Uncover the keys to maintaining sobriety with a mindfulness practice and learning to understand your emotions. Emotional reactions can overwhelm us and define us. This is especially true if we are subjected to dangerous and shameful labeling, or if we feel trapped by our feelings. Today Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC and David Livingston, LMFT discuss mindfulness, meditation, and the healthy differentiation between emotions and the self.
Episode 15: Learning How to Practice Mindfulness and Managing Your Emotions Are Keys to Sobriety
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Are you there? I hope you’re there, if not, you’re not hearing me speaking. Hey, everybody, welcome back. This is Dwight. This is the Waismann Method podcast. I want to ask you, are you there? If you’re there, are your feelings there? And do you realize how different those two things are, you and your feelings? This is a fascinating look into the relationship that we have with our feelings today as we’re going to talk about several things, some of which tie into the situation we’re in now with the COVID pandemic and many of which transcend that to apply all different times. So mainly we’re talking about the differentiation between our emotions and us as a person. We even get into a little bit of the discussion of what makes healthy or unhealthy repression of our feelings. So you’re going to hear Clare Waismann and David Livingston and I have a great conversation about this.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Yeah, say that again!
David Livingston, LMFT: Connectivity and sobriety in the time of COVID.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: That sounds like a book title, so we better trademark that, you know. Why not? Yes.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I truly hope this doesn’t last long enough that we should write a book about it.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Or maybe we have to cash in quick.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Let’s start with that. Everybody is struggling with, like, kind of finding different ways to try to be connected when we can’t be connected. Right now. There are certain safety requirements, obviously, and then we’ve gotten into some things on the show a little bit talking about how do we. How do we find ways to connect when we can’t otherwise connect with people, but especially for those that are out there that are trying to start into a new new way of being sober and getting healthy? Oh, you know, easy, easy to fall back into. The only thing that’s working for me at the time or the only thing that I know at the time as a coping skill, which is addictive behavior. So how do we find ways to to transcend that? What what do we do to break that pattern when everything is kind of up in the air like it is?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I don’t know if it’s addictive behavior or just not knowing and not having learned how to deal with uncomfortable feelings or negative feelings I think is different. And I think a lot of people do not seek help because They don’t want to believe that they are falling into addictive behavior. They don’t want to believe that they are failing their treatment, their expectations. I think it’s it’s not always not always have to do with addiction or the lack of knowledge, how to not be stuck in that, you know, negative mode.
David Livingston, LMFT: You know, the thing about feelings is that you don’t have to go looking for them, they’ll find you. And right after sobriety, they often find people pretty strongly or during times where there’s less activity and you’re just kind of alone with yourself. There’s less to distract you but or even be involved in. And so you may feel things more intensely. And if you’re too isolated or if you’re alone a lot. One of the techniques that can really help with that is more of a meditative process, really, to be able to sort of do more mindful mindfulness processes that allow you to be with yourself in a way in which you do not get too identified with the feelings. So it’s the identification with them that can drive you towards, you know, doing things that aren’t good for you. So if you can be with yourself and there’s a lot of mindfulness, you know, books and things on tape and, you know, you can get apps you can get and so forth, that that really help with that as a singular technique. When people are isolated, it’s really helpful.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: It might be interesting to say a little bit more about that, the problematic identification with our feelings. I don’t know that maybe that’s very intriguing. What would you say are some of the negative things about identification and what does that mean?
David Livingston, LMFT: I think one of the mistakes that is often made is that, you know, when people become sober, they already have intense feelings that are coming up partly because whatever they were taking is no longer there, especially if it’s an opioid. So that axis of repression barrier, so that the opioids repress pain, but they’re repressed all other feelings, too. So you take that away and you have especially, you know, in the in the first week or two, you kind of have a flood of feelings as people physically feel better. What we see is and what I see all the time is, OK, so physically you get better. And then also you’ll see an emotional process kick in. Right, because the system tends to limit the amount of stimulation. So physically, people are better than you’ll see a next wave of a more emotional process is happening. So if you get through that, then that time tends to die down. But then you’re left without the barrier of an opiate, which is repressing it. So you then have to learn how to understand what you’re feeling navigate it. You have to learn how to identify with it. And you also have to learn how to forget about it. You have to learn how to not go into it. You have to be, you know, people who are functioning at a high level repress their feelings a lot. The ability to repress what you’re feeling is one of the significant parts of being healthy. So you could say that the way therapy works when it’s working well is you go into the therapy session and for that period of time, you deal with things more directly. You deal with your feelings. There’s a way you can treat them with the therapist. You get to understand them. You get to go through a process and then you can walk out the door and you can shut them down. You can forget about them for a while and you get a break as a process. There’s a reverberation between opening things up and shutting them down. We have to be able to do both. So anyway, that’s what I mean by it.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: You’re talking about repression in terms of the moderating effects on the healthy side over repression on the other side would be not dealing with things until I implode or explode or something. And you’re talking about the other one, which is not over venting and allowing it to carry me away sort of thing.
