Dear Sangha,

Today, we filed suit against Noah Levine and three of his business entities in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. At the same time, we learned that Mr. Levine had filed suit for trademark infringement against our non-profit organization in the same jurisdiction. Our lawsuit is a public record and you can read it here. We expect both of these suits will be consolidated into one action. We know that you may have questions about this and we have scheduled two Zoom conference calls, on Wednesday at 5:00 pm Pacific, and Thursday 7:00 pm Pacific, so that the community can discuss this at length with Jean Tuller, our Executive Director, and Chris Kavanaugh, our Board Chair (you can find Zoom details at the bottom of this email).

Based on feedback we’ve received from our earlier statements about our part of this legal action, we’ve written this document to address the four most common questions we’ve encountered from the community.

1. What is this lawsuit about? Is it related to the sexual misconduct allegations?

The lawsuit filed by the board has nothing to do with the allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Levine. The topic is only briefly mentioned in our pleading to provide context. Long before we became aware of any allegations of sexual misconduct, the board of Refuge Recovery was deeply concerned about several conflicts of interest caused by Mr. Levine having copyrighted the book personally and having registered the name and logo for Refuge Recovery through his for-profit treatment center business. Under federal and state laws, a non-profit business cannot benefit (the legal term is “inure”) any one individual person or business entity, if they in any way control the nonprofit. The consequences for this could be fines and/or potential loss of non-profit status.

In addition, pushback from the community over Mr. Levine having taken on the position of the sole spokesperson and author of the text began almost immediately after the book’s publication in 2014, as this YouTube video from the first Refuge Recovery Annual Conference clearly demonstrates (https://youtu.be/c9VC6nWX7uw?t=2333). The criticism was driven by the concern that associating the Refuge Recovery movement too closely to any one individual exposes it to the risk that future damage to that person’s reputation might harm the community as a whole. A large percentage of the Refuge Recovery community has a 12-step recovery background, and this issue is one of the main justifications for their Tradition 12, which advises to always place principles before personalities. As seen on this video, Mr. Levine’s response to these concerns was to treat his role as a temporary one, even conceding that eventually his name needed to come off the book.

Shortly after the board was formed, we created the Asset Sharing Committee, which was tasked with resolving these issues contractually with Mr. Levine. At first, Mr. Levine was cooperative and he made assurances that these issues could be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. When the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, the Executive Committee of our board asked him to step down as a director to protect the non-profit as much as possible under the circumstances, and he reluctantly agreed. The work of the Asset Sharing Committee then took on a sense of urgency.

Mr. Levine then started a new business called Refuge Recovery Retreats, and at the same time he began articulating a new vision for Refuge Recovery. His idea was that he would decide who could and could not offer retreats to our community.  For those that wanted to but weren’t qualified, Mr. Levine would offer them teacher-training. In effect, this would create a Refuge Recovery lineage of teachers. This new vision of Mr. Levine’s created another enormous conflict of interest and directly contradicted a number of earlier statements he’d made to the Refuge Recovery board. In fact, Mr. Levine participated a few weeks prior in a meeting of our Teacher Committee to share his thoughts on how the non-profit should manage retreats and never once said he planned to unilaterally do the work himself for profit. We believe Mr. Levine’s action threatened the very existence of the non-profit. We explained our concern to Mr. Levine in July, and told him that if he didn’t reconsider using the Refuge Recovery name in this manner that we felt we had no choice but to take legal action to protect the non-profit. We gave him every opportunity to change his mind, but talks broke down in October.

The board is very sad that it has come to this. We very much would have preferred to resolve this dispute without litigation.

2. Who gave you the authority to make these decisions for the community? Shouldn’t you have asked our permission first?

Organizationally, Refuge Recovery is set up to be like AA and other 12-step recovery programs. AA is governed by its General Service Board. When Refuge Recovery became completely separate from Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (ATS) in 2017, Mr. Levine asked two people to join him on the board, Jean Tuller and Chris Kavanaugh. At that time, Mr. Levine also hired Jean as the Executive Director. A few months later, the board was greatly expanded through a solicitation and application process much like AA’s, and today there are nine members. We have not added any additional board members since Mr. Levine left our board, so all nine of our current board were selected by Mr. Levine.  Mr. Levine’s lawsuit against the Refuge Recovery non-profit is his attempt to delegitimize a board, consisting of nine people he hand-picked for the job, simply because he disagrees with them.

