Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

These are my recommendations for books about the Refuge Recovery practice, the intersection of Twelve Steps and Buddhism, and how to meditate. They are not specifically endorsed by Refuge Recovery and are offered in the spirit of generosity to our sangha. Happy reading!

My son and I had a weighty talk tonight about an important annual  tradition. It takes a commitment to honesty and a specialized vocabulary to talk about this subject.

“Do you want to watch the theatrical release or the extended version of The Lord of The Rings? Remember that the theatrical release is only 9 ½ hours and the extended version is almost twelve. And if we watch the extended version, we have to rework all the meal and snack times to fit so we can stop before midnight to put on the bagpipe record and make the root beer floats.”

Don’t laugh. This is serious. Because three years ago, I could not say those sentences without stopping at least two or three times to try to think of a word.

My mind was too foggy to make a schedule for a New Year’s movie marathon. Or remember to put the shopping list in my purse, or to find my wallet. Which could be in the freezer, or under the car seat.

I’d been losing mental acuity for years. My daughter was sure I was getting early dementia. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake, and yet I would look at an appliance on the counter and wrack my brains and point and say to whoever was listening, “What IS that? I can’t think of what it is. Um, it toasts bread?  Oh! It’s a TOASTER!”

So after I’d been in rehab for awhile, I shared these worries with my doctor. Now that I’m sober, I should be able to think clearly, right? Why am I so sleepy all the time? Have I damaged my brain permanently?

I was looking for answers, and what I got handed was a book. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor. Dr. Taylor is a neurologist who had the fascinating experience of observing herself have a stroke. She didn’t have a head-on collision with an addiction. She had a head-on collision with a burst blood vessel in her brain. The chapter where she knows, as a scientist, exactly how long she has before she stops recognizing numbers on her phone and can’t call for help, is on par with a Hitchcock movie for heart-pounding suspense.

So what’s this got to do with those of us recovering from addiction?

A lot. Because although you feel better once you get through those first agonizing days of detox, you probably have three to five years left before your brain is fully healed. And it can be helpful to have a road map of what some of that healing entails.

For example, before I read this book, I didn’t know how long it would take my brain to heal, or even that it would. I would have given myself credit for living with the slow pace of healing, and I would have been more willing to wait for it to come in its own time.

I didn’t know that the healing brain needs a lot of sleep. I would have taken more naps.

I didn’t have any sense of the wonder and gratitude that should come from waking up, day after day, with just a bit more smarts than I’d had the day before.

So if you are in your first few days, weeks, or months of sobriety, read this book. It’s a thumping good read. And it’ll help you understand that you are living with a healing brain, and it’s a miracle that it can, and it will, and you can wait for it to happen. And observe it happening, and be grateful that it’s happening.

Happy New Year! And may you be happy and at ease with your new life.

Refuge Recovery Literature Committee

The decision to recover from addiction—to substances, habits, people, whatever—can be terrifying. The feeling is often one of loss, of isolation and deprivation. One of the first and greatest challenges many of us faced was finding a safe and stable place where we could begin to heal: a refuge, in other words.

In the Buddhist tradition, “taking refuge” refers to the decision to commit one’s life to the way of the Buddha. This does not mean worshiping or pledging allegiance to the historical person we call the Buddha (which means “Awakened One”), but choosing to apply his teachings to our own lives in order to relieve suffering and discover our own Buddha nature.

One of the most revolutionary things the Buddha taught was that the mind is the not only the source of great suffering—due to greed, anger, and confusion—but the remedy for that suffering as well. To take refuge in this teaching is a commitment to change our minds. We’re choosing to accept the truth of karma: the understanding that actions which come from wise, compassionate intentions lead to happiness, and those that come from confused or unkind intentions lead to suffering. By following this teaching, we are claiming protection from the harm that karma causes. And so the refuge we are really taking is in our own potential for wisdom and compassion.

The Literature Committee has embarked on developing a Beginner’s Guide intended as a friendly primer to taking refuge, for those new to the path as well as long-term practitioners. We will talk about the three parts of the traditional refuge vow: to the Buddha (the goal of the path), the Dharma (how we get there) and the Sangha (who we travel with). We’ll share how some of us have done it and ways to make this practice your own: not as a one-size-fits-all approach, but as a set of tools and techniques that anyone can use to relieve the suffering addictive behavior has caused in their lives. We trust in the wisdom of this program, not because it is dogma, not because someone told us we had to, but because we have seen it work in our own lives. We hope that these tools will help you on your path of liberation.