The Presence Process Approach to Treating Addiction

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In Part 1 of Mindfulness-Based Approach to Treating Addiction, we learned what mindfulness is and how it can be applied to treating alcoholism, with focus empirical evidence for its efficiency, as well as the possibility of integration with other forms of therapy.

But there are also stand-alone, do-it-yourself mindfulness practices. Since mindfulness methods are generally gentle and safe, there is no reason not to try them out along with other forms of therapy, or on its own.

Introduction to the Presence Process

The Presence Process is a mindfulness technique designed by Michael Brown, a former South African music journalist. After getting an extremely painful and debilitating condition called cluster headaches, to which there no known cure, since the conventional medicine wasn’t able to help him, he started to explore alternative therapies. In the end, he claims his journey made his condition go into a state of remission.

With the Presence Process, he wanted to help others reach what he considered to be the essence of all effective therapies he tried – maintaining a conscious, mindful presence in the Now. Staying present in the moment instead of pondering upon the past or projected future helps you become aware of and integrate the emotions which may be the underlying causes of different psychosomatic conditions, and – addictions.

When conceptualizing the Presence Process, Michael Brown aimed for a true do-it-yourself, self-help approach. This means that the book is not just a teaser which is supposed get you into seminars and organized therapies. It is a completely stand-alone method and a fairly simple one too. This makes it suitable to be used along with other forms of therapy – it doesn’t “undo” what you’ve already achieved priorly through other therapeutical techniques, but it can add to them.

Another nice thing about the Presence Process is that it’s very systematic. While it is a typical mindfulness practice, the fact that it demands some discipline – daily breathing exercises and reading during the 10 weeks – makes it easier if you find it hard to keep up with a more freely conceptualized meditation and mindfulness practice.

Methods of the Presence Process

The Presence Process relies on three basic requests:

  • The 15-minute long breathing exercises performed twice a day;
  • Remembering one meaningful sentence – the “presence activating statement” – which changes every week;
  • Reading the material intended for that particular week, which is designed to bring awareness to certain aspects of your condition.

All other aspects of the Process happen spontaneously as you go about your daily activities through psychological phenomenon of projections and mirroring. It’s not your circumstances and relationships truly change, but you may find them increasingly triggering because now you’ll be paying more attention to the emotional content of the common situations.

As you can see, the Presence Process doesn’t make you do what you’re not already doing: you’re already breathing, you already have feelings and thoughts and you’re paying some attention to them (well, hopefully), you’re already utilizing various means of mental perception, and you’re already doing some daily reading. The Process lets you take some meaningful control over these activities and adjust your attention and intention in a way that will help you focus on the emotional background of your issues, whatever they are.

The Presence Process’ Take On Addiction

The Presence Process is, among other things, focused on treating different kinds of addiction. In the eyes of the Process, alcohol abuse is a form of self-sedation, a reaction to uncomfortable feelings and a way to suppress them. Those feelings originate in what Brown calls the “emotional charge”.

The emotional charge is an emotional imprint, a set of emotions formed as a reaction to the conditional nature of our parent’s love. All children strive to be loved unconditionally. But being born in a conditional world implies that even parents inevitably show love towards their children under certain conditions. Also, traumatic experiences add on to this almost-universal experience. The consequence – your “charged”, suppressed emotions – are a primary cause of disharmonious or destructive behaviors and thinking patterns.

The discomfort brought on by these emotions and the unfavorable life circumstances can make susceptible people slip into addiction, alcoholism included. Therefore, the addiction is the consequence of the emotional charge. Treating only the consequence without addressing the root of the problem is, in Brown’s view, inefficient in the long run. Brown warns that treating only the effect, without seeking out and integrating the cause of the addiction can lead to a life of quiet desperation.

That’s why, in the case you have a drinking problem, the Presence Process protocol won’t require you to completely stop drinking prior to starting the 10-week procedure, just that you stay completely sober in the morning and in evening (or late afternoon) – in time for breathing exercises, and also for reading of the chapters of the book. If you’re unable to keep up with this recommendation, it is advised that you first enter a more strict rehab programme in order to get yourself well and stable enough so you can maintain the breathing practice.

Upon completing the 10-week cycle for the first time, you may feel that you already have more control over your behavior or that, at least, you have a better sense of what’s happening to you. Brown has a recommendation that addicts should repeat the process several times, each time removing a layer of unconscious trauma and discomfort.

The end consequence when it comes to treating addiction is that your “perfect drug” might suddenly become completely unattractive to you. It’s not that it will magically protect you from getting drunk again, but the effect of a drink might change dramatically. What used to feel good won’t get you a relief you’ve been looking for. Upon completing the Process, you’ll be equipped to deal with your discomfort in a true and profound way, and will probably integrate some of the “sorrows” you were looking to “drown”.

That’s why, instead of feeling a calming buzz, getting a bit drunk after going through the Presence Process might feel like an uncomfortable psycho-physical distortion – perhaps you’ll feel that it stops you from thinking, that it slows you down, blurs your vision, and/or makes you uncomfortable sleepy, with all the once-satisfying effects now evaporated.

But don’t feel bad if you continue to feel that alcohol has power over you. Getting rid of that might take some more time and dedication, but you’ll get there. The journey is what brings on the healing, and often the most fulfilling journeys are the long ones. You owe yourself the patience.

In the Presence Process, Michael Brown invites us to consider “the possibility (of) ‘a 13th step’ – a step not accomplished by moving outward into the world, but by returning into ourselves“. And after making that step, the world will surely seem more loving and worth living in than before.

Suggested Reading

Brown, Michael. 2010. The Presence Process – A Journey Into Present Moment Awareness. Revised Edition. Namaste Publishing, Vancouver, Canada

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