Meetings

Voices from the Sangha: Chris Kavanaugh

by Chris Kavanaugh

Throughout my recovery, I have encountered many variations of the question: I know this is an abstinence-based program, but why can’t I take drugs that aren’t really addictive, like marijuana, or mushrooms, or peyote, or acid, or ecstasy, or ayahuasca, or ibogaine, etc. I’ve also seen this question answered in a variety of ways. Most commonly, it is met with a warning like the one found on page 28 of Refuge Recovery:

“Most addicts find that their addictive behaviors continue on with the new substances without a full renunciation of all recreational mood and mind-altering substances. It’s the phenomenon of switching addictions. It is more common than not.”

Okay, fair enough. But what if my intention is to use a substance to advance my spiritual awakening? If I’m trying to be more mindful, doesn’t that make it okay?

I believe that in 2018, this question needs to be taken quite seriously. The use of psychedelics to treat addiction is very much in vogue. Respected physicians like Dr. Gabor Maté can be found running ayahuasca sessions to treat trauma. Others are using ibogaine claiming that it can arrest opiate withdrawal symptoms, while giving some patients a welcome new perspective on their self-defeating patterns. LSD is now the topic of serious scientific research for the first time since the 1970s. Microdosing of hallucinogens (the ingestion of very small doses to bring about minor enhancement of creativity and focus, for example) is now one of the hottest drug fads going. And of course, the legalization of marijuana in many parts of the country has so raised awareness of the drug’s medicinal benefits that for many it has become like a health food.

I have never seen this question handled more skillfully than by Diana Winston in her book “Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens,” published in 2003. For those of you who don’t know, Diana’s a long-time member of the Dharma Punx/ATS community. I spoke with Diana and got her permission to quote from her book in this article.

After introducing this topic in a section titled “Psychedelics,” she acknowledged that taking drugs to find meaning is not the same as partying. She points out that many, especially during the 60’s, had profound and deeply meaningful consciousness-expanding psychedelic drug experiences. Then she says:

“In broad terms, all of these are spiritual experiences, and many who had such experiences were eager to find ways to incorporate them into their ordinary life. A number of downsides made trying to recreate or deepen these experiences through continued drug use impractical. For some, further drug exploration often proved, over time, to be too taxing on their body. Others discovered they had no guarantee of what the next drug experience might be—transcendent or horrifying. There has never been a reliable means to control the experience. Others were eventually frustrated that they could sometimes access seemingly spiritual realms, but the insights did not seem to last. So, quite a few set out to India or other exotic places. They went in search of gurus who could show them how to access the spiritual realm and its true and lasting wisdom without using drugs.

One of my teachers, Ajahn Amaro, has offered us an analogy for how psychedelic drugs can affect our minds. If you want to clear up a plugged sink, he says, you can use a plunger or some Drano and, with some persistence and a little effort, you will ultimately get the dirt and hair-balls out. Or you can take a sledgehammer and smash the whole sink open to get the hairballs out. Drugs are a bit like the sledgehammer. If you want to open your mind, you can do so slowly with meditation. Or you can blow your mind, full blast. It is up to you. You may have to pick up the pieces and glue them back together in order to wash dishes again.

Most spiritual seekers who have used drugs have had similar experiences. They discovered that drugs could give them a glimpse of something extraordinary, but once the drugs stop working, they were back where they started. Personal transformation requires work, and most people will not find it in a pill or tab. Waking up is a lifetime proposal. Waking up takes (and actually develops) persistence, effort, acceptance–all wonderful spiritual qualities. Waking up is joyful work. A daily spiritual practice deepens our wisdom, understanding, ability to connect, and to have compassion and empathy for others. Real spiritual practice is a way of life, and for many, meditation experiences will result in depths of understanding far greater than any ever attained through drug use.

The more we open to our spiritual life, the more we see how valuable our mind and body are. We want to protect and take care of them. They are the means by which we wake up. They are what wakes up.”

Diana’s answer is perfect for her audience; teenagers who may be thinking about doing psychedelics. But there are other issues at stake when this question is posed by an addict. We drug addicts have to face the fact that our own minds have tried to kill us. Our very survival requires that we set a crystal-clear boundary of intention (I will not drink or use) and then reinforce that intention in every possible way. The first action our program recommends, The First Truth Inventory, is all about setting our intention to be abstinent. Even though I have been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for many years, I still am constantly making choices that reset that intention. Each time I choose to go to a meeting, or to work with other addicts, or to write this article, for example, I am reinforcing the neural pathways which keep me in recovery.

