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Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

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!

When I got sober almost four years ago, the challenges were pretty basic. How do I stay sober another hour? How do I deal with panic attacks and depression without self-medicating? After a few weeks, the challenges of sobriety got a little more nuanced.  If I can’t hang out with my drinking friends without wanting to drink with them, who’ll I hang out with? I might stay sober long enough to want to rebuild my health. What does that look like? After awhile, I started hearing, “Don’t change anything for a year.”  Well, nobody told the universe about that, because in that first year, my husband filed for divorce, which meant I had to move, change jobs, and deal with crushing grief while getting used to a whole new personality after getting sober and establishing a Buddhist practice. In other words, everything changed that first year. Everything. And here I was, with no experience of being able to deal with change or strong emotions, and with no skill in treating myself kindly.

Yeah, I went to meetings and meditated the hell out of everything. But that wasn’t not enough to help me live with my hurricane of reactions to the world-as-it-is. I needed instruction.

So I took direction in the wisdom of old-timers and my meditation teachers. And in a collection of talks Pema Chodron gave during a one-month practice period in 1989, published as The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness. These talks were intended to encourage the participants to remain awake to their lives, and to use daily life as their primary teacher and guide. It is basic instruction on how to love yourself and the world you find yourself living in.

I don’t think I can overstate how helpful I find this book, and how strongly I recommend it. It’s a short book but it is absolutely packed with wisdom. While I would like to quote the whole thing, it will save space in the newsletter if you just go get a copy and read it yourself. In the meantime, here a few choice bits to entice you:

“If we’re committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we’re going to run; we’ll never know what’s beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing…Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again.”

“Our emotions capture and blind us. When we start getting angry or denigrating ourselves or craving things in a way that makes us miserable, we begin to shut down, shut out, as if we were sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon but we had put a big black bag over our heads.”

“The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. We don’t even have to call it suffering anymore…It’s simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water…as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes…sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another. If we resist it, the reality and vitality of life become misery, a hell. Hell is just resistance to life.”

“Renunciation is realizing that our nostalgia for wanting to stay in a protected, limited, petty world is insane.”

And, to me, perhaps the most challenging and promising statement, “You can connect with the joy in your heart.”

Like I said, the book is packed. It helps, when reading it, to realize that she would give one of these talks and then the listeners would have a full day to meditate on what she’d said. Take your time. Read and reflect.

And as always, may you be happy. May you be at ease. May you be free from suffering.

Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

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!

My son and I had a weighty talk tonight about an important annual  tradition. It takes a commitment to honesty and a specialized vocabulary to talk about this subject.

“Do you want to watch the theatrical release or the extended version of The Lord of The Rings? Remember that the theatrical release is only 9 ½ hours and the extended version is almost twelve. And if we watch the extended version, we have to rework all the meal and snack times to fit so we can stop before midnight to put on the bagpipe record and make the root beer floats.”

Don’t laugh. This is serious. Because three years ago, I could not say those sentences without stopping at least two or three times to try to think of a word.

My mind was too foggy to make a schedule for a New Year’s movie marathon. Or remember to put the shopping list in my purse, or to find my wallet. Which could be in the freezer, or under the car seat.

I’d been losing mental acuity for years. My daughter was sure I was getting early dementia. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake, and yet I would look at an appliance on the counter and wrack my brains and point and say to whoever was listening, “What IS that? I can’t think of what it is. Um, it toasts bread?  Oh! It’s a TOASTER!”

So after I’d been in rehab for awhile, I shared these worries with my doctor. Now that I’m sober, I should be able to think clearly, right? Why am I so sleepy all the time? Have I damaged my brain permanently?

I was looking for answers, and what I got handed was a book. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor. Dr. Taylor is a neurologist who had the fascinating experience of observing herself have a stroke. She didn’t have a head-on collision with an addiction. She had a head-on collision with a burst blood vessel in her brain. The chapter where she knows, as a scientist, exactly how long she has before she stops recognizing numbers on her phone and can’t call for help, is on par with a Hitchcock movie for heart-pounding suspense.

So what’s this got to do with those of us recovering from addiction?

A lot. Because although you feel better once you get through those first agonizing days of detox, you probably have three to five years left before your brain is fully healed. And it can be helpful to have a road map of what some of that healing entails.

For example, before I read this book, I didn’t know how long it would take my brain to heal, or even that it would. I would have given myself credit for living with the slow pace of healing, and I would have been more willing to wait for it to come in its own time.