David Livingston, LMFT: That’s it. So when someone walks in, and my job is to understand what it is that there’s this time period where they get to open things up. And then my job is to help them titrate it, meaning they can internalize those feelings. They get some experience of being understood so that that the feeling gets digested and starts to sort of get lowered. Whatever tensions and needs there are around it, like, oh, I’m lonely. Oh, OK. Well, tell me about it. So you get to go through that, if that’s the feeling or I’m angry, this person said that to me and what happened. Right. So you go through it and then you also get to sort of hopefully to some degree create some behaviors and some things they can do about it. So there’s this process of opening things up, dealing with them. And then they can walk out of the office and feel like there’s something’s been done right, a meal has been had and they don’t have to walk out hungry and feel like they’ve got to keep dealing with that, that’s that’s part of what a treatment really is. And then, you know, if there’s good support in there, talking to other people, that process is happening at some level. So it can be not always. Sometimes people are stirring things up in each other, which can have the opposite effect, which is, you know, one of the dangers with treatments that are bigger, that have more variables in it. You don’t necessarily know how a person is hearing the information that’s coming out.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And one of the things that typically does happen is that that rawness of emotion can bleed into other areas of life, which is why the therapeutic approach can help you to not only be more open in kind of a general way, but to filter and apply that openness. You know, any feeling can be discomforting if it’s intense enough or familiar enough. And if I haven’t really been feeling anything very strongly and all of a sudden sobriety starts to happen. And, you know, I’m not self-medicating anymore. Everything can feel very overwhelming.
David Livingston, LMFT: You know, things like meditation and mindfulness processes that allow people to not repress feelings, but also not overly identify with them. Just see the nature of the mind-body process is a fluid state of things coming and going and which you don’t necessarily have to get identified with. It can be very helpful in slowing down any sense of compulsivity because when you identify with something too strongly, it will push you and pull you in directions. And so the ability to be mindful and allow things to move in and out and see the nature of thoughts and feelings as just this changing impermanent flow of information, which is what it is coming and going.
David Livingston, LMFT: It gives you a type of freedom, you know, and you can sort of develop this observing ego, which you can kind of be with yourself in a way in which you’re not necessarily so identified that you’re caught up in it. You know, the nature of all feelings as they will arise and they’ll pass away. You don’t even have to do anything about it. Sooner or later, they will all arise and pass away the knowledge of that, the deep knowledge of that is an immense help with cravings.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: People are familiar with the idea of having like an inner child kind of a thing or even an inner child relationship or monologue with the child that’s inside of us. Right. Not as many people talk about the sort of internal parent that that part of us that sort of sits in a calm, confident place inside ourselves that can say it’s going to be all right in a way, the more true self, the more confident, authentic “self” inside of us that can say we’re going to make it through. I am not sad. I am feeling sad. The sadness is passing through. I am here and will be here when it’s passed through as well. Sort of an idea that differentiates that out so that we are not every feeling we are having.
David Livingston, LMFT: The ability to allow them to move in and out of us and, and feel like we don’t have to hop on every train that comes by. It is immense freedom and really useful when it comes to dealing with any sort of compulsivity. It’s you don’t develop that capacity instantly. It really takes a sustained effort.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: I’m curious, where do you think that interacts with the idea of discomfort? Clare, you talk a lot about that, about being able to accommodate and accept discomfort in our lives. And that’s a powerful part of recovery from dependence. Where do you think that fits together with being able to view these things as experiences we go through?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think it’s being able to really identify your feelings. I think once you really can identify, then you can work with it. I think a lot of people have this misconception that something is like permanently wrong with them, deep-rooted and they are flawed. And I think that’s where they get stuck. So it is truly understanding where the discomfort comes from, where the pain comes from. Once you do that, then you can see that perhaps but is really having somebody help you recognize it and identify. I think that’s where David’s job becomes so crucial for anybody to feel at least happy enough to live a healthy life. So I think that’s what’s missing for a lot of people. That’s why when you said “the addiction” I went there because I think it is these stacks of labeling that keep people so dark and so scared of being part of that community. So I think that’s another thing that we accomplished to do at Domus Retreat that is so different than any other treatment. You know, patients can go home and two months later, they start falling back on that feeling of, you know, being stuck. Of not being able to handle life on life’s terms and falling deeper and deeper. And then they can call us and they can come for a week or five days and sit with David, with the counselors, discuss it. We created the treatment center that is actually not for people that have relapsed or for people that want detox, but for anybody that is dealing with any of the branches of substance abuse story before and after, with zero judgment, with zero labeling, with no exact time, no exact plan. We are so different from each other. You know, we’re built differently. Our histories are different. Our DNA is different. How we perceive life and pain is so different that there can’t be exact forms of treatment or even diagnosis.