Over the past two years, there have been some curious new additions to my living space. Prior to my journey through addiction and recovery, you wouldn't likely have spotted one of these in my apartment, let alone multiples (well, you might have found a dead one). Yet now, not only are there several of them in my home, I thoroughly enjoy caring for each and every one of them. Has recovery managed to somehow give me a love of plants and a 'green thumb'?
I can always remember being relatively indifferent to plants. Even before I started using drugs, plants and gardening were never something of interest to me. I wanted nothing to do with them, nor did I really care to have any in my home. Having them in my home meant having to look after them, which I wasn't so good at (or interested in). It's not as though I had a burning hatred for all things green and leafy, I just truly couldn't be bothered with them. They just didn't tickle my fancy. There certainly were the odd few over the years that came and very quickly went, but to be honest, I was kind of glad to see them go. Once I started using, plants were the absolute furthest thing from my mind. I literally couldn't care for myself, let alone worry about watering a plant. When you are as deep into addiction as I was, the only thing that matters is the dope. That's it. I regularly went very long periods of time without caring for myself at all. Meals, meh. A Shower? Half the time I was too sick to be bothered, and the rest of the time I was too high to care. Brush my hair? I couldn't even get a brush through it if I tried. I literally almost had to chop off the massive knot of a bun that I neglected atop my head. It isn't a pretty picture, but it's an honest one. Basically, unless you brought me houseplant that magically sprouted OxyContin and Hydromorphone, I just couldn't give a fuck. At that time it was all about pills, pills, pills.
Then something changed. About a year and a half into my Methadone treatment, I found myself noticing plants and nature from a very different perspective than I ever had. I not only saw an intriguing new beauty in plants, I felt it; and it baffled me that this had, until now, somehow gone unnoticed. I no longer wanted to keep my distance. I wanted to bring plants into my home. I wanted to learn about them, care for them, and watch them grow. It was one of many things I was seeing from a whole new perspective. It was a slow process, but I had finally gotten to a place in life where I was comfortable with myself as well as my recovery, and able to care for plant for the first time in years. Not only that, but caring for my plants was a healthy new way to fill my time.
This unexpected flip-flop in my feelings regarding plants had me intrigued, and I was more than curious to find out what it was about my little green companions that had me feeling so much love for them, and my desire for their presence in my home.
For The Love Of Plants
According to Biologist E.O. Wilson, this attraction and love of plants would be termed as "biophilia", meaning the "love of life or living systems". Biophilia combines two familiar terms: "Bio" meaning life or associated with something living, and "philia" meaning attraction (the opposite of 'phobia'). It was first used by Erich Fromm and later made popular by Wilson in his 1984 book appropriately titled 'Biophilia', to describe the desire or urge that we humans have to connect with nature and living things. In other words, we like to be around, are attracted to, and even seek other living things. Wilson hypothesized that this bond between humans and plants (as well as other living things) is a result of our evolution and biology.
The biophilia hypothesis certainly gives some insight into why we are attracted to, and want to interact with plants and living things. However, there are studies that have found well substantiated evidence showing that humans do actually benefit both physically and mentally from spending time around plants. A paper by Horticulturalist and Professor Virginia Lohr entitled "What Are The Benefits of Plants Indoors and Why Do We Respond Positively To Them?" explores the many perks of plants, ranging from reduced pain and stress, to improving attention and productivity, all the way to improved air quality, fewer illnesses, faster recoveries, and increased longevity. Not bad, right?
Lohr's paper explores some of the various studies performed in an attempt to gain insight into the effects of plants on people; and the findings are very intrigiuing. Research has shown that people feel much more content and happy in rooms that include plants, as opposed to rooms without. Not only that, but we recover from stress at a faster rate when we are viewing images of nature. Interestingly enough, a plants presence alone allows for that reduction in stress to occur, even when our attention is not directly on them. That's not all, though. Plants also aid in our producitivity, and even help reduce our mental fatigue. One particular study found that "people responded significantly more quickly when plants were in the room than when the plants were absent, and there was no increase in error rate associated with the faster response. Reaction time in the presence of plants was 12% faster than in the absence of plants, indicating that plants contributed to increased productivity." Even more impressive though, is that plants seem to increase pain tolerance and help us heal. One study showed people recovered more quickly from surgery if they were able to see a view of trees from their hospital room. Those patients with views of trees also required less pain medication. Interior plants were also shown to help increase pain tolerance.
Adding plants to a room also led to improvements in air quality. Lohr touches on several more interesting findings, such as common foliage plants aid in reducing common pollutants in the air, and help raise the humidity to "healthier and more comfortable levels in interior spaces". They can also reduce dust/particulate matter in a room by up to 20% and even have the ability to "reflect, diffract, or absorb sounds, depending on the frequency." Just a few potted plants throughout the room is all that's required!
The question of why we respond this way is slightly more complex. Lohr's paper lists several different environmental cues which are thought to contribute to these types of positive reactions in humans. Without delving in too deeply; tree form, colour, species diversity and fractals ("forms with patterns that repeat themselves as the form is magnified") are all aspects that contribute to the benefits felt by humans.
Of course I am far from the first one who's noticed that plants have a beneficial impact on addiction recovery. A 2014 article from The Fix included Gardening and Horticulture Therapy (HT) on their list of "13 Valuable Alternative Treatments for Addiction." According to the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association, the term 'Horticulture Therapy' (HT) refers to the "formal practice that uses plants, horticultural activities, and the garden landscape to promote well-being for its participants," and uses "the positive benefits of the interaction between people and plants and gardens to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing." Both gardening and horticulture therapy are beginning to find their way into addiction treatment, with several different addiction treatment facilities offering up programs.
"The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us."
I am very much still a novice when it comes to plants, and there have admittedly been a couple lost along the way. Yet I am thoroughly enjoying the process of learning, as well as the many benefits that I get from caring for my newfound little green friends.
Let's be realistic here, though. Simply because I believe my plants have had a positive impact on me and my personal recovery from addiction in NO way means that I will be abandoning Methadone for a trial run of dedicated 'horticulture substitution therapy' anytime soon. Indoor plants, gardening and HT certainly aren't miracle cures for addiction, but the benefits they offer can absolutely be helpful for someone pursuing recovery.
Have you found plants or gardening to be beneficial in your own recovery? Have any tips or tricks? Tell me about it in the comments below!
By K. Lanktree
- Freelance Writer -
- Blog Mistress -
- Former IV Drug User -
- Methadone Patient -
- Lover of all things Harm Reduction -
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