The board is a very diverse group of professionals, which includes:

  • A major network producer in New York who was an editor for Random House,
  • A treatment center CEO,
  • An IT professional and past president of a Zen community,
  • A manufacturer’s rep for the largest cosmetics company in the world,
  • A theatrical production specialist for Blue Man Group,
  • A tech entrepreneur and MBA with experience in intellectual property law,
  • A retired CFO and Internal Auditor, who practiced law for 25 years,
  • A government planner with a law degree from UC Berkeley,
  • And Jean Tuller, our Executive Director, has a Master Degree in Public Policy, 35 years of management experience in nonprofits as well as state and federal government, and advanced business training from Harvard.

Non-profits are very different from for-profit businesses. Whereas for-profit boards usually serve the company’s shareholders, non-profit boards serve the general public. Being a director of a non-profit is a public trust. There are very strict laws about what directors of a non-profit can and cannot do (legally speaking these are “fiduciary duties”). These laws are usually enforced by either the IRS or the Attorney General’s office of the state where the non-profit operates. When an officer or director of a non-profit breaches their fiduciary duty, it can result in fines and the revocation of the charity’s non-profit status. Our lawsuit against Mr. Levine and his business entities details a lengthy history of Mr. Levine treating the non-profit like a personal business, and several acts that we believe were illegal breaches of one or more of his fiduciary duties.

As fiduciaries ourselves, once we became aware of these transgressions, it became our duty to use whatever resources we have available to remedy them. Initially, we hoped this could be done contractually, with Mr. Levine’s full cooperation. However, once Mr. Levine refused to cooperate, he put us in a position where we had no choice but to pursue judicial intervention. If we had not, this would be a breach of our fiduciary duty to protect the rights and assets of the non-profit. It not only would have been morally and ethically wrong, arguably we might have exposed ourselves to legal liability.

This is why we did not go to the community and ask permission before filing our lawsuit. We believe our duties as directors require us to proceed with this lawsuit.

3. Why not rebrand? Wouldn’t we be better off using these resources to just start over?

The problem with rebranding is that, upon investigation, we believe that under state and federal law, our non-profit organization has always been the rightful owner of the Refuge Recovery brand. Knowing that it is an asset of the non-profit, we are legally and ethically obligated to protect it.

Hundreds of individuals in our community have invested time, resources, and energy into creating value in the Refuge Recovery brand and name. In the relatively short time it has existed, the name and program of Refuge Recovery has become widely recognized, and we have a very real presence in the recovery field. It is our belief that rebranding would undo this progress; in fact, the basis of the lawsuit rests on the principle that the “brand” has value in and of itself, which is being diminished by the for-profit actions being undertaken by companies with the same name.

In addition, the legal issues that we are seeking to resolve don’t disappear with rebranding. They get more complex.

Say we decide we want to change our name to Rebrand Recovery, and we reach out to all the groups and encourage them to follow our lead. The hub of our community today is the web domain refugerecovery.org. Our communications with the community are via emails from that domain and web pages hosted at that domain. Mr. Levine’s lawsuit against us is meant to stop us from using that domain name on the grounds that we are infringing his company’s trademark.

If that went unchallenged, there would be two recovery programs: “Rebrand” Recovery, made up of all the groups that went with the rebrand, and Refuge Recovery, made of up all the groups that didn’t and all the future groups.

Consider the mission statement in our Articles of Incorporation, which reads that the purpose of our non-profit is:

“…to provide support for people suffering from all forms of addiction by facilitating an extensive and comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups. Support may include, but is not limited to, meetings, classes, conferences, and social networking.”