Refuge Recovery is a culture that is fundamentally about waking up. This philosophy gives us a pretty simple guide for measuring our actions. Will this help me to be more awake, or will it make my awakening more challenging? For me, when I consider that question and look at all the available evidence, I can’t say a drug like ayahuasca won’t benefit me in some way, but I also must acknowledge that it may erode my intention and set me up for relapse. What I can say for sure is that for me, the risks seem to far outweigh any potential reward.

Diana ended her discussion of this topic with these two powerful paragraphs:

“Drug use can be a doorway that gives a small taste of our potential, of our creative or visionary nature, or of the spiritual realm, but ultimately, drugs are limited in their potential for awakening. As the saying goes: “Drugs can get us high but they cannot get us free.” True freedom is not dependent on the use of a substance.

Finally, the proof is in the results. Most of us know friends or classmates who have taken drugs and had profound experiences, but when they returned to normal consciousness they could barely remember any details of their experience. They weren’t changed in any lasting way, and the drug experience is just a vague memory. The proof of real change is in how we live our lives.”

Diana Winston is now the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. She also coauthored the book “Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness.” Several of her Dharma talks can be found on the Against the Stream website.

Bee’s Books

by Bee Sloan

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!

I remember sitting in my rehab group, holding the diagnosis my doctor had just handed me. On it was written, “Alcoholism, severe. Severe chronic depression with suicidal ideation. Anxiety disorder, severe.” I looked up and said, “I’m broken and I don’t think I can be fixed.” All around the circle, people nodded. They knew how that felt.

I believed that the cravings and obsession would never go away, the crushing depression would never leave me, the disabling chest pain and dizziness and feelings of panic and helplessness would last forever. That I would always be stuck in one of three mind states, rage, numbness, and self-loathing. That was just the way I would always feel.

A lot of us feel this way. But the good news is that in the last fifteen years, what we know about the brain to transform has changed radically. You may have heard the term “neuroplasticity,” the ability of the brain to change and heal. As Norman Doidge says in his book The Brain that Changes Itself, “…the damaged brain can often reorganize itself.” And, “…I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and traumas.” In the last two and a half years working the Refuge Recovery practice, I have tested these emerging practices on myself and gained confidence that yes, this stuff works. As Dave Smith says, when he recommends the lovingkindness meditation to help regulate critical and bullying self-talk, “This stuff works. It can’t not work.”

These are four of my favorite books about neuroplasticity and the ability of the brain to heal from many forms of brain trauma. They are not written with addiction specifically in mind, but I found them to be informative and helpful.

We are not just stuck with the brain we have now. We have the power, each one of us, to literally change our brains physiologically, by changing our thoughts.

 

Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson PH.D

This book explains why Dave is right that this stuff works, combining neuroscience, mindfulness, and the Four Noble Truths, and then following up with practical exercises on how to develop ease, loving kindness, forgiveness, and compassion, and the ability to self-regulate.

The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D

I found Chapter 3, “The Stages of Neuroplastic Healing: How and Why It Works,” to be especially interesting and optimistic. Dr. Doidge is a compelling storyteller, and those who want to read more about the brain’s ability to “re-wire” will find this book enjoyable.

Train Your Mind Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley

In 2004, a group of neuroscientists met with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala to discuss and inquire into the possibilities of neuroplasticity. “Like sand on a beach, the brain bears footprints of the decisions we have made, the skills we have learned, the actions we have taken. But there are also hints that brain sculpting can occur with no output from the outside world. That is, the brain can change as a result of the thoughts we have thought.”

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D

This book, Dr. Doidge’s first on neuroplasticity, refutes the idea that our problems are “deeply ‘hardwired’ into an unchangeable brain,” with a series of stories from scientists, doctors and patients about what was, at the time, “the revolutionary discovery that the human brain can change itself.”

Voices from the Sangha: Hannah Joan

by Hannah Joan, Syracuse, NY

We started in May 2017. The story of how we started began in September 2016 when I woke up in my car; not an unusual thing to happen to me seeing as I had an alcohol problem, but because I also had an eating disorder I was often drinking instead of eating.

