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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
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.

Categories
Mental Health Recovery Spirituality Trauma

Spiritual Bypass: Nah, Feel Your Feelings

via saritphoto

The mental health community is becoming well versed in the term “Spiritual Bypass” and often uses it to recognize when individuals are relying upon a spiritual practice or belief to “bypass” or divert from the reality of their situation. For example, if someone is living in a fantastical world attached to the belief that controlling their thoughts is a means of changing the outcome of a situation, they are engaging in a form of spiritual bypass. Our actions must follow any positive intentions or those intentions will elude us. We cannot think our way into a positive outcome. Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice says, “Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it.”

 

Many of us are introduced or reintroduced to a spiritual path upon entering recovery. So, when we begin developing our spiritual lives, it’s not uncommon to get lulled by the idea that we have to be perfect, or that we cannot show anger, or disappointment, or fear, or emotions other than deep gratitude and acceptance of all things. It then becomes easy to use our spirituality to avoid dealing with ourselves and our shadows dancing in the corners of our lives. There isn’t a person who comes to a spiritual path free from some kind of suffering or sorrow. We all have some kind of trauma we are working with, or running from, or trying to navigate. Feelings are uncomfortable. They hurt. They make our knees buckle.  They make us weep and scream. They make us feel broken. I assure you, we are far from broken. We are merely bending from exhaustion and fear and resistance. Here, when we spiritually bypass, we certainly have moments of reprieve, but they are merely moments. Here’s what actually happens: those feelings, fears, disappointments, longings, losses, hurts, traumas, they all fester inside of our bodies. And they eek out of us when we least expect it: in traffic, in the grocery line, toward our children, toward our friends, toward our teachers, toward our students, toward ourselves.

 

It’s alluring to seek out a “quick fix,” but the fact is, we have to walk through the muck of emotions and slog through those dark, sticky feelings to get to the other side, which is freedom. The saying “The only way out is through,” isn’t for naught. When we rely upon spiritual bypass, we are choosing to only focus on that which we like. Life is so much more than that: it’s a remarkable prism of joy, and pain, love, and light, sadness, grief, birth, and death. It is a sea of wonder. It is a symphony. Grab hold of it and enjoy it, even the ugly is there to teach us something. It is where we learn our resilience, and our capacity for care. To quote one of my teachers, Hala Khouri, “Our wounds our often the source of our gifts, and if we don’t investigate our wounds, they will get in the way.

Categories
Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Spirituality Trauma

Yoga Teacher Training: Transformation

First practicum EVER! #teachertraining #yoga via saritphoto

It’s been an incredible 9 days of yoga teacher training. I have been cracked open and infused with so many tools, love, support, an incredible community, a mountain of information; it’s not even close to being over! I am just beginning what I believe to be a lifelong process of learning. Sure, when I complete these 200 hours, this particular training will be over, but to me, yoga is something that is always evolving. The body is changing: as we age, as we get injured, heal, go through life changes, it changes, and there is always something to learn.

 

When I began this journey, I knew from an intellectual space that I would be learning about yoga: postures, how they should be aligned, how trauma presents in the body, how it releases, where the muscles and bones are, et cetera. I knew I was going to learn a lot from these teachers, and I knew that I was going to learn in a unique way. Hala Khouri is a Somatic Experiencing therapist, after all, and she brings that into the way she speaks and teaches. It has been illuminating. I also had a good feeling that there might even be some kind of transformation. I had no idea how much would actually occur.

 

My teachers are not conventional yoga teachers. They are uniquely themselves, exploring and teaching a non-dualistic path to a reality-based, grounded practice of yoga. They teach us about trauma so we are conscious about keeping our classes safe and grounded. They are teaching us about grounding, orienting and resourcing, terms familiar to me from my understanding of Somatic Experiencing and recovery work, but also applicable in a yoga class. Finding refuge in my body has happened for me on my yoga mat, but that has occurred because I have been fortunate to have teachers skilled in creating a sacred space for their students to have their own liberating experiences. In this yoga teacher training, we are being taught to do the same and that means we need to know how to ground, orient, and provide resourcing options for our students. It is in these ways that we can find refuge within and ultimately have a transformation, no matter how small it may be.

