I walked through the doors of The Alano Club in Portland full of curiosity and hungry for something more for my recovery. I got sober in a 12-step modality, but had recently come to an impasse. I was fed up with hearing the same words from their literature—which I struggled to relate to—over and over again. I was tired and I wanted more for my recovery. My recovery had become stale and repetitive and I couldn’t continue in that way—but I wasn’t sure which way to turn. I felt lost.

I was fearful of being ousted for thinking beyond the 12-step modality; and being labelled ungrateful, or somehow lacking humility. I waited for the words “you’re headed for a relapse” said to those who had chosen a different path.

Having interviewed prominent figures in recovery for nearly two years now, I discovered that there are many ways to recover. These people were successful living examples of a range of different recovery modalities: from the pursuit of health and fitness such as CrossFit; Refuge Recovery; LifeRing; SMART Recovery; to religion and intensive therapy. The commonality here is that they chose what worked for them and they had the confidence and bravery to openly share about it.

I couldn’t ignore the evidence any longer and had to see for myself. Armed with this knowledge, I dared to step aside my fears—and dogma—to explore other modalities of recovery. I chose to begin with Refuge Recovery.

Before walking into my first Refuge Recovery meeting, I had little conception of how it worked—other than it being founded upon some Buddhist principles and that Noah Levine* had created it. I had heard great things. I was slightly daunted—but more excited—at the possibility of reinvigorating my recovery with something completely new to me.

As I walked in I introduced myself to other members and was welcomed with compassion, and without judgement. While I respect the anonymity and sanctity of what is shared in a meeting, I can say that I was not the only person who was walking my path of seeking something different.

I took a pamphlet from the table which explained “Refuge Recovery: Is a mindfulness-based addiction recovery community that practices and utilizes Buddhist philosophy as the foundation of the recovery process.”  The main inspiration and guiding philosophy for its program are the teachings of Siddhartha (Sid) Gautama—otherwise known as the Buddha, and his teachings as Buddhism. They believe “Those struggling with any form of addiction greatly benefit when they are able to understand the suffering that addiction has created while developing compassion for the pain they have experienced. Sid believed that “the root cause of suffering as uncontrollable thirst or repetitive craving.”

The Refuge Recovery program does not ask anyone to believe anything—only to trust the process and do the hard work of recovery. Their practice of Buddhism they describe as a non-theistic approach to spiritual practice “that teaches us that we all have our own power to relieve suffering through our own efforts. The core teachings of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, in which the practices of mindfulness and compassion play key roles.”

The Four Noble Truths are: Addiction creates suffering; the cause of addiction is repetitive craving; recovery is possible; and the path to recovery is available.

The Eightfold Path is:

  1. Wise Understanding
  2. Wise Communication/Community
  3. Wise Action
  4. Wise Livelihood/Service
  5. Wise Effort
  6. Wise Mindfulness
  7. Wise Concentration

As the meeting time approached, the room filled and every seat was taken. I observed the familiar sight in a meeting where people take their seat, exhale deeply, and relax their shoulders. I noticed that people seemed more grounded, more present—which made me sit upright with an eagerness to learn more.

I was taken by their mindfulness based approach to recovery; which they define as “…Present-time, nonjudgmental, investigative, kind and responsive awareness. To be mindful of the present-time experience of our thoughts, intentions, and actions, we must continually train and redirect our attention to the here and now. Mindfulness teaches us to see clearly and respond wisely.” This spoke to me so loudly. I am a person who lives in the future—consumed with planning, list-making, and the things I have to do. I spend my life looking forward. Mindfulness is precisely what I need more of in my recovery.

The meeting began with a twenty-minute meditation—which I found heavenly. I found myself unravelling and becoming in-tune with my body. I felt grounded, present, and deeply relaxed as the meditation finished. My endless thoughts and solution-oriented brain was finally quiet. I felt peace of mind.

I often ask myself—similarly with yoga—why I don’t find the time to build this practice into my life when it is so evidently beneficial to my recovery. I just find better things to do—life gets in the way. Incorporating its practice into a meeting is nothing short of genius—not least because of its calming nature, but because it allows you to connect with yourself.

I couldn’t think of a better state to share from: where you are connected to your body, mind, and spirit. Surely that trifecta of connection is truth in its purest form? It is for me. In truth is the place I strive to be: where I operate in my highest purpose, where I feel a deep sense of connection to myself and the world around me.

In some respects, truth-seeking has become ingrained in my daily thoughts, behavior, and actions—where I examine if I am acting in accordance with my values and purpose. Not always though; sometimes I feel really disconnected and struggle to sift through my feelings. This is where the practice of mindfulness—particularly meditation—is most beneficial. Perhaps this is why I found the meeting so useful.

The second part of the meeting format was an open forum to share either on the meditation—this particular meditation was mindfully observing the present without judgement or seeking to label what your senses identified—or whatever is relevant to you in that moment. This is not dissimilar to a traditional 12-step meeting. However, what I particularly liked is that there is no need to identify by anything other than your name—not an addict, or alcoholic. I find such labeling self-limiting and it refers to a person that I used to be. I suffer with addictive patterns of behavior, but I am not in active addiction today. I find it more empowering to refer to myself as Olivia, or Liv.

As the meeting closed, I felt alive, energized, connected, and compelled to seek out more meetings. That’s exactly the breath of fresh air that I was looking for.

*Noah Levine, author of Dharma Punx, Against The Stream, The Heart of the Revolution and Refuge Recovery, is a Buddhist teacher, author and counselor. He has created a Buddhist approach to addiction recovery called Refuge Recovery, that includes peer lead meetings as well as a professional treatment center. He is also the founding teacher of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, with centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nashville and over 20 affiliated groups around North America. He teaches meditation classes, workshops and retreats internationally. Noah holds a Masters degree in counseling psychology and lives in Los Angeles

a woman in a blue shirt standing in front of trees.
By – Olivia Pennelle
Writer and wellness advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. She passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Read more
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