That morning I woke up and said, “This is it.”

I wasn’t sure how to get better but I started practicing yoga every day and reading “Dharma Punx”. So much of Noah’s life was like mine, except I was raised in an abusive Baptist church household. The start of healing seemed to really happen when I connected my breath to my yoga poses. This turned into practicing my breath and feeling my body tone in meditation. I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew I felt better and started to accept and sit with the fact that I was an alcoholic and needed to get control of my eating disorder or I would die.

September 2016 was the last time I drank. I went to an outpatient clinic for six months. The whole time I felt a call to share the experience I felt from staying aware of my breath and body tone. I could tell when I would get a craving or when I wanted to run away from what I was feeling, before the thought came to my mind.

I soon ordered “Refuge Recovery”, and was so overwhelmed with the need to share this crazy secret that had changed my life. I searched for places to start a meeting, stayed patient and continued growing in my practice. One day I got a message from a woman named Ashley, who was working at Prevention Network. She wanted to ask me about this Buddhist Path to Recovery I was living. We met, she loved it, and offered me space for free to start a meeting!

May 2017 was our first meeting. I never had expectations. I thought, “Even if it is just me sitting alone, I will do that.” However, this didn’t happen. That first meeting had six people in it and today we are now at 15 people every Sunday morning. I do not pride myself that these beautiful people are finding their true selves. I am just loving them along the way.

The practice of mindfulness and non-attachment has transformed my life and I love seeing the light in others faces when they experience this freedom too. I was a punk drunk, anorexic, angry, suicidal, fighter most of my life. I truly am thankful for the whole community around the world involved in Refuge Recovery. Syracuse has a very bad heroin scene and it’s not getting better, so I am blessed to be able to offer something else. I couldn’t go to church for AA because I shut down when I went inside one, ptsd and anxiety blocked any sort of positivity that aa could have brought me.

So, we meet every Sunday morning at 10am, at 906 Spencer St, Syracuse, NY. I am also planning on starting a second meeting very soon. It’s truly amazing how all of this happened and it’s humbling to be able to share after years of anger.

Voices from the Sangha: Cassie Lee, Las Vegas

An interview with the creator of the Refuge Recovery Starter Kit

Cassie Lee is the creator of the Refuge Recovery New Meeting Starter Kits. She agreed to sit down with Sangha Spotlight to discuss recovery, kits, and the appropriate weather for dinosaurs.

Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m 35, I currently live in Las Vegas but originally from Detroit. I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years. I’m happiest on a scenic drive somewhere remote with the windows down and a mixtape on blast. I love animals- especially my 10-year-old woof named Luca. I do photo gigs for families and businesses as a side hustle. Currently, I have the pleasure living with my older brother, his wife, and their son Andrew- who is 3 years old and my best friend. Living with them has allowed me to see exactly what kind of family I would love to have of my own in the future. Read more

Voices from the Sangha: Marjorie Redmond, Detroit

An interview with a Detroit mover and shaker

Tell me a little about yourself? (age, location, occupation, hobbies, etc..)

As I start to answer I recognize a familiar story, about how my story doesn’t fit, how I don’t fit, how as an old timer in recovery I’m barely relevant to the younger people who are finding refuge in Refuge Recovery. The good news is that because of Refuge and a meditation practice I move from the virtual reality that lives in my head to a real reality that lives somewhere in the heart/mind/gut of my life.

Read more

Sangha Spotlight: New York City

By Rosy N. NYC

As I type this I’m still pretty blissed out from the DharmaPunx retreat this past weekend with teachers: Josh Korda, Kathy Cherry and Melissa McKay up at Won Dharma Center. Wow. That was sublime. Even though it’s been ages since I’ve taken hallucinogens, I coulda sworn I was tripping as soon as I got there because the place was one step beyond amazing and I was already giddy about spending the weekend with the teachers who have turned my life upside down in the best possible way. Two ‘new-ish’ Refuge Recovery regulars, Jay and Nik, road up with me to the DPX too. Oh and Leah (who I had never met but had been texting about RR mentorship a few days earlier) just happened to be my roommate. WTF. Holy kismet.

I’m so glad I went but it was a tough call because Refuge Recovery NYC was having our fall daylong retreat at Jewel Heart Center on the same Saturday– Talk about an embarrassment of riches! The theme of the retreat was the Five Remembrances (fitting with Halloween just a few weeks away, no?). By all accounts, it was a fan-fucking-tastic retreat with many new faces. After the daylong ended, people couldn’t get enough Refuge so a big contingent went to the Saturday Manhattan meeting together.

