As they say in the rooms of twelve step programs “Take what you need and leave the rest!” After all, it’s your life and no one is going to live it for you. Taking your power back is taking action. I am 110% certain that my personal meditation practice helps me to be a better human in all aspects of my life. Remaining teachable, flexible, calm and collected does wonders for my approach to life and my recovery, allowing me to help others help themselves.
Oh yeah, my lifelong issue with anxiety on a scale of 1-10 is at the lowest it’s ever been and I don’t take any medication just meditation. Most days I can’t even complain it’s at a two and generally the scale doesn’t exist anymore, large in part due to this practice. So please, for your own sake and the sake of your wife, husband, children, coworkers, gas station attendant, waitress, dog, cat, bird, chinchilla, turtle, driving record, mother, father, brother, sister, community, all life large and small, you get the idea; take five, close your eyes and detach from your problems, put your judgements aside, unplug, unwind, take a deep breath in and out. Genuine peace of mind is priceless, even if it’s just for a few moments!
Written By Crystal Champ