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REFUGE RECOVERY

JOINT STATEMENT OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF REFUGE RECOVERY AND NOAH LEVINE ET AL

 

In the welcome message at the beginning of every traditional Refuge Recovery meeting, we always say: “Our group recognizes and respects that there are multiple perspectives and multiple approaches to recovery…. We do not claim to be the only authority.”

At no time have these words been more important for our sangha.

The Buddha taught a path of awakening through wisdom and compassion. This path has been walked by many millions of people over the last 2,600 years. The Refuge Recovery movement and organization was born on that path.

As most are aware, the Board of Directors of Refuge Recovery and Noah have had differing views about the path forward. But neither claims to be the only authority on recovery from addiction.

The Refuge Recovery program and movement, as founded by Noah, are not ending. The existing Refuge Recovery non-profit will be dissolved.

Noah’s team is creating a new 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Refuge Recovery World Services, and will apply for 501(c)(3) non-profit status, to provide support services to all interested Refuge Recovery groups moving forward. Noah and others vow to adhere to the program as outlined in the book authored by Noah, “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction,” that includes peer-led, democratically run, local recovery meetings, and that also includes associated teacher-led meditation retreats and professional treatment options.

The Board will foster a new grassroots movement by forming a non-profit organization called Recovery Dharma Collective to provide support to local recovery meetings based on Buddhist practices and principles. The Collective will be entirely peer-led and democratically run, will not be engaged in designating specific or approved teachers for retreats or study and will leave the provision of treatment options to others. The Board also has supported efforts for the community to create its own literature that may serve to augment or provide an alternative to that contained in the Refuge Recovery book.

Both the Refuge Board and Noah continue to believe that other aspects of the Refuge Recovery program outlined in the book, such as mentorship, inventories, guided meditations, reliance on the fundamentals of Buddhism, including the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and a structured approach to meetings, should be maintained. Sanghas wishing to remain in Refuge Recovery will be supported by RRWS. Those wishing an alternative may choose to affiliate with RDC. Both organizations will support those wishing to pursue a recovery based on Buddhist principles and practices.

All parties to the litigation are fully aware of the suffering that has resulted from this dispute, and that there is a great shared responsibility to help heal the divisions. In an effort to end the suffering that has resulted from this dispute, and to focus on providing support for those who wish to pursue a path to recovery using Buddhist practices and principles, all of the parties to the lawsuit have agreed to withdraw their legal claims and move forward.

The ideas and practices behind a Buddhist-based recovery program and movement are not ending. Everyone in our community is free to choose their own path. It is the hope of all parties that in ending this litigation, the community can continue to benefit from engaging in a practice based in understanding, compassion, metta, and equanimity.

The Board and Noah extend compassion and best wishes for both of the organizations and their adherents. To manifest this good will, there will be a transition period on the Refuge Recovery website and social media pages, where this joint statement will be published, and where everyone will be given access to choose their own path. Both Recovery Dharma Collective and Refuge Recovery World Services ask there be no further attacking of one another and stress the importance of wise speech.

 

To view the entire settlement agreement, please head to the Litigation section of the Board of Director’s page on the Refuge Recovery website.

REFUGE RECOVERY

Dear Sangha,

We write to you with gratitude and excitement for the future of Refuge Recovery. We are aware and honor that the continued conflict between Refuge Recovery and Noah Levine has created stress and grief for many. (For more information about this issue within the sangha, click here). We extend our deepest compassion to all who have been affected.

THANK YOU for the integrity, compassion, and support you’ve demonstrated throughout this time of hardship and transition. You’ve built a strong foundation and an even stronger community, and it’s our continued intention to serve you with transparency, integrity, and wisdom, while providing you with a platform to be seen, heard, and supported as you safely seek refuge. We want you to know that we hear you, and see you, and are committed to supporting you as we continue to move forward together on this shared path to freedom from suffering.

Today, our intention is to share the momentum and solutions we’ve implemented to address the situation at hand and the ways we’re supporting you, our valued sangha. We’ve accomplished big things in the last five months!

