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Mindfulness Recovery Spirituality

Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction

Refuge Recovery is a non-profit, Buddhist oriented, non-theistic recovery program and Noah Levine’s latest book.

Noah Levine Reading from Refuge Recovery at the Book Release at BLVD Treatment

Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction was released on June 10, coincidentally the 79th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous. Noah Levine, M.A., whose story is already familiar to many in the recovery community, is also the author of the autobiographical Dharma Punx, the revolutionary meditation manual Against the Stream, and the reflections on the practice of loving-kindness Heart of the Revolution. He founded Against the Stream Meditation Society, which opened its doors in Los Angeles in 2008, and Santa Monica in 2009.

 

Refuge Recovery was birthed in direct response to the clear need for a viable, non-theistic approach to recovery. Noah, feeling disconnected from the 12 steps’ theistic philosophy, found deeper relief within the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-Fold Path of Buddhism. Many members of Against the Stream who were talking about similar difficulties pursued similar conversations. There was a need to shift the paradigm of 12-step recovery and open the door to an alternative path.  Refuge Recovery doesn’t ask anyone to shift a belief system, nor does it require anyone to believe in something. It simply asks that you “trust the process and do the hard work of recovery.” You also don’t have to be Buddhist to participate.

 

The Four Truths of Recovery are:

1: We suffer due to our addictions and the general difficulties of being human in this world of constant change and loss.

2: Craving is a natural phenomenon; it is not our fault, but we are fully responsible for our healing and recovery.

3: We can fully recover and enjoy a life of sanity and well-being.

4: This is the path to recovery: the Eight-fold Path.

 

Refuge Recovery begins with the First Truth: addiction creates suffering. Understanding that addiction always creates suffering is crucial. Suffering is craving the next drink or drug. Suffering is the idea that you can’t get enough; Suffering is the loneliness and shame and isolation. Suffering is the desire for more pleasure and less pain, which we persistently seek in our addiction. Suffering shows its face in a multitude of maladaptive behaviors.  Understanding this first truth and then accepting it as reality also means accepting that drink and drug aren’t an option any longer.  Recognizing the multiple layers of suffering is encouraged through inventory work: “Without full acceptance and disclosure, recovery is not possible. We cannot skip this step; we must be thorough in our inventory process.” (page 6, RR)

 

The Second Truth asks you to do another inventory, this time seeking clarity and acceptance around the causative factors behind your craving. “The addict is not at fault for the root causes and conditions that lead to addiction, only for the habitual reactive patterns that perpetuate it.” (page 11, RR)  More often than not, someone suffering from addiction is suffering from deep pain and dissatisfaction in their lives. Perhaps there is abuse, and drugs and alcohol help numb the pain; perhaps there is neglect, and drugs and alcohol make you forget. The reasons and root causes are many and they are varied, but they all lead to the same place: suffering.

 

The 8-Fold Path of Recovery directs us toward maintaining safety and creating a refuge from addiction. The Eight-Fold Path of Refuge Recovery is:

1: Understanding: We come to know that everything is ruled by cause and effect.

2: Intention: We renounce greed, hatred, and delusion. We train our minds to meet all pain with compassion and all pleasure with non-attached appreciation.

3: Communication/Commmunity: We take refuge in the community as a place to practice wise communication and to support others on their paths. We practice being careful, honest, and wise in our communications.

4: Action/Engagement: We let go of the behaviors that cause harm. We ask that one renounces violence, dishonesty, sexual misconduct, and intoxication. Compassion, honesty, integrity, and service are guiding principles.

5: Livelihood/Service: We are of service whenever and wherever possible. And we try and ensure that our means of livelihood are such that they don’t cause harm.

6: Effort/Energy: We commit to daily contemplative practices like meditation and yoga, exercise, and the practices of wise actions, kindness, forgiveness, compassion which lead to self-regulatory behaviors in difficult circumstances.

7: Mindfulness/Meditations: We develop wisdom by means of practicing formal mindfulness meditation. We practice present-time awareness in our lives.

8: Concentration/Meditations: We develop the capacity to focus the mind on one thing, such as the breath, or a phrase, training the mind through the practices of lovingkindness, compassion, and forgiveness to cultivate that which we want to uncover. (pages 24-26 RR)

 

What Refuge Recovery does is encourage practitioners to lean into their discomfort, investigate it, notice its impermanence, and begin to let it go. It encourages a deep shift in one’s relationship to suffering, creating an element of space around it, and it provides a unique ability to begin to care for your own suffering with compassion. Ultimately, we learn that we are not our suffering.

