Is Mindfulness Just Swapping One Addiction for Another?

Pak Rong Chat Trakan

The thing I love most about my new role as a mindfulness coach in rehab is it gets me to think more about my own practice – I remember reading somewhere that the best subject to teach is the one you most desperately need to learn, and this makes perfect sense to me.

The questions I get from rehab clients sometimes catch me off-guard, and I need to reflect on my own experience to give an honest answer. In practice, it can mean not being able to give a clear reply until the next session.

The question that forced me to think deeply this week was this one – is mindfulness just swapping one addiction for other?

The Danger of Addiction Substitution

I’ve definitely been guilty in the past of addiction substitution. I can become obsessed about my work and comfort eating has been a real issue for me.

Alcohol was my drug of choice, but I know that all mind-altering substances are off limits to me because I would so easily become hooked.

I’m not sure if ultimately there is such a thing as an addictive personality, but for all practical purposes, I have one.

During the nineties, there was a 2 year period where I want to at least one AA meeting per day. One day it hit me that I was just replacing one addiction with another. I shared my concerns with an old-timer, but he assured me it was a beneficial addiction – his answer left me a bit uneasy.

I would prefer not to be addicted to anything.

Is Mindfulness Addictive?

“Mindfulness meditation, in its pure and classic sense, is about finding your true self. It’s about waking up to the true nature of the present moment”
Andrew Weiss (Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness)

My knee-jerk response to the question of whether mindfulness is addictive would be to say that “I wish it was”.

Mindfulness differs from alcohol or drugs in that I can never overdo it. How could I overindulge in being present for my own life? The problem is never being too mindful but in remembering to be mindful.

I turn to addictive behaviors in an attempt to escape what is happening right now. It is always about running away from reality.

It starts off with the thought ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way’, and I need something to make me not feel this way.

Mindfulness is the complete opposite of addictive behavior because it is about accepting whatever is happening in this moment. If there are uncomfortable feelings, I feel them – if there is pain, I experience it.

I’m willing to deal with life as it is served because I now know that suffering is what happens when I try to hide from reality.

Mindfulness can never be addictive but….

…it is possible to become addicted to mindfulness practices such as meditation,
Tai-chi, or yoga. This happens when I obsess about these activities as a way to avoid dealing with life (see my previous post Real Mindfulness in Thailand).

If I use something like meditation to escape my problems, it stops being a mindfulness practice and becomes an addiction substitute.

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