 

My recovery has never been one-dimensional. As I’ve tacked on more years, I have explored my spiritual paths, finding a calling to dig deeper into the layers of muck within myself that caused me to shrink back in layers of fear, shyness, insecurity, self-loathing, shame, lack of trust, or whatever rose to the surface. It is within the contemplative practices of yoga and meditation where I learned to dance with my fear and face my shadows. It was through those practices, the steps, therapy, and a lot of patience that I learned to shine particles of light into the darkest of places.  This yoga teacher training has lifted me up and supported every ounce of my practice, leading me through layers that still need excavating and continues to show me the way to play with my shadow side. I am finding my voice. Ironically, it is the one thing that eludes me. My voice as a writer is strong, but as a public speaker? Forget about it!

 

So, dear ones, This week rounds out module one. The transformation has been incredibly real. I am more grounded, more open, and more equanimous. I feel more connected to everyone and everything around me. And, more importantly, I feel the most “me” I have ever felt. Let’s dance!

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Self-Care Trauma

Yoga: A Personal Journey of Investigation

Keri-Anne Telford (Photo credit: Sarit Photography)

Yoga and Buddhist meditation play an enormous part in my personal story. They are the practices that have allowed me find refuge in my body, courage in my heart, and the fearlessness to walk into the darkness that once plagued me and led me to self-harm, drink, fall apart, and detach. In truth, I find that learning to relate to ourselves better equips us in our ability to relate to others. Because isn’t the ultimate goal really to help others and to be of service?

 

Today, I begin the first module of my 200-hour yoga teacher training with Julian Walker and Hala Khouri—two individuals I hold in high regard. I had investigated this training (Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind) for 2 years previous and allowed my fear of the adventure and deep personal investigation to get in my way. This time feels different. This time, I was finally ready. I’m grateful for this opportunity and excited to see what will ultimately unfold. Working with trauma has really become the driving force behind my own practice and has become something I’ve found beneficial for the women I work with. Those who work with trauma are inspiring and I understand that if we can unravel the web of hurt and pain, we have an opportunity for real healing, knowing that it takes willingness to feel discomfort and to face the very things that plague us.

 

I didn’t just want “any” yoga teacher training, I wanted something that would foster my own healing around trauma, my need to be of service and my deep desire to help others change their relationships to their bodies and the traumas we all hold within our physical and emotional structures. This teacher training in particular blends the “ancient and modern, Buddhist and Yogic, anatomical and energetic, spiritual and psychological tools and information” to allow the practitioner/student to truly find their authentic voice in this vast world of spiritual practice, allowing themselves to truly find a space to heal and have a voice.

 

Check out Julian Walker’s style of yoga and his approach to training in his book, Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind: A Modern Yoga Philosophy Infused with Somatic Psychology & Neuroscience. It’s an interesting, inspiring, heart-opening read. I feel fortunate and deeply honored to be a part of this journey and excited to share whatever unfolds with the Visions community, because in many ways, you all are my heart and what also inspire me to be of service and do what I do. I’ll be journaling this adventure, so stay tuned!

 

“Compassion is not always nice. We can set boundaries, tell truths and express anger while still being compassionate.” Julian Walker

Interesting reads:

21st Century Yoga

Yoga PhD

Threads of Yoga

 

Categories
Parenting Recovery

Wise Speech: A Behavior Worth Modeling

Our speech is a powerful tool: What we say and how we say it can have a profound effect on whomever we’re talking to. If we are kind, it can change the trajectory of the conversation; likewise, rudeness and thoughtless speech can wreak havoc. Part of recovery is changing our actions and our interactions with others. When we speak wisely, we nurture healthy relationships with others, and create a safe haven for ourselves as well as for those around us. The times when it’s really difficult are when someone is being unkind to us.

 

When you find yourself in a situation where you are concerned about your response, ask yourself:

 

  • Is it useful?
  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it all of the above?

 

The 10th step asks us to “Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.” This step is part and parcel to paving our spiritual paths, teaching us that spiritual practice is tied to our connections with others. Those connections show us there is something greater than ourselves through connecting with community. When we are unkind, thoughtless, or dishonest with our speech, we disconnect from others, and disconnect ourselves from spiritual connection.

 

It behooves us to speak kindly, lest we endure the disdain of others. This is not an easy lesson to learn or an easy task to follow, especially in adolescence, where the brain is still developing and the process of individuation is in full force, all of which makes talking back, being rude, and being unskillful with speech par for the course.  How, then, can we effect change amongst the burgeoning minds of our youth? For starters, we need to treat those younger than us with the respect that we would like shown to us. I am not implying that we should become doormats, but I am asking that we practice wise speech and display positive behaviors as an example for our teens.

