“Mindfulness” and SMART Recovery

Posted on August 25, 2015

Shoreline I started practicing meditation about 10 years ago, at the Shambhala Center in Chicago.  (Shambhala is an international organization founded by Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist – see shambhala.org).  I was in early recovery from alcohol, and I decided I wanted to learn how to meditate.  It just seemed like a good idea at the time.  I’d been told I could show up on a Sunday morning at the Center and ask for someone to show me how, so that’s what I did.  After  about 15 minutes of instruction, I joined the others who meditate together there on Sunday mornings.  Eventually I went on to take some meditation trainings and started reading stuff (anything by Pema Chodron).

I now meditate with a group about once a week and at home daily (more or less; these habits took some effort to instill, and there has been a bit of on-again / off-again over the years).  The results show up in daily life as an increasing capacity for clarity and calmness, and for seeing more possibilities in difficult situations.  Oh, and things like moments of joy and appreciation.

I think of meditation as REBT in action:  REBT is based on the understanding that our thoughts and beliefs determine how we react to situations – that we create our own happiness (and suffering).  Buddhist teachings are derived from essentially the same precept – the slogan “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” pretty much sums it up.

We are always talking about “the tools” in SMART Recovery and, for me, meditation is a veritable Swiss Army Knife of SMART tools.  It helps me practice acceptance (of self, others, and life); builds my capacity for not getting upset over the upsets; untangles the feelings from the thinking and beliefs about the feelings; and is a big part of how I let go of unhelpful beliefs – importantly, by first bringing those beliefs (and/or patterns of thinking and reacting) into conscious awareness.  Much easier to dispute irrational beliefs if you know what they are!

After a lifetime of dealing with anxiety, depression, addictive behaviors, and trauma (including domestic violence), meditation practice has been one of the most effective things I’ve done for myself.  It’s been a critical factor in helping me cope with many difficult situations (and people!) over these past years, and, along with help from certain gifted and caring professionals, some truly awesome friends, and, of course, SMART Recovery, I now find myself in a place where life no longer seems overwhelming, where feelings of contentment are a regular occurrence, and I feel confident about taking on whatever comes next.

For those who want to check out the evidence base for how and why mindfulness / meditation works, I recommend Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson (2009).  Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work is also noteworthy.  He combines a Western scientific approach (he has a PhD in molecular biology) with a fairly deep knowledge of meditation techniques.  Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program is shown to be effective with pain management and improving health outcomes (see the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness, http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/).  UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) is another source for research and resources on mindfulness (http://marc.ucla.edu/).

Charlotte Miller is a SMART Recovery meeting facilitator in Chicago, and the newly-appointed Regional Coordinator for Illinois.

11 thoughts on ““Mindfulness” and SMART Recovery

  1. Cathy

    Thanks for sharing such a great piece. I feel much the same way about meditation being a vital resource in my recovery, it really clarifies what is important. I hope you don’t mind but I have shared this to my blog, full credit to you obviously, as I think you have explained t better than I ever could.

    1. Charlotte Miller

      Thanks for your kind words, Cathy. And, it’s lovely to meet others who find meditation so helpful. All the best to you on your journey.

  2. Hope 777

    Great post! I am new to smart recovery as well and am using it for binge eating. I am posting to the eating disorders subforum and the daily check in thread.
    I’ve read a lot of books on meditation lately and am meditating periodically..making it a daily habit seems to be my biggest challenge. Thank you for the reminder of what a helpful too it can be.
    Hope 777

    1. Charlotte Miller

      Glad you liked it! Establishing a daily practice is very challenging. It can help greatly to have a group to meditate with regularly. I know people who have found meditation groups through meet-up. Also, many Buddhist groups offer meditation groups that are free and open to the public. I know that attending a weekly meditation group helped me establish my daily (well, almost daily) sitting practice. All the best to you.

  3. ARPB

    I loved your post. I am trying to find my way with SMART for disordered eating issues. My head understands that the principles are the same as for what fuels alcohol and drug use, even gambling – but we have to eat and cannot just stop. I have not found anyone in the 6 meetings I have gone to in the Chicago area whose issues are around eating. Even the new “Overcoming Addictions” program does not include food as one of the areas. The on-line forum is confusing. Any suggestions will be appreciated for me to talk with even one person who has had success with SMART RECOVERY from disordered eating. Thanks.