The Saturday night meeting was the first for NYC, which Chance started about three years and ago. Within the last year, four more have sprung up in Manhattan and Brooklyn and we’re hoping for more in New York State in general. James and I did a workshop about Refuge Recovery at the New York State Recovery Conference in Albany earlier in the month. The people were excited and we felt like rock stars. Who knew a conference in Albany could be so much fun?!

The NYCRR crew is great at having fun. Together we have holiday potlucks, summer picnics, movie outings, museum excursions, foot massages after protesting, and the trip to LA with Chance, Dan, James, Bernard, and Noam for Refcon3 was super special. We’re also there to support each with everyday life shit by making each other grapefruit kombucha, moving cars for street cleaning, bringing over Advil after dental work (so much fucking oral surgery in sobriety), schlepping progeny from Brooklyn to Manhattan when in a jam, and generally just covering for each other. Like the city where we live, we are a diverse lot. A mixed bag of people recovering from codependency, internet addiction, eating disorders, over-exercising as well as the run-of-the-mill alcoholic and/or drug addict, we do our best to be inclusive of all humans (and yes, we ask people to state their gender pronouns after they say their name at the beginning of each meeting).

We’re just getting started here, but growing quickly (even if we’re a little slower on getting all the peoples organized for intersangha stuffs). If you want to connect with us, you can find us at:
RefugeRecoveryNYC.org
facebook.com/groups/RRNYC
We’d love to see you!

Bee’s Books

by Bee Sloan

When I first got sober, all I knew was that I didn’t want to die this way. For the first time I understood that drinking was really going to kill me. Not that I didn’t want to die; because I did, but then a nurse told me, “You don’t want to die THAT way. It’s a really ugly way to go.” Finally this message penetrated my fogged brain and I became ready to do whatever it took to get sober. And as I did the work of early recovery, I became more and more willing to live, to learn about my true nature, and to do the work to become the person I was meant to be.

These are the books that helped me most, my first year. There are many more, which I hope to share with you in future newsletters:

  1. “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction” Noah Levine
  2. “Against the Stream” Noah Levine
  3. “The Heart of the Revolution” Noah Levine
  4. “Buddhism and the Twelve Steps Workbook” Kevin Griffin
  5. “One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps” Kevin Griffin
  6. “The Twelve-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction” Darren Littlejohn
  7. “Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction” Damien Keown
  8. “The Recovery Book: Answers to All Your Questions About Addiction and Alcoholism” A.J. Mooney

And finally, strangely enough, “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor, an inspirational story of a woman’s stroke and recovery, written from her own point of view as a neuroscientist. I learned a lot about how the brain heals from this book. It was recommended to me by my nurse at Hazelden.

Regional Development Updates

Region I

(AK, BC, CA, HI, ID, OR, WA)

Region I had a videoconference on November 5th and here’s what went down:
– Affirmed: prior vote that Zoom is an acceptable platform to elect a regional representative and that those RR members who attend are eligible to vote

– 11 Yes, 1 Abstention: regional reps will ideally have 2 years of renunciation. Open Issues: definition of renunciation (process addictions inclusive) and how to word renunciation (clean time, sobriety, following 5th precept, etc)

– Split vote, 1 abstention: regional reps will ideally have demonstrated active engagement with the RR program for a period of 1 year or 2 years. Open Issue: split vote, 6 votes for 2 years, 6 votes for 1 year, 1 abstention.

– 9 Yes, 1 abstention: regional reps will ideally have been actively engaged in RR related service and will demonstrate this with a written submittal for review prior to voting.

– 13 Yes, 1 abstention: regional reps will ideally have experience with leadership, organization, and communication.

– No vote, but general agreement: position requirements and expectations of regional representatives (time commitments, financial commitments) will be presented along with position qualifications.

Region IX

Our next meeting is scheduled for 11/19/2017 at 1 pm eastern. All members of Refuge Recovery within Region IX (the New England states) are welcome to attend and participate.