I didn’t know that the healing brain needs a lot of sleep. I would have taken more naps.

I didn’t have any sense of the wonder and gratitude that should come from waking up, day after day, with just a bit more smarts than I’d had the day before.

So if you are in your first few days, weeks, or months of sobriety, read this book. It’s a thumping good read. And it’ll help you understand that you are living with a healing brain, and it’s a miracle that it can, and it will, and you can wait for it to happen. And observe it happening, and be grateful that it’s happening.

Happy New Year! And may you be happy and at ease with your new life.

Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

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 got sober in a Hazelden facility, and they were pretty heavy into AA. You had to show that you went to meetings. I got in trouble because I wouldn’t go. I was fine with the first three steps. Yeah, I think I’ve proven I’m powerless over alcohol! And obviously I need a power greater than myself to get sober, because even though I was told that drinking was going to kill me pretty soon, I couldn’t stop. I was finally ready to accept that I wasn’t the one who knew better.

But there I got stuck. I had to believe in some kind of God. And they kept referring to a personal, anthropomorphic God, who apparently is of the male gender. And I didn’t like the Fourth Step and its successors. I was already drowning in shame and the words “character flaws” made me feel worse.  I liked the word “meditation” in the Eleventh Step, but then they started that God talk again.

My doctor recommended Refuge Recovery as an option. Oh wow, what a relief! Meditation! Renunciation and abstinence instead of a daily 24-hour-a-day struggle! Uncovering my Buddha nature and practicing an ethical life instead of cataloging my flaws. I loved it, but there were only two meetings in Portland then, and once I was discharged from Hazelden, I needed at least a meeting each day, which left AA. I started going to a daily 6:00 a.m. meeting, where I became part of a great support group, and gritted my teeth through meetings, trying to translate what I was hearing into something I could use.

Then my doctor gave me Kevin Griffith’s book, A Burning Desire, at our last meeting. I opened the book at random and read this:

“I’ve been sober long enough to have seen a lot of suffering around the six Steps that refer to God – people who are angry with God, people who are confused about God, people who rebel against the very idea of God…and, sadly, even people who drink and use in response to the demand that they believe. This, to me, is a tragedy. 

Well. That described me.

As I continued to read, I realized that this book explores aspects of spirituality that made sense to me: One, understanding that happiness doesn’t come primarily through the material world; two, recognizing our interconnectedness with other people and nature; and three, realizing the limits of our control over both our external and internal experience, and accepting those limits.

I was just about to say, “Yeah, but…” when I got to this part:

“…It isn’t easy to look inside for happiness – it can get pretty messy in there; interconnection puts some challenging demands on us as we suddenly have to start thinking about something other than our own self-interest; living morally can be inconvenient; letting go is rarely as pretty as it sounds; and fear often trumps faith in our stressful lives.”

Luckily for us, Kevin doesn’t leave you there. The rest of the book is an exploration of the Higher Powers of Karma, Mindfulness, Wisdom, Love, The Eight-fold Path, Faith, Presence, Spiritual Awakening, and the Group, followed by looking at the Steps through a Buddhist lens.

If, like me, you struggle with the idea of a Higher Power, this book may be just what you need. Enjoy, and may you be at ease.

Bee Sloan

Bee Sloan

Reading to Change Your Mind

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!

May I be filled with compassion. At least once a week, I meditate upon this phrase, with myself as the one I am offering compassion to.

Blah!

That’s almost as bad as this one: I offer myself forgiveness. Double blah!

I’ve been working with these phrases for over three years now, and while I have come a long way, there are still days when I wonder, how can I possibly have compassion for myself or forgive myself?

Apparently there’s a lot more healing to be done. But I’m having a hard time right now with living in reality – the reality between my ears and the reality out there in the world – and once again, I’m asking, “Is healing really possible?”

Yes. YES. That is, if we do the work of believing that we have the potential to heal, and then find and listen to the teachings that are helpful to us, and put those teachings into practice.

Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I haven’t found many meditations that deal directly with healing the experiences of pain, grief, and trauma…that speak to me in a gentle way, a way that I can hear. So when I opened Stephen Levine’s Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings in a bookstore this summer, read two lines and started to cry with relief, I closed the book, walked to the front of the bookstore and bought the book on the spot.

