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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We started Nebraska Refuge Recovery in Lincoln in March 2018 and the Omaha meeting in July 2018 and currently have 2 meetings per week, Monday and Wednesday.
Fellowship is fostered outside of the meetings by being in constant communication with one another. We regularly attend social events such as concerts and movies together, we eat together and have game nights, too. When it comes to mentorship, encouraging each person in our sangha to mentor each other comes with the understanding that
in recovery helping one another is priority. We are always learning and we are all walking each other home.
The Lincoln meeting takes place in a privately owned home that caters to recovery, spiritualism, yoga, and massage and our Omaha meeting takes place at Omaha Power Yoga. This has been beneficial to cultivate a healthy base to hopefully add more meetings in Omaha and enlarge the intersangha. We have also teamed up with Illuminating Hearts and Liz Carey, MS EdS to add some helpful tools to our recovery toolkit. Illuminating Hearts is a group providing gong meditations and sound therapy. Liz has worked with us teaching Energy Field Tapping (EFT) to help relieve symptoms of craving, ptsd, anxiety and depression. Both of these experiences are offered after meetings for those who may be interested. It’s amazing, amazing stuff.
Our sangha is new, growing fast, and extremely excited to have RR in our lives and to share it with others. Come check us out!
Denver Metro area Refuge Recovery turned one year old on June 2nd! We started with one meeting in Westminster. The story is told here anonymously by the person who started it:
“A Colorado dad who nearly lost his child to a heroin overdose three years earlier, thought he had lost his child forever when the psychosis began. After discovering the psychosis was amphetamine induced, the parents successfully got the kid to enter a 90 day 12 step residential program.
A decade earlier, the parents ended their 20 year relationship with 12 step programs. The father had become a practicing Buddhist after the overdose and found the Refuge Recovery book while his kid was in treatment. After reading the book the dad searched for meetings, but surprisingly couldn’t find one in Colorado. He wanted to start a meeting in Denver and decided to visit Los Angeles to learn more.
The support he received in Los Angeles was amazing! The people at Refuge Recovery had a deep understanding of addiction and recovery and were very understanding of his issues with 12 step programs. Several people encouraged him to start a meeting and offered to help Colorado in any way they could.
Two weeks after he returned, on June 2, 2017, we had a Refuge Recovery meeting in Colorado.“
Shortly after the first meeting started, the Phoenix Gym started hosting a Sunday night meeting. This meeting has a consistent attendance of 30 to 40 folks and has introduced many people from the nearby treatment centers to Refuge. From there we spread to Golden, two meetings at a treatment center in Wheat Ridge Colorado, and another one in a treatment center in downtown Denver.
Our mentorship right now is peer to peer. We are mostly doing this thing together for the first time, and some of us have found more experienced mentors through the online meetings. We have an awesome fellowship chair that organizes monthly get-togethers. These include hikes, dinners, coffee shops, and tacos. The coolest thing about RR Denver is our presence in treatment centers. We currently have two at West Pines, one at Denver Health. Because of the location of The Phoenix gym, we have several treatment centers that attend that meeting as one of their required outside meetings. This means that Refuge Recovery is being introduced to people at the beginning of their recovery journey which is outstanding.
We have started an annual anniversary picnic tradition and would also like to have an annual meditation retreat with a new retreat center in Boulder. This is a long range plan. We have an amazing community that is growing fast and we love visitors.
Hi Sangha- Hope you’re enjoying the beginnings of Spring wherever this Newsletter may find you. Refuge HQ has been busy and there’s no end in sight.
In Jamestown, people came together from upstate New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania for an introductory workshop on Refuge. Big shout out to all who worked on making that event happen, including yoga by Hannah and meditations led by Sean, Sterling and Steven. The purpose of these events is to connect with our sangha and also get sangha members more connected with each other. At the end of the day in Jamestown, participants (many of whom hadn’t met each other until that day and drove several hours to attend) were planning their next day-long. It’s these moments that are reminders that sangha is generous, kind and united to assist all in recovery. RefCon5 planning is in great shape and this is a reminder that we are keeping the early bird pricing until May 15th so please get to https://refugerecovery.org/refcon5 soon and sign up. The conference site gives us break-out rooms so there’ll be a number of topics for you to choose from, including sangha development, growing your practice and process addictions. Kansas City will be hosting Saturday night’s Refuge meeting. The Chicago crew is working hard to make this an exciting event in a beautiful part of their city so don’t pass this up!!!
Thanks for all you do to make our community a refuge.