Notice it specifically says Refuge Recovery groups. In the rebrand scenario, is our legal and ethical duty limited to the community that goes with the rebrand? Or, does It extend to the future community of Refuge Recovery groups as well? Who are we obligated to serve? For all these reasons, and more, we believe that rebranding should only be considered as a very last resort.

4. Why should I care? I just want to go to a meeting with like-minded people. All this doesn’t affect me one way or the other.

The board of Refuge Recovery serves a vital purpose: quality control. The same is true for AA’s General Service Board. For example, if you go to an AA meeting in Belfast or Beijing, you expect certain things about it to be true. If a group claims they’re having an AA meeting, but the basic elements of an AA meeting aren’t present, someone will complain and the meeting will be delisted. For this to happen, the meeting needs to be listed somewhere and there needs to be a shared understanding of what the basic elements of a meeting actually are. For AA to be where they are now has required decades of outreach and education and very well thought out requirements built into their regional licensing. In addition, AA has a very careful and thorough process to develop, adopt, and distribute literature in support of its mission. In Refuge Recovery, we are just at the beginning of this process, but if our organization is not allowed to continue its work, the possibility is very real that the term Refuge Recovery could become completely meaningless, and if that happens, it might be very hard to find a meeting.

We hope that this discussion has helped to provide a better understanding of our current legal dispute with Mr. Levine. Please join our Zoom conference on Wednesday, or Thursday, or feel free to email Jean Tuller, Executive Director, at [email protected] or Chris Kavanaugh, Chair of the Board, at [email protected] with any questions or comments.

Refuge Recovery is a California Public Benefit corporation organized as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code.

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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.

Dear Sangha,

As part of our ongoing commitment to keep the Refuge Recovery global sangha informed to the best of our ability, we are providing this update to our November 2, 2018 Bulletin. As we reported then, the Refuge Recovery Board of Directors has been in discussions with Noah Levine for the past year about the use and ownership of the Refuge Recovery name and literature, as well as Noah’s role within the organization going forward.

Our discussions began months before the allegations against Noah surfaced. We believe we need to protect the movement from being tied too closely to Noah, or to any one individual or group. One of our goals has been to clearly delineate the separation between the non-profit organization that serves the Refuge Recovery community and Noah’s businesses. Another goal is to secure our rights to the literature.

The following is a timeline of our recent interactions with Noah regarding our efforts to secure our organization’s rights to the Refuge Recovery brand and literature.

  • The Board first retained legal counsel to represent our organization on October 26, 2018, after receiving a letter in which Noah’s legal counsel suggested the Board and Noah engage in mediation to resolve our dispute.
  • Because the Board felt that mediation could bring about a resolution more quickly than bringing a civil suit in court, on November 1, 2018, our organization’s counsel agreed to mediation in Los Angeles and requested that it  be scheduled within two to three weeks.
  • Two weeks later, Noah’s counsel replied that they would need more time to respond to our requested schedule. We gave them additional time and provided a list of mediators.
  • After no further communication from Noah’s attorney by December 19, 2018, we requested a response by December 27, 2018.
  • On December 27, 2018,  Noah’s counsel indicated that Noah would not be ready to meet for the very mediation that his counsel suggested until the third week in February 2019.

Further delay in resolving the dispute with Noah is not in the best interests of the organization or its members. Additionally, the Board is not confident that Noah shares the Board’s desire to resolve this dispute quickly. As a result, the Board has directed our organization’s counsel to prepare and file the legal complaint necessary to commence a civil suit against Noah in court.

Please understand that we take no pleasure in this dispute with Noah. However, we are obligated as fiduciaries of this nonprofit organization to vigilantly protect its rights and resources. Refuge Recovery exists to benefit the global Refuge Recovery community, not any one individual.

Refuge Recovery is a California 501(c)(3) non-profit, charitable organization. The mission of Refuge Recovery is to support those on this path of recovery by building an extensive and comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups, meetings, and communities that practice, educate and provide Buddhist-inspired guidance and meditations for anyone seeking recovery from addiction.

Please direct any questions or comments about this update to Jean Tuller, Executive Director, at [email protected] or Chris Kavanaugh, Board Chair, at [email protected].