Mindfulness in Sobriety
Mindfulness is a central tenet of sustained sobriety. This precept is echoed throughout the halls of treatment and recovery: “stay present,” “be in the moment,” “one foot in front of the other.” Mindfulness, however, can often be misconstrued – a practice relegated to hermetic ascetics, engrossed in meditative and devotional pursuits. This (misconception) lies in stark contrast to our cultural ideology. Daily life is typified by a maelstrom of errands, meetings, appointments; an incessant barrage of information; a seemingly Sisyphean to-do list. This onslaught obliterates mindfulness. Yet, in spite of this dilemma, mindfulness remains an imperative component of long-term sobriety. The disease which the alcoholic/addict suffers from is insidious – “cunning, baffling, powerful” – and demands unyielding vigilance. Vigilance, in turn, is contingent upon mindfulness. With that being said, by what means is one supposed to be “present” within the stream (or rather, the torrent) of life.
Sobriety involves reintegration, i.e., transitioning from society’s marginalized fringes to its central hub. Being a “worker amongst workers” or being in “the center of the herd” are tropes of the recovery field. Thus, this is by no means a condemnation of society’s status quo, its pressures, and demands. In fact, the fruits of sobriety very much include: reentering the workforce, pursuing higher education, establishing a career, discovering interests/passions, taking care of one’s health, managing financial investments, cultivating personal relationships, (ad infinitum). As each of these fruits come to ripen, there is a corresponding degree of complexity that is introduced into one’s life – a life which is ultimately contingent upon the rigorous attention to, and maintenance of, sobriety (of which mindfulness is but one component, albeit a tremendously important one).
Mindfulness Amidst Turmoil
Life gets full. “Fullness” and mindfulness, however, are not mutually exclusive; they are, in fact, intimately related. Structure allows one to be mindful. The architecture of our routine – the way in which we balance the various elements of our daily life – provides the structural framework within which we pursue mindfulness. In a society predicated on insistent efficiency, one’s ability to remain present ultimately supports (if not supplements) the ability to navigate the obstacle course of life. This, however, is premised on a certain intentionality viz. dedicating oneself to the task at hand. The banality of this thesis is perhaps why it is so often overlooked. It is too often the case that, while engaged with some task, our mind is everywhere but on that task – a grotesque Burroughsian collage of: future engagements, past blunders or missteps, what “they” said/did, what “I” will say/do, and (of course) the torrential river of information being flung at us from any number of social media outlets.
There is something awe-inspiring, almost mystical when considering mindfulness in this light, i.e. the capacity to remain present and focused in spite of a barrage of mental “white-noise.” It is easy to see why the image of a monk, engrossed in meditation on some secluded mountain top, comes to mind when considering mindfulness in today’s social climate. Sobriety, however, demands a certain degree of mental presence, in spite of how improbable such a feat may seem. There certainly exist means of cultivating mindfulness in and of itself, e.g. breathing techniques, yogic practice, guided mediations. These are tremendously conducive insofar as developing one’s presence of mind is concerned. That being said, this presence of mind must, even more importantly, be woven into the fabric of one’s daily life.
Be Here, Now
Life necessitates a sort of meditative pragmatism, one which can be implemented in the context of a thoroughly structured method of living. A routine allows one to operate on autopilot (for lack of a better word) at a macroscopic level, i.e. the large-scale structure of one’s day is laid out (to a certain extent) which allows one to focus on their microscopic (immediate) affairs – the moment they are in. While at work, work must be one’s only concern; while at school, school must be one’s only concern; while with family and friends, they must be one’s only concern. As the content of life unfolds and proliferates, there must be a corresponding attention to the structure itself. Ultimately, one can maintain unfaltering mindfulness in all of their affairs and still get burnt out if they have not invested the necessary care into their routine – building into it a certain degree of balance, self-care, and free-time. This ultimately gives one the natural aptitude to manage their stress and anxiety in their recovery, which has its obvious benefits.
Structure Helps You Stay Mindful
The idea of structure can seem stifling (especially coming from the anarchy of addiction). Yet structure begets freedom. Some of the most profound works of art are borne out of the establishment and manipulation of constraints. Sobriety’s depth and breadth are very much a product of one’s ability to be present in all walks of life (a stark contrast to the alcoholic/addict’s presence of mind while in the depths of their using). Sobriety is imbued with a richness and multidimensionality previously unknown to the afflicted individual; in the midst of one’s using, the capacity to be “in the moment” was simply relegated to getting one’s “fix” – that momentary respite from the onslaught of: fear, doubt, insecurity, isolation, and emptiness. Ultimately, mindfulness is imperative to sustained sobriety. It is not something separate and apart from daily living; it is something woven into every moment of our experience.
- Written by Ryder D.