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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 Service Treatment

Being of Service and Finding a Sponsor in Recovery

Being of service, requires a commitment to compassion and an ability to have firm boundaries.  Within the realm of the 12 steps, service work is imperative.  The formula, if you will, is Unity, Service, and Recovery. All three of these support each other. Without unity (fellowship), one is apt to isolate; without being of service, the tendency is toward selfishness. That said, without fellowship, and service work, your recovery becomes less stable. We need to support each other during this endeavor of healing and remember that recovery is not a lone-wolf venture. This is where sponsorship and mentorship come in.

 

Sponsors or mentors are there to guide you on your recovery path and they will always encourage you to be of service. They are there to take you through the 12 steps (or 4 noble truths of recovery if you are using the Refuge Recovery model), and to support your recovery. This also means they will hold the line when there’s resistance. Sometimes, this means hearing something you don’t want to hear, but the intention of a sponsor is to facilitate awareness around your recovery, not to co-sign negative behaviors.

 

Keep these things in mind when you are looking for someone to sponsor you and make sure they are:

 

  • 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 find someone you want to work with:

 

  • 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.

It’s helpful to remember what y our sponsor/mentor is and what your sponsor/mentor is not:

 

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 or mentor, keep this in mind: Finding the “right” sponsor/mentor may take time. If you are struggling with untreated mental illness, your sponsor should ultimately ask that you seek professional help.  They are morally obligated to do so. The relationship of sponsor/sponsee is one that will follow you through your sobriety and recovery.

 

Sometimes, you may come across someone who needs a recovery program but sincerely struggles to relate to the theistic practices of the 12 steps. I’ve had the honor of working with a couple of women who required the use of alternative language and while the steps are still applied and used to create a foundation of recovery, the use of intentions and meditation, breath and body awareness is also used to enhance recovery support.  Being of service is the one thing that is a through-line, regardless of program.

 

Over the last several years, there has been a groundswell of people in recovery seeking alternative recovery tools. Noah Levine, founder of Against the Stream aptly responded to this with Refuge Recovery.  This particular model “is a community of people who are using the practices of mindfulness, compassion, forgiveness and generosity to heal the pain and suffering that addiction has caused in their (sic) lives and the lives of their loved ones.” In essence, they have embedded service work into their recovery model in an influential way.

 

The act of looking at ourselves honestly and learning to sit in the discomfort of our feelings and emotions is transformative. Being of service allows us to get out of ourselves and into action. One thing that transcends all modalities of healing is this service work. There is always a way to recover and to be of service; sometimes it’s easier than others, but the key is not to give up. Reaching our hands out to help others demonstrates that our suffering is not unique to us–we all suffer, so why not help each other out?

Categories
Addiction Alcoholism Mental Health Recovery Spirituality

What is Refuge Recovery?

Noah Levine’s Refuge Recovery provides another approach to recovery–one seeped in Buddhist practice. We were inspired by his talk at this year’s Innovations in Recovery conference. Since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous has been a foundational component of recovery for millions of alcoholics and addicts. It is free, it is available for all ages, it is simple in the way it’s shared and processed, and it also hasn’t really changed. When I take sponsees through the steps, they often comment on my old, tattered copies of the Twelve and Twelve and Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Over the years, however, my perception and process around the steps has shifted. It has evolved, if you will, to include another path, one that I share with those willing to begin the process of uncovering, discovering, and discarding old behaviors in a new, approachable way.

 

Several years ago, Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx, Against the Stream, Heart of the Revolution and founder of Against the Stream Meditation Society, started formulating the ideas behind his program called Refuge Recovery – a way of approaching recovery from addiction via the Buddhist path. This is a path fraught with self-inquiry, curiosity, dedication, and a call to put these actions into practice. Refuge Recovery views recovery as a process that heals the underlying causal factors that led to addiction in the first place.  His latest book, Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction, outlines his adaptation of the Buddhist 4 Noble Truths and Eightfold Path to use as an approach to recovery.

 

Refuge Recovery requires that practitioners practice renunciation: a formal rejection and abstinence from harmful behavior, including using drugs and alcohol. One is required to start with an in-depth personal inventory: a thorough, inquisitive investigation of one’s behavior, traumas, and resulting consequences and how they have manifested in one’s life. One is asked to take refuge in their community, and in the practices of meditation and renunciation. Here, taking refuge means we are taking shelter or finding safety and protection in recovery and community. In many ways, addicts and alcoholics have been attempting to take refuge via substances for years, only to find there is no real sanctuary there.

 

Refuge Recovery is based on Buddhist principles, which integrate scientific, non-theistic, and psychological insight.  Addictions are viewed as cravings in the body and mind; using meditation to create awareness can alleviate those cravings and ease one’s suffering.  It is done through this adaptation of the 4 Noble Truths:

 

1. Take inventory of our suffering: that which we have experienced and that which we have caused. (Uncover)

2. Investigate the cause and conditions of our suffering. (Discover) Begin the process of letting go. (Discard)

3.  Come to understand that recovery is possible, taking refuge in the path that leads to the end of addiction and suffering.

4. Engage in the Buddhist Eightfold Path that leads to recovery.

 

What follows is the Buddhist Eightfold Path.

 

The first two address the development of Wisdom.

 1. Wise understanding

2. Wise intentions

These three address Moral Conduct:

 3. Wise speech/community

 4. Wise actions

 5. Wise livelihood/service

These three address Mental Discipline

6. Wise effort

7. Mindfulness

8. Concentration

 

Another difference between Refuge Recovery and the 12 Steps is there is not a specific order: this is not a linear path. Through this process, one develops compassion and wisdom: two sides of the same coin, if you will. Compassion is equated with love, charity, kindness, and tolerance—qualities of the heart; Wisdom represents the quality of the mind: our ability to concentrate, make wise choices, and to critically think. However, compassion without wisdom, leads to foolishness, and wisdom without compassion leads to stoicism. The two must interweave.

 

I share this with you not to berate AA, but to provide a view outside of what we are familiar with and to open the doors of the mind and heart to see a way of broadening one’s path.  Bill W encouraged a broadening of the spiritual path: Refuge Recovery is that broadening. This is an opportunity to really look deeply into ingrained habits and patterns that prevent us from being truly free from our suffering. Visions began taking our teens that are on our mental health track to Refuge Recovery meetings with much success. Of late, our teens that usually go to AA meetings are also enjoying Refuge Recovery meetings.  It’s important to note that one is not better than the other: AA and Refuge Recovery can complement each other, leaving space for curiosity and introspection from a theistic or non-theistic path.

We leave no stone unturned in treatment: we provide what is necessary to recovery and we are grateful that the options for support are expanding.