 

When we meet rudeness with rudeness, shortness with shortness, and aggravation with aggravation, we are giving our kids mixed messages–“do as I say, not as I do”– which just leads to resentment and frustration. If we want respect, we have to model respect; If we want kindness, we have to model kindness. It is our job to model positive behavior and fess up when we make mistakes. Kids will get it eventually, but it requires patience on our end and a fervent desire to model healthy behaviors.

Categories
Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Spirituality

Forgiveness and Compassion: One Breath at a Time

Compassion (Photo credit: Sarit Photography)

Recently I was asked, “What’s the difference between forgiveness and compassion?” Unearthed from a discussion about childhood trauma, recovery, and parents, the discussion had evolved to spirituality and Buddhist practice and the ways in which we can make space for the trauma and hurt of our pasts. There is an answer, of course, but I often find that questions such as these are best answered via experiential stories. Both forgiveness and compassion require that we practice some level of self-acceptance; in order to be forgiving or able to show compassion to others, we have to be able to provide ourselves with the same thing. This, in its very essence, requires patience and dedication. Changing one’s worldview is tough, and not something most of do without some elements of resistance.

 

To forgive, we must be ready to let go of our anger and resentment toward someone or something. However, the meaning of forgiveness that I prefer is simply “letting go.” The act of compassion is the desire to alleviate the suffering of others. In other words, it is showing care for others while understanding that they are fully responsible for their actions.  It doesn’t mean that we are justifying their behavior; instead, by being compassionate, we are making space for others to have their experiences without attaching our reactions to them.  This doesn’t come easy. I can tell you from experience that the first few years of my recovery were filled with justified anger.  I couldn’t see past my own resentment and fear, hurt and trauma. There simply wasn’t space for that and I wasn’t fortunate enough to have someone in my life to teach me how to create that space. Things have definitely evolved in the world of recovery.

 

Most of us come to recovery at the lowest points of our lives, finding that addiction and mental illness have negatively impacted our self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, and self-image, among other things.  We have a laundry list of harms that have been committed against us and another list of wrongs we committed against others. As with any list, you have to check things off one at a time. However, when we are in the midst of the “fight or flight” response (survival mode), we are actually at the polar opposite of forgiveness and compassion. Try to start simply. It’s the small things that often make the biggest differences in our lives.

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Ask for help.
  • Feel your feelings, but understand they aren’t facts.
  • Pause. When we are stressed, we get busy. It detracts from the stress, but it also disallows us to deal what’s really going on within.

 

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.
Pema Chödrön

Categories
Adolescence Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Mental Health Recovery Spirituality Therapy Treatment

Recovery: Redefining Normal

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stepping onto a path of recovery and beginning the removal of toxicity from one’s life is an arduous, often painful, but beautiful process. But I like to believe that some of our greatest lessons come from our difficulties. Those are the times that provide us with the most insight into what is actually going on with us. Take for instance your relationships with others. Is there a pattern? Have you continued to add links to an unhealthy chain be it consciously or subconsciously? Are you happy?

When there is a history of toxicity in one’s life, particularly when it’s introduced at an early age, what is considered “normal” tends to become skewed. For example, someone raised in a home with an abusive parent may inadvertently seek out relationships with similar personality types. This isn’t a conscious act but rather a direct result of being taught how to be in this world through violence (emotional, physical, visual, etc.). It feels familiar and therefore “normal” to be around toxicity. The question is, how do you break the chain? How do you make new, better choices that are healthy and nurturing?  How do you place yourself in environments that celebrate you for who you are instead of those that persistently denigrate you?

The 12 steps are a brilliant start. They allow us to begin the process of unpeeling the layers of the onion by asking us to turn our eyes inward and check out what’s going on in our minds and in our hearts. That oft-dreaded fourth step tends to help identify a pattern, particularly if we are honest with ourselves when we write it.  Personally, I’ve always liked that process because it feels like I’m stripping the layers of emotional dirt off of me. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. Frankly, it hurts like hell to look at ourselves and at our lives with a magnifying glass, but dang it, it’s liberating. You just don’t need to carry that stuff around anymore. Twelve-step work is just the start. If it were only that easy, right?

