How are mindfulness and addiction treatment related? Can mindfulness in substance abuse treatment really enhance recovery?

If you look at Renewal Lodge’s exit surveys, the answer is yes.

When asked, “What part of the program was most helpful to you?” 100% responded “Mindfulness.”

That’s pretty amazing.

“The new approach taken by Burning Tree to incorporate meditation/awareness training with the 12 step process is a game changer for addicts and alcoholics,” one client said on his exit survey.

So what are we teaching? How is it different from other treatment centers? And why is it working?

Here we explain how mindfulness – an ancient Eastern philosophy — can help others recover. And no. We’re not monks. Nor do we require anyone to become a Buddhist to prevent drug abuse.

Actually, the ancient practice of mindfulness weaves into the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and can help with long term recovery.

Many people use the practice of mindfulness to fight depression and anxiety. Often, when in fear or resentment the present moment is forgotten.

Mindfulness is a practice to get back to the present. Coupled with treatment and traditional recovery practices, mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help long term recovery.

 


Chris Shanks, Director of Mindfulness at Renewal Lodge

Chris Shanks is the Director of Mindfulness at Renewal Lodge. Sober himself, he sees a direct link between mindfulness and enhancing the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.


Is Mindfulness a Form of Treatment?

Where mindfulness is a clinical modality at some treatment centers, we believe it enhances traditional alcohol and addiction treatment.

“Mindfulness maps with the 12 Steps beautifully,” said Andrew “Chris” Shanks, Director of Mindfulness at Renewal Lodge. “In our program, we teach how neuroscience and the ancient practice of mindfulness can enhance the 12 Steps.”

As a chronic relapser, Chris understands the power of mindfulness. He spent four years in a maximum security prison. His charges were related to his addiction.

He started off in solitary confinement with one book – A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. That’s when he started learning about mindfulness and meditation.

“My whole world changed.”

When Chris got out of prison he went back to college and studied counseling. He eventually opened a private practice and worked at several treatment centers. He’s worked with Renewal Lodge for 16 months.

He has been sober for 11 years.

Mindfulness Training at Renewal Lodge

Even though mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice, the principles export nicely in a secular fashion.

Chris said that mindfulness began with Buddhism. But you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness.

The same is true with Buddhism. Participants are not required to become Buddhist to practice mindfulness meditation at Renewal Lodge.

Instead, Chris says, the Lodge focuses on the experience of spirituality.

“Experiential means you are looking inside at your own experience, you see how each moment is unfolding and the true nature of your consciousness,” Chris said.

Does Mindfulness Go Against Alcoholics Anonymous?

Mindfulness enhances the experience of the 12 Steps.

Even one of the original founders of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote about how buddhist principles can help an alcoholic who is working on a spiritual program to recover.

Dr. Bob — one of the founders of A.A. — helped write the Akron Pamphlets, which were sent to other groups in the country in the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In one of these pamphlets from the 1940s Dr. Bob co-wrote:

Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right contemplation. The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for or addition to the Twelve Steps. Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than considerations of self are basic to Buddhism. (From the Akron Pamphlet; “Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous” edited by Dr. Bob, co-founder of AA)

Thoughts Can Create Consequences

Chris said our bodies, where emotions are felt, cannot distinguish the difference between a tiger in a room or a tiger in our mind. We experience both the same.

Often our thoughts are delusions and the thing — like the tiger — only exists in our brain. When this happens there is something in our mind that is not real and it has the power to alter something that is real, our state of being.

“The goal of mindfulness training is to build a different relationship with this puppet master — our mind,” Chris said. “We want to go above or behind our thoughts.”

The challenge of building a different relationship with the brain is that our brain is always on.

The Problem with the Always Thinking Brain

One aspect of mindfulness that Renewal Lodge teaches is to look at your thoughts and see the talker.

Our brains are designed to give thoughts and constantly interpret information from our five senses.

The human brain automatically responds even when it is not stimulated by the senses. Its job is to think and have thoughts.

It can be difficult to stop the noise in our minds. Scientists estimate that we have 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts in a day.

“But we’re not the mind and its contents,” Chris said. “Experientially I am the listener and separate from these thoughts and I can be aware of these thoughts. I’ve been aware long before I had the ability to think and will be after, just look at infants or Alzheimer’s patients.”

However, people normally identify themselves as the thoughts themselves. We get lost in our thoughts and think that they are really us.

But Chris says we are the listener and there is a distinct separateness between the listener and the automatic thoughts of the brain. Consciousness is the awareness and the default mode network of the brain is the chatter.

The Effects of Mindfulness Based Recovery

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy is a way for emotional regulation and better mental health that has a positive effect on the state of mindfulness.

Mindfulness helps you go deeper with the 12 Steps.

With mindfulness, you can gain insight into what is going on in your mind and in your daily life. Mindfulness builds a better relationship with your mind, emotions and heaviness.

Mindfulness is essentially Steps 3 &11 in action. We are continuously connecting to something deeper than (our self) our thoughts and intentions so it helps with implementing this Step into one’s daily life. Mindfulness also can help one deepen their Steps 11 and 12 practice, Executive Director Peter Piraino said.

“This insight can help our clients be honest and thorough when doing their Step work, which is what the program laid out in the Big Book asks them to do.”