Recovering from an addiction is extremely challenging. It often involves physical symptoms from withdrawal, which sometimes require medical attention or certain medications, and dealing with the mental aspects of addiction.
While your friends and family can push you toward asking for help, or you must sign up for rehab because of a court judgment, the best way forward to living a life without addiction is by staying present during your treatment and recovery.
What Does Staying Present Mean?
Because the withdrawal process is sometimes painful and challenging, and many addicts have fun memories associated with using, you may find your mind wandering toward the past. However, thinking about the fun times you had while drunk or high can lead to relapse since one of the first warning signs is romanticizing using.
Sometimes, recovering addicts dwell on their past behaviors, punishing themselves for actions that hurt loved ones or themselves. However, while it’s important that you talk through these actions and feelings with your counselor, ruminating on them too long could cause you to sink into a depression or get stuck in an anxious cycle. Your therapist can help you apologize to those you harmed and help you cope with the way your loved ones respond.
Although you cannot ignore the past, to have a successful recovery, you must stay present. This means focusing on staying on your road to recovery, whether that’s through mindfulness, setting a routine, and sharing your challenges in group therapy.
Another tendency is to obsessively focus on the future. While it’s good to have a plan, it’s also critical to keep your plans flexible. You can control certain things, like whether you apply for a job or send your friends and family messages. However, you can’t control whether you get the job or your friends and family want to stay in touch. Tackling addiction involves a balance of planning your day and your future while also allowing yourself to remain in the present.
Why is Staying Present So Critical?
Both ruminating on the past and obsessing over the future can cause you to develop some unhealthy thought patterns or slip into past behaviors, which can result in a relapse. What’s happening in the present is your recovery, meaning you should focus on the steps your counselor recommends and remain aware of your feelings and your surroundings.
Staying aware can also help you identify relapse warning signs or determine which steps in your recovery process have been the most helpful.
Tips for Staying Present
It’s not always easy to stay present, even for those not in the recovery process. Many people spend time thinking about past mistakes or planning their future in detail, down to the number of children they wish to have.
However, you can employ a few techniques to help yourself focus on the here and now, even if you feel your mind stray to the past or the future.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that focuses on the breath and clearing your mind. By following the techniques involved in mindfulness, you can train your brain to become present and aware and reduce its reactiveness to outside stimuli.
There are many apps and YouTube channels dedicated to helping people learn mindfulness techniques. A significant benefit of mindfulness is that you don’t need to set aside large amounts of time every day for it. Instead, you can dedicate just five or ten minutes once a day or practice your mindfulness for less than five minutes several times a day. Soon, you’ll notice your brain allowing you to enjoy the present instead of obsessing about the future or the past.
An excellent way to keep yourself from dwelling on the past or future is by helping others. Whether you want to volunteer at a soup kitchen once a week or help an elderly neighbor keep up their yard, focusing outside yourself and helping someone else can help you escape from circular thinking.
Set daily reminders to help you remember to stay present. These can either be a reminder to do a few breathing exercises or just a quick note to stop ruminating on the past. Set an alarm on your phone or watch every few hours in the beginning for more consistent reminders.
Exercise on a schedule
Exercise can help you stay present since you must focus on the activity. Some forms of exercise, like yoga, often incorporate forms of mindfulness, while others, like jogging, push you physically and force your brain to focus on your body.
Having a defined exercise schedule can help you stick to a routine instead of pushing off your exercise if you are stuck thinking about the past.
Improve Your Coping Mechanisms
During your path to recovery, your counselor helps you establish healthy coping mechanisms, including ways to resist cravings and handle uncomfortable emotions. Sticking to them isn’t easy, especially since most will be new to you. Practicing mindfulness and staying present can help you focus on the coping mechanism instead of getting sidetracked by the emotion or giving in to the craving.
By staying present, you’re also teaching your brain to merely notice negative emotions, cravings, or stimuli instead of reacting to them. As you move further down the road to recovery, this detachment can help you better handle triggers and avoid a relapse.
Be Gentle With Yourself
While staying present is a vital part of recovery, so is being kind to yourself. Recovery is mentally and physically demanding and is often accompanied by feelings of guilt, fear, and anger at yourself. If you experience these emotions or fall into a relapse, remember that it’s all part of the recovery process.
Many people experience at least one relapse and struggle with certain triggers their whole lives. Stay present and remain open with your counselor about your emotions, cravings, and thoughts.
Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.