I sat on the filthy floor of the bar’s bathroom hugging the sides of the toilet bowl. The loud music vibrated through the tiles and into my knees as my head lolled back and forth. With no sense of where I was and how I’d gotten there, I had a foggy hope that somehow, I’d make it home.
Although I failed to realize it at the time, my life had become the opposite of a mindful one. Every sober moment was lived in anticipation of the next opportunity to escape. And every drunk moment was an ungraceful exit into the realm of the numb. But for a decade, I didn’t allow myself to admit to this emotional check-out. I couldn’t acknowledge that I was flawed, because flawed people require repairs.
For years, I dismissed mindfulness as some new-agey approach to life that involved floor-sitting and guttural hums. I wrote it off as something that simply didn’t apply to me. As it turns out, mindfulness was an essential ingredient to my recovery, and it was a far cry from crystal worship and circle chants.
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 life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
There are countless ways to achieve this more present state of mind. I’m sharing some of the contents of my mindfulness toolbox below in hopes that you’ll consider adopting your own practice:
Each morning, I awaken before the world. I pour my cup of coffee and retreat to my peaceful writing space. It is distraction free. No screens, no unsorted stacks of mail, just a few miscellaneous photos that inspire me and a pen and journal that I love. And for thirty minutes, I write.
The results aren’t particularly pretty or poetic. They don’t need to be. Rather, they serve as a morning mind purge and range from pesky to-dos to reflections on dreams from the night before. Beginning my day with this stream-of-consciousness writing – this cathartic letting go – I’m able to face the remainder of my day with a sense of presence.
I took the plunge and gave meditation a chance. And it actually worked. What began with a guided meditation app called Headspace has become a way of life for me.
Historically, I’d used alcohol to “quiet my mind.” In reality, I was creating a dangerous cycle of worry, drink, repeat. I was comforting myself with a blanket made of ice. Meditation doesn’t stifle pain, but rather provides a conduit for negative feelings to be processed in a manageable way.
The simple act of walking can be incredibly meditative. In early sobriety, I walked at 5 p.m. (a.k.a. “the witching hour”) and often found that the physical exertion and opportunity for solitude eased my cravings a great deal. Walks soon transitioned from a survival mechanism into a welcomed window of peace.
Most of us value time spent outdoors, and to walk through nature in a more present and deliberate way can be eye-opening. While seated meditation focuses on the breath, walking focuses on the steps. In Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Thích Nhất Hạnh instructs, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
I sit on the cool tile floor of my bathroom, hugging the sides of the toilet. My toddler grips my neck with one hand and braces his small body with the other. “You can do it, Sweetie,” I say, smiling. A simple moment of potty training has my focus entirely. The hazy days of loud music and dirty bar bathrooms – long-since flushed. Today, I am here in this moment, living the breath and kissing the floor with my knees.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.