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And I think that we struggle sometimes to think about it because we get used to thinking about things with big, huge words like “addiction” is a big, huge emotional word that we have in our head. And we’re used to dealing with it in some big, huge way, supposed to solve the addiction problem for everyone or whatever. And it’s interesting how there are certain things in our life we don’t do that about. We don’t do that about saying I’m having a hard time. Oh, we are having a hard time hearing these 23 steps. You got to do all of those exactly. Right now and all this. And we do them in that order. You know, I’m sorry you’re doing them wrong. It’s not going to work. You know, usually, if someone’s like someone we love, says I’m having a hard time, we say, tell me more, you know, and we kind of tailor our response to that need at hand, you know?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think, sadly enough, in one way, you know, these descriptions of what a group of people was, had an agenda. You know, if you create something that is chronic, that is, you know, that there is no treatment, there is no way out that it becomes part of your personality, becomes part of who you are, and consequently never allows you to leave the treatment world. So, you know, it puts you in that constant revolving door, so I think there are reasons why people use terms and why addiction that really it’s it’s not it doesn’t have the heartbeat, you know, doesn’t have veins or blood running. It’s really a condition that is very treatable. I think if it wasn’t made of this ugly, you know, chronic forever commitment, I think people would be willing to look for help. And once they get help, they probably would succeed a lot more if not relapsing.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: You think people stay away from that identity sometimes and they stay away from treatment?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Because they don’t want to fall in that category of, you know.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Now it’s I was just thinking about what kind of knowledge is empowering versus what kind is limiting. And for some reason, as you’re saying, that I was thinking about, you know, I’m a person who if I go for a long walk or if I go for a jog, I have issues sometimes with my ankles where my ankles will turn easily. So if I’m going to go on a hike or especially go for a run or something, I sit and I, you know, rotate my ankles a little bit, warm up and bend my knees a little bit. And if I do that, I rarely have a problem. And if I don’t do that, I frequently have a problem right with that. And I was just thinking about that, as you were saying. What if. Oh, I don’t know. What if I had to go to certain types of shoe stores only or what if I had to wear certain types of, you know, weak ankle clothes or it give some kind of like a, you know, expectation that I would tell everybody when I met them. “I’m a weak ankler over here.” That wouldn’t be very empowering for me. That’ll be very limiting. I probably wouldn’t go for a lot of walks or anything. But at the same time, if I just go, oh yeah, give me a minute and we sit down and, you know, mess around with my ankles for a minute and move forward with confidence that, see, that’s empowering. So I mean, I guess it depends how we look at our own self-insight and do we use it as labeling in a way that’s a burden or does it help us know how to work with ourselves better?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think in a way, it causes. And David, you might think otherwise, I think in a way it has caused an emptiness, it can cause a disconnection from, you know, from the human race. And I don’t know, I think is harmful. Not always, because nothing is always, but mostly.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Yeah, if I well, am I just a person with who thinks about his ankles differently than other people, or am I a whole another species of person that that doesn’t belong walking with everyone else? Or if I am walking with everyone else I earned I shouldn’t I be so grateful that they would take me in and wait for me to rotate my ankles? I’m going to really use this metaphor way, way overuse this metaphor until everyone’s tired of it. I guess…
David Livingston, LMFT: There’s a difference between discovering and listening like you said. Well, what are you so what’s going on or what do you need or what’s happening? Right. So there’s the listening process and the treatment is discovering what it is and who a person is. And it’s an unbelievable gift to feel like somebody really hears us and understands us and knows in a way that feels right that that’s maybe one of the most powerful and maybe the most important part of treatment that we have to be taking something in from the outside into the inside that moves us. You know, that helps us sort of broaden ourselves.
David Livingston, LMFT: And it’s a hit or miss thing when you just have something built. Right. It’s like, oh, here’s what we have to offer. And, you know, parts of it might hit and parts of it might not. Or maybe all of it doesn’t feel right for maybe some maybe all of it does, but you can’t. So really you’re discovering and I don’t know is dangerous to go through a process of not discovering what who the person is, what they’re meeting, what where they’re from, how they’re developed, how they’re organized, what their life is like on the outside, how they’re organized inside. And as you can get a clearer and clearer picture of that, then you can just you know, you can tailor something that makes sense.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: I kind of wanted to reflect back around to something you’d brought up, which is that mindfulness of being able to sit with ourselves to differentiate in a healthy way to basically to notice and observe ourselves where we’re at. Right? What kinds of things do you suggest to people do? What kinds of things do you suggest to people to initiate that? You mentioned meditation. How do people go about that?