  1. Instituted a policy on teachers. This policy establishes that as a peer-led organization, Refuge Recovery does not endorse or recognize the authority of any empowered Dharma teacher to speak for or direct the activities of Refuge Recovery. Empowered teachers may contribute to the mission of the organization by serving on the Board of Directors or in some other capacity as peers, but they may not use their position as teachers to assert authority over the direction of Refuge Recovery or their local community. Here’s the policy.
  2. Instituted a policy on community input. To encourage involvement and input by the broad Refuge Recovery community in the development of policy, action, and literature, the Board adopted a policy designed to solicit submissions of proposals or requests for action from the members of the Refuge Recovery community and to outline a method to ensure that such input is communicated to and acted upon by the Board. While the bylaws provide a method for the Board to adopt a policy, position, committee, or action, they do not provide a procedure for the submission of proposals or requests for action from members of the Refuge Recovery community. This policy is designed to define such a procedure. Here’s the policy.
  3. Removal of Noah Levine from the Board. In March of 2018, our Executive Committee (Jean Tuller, Chris Kavanaugh, and Don Westervelt) asked Noah Levine to step aside as a director and he agreed. Because Mr. Levine’s departure from the Board was done under the presumption that it might be temporary, it left his status as a director unclear. To resolve this ambiguity, during our May 4, 2019 Board of Directors meeting, the Refuge Recovery Board of Directors unanimously voted to remove Noah Levine from the Board.  Motion for removal lists cause as a) Mr. Levine is an adverse party in litigation with the Refuge Recovery organization b) Mr. Levine has violated his fiduciary duties as director and c) Mr. Levine’s rejection of the recommendations of the larger Buddhist community has caused harm to the standing and reputation of Refuge Recovery and violates our own ethical requirement of “causing no harm.” Read the motion in its entirety, as adopted by the Board.
  4. Field testing new works of the Literature Committee. A Beginners Guide and Inventories Guide are being field tested now and the next step is to finalize the drafts and submit them to a panel of critical readers. Our plan is to make these available to RefCon5 participants, with full distribution to the Refuge Recovery community shortly thereafter.
  5. Providing support to groups to make their own wise decisions about use or non-use of the Refuge Recovery text. We trust in the wisdom of each group to decide what is best for its own sangha and how best to support the recovery of its individuals. A great deal of helpful literature is published by others, and Refuge Recovery does not try to tell any individual sangha what they may or may not read or use in meetings. Refuge Recovery is based on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and in order to ensure fidelity to the Refuge Recovery program, we ask that only Buddhist or Buddhist-inspired literature is used at meetings. Refuge Recovery does not rely on 12-Step material and we ask that Refuge meetings not use such material (e.g., One Breath at a Time, by Kevin Griffin).
  6. Addition of two new Board members and resignation of another. Madalyn Baker, from Los Angeles, and Amy Reed, from Asheville, have been added to the Board of Directors. Both are leaders in their home Refuge communities and bring a depth of practice and experience to our Board. John Tydlaska, one of our original Board members, has stepped down after two years of service.
  7. Planning for our annual international conference, RefCon5. Our theme this year is Wings to Awakening. The Planning Committee, comprised of Regional Representatives, is developing peer-led workshops including an entire strand devoted to process addictions. The agenda will be published on June 1st on our website.

We will also have time at RefCon5 to discuss next steps that we as a community will take to move towards a membership-elected organization. All of the Board members will be at RefCon5 and we look forward to starting the planning process with you.

Join Us For A Conversation – Live Video Calls

We are hosting two LIVE video calls, during which we’ll address Noah Levine’s role in Refuge Recovery and our process in supporting the community through this time of transition.

On this video call (via the platform Zoom), we’d love to hear from you! How can we support you in continuing to grow your local sanghas? How can we support you during this time of transition?

We’ll also discuss:

  1. The update on litigation, including our receipt of Noah’s counter-claims, and the work we’ll be doing to address that.
  2. Official removal of Noah from RR Board (and what this means for Refuge Recovery and the community)
  3. The potential impact on our community as these issues get resolved.  

To prepare for the Zoom call, please go to the bottom of the Board of Directors page to review material related to the lawsuit.

