From the outside, Elizabeth Vargas has always seemed nothing but an epitome of success. On TV people saw the award-winning ABC News anchor calmly and coolly travelling the world as a reporter, covering breaking-news stories.
Behind the scenes however, Vargas was secretly fighting a tough battle with anxiety induced alcohol addiction.
In 2013 she made her struggle public. For Vargas, this not only relieved her of the exhausting task of hiding the problem. More importantly, her courageous act was a step towards removing the stigma from the issue of women’s alcohol addiction and bringing the topic into spotlight.
In September, 2016 Vargas published the book Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction in which she told the entire story of her undiagnosed and untreated anxiety disorder which started at the age of six when her father left to fight in the Vietnam War, her spiraling into alcohol addiction as she tried to self-medicate as a grown-up, her attempts at rehab, relapses and ultimately her path to finding the right set of tools and routines that have helped her stay sober.
One of these methods which has helped Vargas stay healthy is the Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice. Vargas was introduced to the mediation technique by the fellow ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos. Since then, TM has become a vital cornerstone of her recovery.
“People with anxiety tend to be hyper-reactive. We are like jack rabbits, off and running to the races, reacting to some event, even while the event is still happening,” Vargas wrote in an article “Battling Anxiety and Alcohol: How Meditation and Reaching Out to Others Saves Me”.
TM practice however, has helped her develop what Vargas herself calls “the reflective pause”.
“Transcendental Meditation helps you slow down,” Vargas elaborated on the benefits of TM at a National Summit: Recovery, Meditation, the Brain.
“If you can slow down long enough to think clearly, you can start to not only manage that panic, but understand that what you’re so terrified of isn’t really that terrifying.”
“You’re learning to not attach completely to whatever the fear is. And to let that go, set that side a bit. Is there really a reason to be this scared? Is this fear real?” Vargas explained to Dan Harris.
“Meditating has taught me to sit with my thoughts, my feelings, and just observe them. You cannot turn your brain off, or stop your thoughts, but you can try while meditating not to become too invested in them,” Vargas also wrote.
“I liken it to picturing your thoughts as a series of balloons with strings that slowly float by. You can look at them, but don’t grab the string and pull the balloon toward you. Don’t attach. Just be.”
The experience of Elizabeth Vargas resonates with numerous studies which confirm that Transcendental Meditation helps to relieve stress and anxiety and as such is an effective tool for battling addictions. Considering that around 63% of women who are alcoholics also suffer from anxiety, and anxious people are twice as likely to relapse, anxiety relief should be one of the priorities in treatments for addiction.
Vargas is well aware that by practicing TM she trains the muscle which helps her to not hang on to her thoughts in the panic situation and so she makes an effort to fit one if not two sessions of TM into each of her days.
“In reality, on most days, I only get the chance to do it once. But it is still incredibly valuable,“ Vargas concludes.