    1. SMART Recovery Post author

      Hi ARPB,

      Thanks for your comment. The online forum is quite large which can be confusing…but there are a lot of people there eager to help. 🙂

      Have you checked under Specialized Group Forums and Peer Support Groups? There is an Eating Disorders forum in that section of the message board. Once you click on Eating Disorders Forum, you’ll find subforums for various types of eating disorders and a daily check-in thread.

      You are right, that applying some of the principles can be tricky to figure out when it comes to ‘eating’ since this is something that we all do every day and can’t just stop.

      Some options you will find in the forums include ‘abstaining from sugar’ or ‘abstaining from overeating’. Once you can define what it is you don’t want (unhealthy eating, whatever that is for you) and more importantly, what it is you DO want (healthy eating), moving ahead with the tools makes a lot more sense. The folks on the message board and in meetings are happy to help.

      And if you find that your issues are habitual responses to stress, many find the tools for emotional self-management to be extremely helpful for lowering stress and in doing so, lessening the urges to engage in their problem behaviors.

      Here’s a link to the Eating Disorders Forum Specialized Group Forums and Peer Support Groups

      Best to you in your search for the tools and strategies that work best for you!

    2. Cathy

      Hi there, sorry to hear you are having a hard time finding others in the same boat. For me, that mutual support with those who have been there has been huge in my recovery from heroin addiction, the principles of smart work for all destructive behaviours but I would imagine it’d be nice for you to chat to people who really get what you’re going through. I don’t know this site very well so can’t give advice regarding the forum here, but have you tried intherooms.com? They have loads of online meetings as well as the social network aspect of it, it’s a great place for 24/7 support and they have general meetings as well as the more specific ones, there’s loads to choose from and I always think it’s wrth giving anything a try. Hope this is some help, good luck fr he future.

      1. SMART Recovery Post author

        We agree, mutual support is hugely important. Thanks, Cathy, for reaching out to ARPB.

        FYI, SMART is not associated with In The Rooms, which offers many online video meetings (mostly 12-Step) every day.

        SMART also holds the view that there are many paths to recovery and people should definitely keep searching until they find what works for them.

    3. Charlotte Miller

      Hi ARPB,

      Glad you liked my post. I know that “process addictions” (like disordered eating behaviors) – as they are sometimes called – are a minority in SMART meetings in Chicago. Most people are dealing with substances.

      I’ve personally had experience with disordered eating issues (binge eating and bulimia), back before SMART Recovery existed as an option – before anyone even thought about eating disorders as a kind of “addiction,” in fact.

      It was my recovery from alcohol abuse that led me to SMART Recovery (after a few years in AA). I’ve got 10+ years of abstinence from alcohol at this point.

      So I’ve personally experienced both “process” addiction and “substance” addiction.

      I’ve come to understand that what defines an “addiction” is NOT a substance but rather the pattern of behavior relative to that substance. (Consider how difficult staying abstinent from a substance can be even after all symptoms of physical withdrawal are past.) But this goes against the “conventional wisdom” about addiction – most people think certain substances “cause” addiction.

      Such a model of addiction isn’t very helpful or illuminating when thinking about eating disorders. My experience with bulimia was that it was highly isolating and shame-filled and – to me, anyway, felt very “addictive.” But it wasn’t only about food – even back then, I knew I wasn’t “addicted to food” but rather to a specific pattern of behavior involving food. In the years since I recovered from the bulimia, I have still struggled with occasional bouts of binge-eating. And as I reflect on that behavior, as well as my behavior with alcohol, in light of SMART Recovery tools (and meditation practice), I have come to appreciate deeply how really truly it isn’t about the substance so much as it is about the behavior. So, although I did not have SMART Recovery available to me in my recovery from bulimia, I do feel that SMART holds answers for those who struggle with disordered eating behaviors.

      I hope this is helpful. I note that you are in the Chicago area. If you want to contact me directly, you can do so through the Chicago SMART website – http://www.smartrecoverychicago.org/ – and send an email by clicking on the upper right where it says “Email Smart Recovery Chicago.” I’ll respond to you directly.

      I hope this helps.

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