Hi Sangha- this month we’re exploring the Precepts and what it looks like to take them to the streets. We are not monastics so understanding and living the Precepts as householders in recovery can be (at least for me and maybe for you) an ongoing process of discovery and returning again and again to the practice. Just like Tyler, I have “started and fucked up a thousand times.” We are an abstinence-based program; what does that mean to each of us? How do you establish your bottom lines? We’re also looking at recovery and yoga; many thanks to Sarit, one of the founders of Refuge Recovery, for sharing some of her story and insights with us.
Dan is continuing to take our website to the next level, organizing resources and enhancing our guided meditation offerings. We get about a thousand downloads a day (wow!) and it’s exciting to have new voices coming forward to lead meditations. Many thanks to the folks who are sending us their meditations for posting and please keep ‘em coming.
We have 597 meetings today and our non-profit organization continues to be focused on being of service to sangha. Our infrastructure of regional and inter-sangha groups continues to form. We have now had two regional conferences- Southeast and, just a few weeks ago, New England- both were inspiring and demonstrated how connectivity builds and deepens recovery. Got a suggestion? Please feel free to send any and all ideas to refuge recovery. Much appreciation to all of you.
Hi Sangha- hope this Newsletter finds all of you well and, for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, enjoying the summer. I’m pleased to report that our annual conference, referred to as RefCon, went beautifully this year.
Major props to our Planning Committee, which was composed of Regional Representatives from around the US and Canada, and local arrangements, managed beautifully by the Los Angeles team. They all did an incredible job, both in the planning stages and supporting the conference participants throughout the weekend. RefCon4 was a celebration of sangha, with speakers who helped start Refuge Recovery all those years ago as well as folks who are newer to our community. A whole lot of spirited folks in one place lifting the building off the ground. This was our first year live-streaming and I want to acknowledge one of our crew in Canberra, Australia for suggesting we give it a try. We’re posting a link to each session on the Refuge Recovery website so you can check them out if you were unable to attend or catch the live streams.
Our first Annual Report was summarized at RefCon and that is now posted on the website as well as our 2017 tax return. The Refuge Board of Directors is well aware that sorting through the various entities tagged as Refuge Recovery can be confusing. Just to be clear,
Thanks so much for everything you do to make our turbulent world a refuge. I look forward to seeing you soon on the Sangha World Tour; next stop is Dover, NH for the first-ever Region IX Conference!
After a couple of us attended numerous RR meetings in the early days in Santa Cruz and LA, we started our first group in the basement of the Blue Lotus Temple in Woodstock in 2013! 3 of us the first night! 20 the second night. 30 the third night!! 6 months later the Chicago Tribune did an article about recovery models in Chicagoland and they put a giant picture of us on the front page! We got flooded with calls from treatment programs and friends and things took off quickly!
How many meetings per week do you have, currently?
We have a meeting EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE WEEK! WOOT! And we now have a couple meetings a day on a few of those days!
What does mentorship look like in Chicago?
Mentorship is slow to come in a formal way. A few of us are mentoring, and a few have mentors outside the local area, but many of us actively engaged in noble friendship, which feels similar in how I see it working. We regularly fellowship together, lots of text / phone / in person support, book clubs, inventory work, etc etc.
How do you foster fellowship outside of the meeting?
We have fellowship at a local cafe after our Friday night meeting, we have temple activities at our Wednesday night Blue Lotus meeting and there we even formed a service committee to volunteer together in the community. We’ve brought a few teachers / monastics in to do workshops. We help each other move, find jobs, drink an enormous amount of coffee and lots of walks on the lake.
What’s special about Refuge Chicago?
We just did our first full day retreat that was AMAZING! Because of the temple we have access to some great dharma teachers who roll through town and we can grab them for ourselves here and there. We started a “therapists and helpers” meeting, providing a more confidential setting for those of us who work in the addictions field in some way and need the anonymity of a closed meeting where clients won’t be present. A second one is starting up this month! This has fostered lots of referrals to the other meetings as the health care professionals have direct experience and feel great referring their clients! We started a dharma book club this year, and are planning for a day retreat once a quarter! We recently started “the Chicago fund” where we can actively fundraise to help new meetings get started, send people to conference, help pay for rent at new meetings, etc etc. This allows for assistance that’s needed and gets ego out of the way by individuals being the donor… it’s all anonymous. Each group sends 10% of their collection to the Chicago fund and so we have this ability to make stuff happen.
Any big plans?