Taking a clinical approach is incredibly beneficial, especially when dealing with trauma, addiction, and mental-health issues.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), to name a few, are invaluable tools to help identify the psychological triggers and hooks we have embedded within us.

But you know what really seals the deal for me? Creating space for Spirituality. I can’t emphasize enough how invaluable it is to develop a spiritual practice. It is the very thing that will feed your soul. No, I’m not selling you religion or a canon of idealized thought. I am, however, urging you to find the calm in your breath, the grounding notion of having your feet planted to the earth, and the healing weight of your hand on your heart. You can break the chain of abuse. You can shut out the tapes that play in your mind, telling you you’re a piece of crap, a failure, not enough, stupid, fat, ugly, useless. You can take your power back. It takes work, but it’s worth all the sweat and tears. Trust me. Be patient. Understand that this process of recovery takes time. Nothing and no one is perfect.

I’ll leave you with this. I was involved in a series of abusive relationships growing up. I was doing the same thing, expecting different results. I eventually discovered I was continuing the pattern of emotional denigration established in my childhood and nurtured in my adolescence. When I finally smashed through that chain several years into my recovery and only after working tirelessly with a therapist, meditation, yoga, 12 steps, I was free. This doesn’t mean the trauma or triggers went away. It means I finally learned to identify them, and have garnered tools to help me respond to them differently. When I met my husband, I quickly discovered he was different. For one thing, he showed me unconditional support, which I hesitated to believe was true. It took me almost two years to accept the fact that I had, in fact, broken that chain and was capable of having relationships that were built on trust and respect. I realized I could believe someone; something this traumatized gal was never able to do. This was proof that I had redefined my “normal” and surrounded myself with a healthy, loving new family. In fact, I redefined my response to the world and its triggers, not just within my family, but also in my life. Ultimately, I took my power back. You can too.  You just have to do the work!

Categories
Recovery Spirituality

The Adolescent Brain Meets Tradition

Image by HaPe_Gera via Flickr
Recovery means more than just eliminating drugs and alcohol. It also means discovering new ways to cope with the feelings you were running from when you used. Troubled home life? Run. Problems at school? Run. I’m not talking about literally running, either; I’m talking about cloaking the feelings of loss and abandonment in the toxic blanket of drugs and alcohol in an attempt to mute the pain. As human beings, we need to be nurtured, loved, supported and fed, and we naturally assume we will get all of this from our parents. Sometimes, we don’t, and when that happens, we end up attempting to regulate our wavering emotions via unhealthy means. Typically, it’s the misuse of food, sex, obsessive behavior, porn, video games, and drugs and alcohol acting as the bill of fare. When these are the only tools we have in terms of managing our difficulties, the truth of what we’re running from remains untouched. Through the 12 steps, therapy, meditation, and spiritual practice, we are presented with various ways in which we can cope with tough feelings. Not every avenue of exploration will fit, but the more options we have, the better!
I recently ran across an interesting article in Counselor Magazine, talking about teens’ ability to relate socially and emotionally in the typical AA meeting and how their cognitive development may not allow them to truly grasp the spiritual aspect of the program. While adults are more settled in the possibility of a spiritual ideology, adolescents are more or less in the highly developmental stage of questioning the existence of God and realistic nature of spirituality itself. Also noted in this article is the difficulty teens may have relating to their fellow alcoholics due to the broad difference in age, which is an average of 48, according to aa.org.

So, how can we help teens gain a better grasp on a spiritual path when the exact nature of their development is such that this understanding is still in evolvingt? How can we address the need to ask for help and encourage the necessity to rely on others when developmentally, the tendency is to believe in self-reliance?  Young people’s AA is a great beginning, as it allows for teens to find some common ground in recovery, providing a regular group of like-minded people seeking a similar solution.  Still, it isn’t the only solution. Adolescence is a time when the religious traditions normative in early childhood are becoming questionable. Part of this is the natural, developmental proclivity toward being anti-authority and of course being inherently rebellious. Part of it is the curious, often exotic thought processes which are part and parcel to their emotional development.  If we address recovery with rigidity: “you must believe/submit” rather than encourage the broader concept of “your own understanding,” we risk alienation and ultimately steer teens away from recovery. Instead, encouraging discovery of their own beliefs and supporting their curiosity for meditation, Eastern practices, or any other place where their personal search might take them is highly beneficial.
Remember, you were a teen once too!
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)