Voices from the Sangha: Cassie Lee, Las Vegas

An interview with the creator of the Refuge Recovery Starter Kit

Cassie Lee is the creator of the Refuge Recovery New Meeting Starter Kits. She agreed to sit down with Sangha Spotlight to discuss recovery, kits, and the appropriate weather for dinosaurs.

Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m 35, I currently live in Las Vegas but originally from Detroit. I’ve been a vegetarian for 24 years. I’m happiest on a scenic drive somewhere remote with the windows down and a mixtape on blast. I love animals- especially my 10-year-old woof named Luca. I do photo gigs for families and businesses as a side hustle. Currently, I have the pleasure living with my older brother, his wife, and their son Andrew- who is 3 years old and my best friend. Living with them has allowed me to see exactly what kind of family I would love to have of my own in the future.

How did you find Refuge?

I found Refuge in the fall of 2015. I was working in the ER as a monitor for high risk patients and became the safety coordinator for the nonmedical patients in the overflow unit. Many patients were brought in for suicide attempts, substance abuse, and mental health related issues. It was an extremely stressful job- I saw that patients were not being properly advocated for- which is when I made the wild choice to hand-deliver a letter to the CEO of the hospital on his route to the auditorium for a speaking engagement. I met with the board of hospital directors and gave them a presentation of my observations, as well as a safety improvement plan I created. The director supported me, but my co-workers were angry and unsupportive. My work environment was suddenly really unstable and hostile- so I put in my two weeks’ notice. The last two weeks there were brutally painful, I was barely able to get through my shifts without tears.

I had recently started going to Refuge meetings, and the concept of mindfulness came up in my head in the middle of an especially negative shift. I was walking to the break room feeling bullied and sad- I tried to focus on being mindful of my surroundings instead of getting flooded by the emotional pain. In that moment, I noticed the molding along the wall had damage to the paint in the exact shape of a heart- and suddenly I felt love. I realized it was the universe sending me love when needed it most. Ever since that day I’ve been practicing mindfulness- staying present and looking at my surroundings- and consequently noticing random heart shapes in everyday things. I call it, “look for the love” and I take photos of the hearts. It has helped me to stay present and be less swept into emotional triggers in a ton of situations. I see the hearts everywhere!

These kits you’ve made are such a great way to give people the confidence to start up a meeting. Is this something you’ve felt in your own heart, that you had to do?

Yes. I was really involved in RR Detroit but when my brother took a job offer in Las Vegas, I realized that the idea of my nephew, Rew, leaving me was more terrifying than the idea of moving my life to Vegas along with them. I sold my car, quit my job, put everything in storage, and came out here to give it a shot- but there was NO REFUGE RECOVERY HERE. Nobody had ever even heard of it. I was literally lost in a goddamned desert with no refuge.

One afternoon I was trying to brave the whirling desert wind I wasn’t yet used to being at the park with Rew. I found myself standing there, towering over my sweet little toddler friend, fully engaged in ARGUING about whether or not it was too cold to be a dinosaur- and it hit me that I needed a f***ing Refuge meeting, STAT. And so my quest began.

I didn’t know anyone- I barely knew my way around my subdivision, let alone Vegas. Worst of all, I was without my sangha. So, I started with a list of what I needed for a meeting and started asking around about venues. It wasn’t easy and I was lacking support. Nobody I talked to in Vegas had ever even heard of Refuge before- and people tend to fear and reject what they don’t know.

I felt so frustrated and alone that I flew to LA and showed up at Against the Stream, where I cried my face off and asked for help. I met three people there who helped me start Refuge Recovery Las Vegas. They let me call them up with questions and listened to me blither on about rejection from the recovery community, fruitless searching for venues, and whatever else came up along the way. They supported me and helped me approach things in a kinder, more relaxed way. I took notes on everything they suggested along the way. And then on April 20, 2017, there was the first Refuge Recovery Las Vegas meeting (there are four weekly meetings now).

And this process inspired the kit?

The notes I took along the way got me thinking, “how could I save the next person the trouble I faced with starting Refuge somewhere new?”’ And that was when the kit was born.

It was an idea really, and then a list, and then a box, and then a prototype. Then I blindsided my squad with pitches they never saw coming! I drove to LA and pitched it to them -and got some encouraging as well as discouraging feedback… but my squad said “Don’t give up!” so I didn’t. I brought the prototype to RefCon 3.

One of my squad told me to hide the kit under a table and they introduced me to the executive director, Jean Tuller. I showed her the kit and she was all kinds of excited! She said, “Let’s see if anybody is interested, and people went apeshit! I thought maybe five people would be interested. As of today, 47 meetings have started across the US with the kits. 47 meetings since the end of June.