I was first introduced to mindfulness whilst in the depths of a 15-year heroin detox. After being tortured by anxiety for most of my life, the thoughts of focusing on the present moment scared the life out of me.
“Feel the sensations of your breath going in and out of your chest,” was the instruction. “No fucking way,” said the voice in my head. I had always listened to that voice, but this time it was different. I had spent the past few months being pounded into submission by addiction, so I was willing to give anything a go, even my greatest fear.
I won’t lie — I found it extremely difficult to focus on my breath, even for a few seconds, but something about mindfulness jumped out at me. I’m not sure what it was, but my new found intuition gave me the strength to persevere during those difficult first few weeks.
My physical experiences of anxiety had always centred on my chest, so that made mindfulness of the breath very difficult. I had a breakthrough, however, when we did an exercise which focused on the air at my nostrils: “Feel the cold air going in, and hot air coming out.” I felt a sense of bodily control, and the first time in my life, I was approaching my breath rather than avoiding it.
This might sound trivial, but for me, it was a miracle. Because of childhood trauma, I had been running away from bodily sensations all my life, especially my heartbeat, breath, and pulse. Pretty tough things to outrun for sure, but now I had a weapon against my greatest adversary.
Source: Diary extract
I captured one such experience in my diary. It was the 11th of October, my third day clean, and the height of the withdrawal process. Amplified to levels I’d never experienced before, intense waves of anxiety rippled up and down my body. I hadn’t forgotten about mindfulness, however, and practised a nostril exercise while I lay on my bed.
Not only did it give me a sense of relief from the anxiety, but I was also able to listen to my heartbeat and “sort of enjoy it,” which was what I wrote in my diary. This was no small thing, and I knew it. Despite the pain of withdrawal, I was ecstatic, describing it as a “great experience.” I didn’t objectively think about it at the time, but drugs were never the real problem, anxiety was, but now there was hope — I had found mindfulness.
That was in October 2013, and since then I’ve become doctor of psychology, an author, and a lecturer at the top two universities in Ireland, with the latter in the area of mindfulness.
You might not have a drug problem, but maybe you struggle with anxiety. You might not have a busy mind, but maybe you battle with toxic relationships or the busyness of modern life. I struggled with all of these issues, but when I left treatment, mindfulness helped me to conquer my demons, and then provided the foundations for everything good in my life today.
The rewards from practising mindfulness are huge. It will help you to build self-awareness, enhance your focus, become less reactive to external stressors, and catch problematic thoughts and feelings before they take hold.
Mindfulness also helps you to be more compassionate, kind, and thoughtful towards others. So instead of being part of your relationship problems, you’ll become part of the solution.
The benefits of mindfulness are endless, all of which are hugely valuable when it comes to inner and outer success.
Mindfulness didn’t just save me from addiction, it led to the life of my dreams.
What would you do if you had a second chance at life?
As a chronic heroin addict turned doctor, I designed a program to help people to transform their lives. For FREE access to one of the most powerful tools from this programme – which includes an online course on morning routines – CLICK HERE.