For decades I lived with severe chronic pain and anxiety, and became addicted to the pain pills and tranquilizers prescribed for panic attacks and other symptoms of what was finally diagnosed years later – in 2009 – as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Starting in the 1990’s, I went through stints of outpatient and residential treatment, regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, and worked on a 12 Step recovery program. I was unable to build ongoing recovery partly because I was still in pain, and very anxious, and taking pain pills for chronic pain and tranquilizers in the benzodiazepine family, especially Valium and Ativan.
By my late thirties, I was in a vicious cycle of various lengths of sobriety accompanied by relapses, which were inevitable as long as I was still taking all those pills.
Desperate for help, I resumed lessons in the Alexander Technique, an evidence-based mind/body practice utilized by Integrative Medicine providers such as Mayo Clinic,
Harvard Medical School, and Johns Hopkins. The Alexander Technique is best known
in the performing arts, taught world-wide in music, dancing and acting schools such as Juilliard, Yale School of Drama, and the Royal Academy of Music.
Outside of lessons, I integrated the Alexander Technique as a daily, in-the-body mindfulness practice into all my activities whenever possible, including when sitting in
AA meetings. I especially focused on developing mindful awareness of mind and body
that are central to a practice of the Alexander Technique.
Other “embodied mindfulness” practices that I incorporated into my daily recovery included labyrinth walking, as well as meditative walking practices that I could do anywhere, from parks to outdoor/indoor tracks. Labyrinth walking and meditative walking have been part
of my spiritual and personal path since college.
Still dealing with chronic pain and anxiety, I had to develop a 24/7 practice of Alexander Technique-based, mindful movements in order to live in my own skin.
I named these practices Mindful Alexander Technique (MAT). Daily MAT practices enabled me to cope with the chronic pain, anxiety and trauma symptoms to the point that, with a physician’s supervision, I was able to taper off the pain pills and tranquilizers.
MAT practices became an integral part of my recovery from opioids, tranquilizers and alcohol, as well as provided methods for better managing pain, stress, and trauma
reactivity and symptoms.
I went into a residential drug and alcohol treatment program to stay off the pills, and get sober, and to build a more solid foundation for recovery.
When I left treatment, I continued daily MAT practice, and resumed frequent Alexander Technique lessons. These practices helped prevent relapse with easy, in-the-body
“mindful moves” that helped me develop better distress tolerance and resilience,
which enabled me to handle stress and anxiety better.
I’ve learned to physically and mentally pause, and then stop my habitual reactions and behaviors. The “pause” gives me a moment to choose to re-direct into new healthier actions instead of acting out old habits and thoughts. This method has proven to be complementary and helpful to my ongoing AA program of recovery.
MAT practices also helped provide more awareness, ease and coordination in movement, as well as helped me change habitual patterns of holding tension in basic daily activities such as sitting and using a computer, walking, and standing.
After 20 years of chronic relapse, the MAT practices, regular attendance at AA meetings, and working a 12 Step program has kept me clean and sober since January of 2009.
In my second year of recovery, I realized the daily MAT practice had eliminated some
of my PTSD/ trauma symptoms, and that anxiety and depression, which I’d dealt with
since childhood, was reduced.
I’m not as hyper-vigilant and triggered from sudden movements and noises, and can respond better to stress, anxiety and pain. When a stressful event occurs,
I respond calmly, and then disengage and “reset” back to a neutral level.
Daily MAT practice continues to help me in dealing with chronic pain, PTSD issues,
and other health concerns.
After another couple of years of recovery, I noticed another benefit of alcohol abstinence
and the improved body mechanics I’d gained with my MAT practice: bone loss exacerbated by years of drinking and taking opioids was greatly reduced, and I’d regained about
1/2″ in height.
Bone loss and impaired bone health is a global health issue for addicts and alcoholics, particularly for women, and young girls who start drinking and using drugs in their teens.
My healing and ongoing recovery inspired me to become certified as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, a process that includes 1600 hours of training, with additional studies in neuroscience and anatomy. I’m certified with the American Society for the Alexander Technique.
Mindful Alexander Technique (MAT) is taught in lessons, classes and workshops.
Customized MAT practices such as Mindful Recovery Practices are taught in chemical dependency treatment programs, and alternative sentencing programs for substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders.
Other MAT practices include practices to combat Sitting Disease, and workshops for Mindful Labyrinth Walking, taught as a mindfulness and meditation/reflection
practice that is especially helpful for addiction and co-occurring disorders.
I’m continually incorporating other evidence-based practices into my MAT teaching, including:
- Mayo Clinic Endocrinologist and Obesity expert Dr James Levine’s NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) research and wellness methods for combatting Sitting Disease and other health issues related to sedentary behaviour.
- Gravity Health and bone health research and wellness methods of Dr Joan Vernikos, former NASA Life Sciences Director.
More information on these MAT fusion practices is available in other sections of this website.
Mana 30″ x 22″ Mixed media and gold leaf on paper. 2006.
Courtesy of K Guy. Private collection.