A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. – Albert Einstein
For those of you that reap the rewards of working with people that have substance or behavioral use disorders, who want recovery, who strive to live an active sober life, there are many challenges and opportunities to deal with the emotional demands of the work. It takes an enormous amount of empathy, listening and giving of oneself. There are many heartaches and false starts that we must deal with. Stress, disillusionment, “compassion fatigue,” “vicarious trauma” and even burnout (see Figley,1995; McCann & Pearlman, 1990; McCann & Saakvitne, 1995; & Perlman & MacIan, 1995). Helping others to put their lives back together is work, and it requires that individuals overcome obstacles of all types (people, places and things). Barriers can take many forms and present problems for those that are beginning and even more experienced practitioners alike.
I was a corporate citizen for over 30 years. About 22 years ago, after my second bout with cancer (yes, I am a two-time cancer survivor), I became a yogi, changed my diet (fish and vegetables only) and started to meditate, learn about mindfulness and develop tools and capabilities that helped me. Over the past 22 years, I have continued on this path, but also started to do some serious work with coaches, counselors, and therapists and gather therapeutic knowledge along the way. This past year I decided to retire from the corporate world and go into the field of addiction, substance use, and behavioral disorder treatment. During my training period, I was surprised at how little time and attention was given to self-care, and working through the shame, pain, and stories that we hold ourselves accountable to. How little time was devoted to the concept of self-love, self-care, and realignment of faulty thinking and behaviors, that “do not pay rent” to our psychology or bodies? Many people who enter the field are in recovery, or come from families or systems that were dysfunctional, have symptoms of anxiety, difficulty sleeping, irritability, restlessness, and a general sense of hypervigilance and physical tension. While the support of colleagues, family, friends, and therapist help tremendously, one’s own abilities to calm down, relax, and soothe can be often more effective and available. Working mindfulness, at work, home or while commuting anywhere, can be one effective way to take hold of your life and gain recognition and choice.
My years of training in yoga, meditation and mindfulness rooted me in faith and “metta” a Pali word for loving kindness. Simply focusing our attention and experiences on the now, the present, both inside our bodies and minds and in the external world. With the addition of an inner smile, a soft word, and faith-based approach, we come to understand that fear and faith cannot co-exist in the same mind. So, making a conscious effort to connect with whatever is going on in this present moment, to see it and accept it without judging or criticizing, just observing and noticing is the practice. Mindfulness calls us to be awake, alive and accepting of ourselves. It also allows slow down and do what I call “take our hands off the steering wheel and move away from the vehicle”. After a while we may all want to live our lives with purpose and intention, while we move forward, towards our destinations, we cannot do that if we are driving ourselves crazy!
If you or someone you know continues to deal with the ongoing issues of trauma, fatigue and the issues of being sick and tired of being sick and tired, you might find that the practice of mindfulness may help you. It has been an integral part of my recovery, and it works to reduce stress or increase my capacity to cope. Mindfulness-based coping strategies can be incorporated into your daily life right now. You don’t have to wait and take my eight-week course to incorporate some of the tools that we teach. You can practice these techniques now, and it’s free. And, while you can’t prevent stress completely or remove it, you can care and attention on a regular basis can help us manage more efficiently. Consider the S.O.B.E.R approach to gain your ground, focus and work through the issues that you might have.
What is the SOBER technique?
S – Stop. When you are in a stressful, feel like you are in a “ risky” situation, or even during just random times throughout the day, remember to stop. This is the first step in stepping out of the automatic pilot, to “take your hand off of the steering wheel and move away from the vehicle”. You don’t need to be formal about it, just do it, stop where you are, where you sit, stand, or move, be a human being,
O – Observe your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, the environment, people walking, watch, listen and notice your breath as it comes and goes. Observe the sensations that are happening in your body. Also watch any emotions, moods or thoughts you are having. Just notice as much as you can about your feelings, what you’ve experienced. Greet whatever you find with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and compassion. Don’t “tune off or veg out,” these are moments to “tune in” more closely to your experience.
B – Breath. Allow your attention to settle on your breath. Specifically, notice the air coming in and out of your Focus your attention on your breathing. Notice your breath as you inhale and as you exhale. Take time to observe your breath and just breathe without forcing it to change in any way. See if you can become aware of your breathing in your abdomen.
E – Expand your awareness to include your whole body, see your situation, gently hold it in awareness. Notice whether your body is tense or relaxed. Become familiar with those parts of your body that are usually tense when you are stressed. Become aware of your body when you are standing, walking, or engaged in physical exercise When in motion, be mindful of how your body feels and see if you can focus again on the natural rhythm of your breath.
R – Respond. Respond (versus react) mindfully, with awareness of what is truly needed in the situation and how you can best take care of yourself. How can you respond differently? Ask yourself if you are being emotional, reactive, or if your thought process is logical and in line with your values and ways of thinking.