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!
https://refugerecovery.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/bixler2.jpeg240320user/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/refugerecovery-logo-sm.pnguser2019-03-07 00:21:322019-03-07 00:21:32Fusing Music, Mindfulness and Right Livelihood
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?
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.
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.