A Meditation for Overcoming Substance Abuse

A Meditation with Kelly Wilson for Overcoming Substance Abuse

The following passage is from the transcript of Kelly Wilson’s Jan. 27, 2017 webinar, ACT for Overcoming Substance Abuse.

The way I got involved in psychology in the first place was because of my tremendous interest in addiction and how perplexing it was.  Up until I was 30 years old—between 15 and 30—I was high every day. I spent the 1970s putting scars up and down my arm, shooting dope, landing in hospital emergency rooms, unemployed and non-employable, and sometimes violent. Sometimes the victim of violence. Those often go together. I was so out of control and dangerous to be around that my wife at the time had to take our three-year-old daughter and get away from me. Even then, I knew it was for the best. 

If you are on this seminar, then you have contact with people who are that deep in, that stuck, and from the outside, you sort of look at that and you just say: What? And from the inside too, I looked at my own behavior and thought, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just stop?  I couldn’t come up with anything other than I was just broken. I want to give you a glimpse into that.

Even if we have never engaged in these kinds of behaviors at all, there is a seed of knowing what happens in the middle of an episode of addiction that can, I think, be known by anyone—even if they have never traveled to that place before—if only they are willing to sort of drop down into the experience.

I would like to lead a small guided meditation and I want to give a peek at a world that I think could be important for when you are sitting beside someone that looked like I looked 33 years ago—stuck deep—and you are asking them to stop. If you are willing, let me invite you to allow your eyes to go closed for a moment.

Just let go of the agenda for the day. Notice the rise and fall of your own breath. Then just allow your breath to softly fall away. Take a moment to be a witness to the rise and fall.

I want to invite you to think for a moment about something in your life that is sweet to you. You could picture some thing in your life, something you do, or a person in your life that swells your heart. Something that is sweet and beautiful to you. Breathe and take a moment and let yourself see an image of you engaged in whatever that sweetness is. Maybe it’s you with someone you love or you in some activity that you love.

If you can conjure that image, rotate the image so you could look into your own face in one of those moments of engagement. See if you can look into your own eyes and into that face that has known that. Take a second and allow yourself to just be bathed in that. Just come to rest in that sweetness— and breathe. Next, I want you to imagine that some set of circumstance—and we won’t worry what the circumstances are—but some circumstance arises where you know that whatever it is that’s sweet to you is killing you and it’s killing the people around you who you love. You realize it. You just know, this is killing me and killing the people that I love.

Imagine that you had to take one last look and say goodbye. Breathe. Imagine you could just say, “I’m so sorry. I have to go. I have to go.” Breathe. Take a moment and just allow all of that experience to just swirl around you. See if you can let go of any effort, and just let it be there. Allow your awareness to return your breath and notice how it’s steady with you all this time, rising and falling. When you are ready, allow your eyes to come gently open, and rejoin me here.

Let me go into why I would do something like this. It may seem mean to do this, but people are quick to completely demonize the use and to demonize the drugs. It’s tricky because it’s true. They are demons. It’s not hard to identify it that way.  Here’s the thing, it’s not just a demon.

The other thing I know about those days is that if I got just the right combination of drugs and just the right dose, I would get a moment, just a moment, where it was okay to be inside of my own skin, where I could breathe. And so for some of the people you are sitting across from, when you ask them to let go of substances, you may be asking them to let go of the only peace that they know in the world. That’s it.

That longing for the moment where you can breathe, that moment of peace—​they are not broken to want that. That’s what we all want. The part that gets forgotten is the entirely human longing to be able to draw just one free breath.

Breath is a good metaphor for this. If you literally couldn’t breathe, like you were under water or something covering your mouth and nose, you might be able to stay calm for a minute, but there would be a moment in there where you would do anything to get a breath. Even if you know the thing that comes after that breath is horrible. In that moment, that breath, it’s a human thing. It’s that too. 

I wouldn’t sit with someone new to recovery and romance the high, but I wouldn’t encourage them to demonize it either. If people are too quick to demonize substances, you end up with, I think, a brittle recovery. They weren’t crazy when they did that any more than a person is crazy to pull their hand away from a flame. They weren’t. And sometimes there are circumstances where you make that a goodbye. “I love you, but we have to quit.” That one, to me, has more subtly, more acknowledgment of the richness and fullness of addiction and that hard walk out of addiction.

That little exercise that we just did, I want to hand that off to you as a tool so maybe the next time you get ready to walk into the room with somebody and you are going to ask them to let go of something, if it’s time to let go . . . Before you go into the session, imagine that you found yourself in a circumstance where you had to walk away from the sweetest thing you know in this world. Imagine what that moment would be like. How hard that would be. Sit with that for a moment, and then go talk to your client. For some people, the ones that are deep into this, you are asking them something that is that hard. You really are. 

It doesn’t necessarily look like it from the outside, but I think it is from the inside. There are people in the addiction business that know about grieving and stepping back from that type of grief and loss. That comes close. I think that comes close to a healthy, rich, full, flexible walk into recovery. 

The Therapeutic Relatioship in ACT with Kelly Wilson

Torrance, CA

March 11-12, 2017

Ft. Lauderdale, FL

June 2-3, 2017

Portland, ME

​August 18-19, 2017

Kelly G. Wilson, PhD, is professor of psychology at the University of Mississippi. He is a former president of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science and is one of the co-developers of acceptance and commitment therapy.