Ahh yes, prayer and meditation, part and parcel not just of 12-step programs but almost every religion on the planet.
I’ve always resisted meditation. My mother, who’s been sober without AA for over 30 years, swears by it and has been encouraging me (read: nagging me) to do it forever. It wasn’t until I dated a guy who was big into TM that I finally caved and tried it. The guy is long gone but the results of meditation when I do it are nothing short of miraculous.
Meditation changed me in ways that no psychiatric medications ever did. Let’s put it this way: my roommate couldn’t tell when I was on six psych meds as opposed to one, but she could sure tell when I had meditated and when I hadn’t. When I meditate regularly (which isn’t often because I, like most alcoholic/addicts, struggle with discipline), I feel less reactive — a certain boon to whomever I’m dating or living with — as well as calmer and happier. Things kind of slide off me. I don’t get bent out of shape so easily or for so long. I have more of an ability to be and stay in the present moment. They say in the program that “feelings aren’t facts” and only meditation has given me the space to watch the feelings and thoughts come and go, to see that I am separate from those feelings and to have the ability to decide whether I want to get on the “ride” that that thought or feeling will take me on. Before I started doing meditation and when I resist it, I am just pulled around on the leash of my ever-changing emotions with no core self that is separate from them. I am whatever I am feeling. When you begin to witness your thoughts and feelings and see how stupid or grandiose and most importantly ephemeral they are, you can learn over time not to buy into them as much. Your response can be, “Oh yeah, there’s that fearful thought. Whatever. It will pass,” instead of, “Oh my God! I am so screwed. I have to do something. RIGHT NOW.”
I’m not a big pray-er. Prayer for me is a sort of emotional triage with God as the ER doctor. When I’m really freaking out, really in trouble and desperate, you’ll see me on my knees praying to whatever to help me through. It can make me feel better but I don’t ascribe to an “intervening God” (as my sponsor calls it) so I don’t think he/she/it is going to change the course of anything just because I send out an SOS. I feel like prayer is sort of me talking to me, nudging myself to let go of a grudge or a character defect or an obsession, to have faith, etc. Meditation is me listening to myself, which is usually a terrifying macabre circus of worrying about things that will never happen but I’m convinced can and will in the next 20 minutes. Occasionally in meditation, I’ll fall into a very brief mantra-induced mental trance, an alpha state of semiconscious bliss where I’m thought-free. That’s what I was always searching for in my addiction: a peaceful place without the incessant inner gnawing and chatter of fear, regret, insecurity and (insert any negative emotion here).
Both prayer and meditation have scientifically proven benefits (although there is some new controversial research that meditation can, in some people, trigger mania, depression and even psychosis.) Prayer supposedly makes you nicer, more forgiving, reduces stress (thus boosting immunity), increases trust and increases self-control. Meditation also reduces stress, thus boosting immunity, increases self-control and even regrows the brain’s grey matter. Well, what addict can’t use that?