 

Refuge Recovery asks practitioners to know and understand that everything has a cause and effect and to take action to shift toward making better, wiser choice. Our actions are never without a reaction, good, bad or indifferent.

 

Refuge Recovery has been a deep, grounding cornerstone of my own recovery for the last 6 years. It has profoundly shifted how I view my own difficulties and allowed me to come to a deep understanding of how to hold my pain with compassion and approach my difficulties with kindness. It’s exciting to see this work come to fruition and to have been involved in the Refuge Recovery movement since its inception. I have been fortunate to witness the efficacy of Refuge Recovery for those who are just getting sober and for those with long-term sobriety, proving to me that this method works. It’s also been a wonderful alternative for clients struggling with the 12-step model; these same clients have embraced the Refuge Recovery process, finding relief from their suffering and formed a solid foundation of recovery and service.

 

There are regular Refuge Recovery meetings in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Oklahoma City, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Nashville. See HERE for a complete list with times and locations. If one isn’t in your area, you are encouraged to start your own. You can download meeting formats and Refuge Recovery inventories and meditations at RefugeRecovery.org. In addition, BLVD Treatment Centers is offering the first Refuge Recovery track for adults in treatment. There is also a Refuge Recovery sober living that has recently launched, that is has created a sober living environment in coordination with the Refuge Recovery Model.

 

Categories
Recovery Spirituality

Guide to Finding a Sponsor

After the initial revelation of finding ourselves on a path to recovery, we have to get into action. Our first course of action is to find a sponsor: someone capable of leading us on the path toward taking responsibility for our actions. In the world outside of recovery, sponsors are those who vouch for you or who act as your benefactor. In recovery, however, a sponsor’s role is quite different. Their role isn’t to vouch for you but rather to guide you through the 12 steps. In more apt terms, your sponsor is more like a mentor.

When looking for someone to sponsor you, look for:

  • An individual of the same sex. Yes, you can have a sponsor of the opposite sex, but it’s more beneficial to you and has less potential for complications if sponsorship is gender specific.
  • Someone who has what you want. I’m not talking cars, finances or partner, but someone whose spiritual life and sense of self is something you can strive toward or which you admire.
  • An individual whom you can trust. If there’s any reluctance, look to someone else.
  • Find someone whose actions reflect his or her words. A sponsor who functions under the guise of “do as I say, not as I do,” is not the one for you.
  • Someone whose recovery inspires you.

 

When you have finally found someone with whom you are willing to do the work:

  • Call them, even when you don’t need anything. If you don’t have that relationship developed, you won’t call them when things are tough.
  • Be consistent. Remember the lengths you would take to use? Apply that same sense of urgency to your recovery.
  • If you think you made the wrong choice, realize it’s ok to move on. It’s your recovery, not theirs.

 

Your sponsor (is):

  • A guide
  • Spiritual
  • Kind
  • Honest
  • Tough when necessary
  • Works a program

Your sponsor is not:

  • An ATM
  • Your therapist
  • Your parent
  • Your best friend
  • A guru
  • Your lawyer
  • Your higher power
  • Perfect

If you are looking for a sponsor, keep this in mind: Finding the “right”sponsor may take time. If you are having issues beyond the reach of the 12 steps, your sponsor should ultimately ask that you seek professional help. They are morally obligated to do so. Remember, the basic tenants of sponsorship is to take you through the steps.

Categories
Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Spirituality

AA and Spirituality

The 12-step model is certainly reliable and is the standard go-to place for most people seeking recovery. It’s certainly the model we refer to first in the recovery world. However, there are times when we come across an alcoholic or addict who is deeply atheist and subsequently hits a wall when they get to Step 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.” Can AA work for them too? Most people will say that it can. Some will leave things as-is, and some will need to make some minor language changes in order to match their beliefs about spirituality. Unfortunately, there are some folks devoted to retaining the exact language that makes up the steps, so much so they are unwilling to accept even a minor change.

As reported in The Fix, a Toronto group of atheists in recovery has just run into that very thing.  The group was listed in their local AA directory, they had a fairly large batch of regular attendees, and yet, some in the community still found their modifications of the steps to be a threat to AA as a whole. Apparently, the idea of a non-secular recovery group was too much and a controversy broke out. Los Angeles has its share of non-secular meetings, but to my knowledge, there hasn’t been newsworthy controversy thus far and the groups seem to be thriving.