David Livingston, LMFT: Well, I guess the first thing I would say is I’ve talked to a number of people about doing it and just about nobody ever does.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: But that’s the thing, right, about meditation. Yeah.
David Livingston, LMFT: Right. So so because it’s hard work. And to develop the ability to kind of have a strong enough level of concentration and a big enough observing ego that things are moving through us, takes a lot of work to get there. And it’s often more than people are wanting or willing to take on. And although there have been a few people who have been have a history in yoga and other things like that, who it’s not a big leap, but for other people it doesn’t necessarily correlate. But one of the reasons I’m bringing it up today is because with COVID going on, with people feeling more isolated, it is a potential way of being able to be with yourself in a way in which you can suffer less and it works. It’s a valid perspective in that regard, but it’s different than most therapeutic treatments, which it has to do with two people. Right. It has to do with the ability to get a level of care and a type of understanding that comes from the outside. And, you know, meditation is a one-person psychology, but right now, with limits around, you know, connectivity and support, it might make more sense and certain people might be interested in trying.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Do you find the most effective technique is just kind of that one on one dwelling on the thoughts or trying to empty the mind kind of approach?
David Livingston, LMFT: My training in meditation comes from a certainly a mindfulness approach, which really has to do with I mean, I think primarily you could say this about yoga and meditation in general. So the fundamentals are you develop a high level of concentration. So what happens is, is whatever your object is, whether it’s your breath or, you know, that’s a common one where we notice the breath coming in and out. So every time you get pulled over by thoughts, feelings, sounds, whatever it is, you come back and through that process, over time, you develop concentration. You can then begin to notice everything that’s coming and going inside you is separate than your awareness of it, because that’s one of the major insights that begins to give people some freedom if you will. They don’t have to hop on the train of thought. And that feeling, which is a big part of what happens with compulsivity and addiction, if they’re just hopping on train to train, things can come and go. It reinforces the sense of the separateness, of the awareness of the object, of the thoughts, the feelings, the sounds, whatever it is, the difference between the awareness of it and the object itself in that differentiation and that distance, there’s a lot of freedom and this can be developed on your own. You don’t have to meet with other people right now.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: One of the biggest things that I ever heard that was useful with meditation came from someone who is basically just a meditation and yoga instructor type person who was at a conference or was and she’d work with tons of different people with this. And she said that all of the things that you usually find to be very, very helpful with meditation, like if you’re thinking a certain way, if you focus on a certain thing or if you breathe a certain way, she said the best thing that she found was to be willing to tell people as soon as I get if it doesn’t work for them to say, oh, well, let’s mix that up. In other words, if breathing deep is going to be aggravating for certain people and so she would say, just breathe, then don’t breathe deep. Just try to pay more attention to how you normally breathe. And let’s do something else to generate your attention, right?
David Livingston, LMFT: That’s right. That’s the idea isn’t to complicate it. The idea is just to have something that you can rely on to bring your attention back to, because that develops the concentration. And once your mind is concentrated in a high enough level, things slow down and it’s things slow down. You can begin to perceive things differently and the insight can take hold where you can differentiate between awareness and all of the objects and thoughts, the feelings, the sounds, the taste, the body sensations, everything that’s coming and going. And as you as you can differentiate between the awareness and all of those objects, there is an ability to the type of freedom that’s a valid thing. And it can be developed by anybody through enough effort, you don’t quiet your mind, it’s the concentration that quiets the mind. One of the reasons people fail at this is they keep sitting and thinking their mind should be quiet and the mind quiets after that, after spending enough time coming back, getting lost, coming back, any loss coming back. Eventually, the mind will start to quiet on its own through the development of concentration. So in concentrations high it strong enough, all the other things start to take hold. But you have to be able to persist and develop concentration. So that’s the work of it. But the other thing that’s strong and important about this is that people who get better make a strong commitment to make an intense commitment to something. And if you want to change your life, you can’t be ambivalent. You have to be able to push through the ambivalence and make a commitment to something if you want to develop anything in this world. That’s how it goes. You have to be able to make a commitment.\
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Waismann Method® podcast, as always, is produced by the Waismann Method Rapid Detoxification Center. Learn more about our clinic and the work that we do at opiates.com, live chat with us or call us on the phone 1-800-423-2482. We’d love to talk to you. You can also interact with us on Twitter @opiates. The music for this episode, as always, is the song Medical by the artist Clean Mind Sounds. This show is produced by Popped Collar Productions, a company helping you use podcasting to make your dreams come true. For Clare Waismann and David Livingston, I’ve been Dwight Hurst. Thank you so much for listening today. And we will be back to you again soon with more answers to your questions about dependence, addiction and recovery. Remember to keep asking questions because if you find the right questions, you’ll find the right answers. If you find answers, you will find hope. Bye-bye for now.
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