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.