Here’s the thing, the “only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking,” right? To me that means regardless of someone’s religious beliefs, gender or sexual orientation, they have a right to be there. When I got sober, I struggled a great deal with the God concept. Still, I was embraced by my fellow alcoholics and encouraged to find whatever worked for me. I managed to retain my viewpoint on the intangible nature of a power greater than myself whilst still developing a deep spiritual practice and strong foundation for my sobriety. The steps are viable tools for recovery for me even if I need to alter a few things. My sobriety hasn’t been negatively impacted as a result. So, why the resistance from some when it comes to change in AA? Isn’t our ultimate goal to achieve sobriety? Isn’t it a goal to untangle the addict mind and redirect it to a healthy, positive, less self-serving path? Aren’t we supposed to learn to reach out and be of service, giving back what has been so freely given to us? Why, then, would we want to close the doors on our fellow alcoholics?

With all the hubbub, I was interested in what literary changes sparked this controversy. The Fix printed two of them:

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Adapted version: Came to accept and to understand that we needed strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Adapted version: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the AA program.

Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Those working this version are still fundamentally going to get to the same place: they will be come to believe that they cannot do this alone; they will use the power of the group to help them recover.
Whether you’re closely tied to a Judeo-Christian belief system or have roots deeply planted on a non-theistic path, recovery IS possible. The 12-step model IS effective. If you need to work the steps with some literary alterations, do so, as long as you work them.

Related articles:

Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA groups (thestar.com)

Categories
Addiction Alcoholism Recovery Spirituality

I’ll Take my Anonymity, With a Side of Humility

A recent NY Times article written by David Colman triggered a firestorm of responses by “challenging the second A in AA.” In fact, he disregards his own anonymity by beginning his own piece with, “I’m Dave, and I’m an alcoholic.” Colman says, “More and more, anonymity is seeming like an anachronistic vestige of the Great Depression, when A.A. got its start and when alcoholism was seen as not just a weakness but a disgrace.” He also brings up the vast range of celebrities who’ve used their recovery stories as fodder for books or albums, clearly stating their involvement in 12-step programs, and as a result, violating the 11th Tradition, which states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”

Now, in the early days, being an alcoholic was certainly heavily stigmatized, and admission to being an alcoholic was tantamount to social death. Alcoholism was often aligned with humiliation and shame, and public disclosure of your newfound life wasn’t always met with acceptance. In fact, anonymity was key to their survival in the public sector. Without it, many risked losing their jobs and destroying their reputation.

Colman is right when he talks about our awareness of alcoholism being much different today than it was 75 years ago when the recovery industry wasn’t even a glimmer on the horizon. At that time, Alcoholics Anonymous was merely a blip on the undercover radar. It was an opportunity for the desperate and demoralized to find shelter from the shame and indecency brought about by their alcoholism. Frankly, that’s still the case, albeit much larger and much more accessible. There is something interminably safe about not having to be anyone or anything other than your first name. When I was getting sober many moons ago, I remember sitting in meetings amongst a celebrity or two. I’ll tell you what, it’s not the movie stars and musicians we admire sitting in those cold, folding chairs. Instead, they’re just some guy or gal trying to stay sober, one day at a time. Anonymity is what’s allowed them to do that, not public disclosure.

And let’s not forget the 12th tradition, which reminds us that anonymity is our spiritual foundation:

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

You know what that means? It means not using our recovery for profit. It means that our spiritual life depends upon that. It means that when our egos get involved, we are prone to come crashing down in a fiery blaze. Disclosure is often food for the ego, which will, in time, hinder our spiritual progress. Sobriety isn’t guaranteed:  Do you want to announce your relapse as publicly as you did your recovery? Most don’t. In fact, the more public you are in your sobriety, the more terrifying it is to come back. I’ve seen it too many times.

Regardless of the deluge of articles suggesting the removal of anonymity, I still believe it has extraordinary value. And while I may eradicate my personal anonymity in personal conversations or within these blogs, I do prefer its maintenance more often than not. I see how damaging it can be to AA when someone like Charlie Sheen gets up and spews venom our way. I see how damaging it is when Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan makes their struggles with addiction public. Some of us just want to stay sober without the glitz and the glam. I don’t know about you, but my using days weren’t glamorous. Why should my sobriety be?

Related articles:

Challenging the Second “A” in A.A. (nytimes.com)

Should Alcoholics Have to Stay Anonymous? (healthland.time.com)

Can AA survive our tell-all era? (salon.com)