Demitrius, 28, who wouldn’t disclose his last name, was arrested for selling drugs in the spring, and he’s since been serving a court-mandated 15 months in residential treatment. However he’s coping with the difficulty of being away from his friends and family by doing something he’d never imagined someone like himself (having grown up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood) doing: meditating. Now, he can't imagine making it through the stressful holiday season, or rehab, for that matter, without it. "I can cope better with the fact that I'll be away from my family," he says. "I kind of use the exercises, like the simple breathing exercises, and it relaxes me and makes me more peaceful, and things don't bother me as much." Phoenix House holds meditation classes every Wednesday, and Demitrius has been attending for the past eight weeks. He says the experience has been life-changing.
Demitrius’s volunteer meditation instructor, Donna D'Cruz, says meditation is a wonderful tool whenever a person is feeling stressed, but it's especially helpful this time of year. "Holidays are very difficult," she says. "Some clients can't leave and some have no family to go home to," she says. In terms of addiction, mental health experts say meditation is great for helping people overcome them. There’s also a growing body of research that backs up that assertion, as the relaxed state brought on by meditation lowers the levels of stress hormones in the body. "Many of the triggers of addiction are somewhat stress-related, so in that sense, anything that's going to reduce stress is going to improve the behavior associated with addiction," says Dr. Vatsal Thakkar, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.