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!
How long has Refuge Chicago been around?
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.
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?
I think that’s it!
From the Office of the Executive Director
Hi Sangha- lots to report this month re: planning the annual RR Conference, scheduled for June 8-10, 2018 in Los Angeles.
Speaking of RefCon4, it’s on, people!!! The planning crew is getting organized and it should be quite an event. As usual, we’ll have a combination of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in more or less equal measure. Our logistics will be different this year as we won’t have the small rooms available to us, so we’ll have lots of cozy togetherness. The recent Southeast Conference in Nashville was mostly held in one room and it seemed to work fine so no reason it can’t work in L.A.! We have reserved 20 beds at the Melrose Hostel to help make this affordable for everyone; you can find the hostel at https://melrosehostel.com/. Just make sure you let them know you’re a part of Refuge. Oh, and one other thing, some of the dharma will be coming by way of Josh Korda from Dharma Punx NYC. He’ll be giving a teaching on early attachment and addictive behaviors- using the Refuge tools to heal early emotional wounds.
We’re launching our new website soon and deep bows to Sanja Rogers, Dan Oliverio and Josh Reisner for their beautiful work. Registration for the Conference will happen on the new site (any day now!).
Finally, our theme this month is renunciation. In pondering that, I bumped across a forum in Lion’s Roar from April 2017 that I’m sharing here for folks who haven’t yet read it: https://www.lionsroar.com/forum-the-beauty-of-renunciation/. The introduction to the forum talks about renunciation as “the beautiful realization that you already have everything you need.” May all of us have everything we need as we turn away from greed, hatred and delusion.
Our theme this month is metta- the gift of loving kindness and friendliness. Several months ago, we began taking on the issues of cultural competency in our organization. This reflected an urgent need to begin fostering more metta in our worldwide sangha to all members.
Thanks to skillful work by Jaisee Alexander from Charleston, SC and Chance Krempasky of Brooklyn, trans-phobic language in the Refuge Recovery book is being eliminated. The process of looking at the book, as well as concern for member safety in some of our communities, prompted the Board to collaborate with sangha members to develop a statement on diversity and inclusion. When we say “All are welcome,” we need to mean it. To that end, I am pleased to announce that, at its February Board of Directors meeting, the Board approved the statement that you will soon see on our website and social media. We still have a long way to go and discussion at the recent (and AMAZING!!!) Southeast Regional Conference about the work ahead was thoughtful and energizing.
Here’s the statement:
“As a peer-led recovery program using Buddhism as the path to freedom from all addictions, Refuge Recovery is a community that embraces all people regardless of age, race, class, culture, nationality, ethnic origin, religious/spiritual background, gender, gender identity, sexual/affectional orientation, marital status, family structure, social identity, physical ability or appearance, mental health, legal standing, and educational or socioeconomic status. As such, we strive to speak to each other in a compassionate way using wise communication and avoiding hate-speech, intimidation, and violence of any kind. If you seek refuge in our community, we hope you feel welcome and safe.”
Now on to RefCon4 planning and designing our regional infrastructure. Folks, we’ve got this!
Hope to sit with you soon on the Sangha World Tour,
Our Newsletter this month is devoted to intentions. What are your intentions for the coming year? How will you make them happen? 2017 was a year of geo-political-social challenges (hmmm… maybe “nightmare” is a better description!), for sure, and so
how do we as a global sangha continue to carve out safe space? How do we hold a lantern for those seeking refuge? Recovery is always dynamic; the support we provide one another strengthens each of us and our sangha as a whole.
Speaking of strengthening, in June 2017, we had 260 listed meetings. We are now at 447 on our new and improved meeting listings web page. This is incredible growth and demonstrates how all of you have made Refuge Recovery a place to come home to. Also, we are on track to build our regional infrastructure, with the plan being that most of our regional representatives will be identified by January 31, 2018. I’m pleased to announce the following representatives:
Region II: (AB, MB, SK, WY, MT): Erin Gail
Region III: (UT, CO, NM, NV, AZ): Ray Rosales
Region V: (SD, ND, MN, MO, KS, NB, WV): Jim Joedicke
Region VII: (LA, AL FL, NC, SC, MS, TS, KY, GA): Taunia Kellerby, George Beecher, Beau Patrick Coulon
Region VIII: (ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NL): Louise Goodman
Region IX: (ME, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI): John Burns and Joel Osterman
Region XI: (International): Jerry Sulonen
Region XII: (Online Meetings): Kris Roehling;
and Women’s Recovery and Refuge Online: Erin Dunn
Beginning in February, the Representatives will start designing and building the functions and structure of the regions as well as provide assistance in planning for our annual Conference, scheduled for June 8-10, 2018, in Los Angeles.
Please thank these folks for their service above and beyond the call!
And deep bows to all of you as we travel together into the coming year.
Hope to sit with you soon-
Many thanks to Kara Haney at Refuge Santa Cruz for bringing forward this intentions worksheet, adapted from a kindred Recovery spirit. We hope you find it helpful in considering your intentions for the New Year. This worksheet could be used as a part of your personal practice, or as part of a sangha workshop.
Generosity. Some folks associate that word with the season we’re in. In Refuge, generosity is an everyday occurrence. The generosity of starting and supporting meetings. The generosity of serving as mentors. The generosity of giving your phone number to someone who just walked in the door.
The generosity of your donations. The generosity of our incredible volunteer, DIY spirit, which gets this newsletter published, manages our social media presence, and serves on local sanghas and our Board of Directors. All of these things happen and all because of you. Last month, I announced our new Instagram team, lead by Dan Oliverio, which has a couple of new members- Brent Borresson and Scott McNemar. These folks are giving a major jump to our presence on Insta; please send them some metta when you have a moment. This month, I’m pleased to announce that Hillary Hildebrand will be overseeing our entire social media portfolio, working closely with Dan and Co. as well as other Refugees active in our social media world. Hillary is genius for this work and I look forward to seeing how she raises our game. Please extend your gratitude and generosity to her as she takes on this new responsibility. And please accept my gratitude for everything you do every day to give our chosen friends and family a refuge. Hope to see you soon on the Sangha World Tour.
Hope to sit with you soon,
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.