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How meditation helped me rewire my brain after 15 years of addiction

The game changing power of meditation

Before I learned to meditate my mind was out of control. I was coming off 15 years of drug and alcohol addiction, suffered from generalized anxiety disorder and had an extremely stressful job in finance. Staying in the present moment was a concept completely beyond my comprehension. For an addict in active addiction or early recovery it’s common to have a “washing machine” head – unwanted negative thoughts on repeat, swirling around and around.

When I started meditating I noticed positive changes within three weeks and started to regain control over my mind. I’ve now been clean and sober for over 10 years.

Here are four ways meditation changed my life.

(1) It helped me stop catastrophizing.

As a sufferer of an anxiety disorder and the disease of addiction (often referred to as “dis-ease,” and rightfully so) I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I had low self-esteem and my brain was hardwired to catastrophize about everything. Even the most trivial of situations, like getting my car serviced.

Neuroscientists at Stanford University found that people who practiced mindfulness meditation for eight weeks were more able to calm the fear centre in the brain known as the amygdala. I certainly believe this was the case for me.

Meditation provided me with enough space to catch a thought pattern before it dragged me around for hours or days on end. I was able to access a part of me where peace and tranquillity existed. I started to understand that I was not my thoughts and let them pass on by.

(2) It eased my social anxiety

For a long time, social situations were not my forte. I simply didn’t feel comfortable around other people. Drugs and alcohol helped but after I committed to a sober life, it was awkward. I wanted to see people and socialise. But my low self-esteem would kick in and I’d think I had nothing interesting to say. As an adult trying to build a career and a social life this was extremely restrictive.

Meditation quieted my mind. The self-criticism started to fade and I felt more at ease with myself. I began to look forward to social situations as opposed to dreading them, and conversation came more easily. I was able to look people in the eye. The better I did in social situations the more confident I became.

That’s not to say anxiety didn’t crop up. But instead of excusing myself and going home early, I could handle the discomfort and push on through. More often than not I would come home having enjoyed myself.

(3) It became easier to make decisions.

In the early days following drug and alcohol addiction, sensible rational decisions were few and far between. Instead, I made decisions quickly and without proper thought. I made a couple of poor career moves during this time that took a while to dig out of.

Clarity of thought came through the deep relaxation I found in meditation. This freed me up to consider a myriad of options that would otherwise have not revealed themselves. I now felt guided by my intuition and was able to make decisions that were in tune with my goals and values.

(4) I was finally able to relax

In early recovery I was exhausted. Addiction had ravaged my mind and body and left me an anxious wreck. I needed to heal and rest not just from life itself but also from my mind.

Meditation allowed me to stop overthinking. Sitting quietly for just 15 minutes a day and focussing on my breath decreased the adrenaline coursing around my body. I was finally able to access a peaceful place within myself. I recuperated and found my footing.

Saying goodbye to the washing-machine head

Meditation has been a game-changer that helped me calm my busy mind and leave addiction behind for good. If you are caught in the pain of addiction or lucky enough to have found recovery, or if you suffer from an anxiety disorder or work in a stressful environment, I would strongly suggest meditation as a go-to tool. It changed my life and it can change yours too.

If you’re interested in giving meditation a try, I’d recommend starting with 10 or 15 minutes per day, ideally first thing in the morning. My favourite guided meditation app is Headspace.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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