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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.

Please come check us out!

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!

For me, the core of the Refuge Recovery book has always been the chapter “The Process.” There it is, the crack in the sidewalk I stumble over every time I read it, Number 6, Effort/Energy:

“We commit to the daily disciplined practice(s) of meditation…”

and then a few paragraphs later,

“We encourage you to begin with the practice of meditation right away. Meditation is going to be the most important tool in supporting our renunciation.”

This is demonstrably true. I have seen it work miracles in my life and in the lives of dozens of people. And if I know how true and valuable this is, why is it so hard for me to stick with this brief daily commitment? And I’ve noticed that it’s not just me. Newcomers and long-time practitioners alike have their struggles with meditation practice. Restlessness, doubt, attachments to our stories, and self-criticism can all derail a meditation session or even a long-established practice. But the meditation practice is absolutely key to our recovery. How can we overcome these hindrances and establish or continue a practice that is so crucial and beneficial to our developing sense of ease in the world as it is?

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chödrön

In Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, Pema Chödrön seems to speak directly to us in her loving voice about how to accept ourselves and our lives, just as they are. She provides clear instruction in three basic meditation practices: basic sitting meditation, tonglen, and working with lojong, the seven points of mind training.

I found this book to be a real life saver. The lojong slogans serve as exercise for my heart and mind, just as walking does for my heart and body. Tonglen made sense for the first time, too.

But for me, probably the most valuable passage was instruction on becoming mindful of thoughts as just something the mind does. Pema says,

“Labeling your thoughts as ‘thinking’ will help you see the transparency of thoughts, that things are actually very light and illusory. Every time your stream of thoughts solidifies into a heavy storyline…label that ‘thinking.’ Then you will be able to see how all the passion that’s connected with these thoughts, or all the aggression or all the heartbreak, is simply passing memory.”

That was a huge revelation, and the book is full of them. Give it a read! May it help you be at ease with your practice.

Our first meeting was held in June 2015. We have 8 meetings per week, as well as a monthly outdoor meeting, and one meeting we take into detox. We meet in 5 locations around Asheville, including the VA.  We have mentors who have worked as is laid on in the book, but more people have worked through the inventories alongside others than formally through a mentor.  Fostering fellowship has been a huge area of growth for us this year.  Our intersangha engages in weekly activities which include hiking, yoga, service work, tea/coffee house gatherings, service work, and other social events.

We have a wide variety of meetings, including topic discussion, book study, fold-focused, and speaker meetings. There is ample opportunity for newcomers to become involved in service positions, social activities, and community outreach. We now offer free yoga specifically for the Refuge Recovery community. We have also recently hosted Noah Levine and Dave Smith for presentations in Asheville, held several half-day retreats, and will have our first daylong in May with Andrew Chapman. We are hoping to offer workshops with Deborah Eden Tull, who now calls Asheville home.

Sangha Spotlight: Refuge Recovery Asheville

Presenting Dave Smith, November 2017

Our H&I Committee is relatively new, with plans to take meetings into treatment programs, therapeutic boarding schools, and the jails.  All of these entities have been asking for us to bring in meetings for years. There is interest in starting RR affinity meetings for young people and the LGBTQA+ community.

The focus in these first years has been to create a safe space. Whether or not RR is your primary path, no matter your opinion about 12-Step recovery, how much/little you know about meditation, we want you to feel safe and at home to express yourself in a community of support. A member adds, “Walking into a meeting where people share their struggles and their solutions allows others to do the same. That the sangha is the one place we don’t have to know it all and that that allows others to not know it all either. And when challenged about something, we understand people are hurting and seek to understand our part and their perspective before we seek to make them wrong.”

Sangha Spotlight: Refuge Recovery Asheville

 

by Chris Kavanaugh

Throughout my recovery, I have encountered many variations of the question: I know this is an abstinence-based program, but why can’t I take drugs that aren’t really addictive, like marijuana, or mushrooms, or peyote, or acid, or ecstasy, or ayahuasca, or ibogaine, etc. I’ve also seen this question answered in a variety of ways. Most commonly, it is met with a warning like the one found on page 28 of Refuge Recovery:

“Most addicts find that their addictive behaviors continue on with the new substances without a full renunciation of all recreational mood and mind-altering substances. It’s the phenomenon of switching addictions. It is more common than not.”

Okay, fair enough. But what if my intention is to use a substance to advance my spiritual awakening? If I’m trying to be more mindful, doesn’t that make it okay?

