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JohnPalmer_01

Given that Huntington has a considerable addiction problem, it might surprise folks to know that there has been an effective anti-addiction program — mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) — around for quite a while. MBSR is advocated by the most of the medical establishment and has been proven quite effective against virtually all addictions.

So (I can hear readers saying) … what’s the catch?

There are two interrelated problems. First, it’s expensive. Eight weeks of therapy — usually given by highly trained, certified professionals — are needed. Second, it requires buy-in from the person with an addiction. Results take time and (sometimes painful) mental and emotional effort.

The heart of many addiction problems is restlessness and boredom arising from desensitization to the stimulations offered by everyday life. The addict-to-be “solves” his problem either by raising the level of stimulation from drugs or activities he already uses or by trying new drugs or activities. If a friend expresses concern about drug use, the person often replies that his situation is so boring that he is driven to drug or alcohol use. (Does this sound familiar?)

I believe Huntington may be ready for a variation of MBSR which I will term RP-MBSR. This program will be based on the many pleasures offered by Huntington’s own Ritter Park, the most obvious of which is walking. Less obvious but potentially enriching nonetheless is that these walks can occur in an attractive streamside natural setting where joyful children or pets are often present. One can augment these activities by bringing one’s own snack, reading or music, and all of this is available to any Huntington resident with leisure time and transportation. The only variable not under personal control is the weather, and Huntington is blessed by a climate that features a day or two of pleasant weather most weeks (winter excepted) of the year.

So here is a thought experiment: Imagine a good interlude at Ritter Park. Swinging your arms, you walk vigorously for a while seeing flowers or ducks, hearing the stream and feeling a pleasant breeze. You then sit comfortably (cushion? lap blanket?), surrounded by greenery, reading a book or listening to music or just enjoying being part of the scene. Perhaps, attending to your breathing, you consciously adopt a semi-meditative state of mind or, alternatively, fall into a natural pleasant reverie. Having visited Ritter Park before, you know you might get to greet a passing acquaintance.

Now ask yourself — be honest — does this vision, dear reader, appeal to you? If not, might it be made more appealing — or at least bearable, if you add a flask or joint or pill to the picture?

If this vision has no appeal or only appeals with drugs added, you are in danger. The strong version of MBSR requires certified professionals, but weaker, paraprofessional-guided support group-based versions are usually available (an online version is also available). Money or transportation or time or child care may be obstacles, but these are not usually the main problem.

John Palmer is a Huntington resident. He is a former director of the West Virginia Trails Coalition.

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