Updated: Jan 24
February 8th, will be my first year anniversary into the zoom rooms of a program called Refuge Recovery. For me, entering into recovery was not planned nor was it for an addiction to any substances, it was about learning more about myself and my relationships. However, my reason has evolved into an addiction to personal growth, spirituality, community, service and especially this thing that was foreign to me, meditation...lots and lots of life changing meditation!
Meditation has never had a place in my life apart from maybe when I was a runner. Looking back, I think, running became a form of meditation. I used to run nearly everyday just for fun and exercise, and I found that it cleared my mind, never realizing that this was my form of meditation. I also ran in chipped races for speed, clearing more cobwebs with a hit of adrenaline to boot! Weirdly running was the only thing I preferred to do without music. And looking back now, I'm guessing the meditative aspect was why.
Another example of a meditative experience for me is the beach. As the ocean is so soothing, and there is nothing more healing for me than the ocean, and the sound of the waves. The sheer sound of the waves crashing are meditative in their own way.
When I began this journey, the meetings weren't about meditation. In the beginning, it was all about how can I best understand, and cope with the estranged and painful relationship with my adult children. I was told that there are other people in the meetings that may share a similar experience with their kids. And there were. So it slowly expanded into attending meetings to learn things about myself. When I started on this path, I had no idea about the wild ride ahead in the coming year!
Meditation was something I never saw coming. Learning to embrace this was not anything I had planned on. I was not a meditation type girl. Or so I thought! Mainly because I didn't understand what it was. In the first six months or so, I was unsure if I was even doing it correctly. But as time went on and my attendance in the meetings increased, I found the regularity of my meditation practice has provided me with a feeling of well being. It helps with everyday things, like dealing with traffic, frustrating people, relationships, and forgiveness of self and others. It even provides more clarity for sorting out my own life. I can see my future can only be healthier and made better with the mindful meditation practice that I now hold dear to me and am very committed to practicing always. I truly feel the calm and inner balance improving in my core, and that is definitley due to this practice!
A typical example of a 'life situation' improving from this practice was recently whilst dealing with bad behaviour of a certain airline, I remained calm throughout the entire process. After four long, brutal days of dealing with them, I got the outcome I wanted, and they got a calm, well mannered, assertive, but not aggressive customer. I didn't have to lose my cool! Loosing our cool, makes both parties feel bad. Of course the situation with the airline was still frustrating, but there was no shouting involved! Good result! And that, I believe, was another direct result of my mediation practice.
I understand now after nearly a year of doing 3 or 4, 20 minute guided group mediations per day, (sometimes more), that I had spent my whole life, doing, going, always staying busy, filling up every waking moment with people, gigs, activities, music, and background noise. Silence, and real deep contemplation, was a foreign concept to me. I had never had the experience of just being with myself. Eckart Tolle wrote, "When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself, When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world." That was me. I had never simply just been with myself. I've always been a people person. Getting nurtured, fulfilled and entertained by others. Always immersed in events and fun activities with friends. And yes, many times my mind was altered by substances, and sometimes not.
Nowadays, not only is my world full of meditation but it's also with a clear head, as there are no longer any substances clouding my thoughts. I was never addicted to substances, I was simply using them to enhance the fun! Or so I thought at the time. I am very lucky to have an 'off' button when it came to substances. I have learned in the last few years that many people are not as fortunate, and cannot simply stop easily and they struggle with cravings. I have always thought in moderation, nothing is bad. But I found when you have a clean clear head, it is a different high altogether. And it's not bad at all. It's actually kinda cool.