In this remarkable book, Levine offers a series of guided meditations that starts with establishing a practice with the basics of mindfulness and breathing and then builds on those basics with healing meditations, each one prefaced with an introductory exploration. I found these particularly helpful: The chapters on pain (Softening the Pain, An Exploration of the Emotions around Pain); grief (Converting the Griefpoint to the Touchpoint of the Heart and A Guided Grief Meditation); and healing (Healing into the Body and Healing Shared). Whatever you are working with at this point in your life – forgiveness, physical pain, grief, an eating disorder, trauma from past experiences (including sexual trauma), recovering from substance abuse – there is something here for you.

So just to get you started, as the days grow shorter and the nights lengthen, I offer you the last few lines of the last meditation in the book: Now know the truth as it is and go on, taking refuge in the vastness of your original nature. Know that you are well guided by your compassion and love. You are the essence of all things. You are the light.

Thanks, Stephen.

Bee's Books

Bee’s Books – Reading to Change Your Mind

FREEDOM! God, I love Aretha Franklin. Who will ever forget her belting that out?

Freedom was what I craved, and what was always impossibly out of reach. Freedom from depression, self-loathing and despair. Freedom from that four o’clock drink that ended in blackout night after night. I waited until the afternoon because I knew that “real” alcoholics drank all day. So if I could hang on until then, I wasn’t an alcoholic. I say this now, but really, if I didn’t think I had a problem, why did I spend so many years agonizing about my drinking and trying to stop? There were years when I white-knuckled it and didn’t drink – because I was pregnant or because my husband was in inpatient and the counselors told the spouses to stop drinking. There were other years where I only had about four really functional hours a day. I don’t remember the last six months very well. Somehow I managed to stay sober for 72 hours, which cleared my mind enough that I could get into a treatment center, which got me to the point where I could really commit to a sobriety program, whatever that meant.

Always before, I had tried to get my drinking under control with a weekly AA meeting, or by drinking in moderation, or with nutrition and exercise. A one note solution to a rock opera problem. I wanted to do it with my fingertips and I wanted it to be fast. Needless to say, it never worked, and my conclusion was, “See? I can’t quit.”

Finally, I decided to throw EVERYTHING at this disease that was about to kill me, and found a book that walked me through a lot of that “everything.”

 

Bee's Books - September 2018The Recovery Book: Answers to All Your Questions About Addiction and Alcoholism and Finding Health and Happiness in Sobriety by Al J. Mooney, M.D., gave me a good overview of what I was getting into. Dr. Mooney has divided sobriety into three “zones,” Red, Yellow, and Green. The first two phases last a couple of years apiece, and the Green Zone, the rest of your life. In other words, this isn’t a fast process. How do you stay clean and sober while your body heals and your brain rewires? He’s got answers for it all, addressing detox, professional treatment, support groups, healing your brain and body, restoring relationships, rebuilding your career and financial health, and dealing with emotional trauma from the past.

This book pre-dates the Refuge Recovery movement, so he leans heavily on 12-step programs, although he does say that there are other support groups that work better for some people. I would have liked more information about medication and meditation. Probably the most valuable take-away for me from Dr. Mooney’s book was really understanding the scope and sequence of a truly effective recovery program – its life-long nature and what is required in terms of daily work and attention.

And don’t forget the actual name of that song – RESPECT. Respect the long process of healing and transformation. Respect yourself. You are worthy of this work.

Jean Tuller
Executive Director

Hi Sangha- this month we’re exploring the Precepts and what it looks like to take them to the streets. We are not monastics so understanding and living the Precepts as householders in recovery can be (at least for me and maybe for you) an ongoing process of discovery and returning again and again to the practice. Just like Tyler, I have “started and fucked up a thousand times.”  We are an abstinence-based program; what does that mean to each of us? How do you establish your bottom lines?  We’re also looking at recovery and yoga; many thanks to Sarit, one of the founders of Refuge Recovery, for sharing some of her story and insights with us. And, as always, special thanks to Bee for the Book of the Month.

Dan is continuing to take our website to the next level, organizing resources and enhancing our guided meditation offerings.  We get about a thousand downloads a day (wow!) and it’s exciting to have new voices coming forward to lead meditations. Many thanks to the folks who are sending us their meditations for posting and please keep ‘em coming.

We have 597 meetings today and our non-profit organization continues to be focused on being of service to sangha. Our infrastructure of regional and inter-sangha groups continues to form. We have now had two regional conferences- Southeast and, just a few weeks ago, New England- both were inspiring and demonstrated how connectivity builds and deepens recovery. Got a suggestion? Please feel free to send any and all ideas to me at jean@refugerecovery.org. Much appreciation to all of you. Hope to sit with you soon on the sangha world tour