I believe that in 2018, this question needs to be taken quite seriously. The use of psychedelics to treat addiction is very much in vogue. Respected physicians like Dr. Gabor Maté can be found running ayahuasca sessions to treat trauma. Others are using ibogaine claiming that it can arrest opiate withdrawal symptoms, while giving some patients a welcome new perspective on their self-defeating patterns. LSD is now the topic of serious scientific research for the first time since the 1970s. Microdosing of hallucinogens (the ingestion of very small doses to bring about minor enhancement of creativity and focus, for example) is now one of the hottest drug fads going. And of course, the legalization of marijuana in many parts of the country has so raised awareness of the drug’s medicinal benefits that for many it has become like a health food.

I have never seen this question handled more skillfully than by Diana Winston in her book “Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens,” published in 2003. For those of you who don’t know, Diana’s a long-time member of the Dharma Punx/ATS community. I spoke with Diana and got her permission to quote from her book in this article.

After introducing this topic in a section titled “Psychedelics,” she acknowledged that taking drugs to find meaning is not the same as partying. She points out that many, especially during the 60’s, had profound and deeply meaningful consciousness-expanding psychedelic drug experiences. Then she says:

“In broad terms, all of these are spiritual experiences, and many who had such experiences were eager to find ways to incorporate them into their ordinary life. A number of downsides made trying to recreate or deepen these experiences through continued drug use impractical. For some, further drug exploration often proved, over time, to be too taxing on their body. Others discovered they had no guarantee of what the next drug experience might be—transcendent or horrifying. There has never been a reliable means to control the experience. Others were eventually frustrated that they could sometimes access seemingly spiritual realms, but the insights did not seem to last. So, quite a few set out to India or other exotic places. They went in search of gurus who could show them how to access the spiritual realm and its true and lasting wisdom without using drugs.

One of my teachers, Ajahn Amaro, has offered us an analogy for how psychedelic drugs can affect our minds. If you want to clear up a plugged sink, he says, you can use a plunger or some Drano and, with some persistence and a little effort, you will ultimately get the dirt and hair-balls out. Or you can take a sledgehammer and smash the whole sink open to get the hairballs out. Drugs are a bit like the sledgehammer. If you want to open your mind, you can do so slowly with meditation. Or you can blow your mind, full blast. It is up to you. You may have to pick up the pieces and glue them back together in order to wash dishes again.

Most spiritual seekers who have used drugs have had similar experiences. They discovered that drugs could give them a glimpse of something extraordinary, but once the drugs stop working, they were back where they started. Personal transformation requires work, and most people will not find it in a pill or tab. Waking up is a lifetime proposal. Waking up takes (and actually develops) persistence, effort, acceptance–all wonderful spiritual qualities. Waking up is joyful work. A daily spiritual practice deepens our wisdom, understanding, ability to connect, and to have compassion and empathy for others. Real spiritual practice is a way of life, and for many, meditation experiences will result in depths of understanding far greater than any ever attained through drug use.

The more we open to our spiritual life, the more we see how valuable our mind and body are. We want to protect and take care of them. They are the means by which we wake up. They are what wakes up.”

Diana’s answer is perfect for her audience; teenagers who may be thinking about doing psychedelics. But there are other issues at stake when this question is posed by an addict. We drug addicts have to face the fact that our own minds have tried to kill us. Our very survival requires that we set a crystal-clear boundary of intention (I will not drink or use) and then reinforce that intention in every possible way. The first action our program recommends, The First Truth Inventory, is all about setting our intention to be abstinent. Even though I have been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for many years, I still am constantly making choices that reset that intention. Each time I choose to go to a meeting, or to work with other addicts, or to write this article, for example, I am reinforcing the neural pathways which keep me in recovery.

Refuge Recovery is a culture that is fundamentally about waking up. This philosophy gives us a pretty simple guide for measuring our actions. Will this help me to be more awake, or will it make my awakening more challenging? For me, when I consider that question and look at all the available evidence, I can’t say a drug like ayahuasca won’t benefit me in some way, but I also must acknowledge that it may erode my intention and set me up for relapse. What I can say for sure is that for me, the risks seem to far outweigh any potential reward.

Diana ended her discussion of this topic with these two powerful paragraphs:

“Drug use can be a doorway that gives a small taste of our potential, of our creative or visionary nature, or of the spiritual realm, but ultimately, drugs are limited in their potential for awakening. As the saying goes: “Drugs can get us high but they cannot get us free.” True freedom is not dependent on the use of a substance.

Finally, the proof is in the results. Most of us know friends or classmates who have taken drugs and had profound experiences, but when they returned to normal consciousness they could barely remember any details of their experience. They weren’t changed in any lasting way, and the drug experience is just a vague memory. The proof of real change is in how we live our lives.”

