Hannah is 29 years old from Syracuse, NY and mother of two awesome children. Hannah is a peer specialist at an Outpatient clinic in Syracuse and also facilitates Refuge Recovery meetings.
I am Hannah Mountain. After hitting my rock bottom I found Refuge Recovery. I am a recovering alcoholic and am also in recovery from anorexia and bulimia. When I was court ordered to go to meetings I tried the traditional 12 step meetings and couldn’t relate to the other people there or the higher power step. I knew if I was going to get sober I needed to heal the root issues and learn to deal with life in a better way. So I started reading the Refuge Recovery book and it spoke to me. I started meditating using the mindfulness of breath meditation, which is still the one I turn to the most when I am struggling. After studying and practicing myself for a year, I decided to start Refuge Recovery here in Syracuse NY. It was slow going at first but by six months in we grew to around 12 people at the meetings and started a second meeting, then a third, and fourth, and now we are up to five meetings a week. We have a few different facilitators and we all work together as a team to keep the meetings growing and working. I still hold a leadership role in all the meetings, promoting and doing educational meetings at outpatient facilities in the local area.
The RR meetings in Syracuse may look a little different than some of the other types of meetings (e.g. 12 Step). One way is that no one introduces themselves with anything other than their first name. I believe this helps reduce stigma and helps people realize they are not their addiction. Just as we don’t see people introducing themselves as “Hi, I am Jane and I am a diabetic.” We also read an opening statement, read a part in the book and the facilitators talk about what that part of the book means and we have open discussion. Our meetings normally end in meditation; I do this because sometimes topics bring up some shit we may of buried and it helps to always end the meeting with a way to clear our heads and bring mindfulness to what we talked about, instead of talking and running out the door. I find it helps to leave on a positive note in that way.
Refuge Recovery is a lot of my passion as I have seen the practice work and people recover using the practice. I also take my yoga practice very seriously and that is a huge part of my recovery. It teaches me to connect my breath to my body and mind.
I don’t know if I have a favorite part of the book, just as the we need all eight spokes in the Dharma wheel, the whole Eightfold Path, not just one part of it, so if I had to I would choose all of chapter 14, Breaking the Addiction. As far as what I continue to do for my recovery, I have a Teacher who teaches me the Dharma and meditation instruction, which I use for my own life but also to share with our Refuge Recovery. I am lucky to have found my passion in Refuge Recovery and using the Dharma to heal myself and help others heal themselves.
I believe the Buddha nature is in each and every one of us and we have the ability to heal and recover.
I’m sitting in a randomly hip Portland coffee shop trying to not continue procrastinating writing this article, sipping on coconut milk matcha latte, and the lyrics of the song playing overhead sing : “I love music… funky funky music…. It’s the universal language… spoken by every woman, man and child…”
And it’s undeniably true. Music is magical; a wormhole that can transport us through time and space, reminding us of times forgotten, making us dance like a happy baby, or even move us to tears, somehow communicating with our hearts. Music affects us physically and mentally as well, firing off neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and that’s just from listening. When we play an instrument or sing, especially in a group, oxytocin can make us actually feel high, with no drugs or alcohol. “Free-lapse!” Oxytocin is often called the natural love drug, or the “connection hormone”. We get it from hugs, petting animals, and group meditation too!
I’ve played music all my life—starting first with saxophone in school orchestra, jazz and marching bands, which later evolved into the electric guitar, which had me forming bands off-and-on (depending how strong my depression and/or addiction was at the time) and writing songs. When I was deep in my addiction I continued to play and write, sometimes even suicidal songs; in isolation and sad drunkenness, I found comfort in those songs. It made me feel less alone. Maybe the oxytocin kept me from going over the edge and helped me survive. One of the last songs I wrote before getting sober was called “Sick of Being Sick.”
More than 15 years of self-sabotage and three DUIs on my resume, in late 2015 I was finally ready to admit I had to stop for good. I flew from my parent’s house in LA to a treatment center in Battle Creek, Michigan, and luckily for me they had an acoustic guitar I could use. I wrote soothing instrumental songs in a new tuning I figured out, and performed one of them, “Good Morning,” as my final speech in front of my peers. It was a CBT-based program, but I chose the aforementioned treatment center because it had a holistic “track” where monks from the local Soto-Zen Temple Monastery, Sokukoji, actually came in and taught those willing to meditate, answer questions, and attend services, including all-day sesshins. I was finally able to marry my love of music with spirituality—something I definitely wasn’t able to do on my own, getting loaded. It took me drying up, and a compassionate community.