We are in the early stages of planning a Regional Retreat so we can get to know our entire region better! Also, we plan to have our first LGBT meeting starting up in the next couple months so we can provide refuge for those of us who want the safety of a closed environment! We’re eagerly working on how to get to the Chicago’s Southside—- it’s a economically depressed and very diverse part of Chicago that really struggles with addiction and needs Refuge. We’ve been hesitant to open more meetings until we get to the south side. In addition, we’re very focused on getting women in all our leadership positions and trying to be as conscious as we can about diversity, inclusion and equality.
What’s something Chicago sangha would like the rest of the RR community to know about their sangha?
We love you all and the entire RR community is saving lives every single day! What we know for sure: If you let dharma run the place, success will come.
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This month we bring you Tanya’s story, one of our members from the London sangha.
Tell me a little about yourself?
I’m a mish mash of cultures: born in London but brought up in Italy, Africa and the Middle East. My parents are a mix of Italian (father) and South African (mother), raised in two, sometimes three, languages.
I’ve been living in London for the past 20 years even though I initially intended to stay here for one! I’ve worked (or tried to ;-)) as a make-up artist for most of my adult life but I’m still searching for my ‘fit’. I’ve recently rekindled my love of horses. Who knows, this may be a possible new direction, the owner/director of the stables I belong to also works with horses in a therapeutic/ recovery work context. I may look into applying for a volunteer post to begin with….
Could you share a little about your recovery process and what led you to Refuge?
I found my way into the rooms of 12-step meetings over 20 years ago, while I was living in South Africa. My life was incredibly chaotic: Crazy relationship, constantly in and out of food, drugs and alcohol (or anything I could use to feel good/high/soothed/numb, etc), I’m not always sure in what order. Compulsive/disordered eating is what brought me in, even though I couldn’t control any of these other compulsions. At the time, what I thought was killing me was my inability to keep my relationship with food, sugar in particular, under control – sugar was a powerful gateway into other substances although they also served to free me from the relentless torment of body/food/weight obsession.
I became more of an active participant in recovery once I left the relationship and changed country, which brings me to my arrival here in the UK. Of course, I discovered other underlying factors such as career and finance related issues, co-dependency and unresolved childhood trauma…
I initially heard about Noah Levine and Refuge Recovery through Tommy Rosen’s Recovery 2.0 program, after taking part in his coaching program in 2014. At the time I’m not sure if there were any meetings here in the UK, perhaps there were, but at the time the idea of applying Buddhist principles to food addiction seemed too remote and certainly not something I felt ready to embark on…I’ve relapsed so many times in this area and with a lot of support, too. Trying to recover without peer-to-peer, in-person support seemed impossible, so I just pushed the idea to one side. What I discovered through Tommy’s Facebook group was a more compassionate and affirming approach to recovery, more holistic and healing. I liked the body-based yoga approach as an added resource since I was exploring Bioenergetics and body based therapy. I can’t remember exactly how but I found my way onto the Refuge Recovery Facebook page which then led me to the Sunday evening group here in London!
What part does Refuge Recovery play in your own recovery?
It’s still growing, from within…although there’s still so much to work through, there are times I can sense my feelings of shame diminishing…
Refuge has given me the ability to offer myself kindness, compassion and eventually forgiveness – I never thought I’d have the capacity to acknowledge these needs within myself. I don’t think I even knew these were genuine needs. You were one of the first people I spoke to in RR (so glad you were!). I remember nearly falling off my chair when you suggested I practice the Metta and offer myself loving kindness – I don’t think anyone had ever suggested that to me in an initial recovery practice.
How does Refuge Recovery support your recovery challenges?
I find the inventory questions address the underlying factors that led to addiction very early on, which helps take my focus off the substance and points me to the heart of the matter. I still need the support of other recovery groups to address my ongoing struggles with food and weight obsession, but my hope is to gradually move towards a more mindfulness approach in this area. Let’s see where it all leads me…
What’s your favorite part of the book?
I can’t say there’s one thing that stands out more than the rest. I like the stories because they shed light into my own. In the Wednesday group we’re reading through Chapter Eight: Action/Engagement. The section on honesty was a good reminder that guilt, shame and remorse will easily lead me to acting out one way or another – I’m still easily led into thinking that I can “get away” with things…
If I attend a Refuge Recovery meeting in your area, what can I expect?
A friendly warm welcome! The Sunday group at the Jamyang Buddhist Centre is our largest meeting, whilst our mid-week gathering in Westminster fluctuates from week to week. It’s ideal if you like a smaller more intimate setting. 😉
Can you give us some examples of what you’re working on within your sangha?
We’re still working on spreading the word about Refuge Recovery and the fellowship here in London and encouraging people to work with each other through the inventory questions (if they can’t find mentors).
Tanya, thank you so much for your time and honesty. Is there anything else you’d like to add?