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Our minds are both wonderful and mysterious. The combination of thoughts, emotions, and instructions to the various parts of our bodies is a wonder to even think about. How it all works continues to be a subject of research and theorizing. And even if we were to eventually map the brain so precisely that every last function of the mind was easily explained, it would still be pretty darn wondrous.

But the mind can be as challenging as it is amazing. And this can be particularly true for a person in recovery from a substance use disorder. Let’s consider some ways you can ensure that your mind is working for you—rather than against you—as you work to maintain your hard-won sobriety.

We will note here that for the purposes of this blog entry, we will use the words “mind” and “brain” interchangeably. Your local philosopher may (or may not) disagree with this approach, but it will serve us well here.

Calm Things Down With Mindfulness

How much time do you spend thinking about the past or worrying about the future? The odds are pretty good that you do not have a strong sense of how much time you spend on those things—but you would probably admit that it is a lot, right? It seems like our brains are just designed to replay every bad thing that has ever happened, every mistake we have ever made, and every potential problem that might be lurking around the corner.

Mindfulness practice is a simple technique designed to help train your mind to stay in the present more often. The process involves sitting quietly and focusing on your in-breath and your out-breath. Sounds easy, right? And it is. But it also quickly reveals how easily our thoughts drift off in all sorts of directions. 

Want to give it a try? Here is a beginner’s exercise.

Count on Your Mind’s Amazing Neuroplasticity

It turns out that our habits—both good and bad—wear the equivalent of paths into our brains. Indeed, this is what happens when you abuse drugs or alcohol. Your brain becomes accustomed to that input, and it resists any effort to give up the substances you have been using.

But because of our brain’s amazing neuroplasticity—that is, its ability to allow new pathways to be formed—new habits can replace old habits over time. That means that steady work sticking to positive routines can shore up your sobriety, making it less likely you will fall back into old habits. But even if a relapse does occur, your brain continues to be malleable as you reset your sobriety and try again.

You Might Well Mind These Various Mind States

In addition to enabling all of our thoughts, our minds are experiencing all of our emotions. And strong emotions of various kinds can have positive and negative impacts on our behavior—including whether or not we return to drugs or alcohol after a period of sobriety. 

In a previous entry titled “Four States of Mind That Can Upend Your Recovery,” we considered the challenges to sobriety presented by anger, grief, loneliness, and boredom. Each of these emotions—and others besides—can pose a threat to your recovery, so it is important to be proactive in your efforts to ensure that these mind states do not lead to a crisis.

One way to do this is to remember that your emotions do not define you. Sometimes, we become so caught up in an emotion that it seems like it will never pass on its own and we have to find a way to escape it. That is the kind of thinking that might lead to drug or alcohol use. But remembering that emotions do, in fact, come and go can help you experience them fully and without judgment—while also keeping your sobriety intact.

Make Up Your Mind to Get the Help You Need

Even though ongoing use of drugs or alcohol leads to a terrible range of impacts on a person’s body and brain, many people struggle to make the decision to get help for a substance use disorder. Sometimes this is because they are embarrassed and want to protect their reputation with friends, family, coworkers, and others. Sometimes it is because they simply refuse to admit they have a problem. And sometimes it is because the symptoms of a substance use disorder have overwhelmed them to the point that decision making is extremely difficult.

At French Creek Recovery Center—located in Meadville, Pennsylvania—we understand all of that. We also understand that the best way to regain your sobriety and your life is to get treatment for your substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health disorders. We provide medically supervised detoxification, rehabilitation grounded in group and individual therapy sessions, and a continuum of care to ensure your recovery journey gets off to a strong start. We encourage you to put your mind to it and get the help you need.