Jean Tuller
Executive Director

Hello Sangha!

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,

Jean

Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a 51 year old, anarcho-queer. I am also fully professed Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Sonata Innocent, since 2009. Over the decades, my paid work as alternated between working in human rights (torture, prisons…and all the ‘isms & phobias) and human services (HIV, addiction, severe & persistent mental health issues). I grew up in Indiana and took off at 20 years old to find adventure in Orlando, Atlanta & Seattle before finding myself “back home again in Indiana.” Currently, I work as a Recovery Coach for people with co-occurring disorders. I take refuge in my communities who are connected through and around Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism and Social Justice.

Share a little about your recovery process and what led you to Refuge.

I consider myself as being in recovery from acute and chronic mental health disorders sine 2006 (PTSD, generalized anxiety, and clinical depression) I’ve been in recovery for addictive behaviors with several programs: codependency 2012, alcohol 2013, tobacco 2014. I’m still working towards a better life with food, money and video screens.

I’ve been a member of Buddhist Sangha since 2004 (Shambhala 2004-2011, Insight & Dharmata 2011-Present, Refuge Recovery 2014-Present). Though I have not always attended, I have identified as a Unitarian Universalist since 1990. (The question remains: am I a UU Buddhist or a Buddhist UU?)

I found my way to AA in 2013 because I wanted to attend a new meditation meeting in town. I came to understand that I was in a lot of internal pain – so much that it was life threatened from suicidal ideation and self-harm several times in my life. I also realized that I needed help outside of myself. I needed a long term, community of people who were in the same or a similar boat as I was / am. Therapists and psychiatrists are very helpful, some are even spiritual and Buddhist based. But they are not a long term community.

In 2014, I started Googling “Buddhist Recovery” I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, or what was missing in my 12 step community. As it turns out, now that I have been with RR for a few years I realize that two big factors were the prayers and the inventories. For me, rather than offering relief or a sense of letting go, the “Serenity Prayer” and the “Our Father” elicited craving, clinging and contraction (“Gimmie serenity “ Gimmie Forgiveness”).

What part does Refuge Recovery play in your own recovery?

In 2015, I started an online meeting. I have had excellent experiences with online meetings in a variety of programs. Refuge Recovery has followed suit. I have wonderful friends who live thousands of miles away from me. But with technology, they are with me daily. I talk with my sponsor who lives in town as much as I talk with mentor who lives in the Bay Area in Northern California. My phone cannot really tell the difference.

At first, I took the recommendation of committing to 6 months, whether or not someone else showed up. It became a time for me to engage in my own practice. Then someone else committed to showing up with me for 6 months. After that, our meetings grew. I made a commitment to myself that I would not start a meeting in my area until there was at least one other person who was interested in co-leading. After a couple of years, that has finally happened. I love my local meeting. It has not replaced my Online and long distance sangha. Indeed, I don’t think the local meeting would be possible without my having that connection to the larger fellowship through those meetings.

For the first year, those of us on the phone just kind of listened to each other’s inventory questions. That was helpful. And in 2015, I was able to attend the RR National Conference in LA. I found a mentor who is deeply connected to the community and to the practice. My work with the inventory has transformed. Now, it is my main practice. The actual writing is only a few minutes. My engagement with the inventories is an exploration of themes like Understanding, Intention and Wise Action. Sitting with the meditation and then talking about my list and about my experiences with my mentor expands my awareness, my love and my insight even more.

How does Refuge Recovery support your recovery challenges?

My challenge has been dedicating to a daily practice. Even though one part of my brain listened to my teachers and was somewhat accepting about what constituted practice, another part of my mind still held a very narrow, limited view of what was “real practice.” Even though I had my doubts that I really belonged or that I was “really practicing,” I continued to listen to Dharma Talks and with online meetings, expanded the number of times I actually sat in meditation each week. I do not feel relief from sitting by myself, I still often feel an increase in anxiety, so it’s been challenging for me to approach it all on my own without some external structure. But with the book, the Dharma Talks and the Guided meditations, I have the option to connect every day.

This year, I still have experienced hardships and challenges. Yet, I actually feel happy these days. When I start to feel guilt and shame in the morning about some task I failed to complete the day before – instead of grasping for serenity, I spontaneously start to soften my belly, wish myself genuine love and kindness and begin to appreciate the joy I’ve experienced in the past day. The result is both a sense of love for myself (a new feeling!) and I start to see that any challenge is just one aspect of a reality that is limitless. …and then both motivation and creative ideas start to flow….. Okay, so not every day, but many more than before.

What’s your favorite part of the book?

At this time, I have three go-to chapters that seem to apply to every challenge I face: Understanding, Intention and Breaking the Addiction. Every challenge seems to be based in the foundations of clear understanding and a loving intention. The chapter entitled “Breaking the Addiction” seems to be full of promises and hope. I now use readings from those chapters to end any RR meeting I am facilitating.

If I attend a Refuge Recovery meeting in your area, what can I expect?

I am one of the facilitators for online meetings. You can expect much the same as you would any other RR meeting with a few additions: The format is basically the same: Opening readings, meditation followed by a reading from the book and a discussion of a topic. The difference is that we get to connect with others in recovery from around the US, and sometimes the World. Participants have had experience ranging from early recovery to decades of abstinence and sobriety. Participants have been from every major region in the US and a few countries around the world (Bali and Australia are the furthest).

Give us some examples of what you’re working on within your sangha (fellowship, service, organizational structure practice, etc…).

Noble Truth Inventory Meeting

I’m not sure if my intention was to just wrap my brain around the inventory or to delay starting it. Either way, with the support of my mentor and others, I have created a study guide for the first truth inventory. Now that it is somewhat settled, I have found it very helpful….but maybe that’s because it’s wired for my brain. If you’re looking for any kind of extra support (not homework – support) around working with inventory questions, feel free to check it out. It’s linked here: https://sites.google.com/view/refugerecoverylive/noble-truth-inventory

I’m also active with the Refuge Recovery Live District of the Region XII. Previously, we were simply focused on ensuring that our meetings were covered for facilitation and making sure we had an online presence. Now, we are looking towards supporting one of our members to attend the annual meeting.

Anything else you’d like to add?

What I love about this community, about how this whole RR thing has been set up – is that is expansive – not too expansive – but enough – so that the person living in an area that is actively hostile towards Buddhism, or a treatment center, or like me just wants to get in more than one meeting per week – has a real and meaningful option to engage through online meetings. I was thrilled to hear from our fellow sangha member that the online meetings would be Region XII.

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.”

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.

New Year Intention Reflection 2018

New Year Intention Reflection 2018

Jean Tuller
Executive Director

Hello Sangha!

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!).

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, with more coming by the end of January:

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 see you soon on the Sangha World Tour-

Jean

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.

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!

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

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

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.