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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

02-26-19 | By

Stop Reacting, Start Responding – With Mindfulness

Do you strive to live a life full of happiness? Abundance? Who am I kidding?

We all strive for such a life and if you say otherwise you are simply not only lying to yourself, but also denying yourself of privileges you deserve. No matter where you are in life today, you deserve to be happy. I know it is hard to fathom such a life while stuck in the cynical cycle of addiction, but you deserve opportunity to a better life. It may seem far-fetched, but it really is possible if we want it bad enough. You deserve to live the life that you’ve always dreamed of, no matter what, but it takes work, and a lot of it.

So, how do you do it? Let’s start with what you need to stop doing.

Stop Blaming

You need to stop blaming everyone and everything for your circumstances. You are where you are because of decisions and actions YOU made. Am I saying that bad things don’t happen to good people? Of course not. But it is our responsibility on how we react or respond to any egregiousness that has been perpetrated on us. To start transitioning from the constant instinctual reactions we need to bring something new into our life that was probably forgotten about long ago due to our addictions:

Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness is one of those easier said than done things, but when we practice it daily, we can stop our thoughts in the moment. By doing this we prevent those instinctual reactions that can cause us serious harm, as well as those around us, from ever occurring. To keep it simple, mindfulness is bringing our attention into the present moment. Doing so allows us to create space in our mind, giving the brain a chance to breath and think. This space is what separates us from our reactions, and therefore brings along the opportunity to respond.

Reacting vs Responding

Correct, these are two vastly different actions one can take, varying in degree and style. When we react, we are acting on impulse without thinking. These actions typically lead to a direr situation. When any bad happens to us we tend to follow that up with an immediate negative action. Why? Because if someone hurts us or someone we love, it is instinctive to initially want to hurt them back, an eye for an eye, per se. And even if we’re the victim, where harm is done to us first, almost certainly further damage ensues when we react. There are NO winners in any argument. Someone always loses.

A response is a generated action backed by thought and decision. When we respond to something, we are not doing so immediately following what has been done to us, like when we react. Instead, we take the time to play out the scenario in our head and make a premeditated decision. A response does not automatically mean we are taking the higher road, but it does give some meaning behind whatever action we are engaging in. In the heat of the moment anything is fair game to occur, which are reactions to the situations. A response gives us time to think things through, and then we can act accordingly based on the decision we have made.

“A response does not automatically mean we are taking the higher road.”

A clear example of the difference between a reaction and a response occurred during my 6-month stay in a recovery program last year. I was nearing the end of my tenure there, and my roommate at the time was the youngest member of the house at just 22 years old. We never had any issues with one another, and I was one of the few who could handle his privileged tendencies. We had lots of great talks at night discussing being grateful for what we already do have in life, for the opportunity the program gave us, and a lot about him hopefully getting it at such a young age. I can only speak for myself, but I am certain that all the other individuals who went through that house would have felt very fortunate if they found sobriety at only 22 years old.

One of the house rules was 6am wake-up every day, and I always would play some music on Friday mornings to jump start my day. I am a morning person first off, and I was in a very good place mentally those last weeks there, so I did what made me happy knowing it would start my day off on a positive note. Well, he must have had a bad dream or something because he wasn’t having it on this particular morning and before I knew it, we were nosed to nose. This is the point of the story where a reaction or a response was about to take place. The old me would have thrown him up against the wall or laid him out with one punch square in the face without flinching. One of the few rules I was taught as a child was to always throw the first punch and I stayed true to that my entire life up until this point.

It was right then and there that I realized I really was changing with the more clean-time I had under my belt. I could not believe it, but through mindfulness, I ran through all the possible consequences in my head if I physically assaulted him as he continued to scream at me. Based on these thoughts I generated a decision, and that was to let him rant away without acting against him. There were only three possible outcomes if I reacted by assaulting him, all of which included me being kicked out the program just weeks before graduating. For the record, a couple of the others who lived on this floor broke us up, we eventually laughed it off, and remain friends today.

Equipped with Response

I am astonished at how the situation played out. This moment was one of my biggest breakthroughs on my recovery journey, as I didn’t react to a situation where 100% of the time prior, I would have. By using the time to acknowledge the negative circumstances that would have been a result of reacting, I saved myself from a lot of trouble. But, the biggest lesson of this story is I recognized a huge growth moment in my life that would benefit me greatly moving forward. I now was equipped with the very significant tool of response, one that I will need to use heavily if I want to achieve all my dreams and goals. Reacting will only hold me back, if not completely deter me from any type of successes.

The next time you are presented with a difficult situation, remember to activate your mindfulness sensors, pushing out the old habit of reacting. Think before we act, something we’ve heard throughout our lifetime and for good reason.

Spontaneous reactions typically are the wrong action that should be taken in any given situation. Yes, there will always be instances where we simply cannot think out a response due to the nature of what is happening; there are always exceptions. However, by going through the consequences of a reaction we can save ourselves a lot of harm, in many regards.

Growth occurs when we are in an uncomfortable setting. Not jumping to conclusions, not judging a book by its cover, and not reacting on instinct to negative actions taken against us are everyday situations we find ourselves in. Let’s all get uncomfortable by taking the time to think things through before responding or making a snap judgement and feel the inner growth that comes with it. Early recovery is an uncomfortable time as it is but practicing mindfulness and learning the art of responding will drastically help ease the transition to living the life you deserve. There are countless gifts of recovery that we are privy to as we further ourselves away from the nightmare. The ability to stay present in the moment and build a response is one of those many gifts that will help lead us to a life full of happiness and abundance like we’ve always desired.

Namaste.

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