How the 12 Steps, Treatment and Mindfulness Work Together

The sheer number of thoughts someone has in one day is astonishing. But what’s more astonishing are the thoughts we have but don’t pay attention to during the day.

It’s estimated that we have more than 40,000 thoughts a day. This constant chatter is mostly filtered out and we focus our attention on our biggest problems or our biggest wants.

The majority of these thousands of thoughts are negative. We survived the wild by constantly looking for threats, and we took this level of thinking into the modern world.

We look at our biggest problems like we used to look at our biggest threats. The only difference is that our biggest problems usually do not truly threaten our lives.

They just threaten what we want.

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Alcoholic Thinking

The way alcoholics and addicts think is more severe than “normal” non-alcoholic people. When someone is in the middle of a relapse without the proper prevention plan, they usually are thinking of one thing.

If they have a family that loves them and supports them, the addict will most likely manipulate, lie or steal to get high or drunk. Anything that gets in the way is considered a threat to their livelihood.

And in some cases it is a threat. If a chronic relapser or heavy drinker suddenly stops drinking without properly detoxing, he or she will get the shakes and in severe cases they will have seizures and hallucinations.

On top of this threat, alcoholics and addicts don’t work on the deficits in their character and they have many suffering relationships. However, when these thoughts surface they are usually ignored or quickly forgotten.

Being honest is not an addicts strength.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous puts it this way:

“Coming to his senses, he is revolted at certain episodes he vaguely remembers. These memories are a nightmare. He trembles to think someone might have observed him. As fast as he can, he pushes these memories far inside himself. He hopes they will never see the light of day. He is under constant fear and tension – that makes for more drinking.

Psychologists are inclined to agree with us. We have spent thousands of dollars for examinations. We know but few instances where we have given these doctors a fair break. We have seldom told them the whole truth nor have we followed their advice. Unwilling to be honest with these sympathetic men, we were honest with no one else.”

What Does Alcoholics Anonymous Say About Thinking?

According to Alcoholics Anonymous literature, it states that alcoholics have a brainstorm in their mind when they deal with emotions.

In 1938, around the same time the book Alcoholics Anonymous was published, brainstorm was defined as “a violent, transient mental derangement manifested in a maniacal outburst.”

This violent outburst is what goes on in a mind of someone with substance use disorder or alcoholism.

Does not sound good, does it?

Take resentments. When an alcoholic thinks he or she has been harmed by another person, they obsess over the thought. They cannot stop thinking about it.

It’s an actual storm in the brain. For an alcoholic, these kinds of thoughts and feelings are what lead to more drinking.

What Do We Do with Our Thinking in A.A.?

One of the major action steps we take in Alcoholics Anonymous is Step Four.

Step Four is an inventory of our past actions and the thoughts we have stuck in our head. The exercise is similar to a business that takes stock of its products.

We look at each thought, each action, each resentment and fear that we are holding on to and determine if it is good or bad.

If a business did not take stock of its sellable and unsellable products before offering them to their customers, they would go out of business.

Instead profitable businesses look at their products and separate what is sellable and what is not.

Alcoholics are asked to do this with the things that they think and act upon. These are the things that are truly blocking us from a power greater than ourselves and from being useful to those around us.

The goal is to identify these thoughts, feelings and actions and to get rid of them.

How Does Mindfulness Help With Thinking?

Practicing mindfulness helps you go deeper. It helps us learn and trains us to identify our thoughts, which is important for addicts and alcoholics because we are usually trying to avoid them.

Mindfulness practice helps us understand what is real. Often when we are deep in thought — especially when we have fear or anger — we tell ourselves a story.

Usually what we think associated with our fear of anger is not real. It’s delusional thinking.

Practicing mindfulness helps us see these thoughts for what they are, thoughts that are alerting us to something we feel threatened by.

Being able to go deeper in your thoughts and understanding what is in our heads can help whether you are on Step 4 or Step 10 in the program.

How Does Treatment Help our Thinking?

At a treatment center that offers 12-Step based treatment like at Burning Tree Programs, treatment will help you pause and look at these thoughts.

Treatment can help you develop tools needed to prevent relapse, and it also helps you get professional help from master’s level counselors.

Treatment like cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to change the pattern of your thoughts when dealing with trauma, grief, stress and the common challenges we face.

So not only are you looking at your thoughts with mindfulness, you’re weighing those thoughts and determining if they are good or bad with Step 4, and treatment is giving you the ability to change the pattern of your thoughts.

What’s the Point of Recovery?

The point as stated in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is to have a spiritual experience, psychic change or attitude adjustment.

When you honestly and willingly focus on the steps in Alcoholics Anonymous, therapy and use mindfulness as a tool to go deeper in your recovery, it’s going to be difficult not to experience a change.

If you would like help, call our 30 – 90 day mindfulness program at Renewal Lodge. We will teach you to use mindfulness as a tool and guide you with the steps and therapy.

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Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
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