Imagine that you were only given one car this lifetime. One. You would think twice about how you took care of it. Our physical body is this one vehicle.

Understanding how our body becomes disordered is important information if we want successful recovery in a body that has been abused or becomes dependent on opiates or other pain-relieving substances.

Connection and Attention

From a mindfulness perspective, we learn to connect to our body by paying attention. What are we paying attention to? Feedback.

The body works on a feedback system and gives us signals and messages as to what it needs to maintain order and a healthy balance. The problem is we don’t listen. The larger problem is we never learned to listen to the cues of our body.

The body needs to be regulated. Things such as temperature, hydration, minerals, and nutrients need to be regulated. Systems such as the digestive system, nervous system, immune system, reward system, etcetera, are subsystems that support the body as a whole.

The human body is similar to a car, in that the car has warning lights. If warning lights are left unattended, the lack of attention can lead to damage and can destroy the entire car. Not paying attention to the oil light, or to the steam coming from the engine; these subsystems that regulate the car can shut it down.

In a car, if we hear a ticking sound, we listen – we may even get quiet, turning off the radio in order to listen more intently. If we feel something off when we are driving, we may slow down to give it our full attention. We keep an eye on the gas tank. We observe and notice if things are broken. This kind of paying attention matters.

We can learn to pay attention to our physical body much in the same way as a car. We can get quiet, slow down, observe, notice, and keep a close eye on our body.

Imagine that you were only given one car this lifetime. One. You would think twice about how you took care of it. Our physical body is this one vehicle.

The Body Signals

Paying attention is an investment not only for your health but for your life. From a mindfulness perspective, attention and the process of learning to pay attention is one of the most worthwhile thing you could ever do.

Paying attention; to pay, to give, to invest; at a cost. What you pay – what you give your attention to, or not give your attention to, costs you greatly in all areas of life.

Not paying attention to the physical cues of the body is costing people their lives and the lives of loved ones, in most part, because we don’t know what we desperately need to know.

What do we need to know? How to prevent disorder and how to regulate the health of our physical body.

Regulation and Disregulation

In the book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn shares a model of connectedness and health by Dr. Gary Schwartz, which looks at the regulation and disregulation of human systems.

Dr. Schwartz’s model emphasizes that a major cause of disconnection in people is disattention, that is, not attending to the relevant feedback messages of our body and our mind.

In regard to feedback loops, the example of hunger is used as a feedback cue from the body. When the body is hungry, it signals that it needs food. The body also will signal when it is full, which is our cue to stop eating. This is an example of self-regulation.

If however, we eat for emotional reasons (non-biological) reasons such as anxiety or depression, we when we feel unfulfilled or bored – when we seek to “fill” ourselves with food when the body has not signaled, or fill ourselves with substances that the body does not need i.e. drugs, sugar, alcohol, we are feeding the system what it does not need. This lack of attention can throw the body out of regulation. [1]

Learning to Respond

Mindfulness practices are designed to help us pay attention so we can learn to respond to ourselves. We can learn to respond to the cues of our physical body, our emotions, and the conditioning of our minds. This is a valuable life skill.

Physical pain can be an obvious cue that the body is in need and reaching out for help. The body can benefit from prescribed opiates when it is in a healing state – stress of pain can hinder healing – however, many people will override healing cues and continue to override their feedback system.

When we don’t teach people how to observe and regulate the body, many will continue to use opiates and other medications, overriding healing cues and initial cues of physical withdrawal.

Overriding Feedback Messages.

Pain is feedback from the body. With opiate withdrawal, the body is telling us that it’s had enough and wants to purge itself- much like a child who eats too much Halloween candy and vomits and/or gets diarrhea. The body has systems in place to reject, remove, and purge what is not needed or wanted.

In the early stages of opiate withdrawal, if the user was aware of what the body was doing and paying attention, they may be more apt to let the body purge, resume order, and stop any continued use.

More often than not, they keep using the opiates as an attempt to override the pain. They don’t know what is happening to the system and they keep overriding feedback messages, causing more havoc and dependency.

We don’t keep feeding the child candy to stop the pain- we let the body purge because we know what is happening.

To help prevent physical dependency of opiate abuse, it’s helpful to teach people how to pay attention and listen to the feedback of their bodies.

Prevention

Opioid prevention can be supported with more awareness to the value of mindfulness skills. As teachers, parents, and healthcare professionals, we can find teachable moments to increase the practice of paying attention. Integrating mindfulness in classrooms, homes, and clinical offices can save lives.

Notes:

  1. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living; Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (New York: Bantam Dell, 1990), 228, 229.

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Fri, August 28, 2020| The Fix|In Opioids

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