Then, my journey expanded yet again, by getting to the root of my personal childhood trauma. We all deal with childhood trauma differently. Some people (rarely) deal with it early on, to live a happy, healthy adulthood, free of dysfunction. They are able to create and nurture healthy long term relationships, including finding a mate, having children and building a life. Others live with emotional and/or physical abandonment, abuse or neglect and don't take care of it early. Many simply ignore the pain by sweeping it under the rug. We end up feeling abandoned, scared and triggered. Incorporating what happened to us in childhood into our adult relationships. Coping with substances, and/or process addictions. Whilst all that takes place, we also develop adult attachment styles which are naturally activated in relationships. Anxious, avoidant and secure. We get through life numbing this pain with drugs, alcohol, food, spending, sex, gambling, relationships and more. Then we may hit a 'rock bottom', get sober and hopfeully find help.
Some choose the twelve step programs (there are many different groups, depending on your addiction); some choose other programs and therapies. I connected best with a Buddhist led organization called Refuge Recovery. There are many different methods of healing, growth, and recovery offered, varying on location, culture, religion and/or core beliefs.
You may ask what's the difference....Well, everyone has a different answer for this. I can only share mine....My personal experience is that the twelve step programs ask you to put all your trust in another entity. Call it your higher power, your god, whatever you choose to name it, put your eggs in their basket. Refuge Recovery asks you not to beleive in anything, only that you dig deep within YOURSELF to change the suffering, by attending meetings, remaining abstinent and doing the hard work.
I now have many hours behind me in both twelve step programs, and RR. I first walked into the rooms of Alanon (a 12-step program), a few years ago, pre pandemic, with only one question...'how can I best love and support an alcoholic friend'. I truly knew nothing about this topic. I've learned since, that normally, people start Alanon with a different question, and that is, 'how can I make my person/family member, stop drinking, drugging, over eating, over spending etc. Alanon has many sayings and slogans, one that suits best to answer this question is, "I cannot change it, I cannot control it, I cannot cure it and I certainly didn't cause it!" I have learned that what most likely caused it, is nearly always due to individual trauma. That is what causes some to reach for the drug, the food, the bottle in the beginning... It is usually NOT from a recent situation, but rather what we as individuals have had to deal with in our own lives. These experiences formed us from the start, and causing pain that followed us as adults. Numbing was probably the easiest, most common way to deal with the pain of trauma, neglect, abuse, and abandonment triggers.
For the first 8 months of the past year, I attended 20+ Zoom and in person meetings per week, combining 12-step and Refuge Recovery. Eventually, after many months of being immersed in both, I realized that I felt more connected to the teachings (Dharma), community (Sangha) and meditations of Refuge Recovery. Now, nearly a year down the road, I am fully immersed in the RR way. I now co-host one of my weekly meetings. And I take the commitment of service seriously. I was even asked to lead meetings, and I have, and it's been awesome. I know that if I screw up, there are many wonderful, patient, and kind people on the screen to help me through if needed. I've done ok so far (with the help of the Sangha), and I love leading the meetings! I was even asked to be a speaker at the big Saturday night speaker meeting. I'm tentatively on the schedule, but am very undecided if I will do it at this time. These are all huge life changes for me. If you would have told me that my life was going to be like this a year ago, I probably would have asked what you're smoking, and can I have some!
Until this past year, I never knew personal growth like I do now...and in a year from now, or in a decade I may be saying that again and again, because there is no "end" to healing, personal growth and evolving. Whether you are in recovery as an addict or simply someone who loves the meditation, healing and growth that are part of the program...there is never a graduation! There is only more of the same, again, and again. Only improving with time.
It makes me a little sad when I look back on situations I could've done differently in the past, if I only had the tools I have now through recovery. I know I would've made different decisions as a parent for sure. As well as many times that I kept the calm by diffusing volatility, simply to keep the peace, then down the road exploding with ridiculous unintended words. It's simply pent up anger coming out in a clumsy manner. Alanon calls it 'the volcano'. The saddest part is, the recipients probably think I meant what I said. Truthfully we have all had that happen at one time or another in our lives.
With a better understanding of who I am, and where I'm going for the rest of my life. The road ahead seems like it gets more clear and calm by the day, and then some days it goes a tad backwards. One step ahead and two steps back as they say. In recovery I can see that applying much of the time. But I keep moving forward and theres always another meeting. and community to support me.