After graduating from the treatment program, I moved into Sokukoji’s converted VA Hall monastery for a couple of weeks, writing songs on my teacher Sokuzan’s ancient guitar, lulling myself to sleep before waking at 5am for a two and a half hour sit every morning. I still have a recording on my phone of “Emptiness” that was written while we were studying Dzogchen.
Wes Geer, founder of Rock To Recovery; Jeremy Bixler, NW Program Administrator; Constance Scharff, PhD, Board of Directors
From there I moved to Portland, OR, and found Refuge Recovery, where I also found musician friends and started a grunge band, UnDude (a nod to The Big Lebowski). With the aid of Refuge Recovery, I started exploring career options, in line with right livelihood, taking the eightfold path to heart. Fuck being a barista! My friend and mentor Gary Sanders (who started one of the very first RR meetings in LA) now lived in Portland also. And through him, met someone connected to Rock To Recovery, a company that brings a specialized music therapy into treatment centers. The Program Administrators of this company are genuine rock stars! Had record deals! Toured the world! And, importantly, had found sobriety, spreading the joy of music to those healing from years of self-abuse, just like I was only 3 short years ago. After intense training with the bona fide rock stars that comprise Rock to Recovery down in LA, and my experience playing “mindful grunge” around PDX for a couple years, I’ve now joined the Rock to Recovery family, leading sessions as the flagship NW Program Administrator. The foundation I unknowingly laid way back in elementary school with music allowed me to survive my addiction, propelling me through treatment, stumbling onto the path—and buoyed by the collective strength of my Refuge Recovery sangha—has allowed me to connect to clients with a presence I’d never have been capable of alone.
Although all sessions are unique, the basic flow is similar. We do check-ins at the beginning of groups to establish a feel and theme, often gratitude-based in nature, and I share about my recovery process, always tying music and mindfulness together. We write a brand new song every time, as a group, and divvy up roles and instruments forming a band that’s never existed. Concept to completion takes 90 minutes, during which time we finalize the song and record it to be uploaded online for all perpetuity! It’s an amazing phenomenon being in the moment all together, speaking that universal language, and is truly transformative how anyone just days from being dope-sick can be singing, smiling, laughing, and most importantly, singing their new song! I’m privileged to be a part of that interconnected process.
Refuge in rocking, and rocking in Refuge…. Recovery is possible!
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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!
When I got sober almost four years ago, the challenges were pretty basic. How do I stay sober another hour? How do I deal with panic attacks and depression without self-medicating? After a few weeks, the challenges of sobriety got a little more nuanced. If I can’t hang out with my drinking friends without wanting to drink with them, who’ll I hang out with? I might stay sober long enough to want to rebuild my health. What does that look like? After awhile, I started hearing, “Don’t change anything for a year.” Well, nobody told the universe about that, because in that first year, my husband filed for divorce, which meant I had to move, change jobs, and deal with crushing grief while getting used to a whole new personality after getting sober and establishing a Buddhist practice. In other words, everything changed that first year. Everything. And here I was, with no experience of being able to deal with change or strong emotions, and with no skill in treating myself kindly.
Yeah, I went to meetings and meditated the hell out of everything. But that wasn’t not enough to help me live with my hurricane of reactions to the world-as-it-is. I needed instruction.
So I took direction in the wisdom of old-timers and my meditation teachers. And in a collection of talks Pema Chodron gave during a one-month practice period in 1989, published as The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness. These talks were intended to encourage the participants to remain awake to their lives, and to use daily life as their primary teacher and guide. It is basic instruction on how to love yourself and the world you find yourself living in.
I don’t think I can overstate how helpful I find this book, and how strongly I recommend it. It’s a short book but it is absolutely packed with wisdom. While I would like to quote the whole thing, it will save space in the newsletter if you just go get a copy and read it yourself. In the meantime, here a few choice bits to entice you:
“If we’re committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing…Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again.”
“Our emotions capture and blind us. When we start getting angry or denigrating ourselves or craving things in a way that makes us miserable, we begin to shut down, shut out, as if we were sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon but we had put a big black bag over our heads.”
“The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. We don’t even have to call it suffering anymore…It’s simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water…as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes…sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another. If we resist it, the reality and vitality of life become misery, a hell. Hell is just resistance to life.”
“Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane.”
And, to me, perhaps the most challenging and promising statement, “You can connect with the joy in your heart.”
Like I said, the book is packed. It helps, when reading it, to realize that she would give one of these talks and then the listeners would have a full day to meditate on what she’d said. Take your time. Read and reflect.
And as always, may you be happy. May you be at ease. May you be free from suffering.
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Refuge Recovery is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is our mission to build an extensive and comprehensive network of Refuge Recovery groups, meetings, and communities that practice, educate, and provide Buddhist teachings and meditations for anyone seeking recovery from addiction.