Call-in info for the meeting:
https://zoom.us/j/245824949

Or Telephone:
Dial:1 669 900 6833 (US Toll)
or +1 646 558 8656 (US Toll)
Meeting ID: 245 824 949

Region XI

Our International Sangha has a newly elected representative, Jerry Sulonen from Lund, Sweden. Thank you, Jerry!!!

 

Send your Regional update to us at newsletter@refugerecovery.org!

Sangha Spotlight: East Bay, CA

By Molly Rice, Oakland

Refuge Recovery East Bay started around 2014 with one meeting at 924 Gilman St: a punk rock venue and collective in Berkeley, CA when a group of folks got a pre-print copy of the book, meeting formats and meditations. It really was a case of concurrent evolution that happened about a year later. The Tuesday group popped up, the Loka Yoga meeting started, and the Thursday group at CDRP. We eventually all met each other, and that’s when we all became the Brady Bunch…

We now have 10 meetings in Oakland and Berkeley including 2 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday. There are more than 44 in the Bay Area. We established a men’s meeting and a women’s group on Saturdays, an LGBTQAA group on Friday evenings and a kid-friendly and dog friendly meeting on Sunday afternoons. We started an Intersangha group for the Oakland meetings (and Gilman, hence East Bay) to help stabilize the infrastructure: particularly around running meetings in hospitals and institutions, and ordering books, pamphlets and literature, and creating new relationships with local institutions for additional spaces.

We have grown quickly and continue to do so. What has really worked for us so far is that we are a close sangha: we hang out together. We meet up for coffee before meetings, we go get sushi after meetings, we replace meetings with potlucks when we lose spaces, we roll to ATS together. We are working on using our Intersangha to regularly order literature and pamphlets, and creating mentors within our community to support our growth. It’s really helpful that we have a meeting every single day, but even when we didn’t we rolled to ATS and AA meditation meetings together. We announce where we are going to be at every meeting. And we are hella easy to spot in a crowd.

If you want to know when and where and how hard we’re going to sit, please check out:

Check us out at: http://refugerecoveryoakland.org/

Refuge Recovery East Bay Facebook Group

Staying Connected

by Hillary Wilde
Greetings from Eugene! I am the social media chair for our Refuge Eugene intersangha, which means I create daily media intended to inform members (and potential members!) of all RR events, meeting updates, and board meetings.
Here are some tools I use to keep members up-to-date and engaged:
Facebook, love it or loathe it, can be a very effective and free way to help the community to stay informed. Pages (versus groups) allow members to see the posts even without a facebook account. You can use the page naming formula, “Refuge Recovery xxx” so that it’s easily located by anyone searching in google or Facebook. Try to put a “pinned post” at the top of the page with a current meeting listing for easy-to-find information. You can use your Page to post graphics (more on that in a minute), or to create events such as a, “Refuge Recovery Bowling Night!”
Instagram is used by many members who don’t use Facebook, and since it’s visual media, a graphic or “flyer” is essential. When you post a graphic to Instagram, You can use the hashtag, #refugerecovery and add the meeting’s geolocation to the post for the ease of mapping directions. Most churches, temples, parks, and meeting houses have a geo-tag that is searchable in Instagram. You might also choose to hashtag the post with your city name, and #recovery. There are a lot of RR groups who use Instagram, follow them by searching for #refugerecovery and enjoy the greater connection!
To create a daily graphic for Refuge Recovery Eugene, I use the app called Canva. Flickr and Google both have options for searching for Creative Commons images that are free for “fair use.” This will keep your creative life drama free! Well, mostly.
After you’ve found a suitable image, you can select it from the canva app- from there you can add text. I like to use Refuge Recovery on each image, and the day, time, and location of each meeting. There’s a lot of room to manipulate the graphics with this app as you get familiar with it.
Another option you may want to explore is a website- Wix is a really easy to use website builder and editor. You can link your social media and maintain a current meeting list for those who don’t use any social media at all. Consider putting a google calendar on the website to inform members of daily meetings, monthly individual group business meetings, and intersangha events and board meetings. They also offer a free newsletter application and mailing list, to keep members connected to current local and national events.
You may want to ask around in your sangha for a service position commitment for these tasks. A three to six month commitment to maintain the social media presence is a big responsibility but it’s also fun! I get to interact with international members I may not have otherwise encountered!
Don’t forget the most important step- make sure to submit your new meetings to the website to be listed on the international map; www.refugerecovery.org/meetings!
Hope to connect, soon!