It is now six months since I began working at Hope Rehab Thailand as a mindfulness coach. I’m proud of the program we have created there, and it’s exciting to be part of a team that appreciates the potential of mindfulness as a recovery tool.
A Mindfulness Rehab Program for Everyone? – Well… Almost
Mindfulness has been my main recovery tool since giving up alcohol almost nine years ago. By the end of my drinking, I just wanted the pain to stop, but my life has improved in ways I couldn’t have even have imagined back then. I now experience a steady sense of inner-okayness (this doesn’t mean I’m happy all the time) that I once believed could only be found at the bottom of a bottle. Mindfulness has played a huge part in getting me to this point.
There is this scary evangelistic urge within me to promote mindfulness as ‘the’ miracle cure for addiction, but I know this would be unreasonable and unrealistic. It can certainly be a useful tool for almost anyone, but perhaps in most cases, it works best when combined with other approaches such as CBT, 12-Steps, or SMART (especially in early recovery). There is probably only ever going to be a minority of us who make mindfulness our primary path.
Curse You Kwai Chang Caine
I began practicing mindfulness as a teenager in the eighties before I fell into addiction. I was introduced to it as part of my martial arts training, and from watching the TV show ‘Kung Fu’. I so wanted to develop the tranquil mind of a monk/warrior because it seemed so much better than my own headspace that was full of anxiety and self-loathing. I began meditating for hours every day, but despite plenty of wonderful mediation experiences, I didn’t transform into my hero Kwai Chang Caine.
Of course, the real reason I didn’t make much progress with mindfulness as teen was I completely misunderstood what I was trying to achieve. The goal was never to escape to a constantly blissful mind, but to be at ease with whatever is happening in this moment. As the hippies used to say in the sixties – you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
When I first started drinking alcohol, I hoped that this too would fast-track me to a mental Disneyland, and there were moments in those early days when it almost seemed to be working. I replaced my enthusiasm for meditation with enthusiasm for drinking, and this was enough to get me into rehab by age 19. It took me another 16 years to finally accept that accept that alcohol was the problem, and it could never be the cure.
I made so many wrong turns on the mindfulness path, but I never loss faith that there was something to it. I kept on going back to the practice on my sober days, and it helped me deal with cravings. The real turning point came 12 years ago at a temple called Wat Rampoeng (see How I found Mindfulness in Thailand) when I experienced the mental freedom I’d always been looking for. I drank for another painful two years after this, but once I’d got a taste of that thing I’d always desired, there was no turning back.
Somebody clever once said that the best subject to teach is the one you most desperately need to learn. It is my hunger for mindfulness that puts me in a good position to teach it to other people. I also know the experience of doing mindfulness wrong for over two decades is as important as my experience of doing it mostly right for the last nine years. It means I have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
I can only share my story here, but the other members of the team at Hope Rehab have had their journeys of recovery too. It is these experiences that allow us to create something of value for those who are behind still us on the path. We are lucky to have Simon Mott as a head of our team because he is open-minded and innovative enough to make the most of our experiences.