  1. Topic: Refuge Community Meeting
    Time: May 22, 2019 7:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)Join Zoom Meeting
    https://zoom.us/j/473329921One tap mobile
    +16699006833,,473329921# US (San Jose)
    +16465588656,,473329921# US (New York)Dial by your location
    +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)
    +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
    Meeting ID: 473 329 921
    Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/ad74FQYypl
  2. Topic: Refuge Community Meeting
    Time: May 23, 2019 7:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)Join Zoom Meeting
    https://zoom.us/j/318039171One tap mobile
    +16699006833,,318039171# US (San Jose)
    +16465588656,,318039171# US (New York)Dial by your location
    +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)
    +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
    Meeting ID: 318 039 171
    Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/ad74FQYypl

We are looking forward to this upcoming Zoom call, where we can come together as a community, discuss the important issues, decisions, and action steps at hand, and field your feedback and questions.

Together, we have built a worldwide community of over 700 meetings, and it is the passion, dedication, and service of our members that will help us continue to grow and offer a path of healing and recovery to all who seek it. Our organization is made strong by the compassion, resilience, accountability, and forgiveness each member of our community demonstrates in their personal recovery, and we will continue to uphold our singular vision and unity of purpose to support and empower all who hope to relieve the suffering of addiction.  

We understand that this is a lot of information, and that you may have questions or feedback. Please contact us and let us know. Also, please join us on one of the upcoming Zoom calls! We’re here for you.

Refuge Recovery Fort Worth

Refuge Recovery Fort Worth

Refuge Recovery Fort Worth was started in October of 2016. It began with a core group who relentlessly built it into the thriving Sangha that it is today. Per the guiding principles, we have recently implemented a rotation of leadership. The current Service Positions are excited to expand what has already been set in motion. Our mentorship model, for now, has naturally evolved into peer to peer connections and our service positions consistently practice servant leadership.

We currently have five meetings per week. Three are topic-oriented meetings on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. A Woman’s group on Monday, and Refuge Recovery book studies on Tuesday. We have tried to make our meetings as accessible, interesting, and beneficial for all participants.

Our Fellowship outside meetings is candid, based on true relationships. My counselor in I.O.P. would say “The opposite of addiction is genuine connection.” As a group we seek and encourage such connections and are creating real friendships. We are even developing a relationship with a local Yoga studio for combo meetings and may have satellite meetings soon!

RR Fort Worth is excitingly eclectic. With a wide range of ages, genders, diverse personal and professional backgrounds, our meetings have a great deal of varied input. We find that this keeps everything fresh and the individual gets to do their own homework.  

Refuge Recovery Fort Worth is committed to the peer lead group model,  and wish all Sanghas find refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

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Refuge Recovery Omaha
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Jeff, Refuge Recovery Lincoln

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Josh, Refuge Recovery Omaha

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Josh, Refuge Recovery Lincoln

We started Nebraska Refuge Recovery in Lincoln in March 2018 and the Omaha meeting in July 2018 and currently have 2 meetings per week, Monday and Wednesday.

Fellowship is fostered outside of the meetings by being in constant communication with one another. We regularly attend social events such as concerts and movies together, we eat together and have game nights, too. When it comes to mentorship, encouraging each person in our sangha to mentor each other comes with the understanding that

in recovery helping one another is priority. We are always learning and we are all walking each other home.

The Lincoln meeting takes place in a privately owned home that caters to recovery, spiritualism, yoga, and massage and our Omaha meeting takes place at Omaha Power Yoga. This has been beneficial to cultivate a healthy base to hopefully add more meetings in Omaha and enlarge the intersangha. We have also teamed up with Illuminating Hearts and Liz Carey, MS EdS to add some helpful tools to our recovery toolkit. Illuminating Hearts is a group providing gong meditations and sound therapy. Liz has worked with us teaching Energy Field Tapping (EFT) to help relieve symptoms of craving, ptsd, anxiety and depression. Both of these experiences are offered after meetings for those who may be interested.
It’s amazing, amazing stuff.

Our sangha is new, growing fast, and extremely excited to have RR in our lives and to share it with others. Come check us out!

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!