An interview with a Detroit mover and shaker

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

As I start to answer I recognize a familiar story, about how my story doesn’t fit, how I don’t fit, how as an old timer in recovery I’m barely relevant to the younger people who are finding refuge in Refuge Recovery. The good news is that because of Refuge and a meditation practice I move from the virtual reality that lives in my head to a real reality that lives somewhere in the heart/mind/gut of my life.

The stuff about my self that helps me understand Marge is that I left college after two years and entered the convent. I view that decision as a desperate attempt to negotiate with God around my brother’s illness and a desperate co-dependent act trying to make things better for other family members. During my time in the convent, I worked as an Occupational Therapist, got a post graduate Degree in Theological studies and spent 10 years living among and working with the Native American people in Northern Michigan. I left the convent midway through a Master Degree in Social work.

Today, I live in an upbeat small city just outside of Detroit. Besides time with family, walks in the woods, and movies (it gets cold in Michigan), I enjoy refinishing furniture. I love the smell of wood and the experience of bringing new life to old pieces.

I currently work in a private practice clinical social work group. My practice consists of folks in recovery from substance and process addictions and others who struggle with anxiety and depression often linked to trauma and a struggle to feel they belong.

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

Loneliness, previous heavy use of pain medication for a major knee injury and a pattern of solitary drinking while I was on the reservation led me to experience a struggle with alcohol. I “couldn’t drink without the phenomena of craving kicking in”. After struggling with the inability to “stay stopped”; I finally went to an AA meeting. I knew that I felt dead inside spiritually and emotionally, but struggled to identify with the many places addiction took others. AA gave me a way to get and stay sober; it introduced me to a group of creative, talented, warm and generous human beings. Being able to sponsor many women through the recovery process has been pure gift and painfully real when one is lost to addiction.

As much as I felt relief, that the spirituality of AA provided an opening to see God from multiple canvases, I struggled with the interventionist God that dominated the language at meetings. I felt the need to quietly pretend that the God of my understanding wanted me to pray a certain way and see the world in so much black and white. My spirituality search led me to Buddhism when the man I was dating suggested that we try a Zen temple in Detroit, his sister’s hospice chaplain was the founding Dharma teacher at Still Point. We both immediately felt at home in the converted town house where people of various ages, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds met to meditate and explore the Dharma. We’d been involved at Still Point for about a year when the Refuge Recovery book was published. Tom and I worked together to get the first Michigan meeting started at Dharma Gate Troy and when the Dharma leader at Still Point asked if we’d start a meeting there, I enthusiastically said yes; so much for building slowly.

What part does Refuge Recovery play in your own recovery?

My earlier comment about wood re-finishing bringing something old/dull back to life is exactly what RR did for me. My recovery was lack luster and dull and I had allowed myself to get covered over by the story of my spirituality not being okay. Or at least needing to be quieted, by my own fears, of not being accepted.

The Refuge book put together all that I understood about addiction, and about recovery and put words and heart on it. Partly what drew me to Buddhism is a roughly translated quote attribute to Buddha, “Believe only what resonates as true from deep within”. Refuge Recovery allows me to live a recovery program that more genuinely fits my beliefs and resonates with my experiences.

How does Refuge Recovery support your recovery challenges?

The Metta practice has grown my compassion by leaps and bounds. I have developed a spirit of friendliness towards my emotions (even those I don’t like), towards my body’s wisdom and towards aligning my head, heart and gut. I’m still sorting out my attachment to my thoughts and learning to know they can be real without being true.

What’s your favorite part of the book?

My favorite line is: “meet all pain with compassion” and the Introduction because it clearly names codependency as the same addiction as the addict and the alcoholic and that the Refuge Recovery program is an approach that works for all forms of addiction.

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

You’ll meet some wonderful people who are accepting their own imperfections and those of others. The fact that Buddhism allows/encourages us to remain beginners means we are trying not to just figure out this path of recovery together but walk the path together. Our meetings are located in a Buddhist Temple, a Zen center, a Cat shelter, a recovery center, a bookstore, a yoga studio, and a coffee shop. Our members are as diverse as the settings. What we have in common is a desire to grow and become ourselves and to assist others to do the same.

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

We are currently working on a newcomers pamphlet that provides a quick snap shot of the RR program.

We are also beginning to recognize the need to connect with other Sangha’s in the Michigan to build a stronger network of recovering people. We are considering ways to draw us together with workshops, or retreat.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, to all those involved in the Refuge Recovery program I say, Megwetch. The Ojibwa word for Thanks, translated by a close friend of mine, “What you give to me, I hold in highest honor”

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