Diana Winston is now the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. She also coauthored the book “Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness.” Several of her Dharma talks can be found on the Against the Stream website.

Tyler Lewke

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?

Sangha Spotlight: Refuge Recovery Chicago_mentorship

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?

Sangha Spotlight: Refuge Recovery Chicago_day retreatWe 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!

Tell me a little about yourself? (age, location, occupation, hobbies, etc..)

My name is George, but most of my friends call me Geo. The confusing thing is that I used to have a blog, called Mondo-Samu which accidentally became a

nickname. So if you see a friend request on Social Media from this rando named Mondo Samu…it’s me. Otherwise, I’m an Atlanta Georgia GenX child of the eighties. A lifelong geek who’s always been grateful and proud to have been born in the time I was. I grew up with D&D, Star Wars, & 80’s Hip-Hop/Metal/Rock. Commodore computers and comic books. Lots of comic books. A lifelong computer geek, my right livelihood is as a software trainer and tech support guy in the life safety business. My three greatest interests are my spending time with my amazing daughter, the Dharma, and boardgames. Typically I mix the first and the last. Sometimes all three.

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

In 2010 I was routinely thinking about my own death and what would happen to my family when I died. I had come to accept that I was dying a slow death from being overweight. It wasn’t a morose thing, it just felt like the only option. I didn’t think I could slow down that speeding train. I had sort of mentally accepted I didn’t likely have much longer. I was sick often, in pain, and uncomfortable in my body. On a trip to Canada I had some experiences that made me feel even worse. I was in a bookstore, at my lowest feeling, when I passed by the book “Savor” by Thich Nhat Hanh & Dr. Lilian Cheung. It caught my eye and I sat down to read it while I drank my 500 calorie mocha frap. I read half of it that day, and half the next. When I read about the four noble truths and the eightfold path I remember thinking “I’ve been a Buddhist all my life and didn’t know it!!” I started mindful eating and living that day and dove head first into exploring Buddhism. Eleven months later I’d lost 110 pounds and felt like a new person!

Somewhere in there I met Gary Sanders (among others) in an online meditation group through which I also learned about ATS. In my travels, I would attend Refuge meetings in L.A. mostly to meditate with ATS people and to visit with Gary. One day I mentioned I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict in that room. He pointed out that everyone is addicted to something! I started noticing that if you swapped the words “drugs” and “alcohol” with “food” my feelings and stories weren’t any different than anyone else in the room. I came to use Refuge Recovery as a way to maintain my newfound health, mentally. I also felt, having recovered through Buddhism, that this was something I wanted to help other people find.

What part does Refuge Recovery play in your own recovery?

Well, like I said, I had already recovered my life and was stable in my practice but I saw the program as both a way to spread the dharma to people suffering as I had and as a way to support my own mindful life and recovery ongoing.

How does Refuge Recovery support your recovery challenges?

I guess I’d say Refuge Recovery involvement supports my recovery in the same way that my Sangha supports my Dharma study. By helping with Sangha, I feel a sense of urgency about studying and practicing. It makes it in to a win-win. I’m both spreading the dharma and giving myself a great excuse to immerse myself in it.

What’s your favorite part of the book?

I think that’s kind of impossible to answer, really, but if I pick one right now in this moment, I would pick the First Foundation a page and a half into Chapter 11 Mindfulness and Meditations. We just read this one last night at a meeting and what struck me and blew my mind a little is how much there is to practice and unpack in that simple page and a half. It directs you to the pages for each practice it references, and I was struck that you could VERY easily spend weeks and months on any one sentence in that page and a half. But I would have to say that any thoughts on what my favorite part is would be pretty impermanent. 🙂

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

A warm welcome, a familiar format, and probably a good bit of laughter! Our groups are all unique, but the one thing they have in common most is laughter I think. At least that’s what I see when I’m there. I love the fun and the sense of relief that people seem to repeatedly experience when they attend (any meeting, not just ours).

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

I think that fellowship, service positions, and mentoring are all things that we are working on strengthening in our groups. A couple of our groups have started trying to organize outside fellowship events such as dinner together before or after a meeting. All of them are trying to grow service positions and mentoring. We’ve had a lot of interest from people who want mentors but not enough interest in people wanting to be mentors. It’s a slow process, but one we are becoming more confident with. I’m grateful that the regions are focused on this as well.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to express my gratitude and love for literally everyone involved in this program. I am constantly blown away by the people I meet through Refuge and I mean everyone. There’s a quality of life that I think people in recovery have and it’s beautiful. I was extremely honored to be elected as one of the Regional Reps for the Southeast, and our recent Conference in Nashville at Against The Stream was absolutely, positively, AMAZING!

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.”

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.