Waterfalls are beautiful, powerful forces of nature. Yet, they are much more than the fall. When the water hits the ground, it forms a pool that leads into a river or stream. At that point, the force diminishes in strength. When the water encounters obstacles like rocks or logs, the force intensifies in an attempt to regain its natural flow. Where there is no resistance, it flows smoothly.
Standing in front of Toccoa falls on a recent trip, I noticed the flow of the water’s strength diminish with distance. It reminded me of Carl Jung’s quote: “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
So, what does a waterfall have to do with recovery and addiction?
The ebb and flow of the water is like the waxing and waning of emotions.Cravings are powerful feelings that can lead back to using. However, there is something behind the craving, usually an emotion that appears to trigger a craving. Resisting the emotion suppresses it, while fully experiencing it allows it to flow through. Like the waterfall, if there is resistance, the power will grow.
Let’s take stress, for example. What happens in the body? Stress affects multiple systems in the body. Muscles tense and tighten causing pain, breathing becomes shallow, the heart rate increases, the stress hormone cortisol increases, appetite may increase or decrease, and the nervous system enters the “fight or flight” mode.
The familiar response to stress or any other emotion might be to use alcohol or drugs to manage them. What the mind and body want are peace and to be comfortable, and we often reach for things in the moment to attain that comfort that are actually not healthy for us.
However, mindfulness allows us to notice the stress or other emotions without causing resistance to them. Emotions precede craving, which results in a longing for relief. Resisting the emotion means suppressing it. Eventually, it will resurface. Practicing mindfulness does not mean being a “Zen master,” but rather being in the moment, aware of one’s surroundings and not judging the experience.
Mindfulness is a nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment.
Here are a few simple tips: First, notice the stress, craving, or other emotion. What was your body’s response? What can you physically feel in your body? Was there judgment? Judgments could include things like “I shouldn’t be stressed about this” or “Why is this happening to me?” Take a deep breath in and try to notice what else you can sense in the present. Can you feel your feet in your shoes? Tap your fingers together and notice the sensation in your hands and on your skin. Can you bring your attention to what you can physically sense as real and allow your mind a few moments to calm down, relax, and get clarity on your situation?
Please note, there may or may not be immediate relief when beginning to practice mindfulness.
Practice anyway without expectations and experience the moment.
To learn more about the mindfulness-based approach to addiction used at Centered Recovery, contact us today at 800-556-2966.
Author: Susan Sanchez, MSW Intern
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress effects on the body.
Bowen, S., Chawla, N., & Marlatt, G. A. (2011). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention for addictive behaviors: A clinician’s guide. New York, NY: Guilford Press.