As DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) is an integrated part of the Futures program, it simply makes sense that we explore mindfulness. If you ask our clients, it’s probably a word that rings throughout their ears daily! “Be mindful of your thoughts,” “Be mindful in your relationships,” “Are you being mindful?” Day in and day out, we empower our clients with these statements and questions— because active addiction creates a mind of chaos and “running” from oneself — and unchecked thoughts and emotions may continue the cycle of an addictive mind frame. There are many a time that clients give a bit of a snarl when we advocate for being mindful, but we learn to take it in stride! An eye roll here, a frustrated sigh there….. Hey! It happens! According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your lives pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” Let’s think about that for a moment; Observing your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging. When working with people in early recovery, I learned very quickly that most feel judged. Whether it is judged by society, their family, their friends or themselves; guilt, shame and stigma are three things that remain extremely prevalent in our clients’ hearts and minds. Now we are asking them to think and feel without judgement. Hmmmm….this could certainly get tricky! How does one go about separating the way they traditionally think and feel, as to take a step back and see themselves objectively? Two words; practice and patience.
Mindfulness Practice and Patience
The holistic model of treatment at Futures incorporates yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, art therapy, music therapy and journaling as ways to help clients adopt mindfulness practice. As clients admit for treatment, just stabilizing one’s thoughts and emotions can dominate most, or all, of a 30-day stay. Mind altering substances do just that; they alter your mind and hijack the individual’s ability to think and feel clearly. Engaging in the abuse of mind altering substances for an ongoing period of time has the capacity to completely alter one’s perception of reality, and where the person fits into reality. The value of the holistic practices we employ is that they help clients transition from a mind beset with chaos, and a feeling of being lost, to a path that is more balanced. These holistic practices allow clients to think and feel anew, in a way that is calming and soothing. Within these practices they are not talking through their experiences, they are not answering questions; rather, they are identifying their thoughts and emotions through their bodies and their senses. This is a fantastic first step to self-awareness. Self-awareness can lead to the ability to process behaviors, experiences, relationships and perceptions of reality in a meaningful way. Self-awareness is “mindfulness 101” if you will. A fantastic cornerstone to the ability of objectively looking at oneself without judgement! When clients begin to feel “less numb,” they often times want to start “doing” things to aid themselves on the path to recovery. Mindfulness asks them to stop “doing,” to stop reacting — and start hearing, thinking and feeling. You can imagine how this seems next to impossible and, clinically, it is our job to validate precisely where our clients are in the treatment and recovery process. As practitioners, we must practice patience when looking to share our thought patterns, our recommendations and our knowledge of the importance of mindfulness with our population here at Futures. With this being said, I believe that professionals should also be engaging in mindfulness practices. As to be expected, working in the behavioral health field can be taxing. For me as a clinician and life coach, I have a profound respect for the clients I work with — and I find their journeys in recovery to be profound, courageous and vulnerable. It is not uncommon that their intense emotions affect me. The whole “leave it at the office” mentality does not always work with humans. For this reason, I am consistently working towards being more mindful of my thoughts and emotions. As mentioned before, mindfulness requires practice and patience. In the beginning my own mindfulness practice, it was often a painful experience (perhaps a result of too many expectations and impatience). However, with the mentality of “doing something is better than nothing,” I continued to practice for five minutes at a time, day after day, and now I am able to incorporate mindfulness in varying ways on a daily basis. I particularly love spin class. Even though it’s a chaotic environment with lights, loud music and other people in the room, it’s the place where I allow my thoughts and feelings to flood me as I release that energy onto the bike. Once that toxic and taxing energy is released, I have the ability to process through my thoughts and emotions without judgement. Works like a charm! Mindfulness has the ability to provide us with a deep sense of appreciation. Appreciation for relationships, professions, environments, the fact that we are breathing…you name it. The art of mindfulness relinquishes desires that affect our ability to be grateful for what we have. For our clients, mindfulness can bring peace. Peace within themselves, but also peacefulness within their realities. As being mindful increases awareness, it makes us more present and in tune with the people in our lives. It offers clients the power, and the tools, for helping themselves recognize who they truly are to their core, what they want in their lives, and who will support this change. During this time of year, appreciation is something that should be flowing; appreciation not only for what we currently have, but for the courage and given abilities to work through the difficulties that have led us to where we are. Finally, mindfulness is the tool that allows us to realize that, regardless of how we feel at the present moment, there is always hope that things can get better. Change is one of the qualities that mindfulness teaches us. What is not to appreciate in that?!