As I didn't start these meetings with any 'addictions to resolve' per se... I've been asked, why am I attending? My answer..."for many reasons". Personal growth being huge, I mean who is perfect? Certainly not I! We can all use some growth and enlightenment, right? Personal growth...and getting to know 'me'. Through self care and learning the basics of this. I got to a place, (on Thanksgiving Day 2022) when proudly what came out of my mouth (unexpectedly) in a meeting was, "I'm now treating myself as I treat others"! And coming from my household of origin, where my mom, was feeding everyone seconds before she had firsts, this was big for me! My natural impulse to help and feed others. I'm now taking care of myself too. The changes are numerous. People around me have pointed out that they also have noticed big changes since I began RR...for the better. Bottom line, I feel better.
Theres an acronym I learned in Alanon, F.E.A.R. - "Fuck Everything and Run" or "Face Everything and Recover." The second is what we all hope to achieve in recovery.
About 12 step programs...Alanon is very similar to AA, NA (Narcotics Anonymous), OA (Overeaters Anonymous) etc.. Alcoholics Annonymous was started by Bill Wilson in 1935. His wife, Lois founded Al-Anon 16 years later. Lois started Alanon to help the partner, friend or family member that is living with or supporting their addicted loved one. When her husband Bill started AA, Lois found that all the wives of their alcoholic husbands were waiting for the meetings to finish. So they sat around and chatted in the next room. And although I simplified the process, thats basically how the idea came to her to form a group for the suffering partners of the addicts. And how the partner, friend, and family members can best cope with, and stay supportive and loving without interfering in the suffering addicts' recovery process. They call it, "staying in your own hula hoop, or on your own side of the road". Twelve step programs are everywhere and have helped millions.
Refuge Recovery was born in a different manner. Noah Levine, founder and author of the Refuge Recovery book, grew up with meditation though he didn't practice it until he found himself as a teen in a pile of trouble, incarcerated and an addict. His father, Stephen Levine was a Jew turned Buddhist poet and teacher of guided meditation healing techniques. Refuge Recovery was a 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. From Dharma Punx to Refuge Recovery, Noah’s writing and influence has been the cultural intersection of recovery and Buddhist practice. In twenty years of leading meditation centers, creating the Refuge Recovery organization and related treatment programs, leading meditation retreats, teaching the Dharma to groups and individuals, and training other Dharma teachers, Noah has helped many people to heal and recover. He speaks the language of addicts. His work reaches diverse populations, including many addicts who normally would never set foot in a Buddhist center. And it's a great alternative for those who have issues with the literature and/or 'god aspect' 12-step has to offer. Like me. Noahs' talks have included his experience in 12-step programs, as well as how meditation and recovery have influenced his own life.
RR is young, and has been going for only nine years. Due to its newness, many of the long time recovering addicts in RR, have come from old school 12-step. They recovered in pretty hardcore ways, that decades ago were what 12-step commonly did, like advising recovering addicts to eliminate all people, places and things. RR is a gentler and kinder program that advises to eliminate suffering by changing our own ways, like for instance, "just stop being an asshole" I just heard verbatim in a meeting the other day. In one of Noahs talks, whilst speaking about relationships, he said, "when we get into relationships it's like saying to the other person, are you ready to go on a journey of suffering with me and also have pleasurable experiences together too? Because all relationships have both". Learning to lean into the flow of both, and practice unattached appreciation are some of the keys. And Meditation is part of the process to getting there.
Refuge Recovery welcomes anyone and everyone who truly wants to make a difference in their life. Whether it be getting or staying abstinent or simply healing trauma and growing through the teachings, fellowship and meditations, RR welcomes you.
Noah Levine and I face timed the other day for about an hour. I learned a lot in that time, The Music Soup, had questions for him. Look out for my next blog as I will share this interview with you. In future you may see more RR links. There may be a newsletter soon. And photography coming for RR events. So please stay tuned for more on Noah and Refuge.
To wrap this up...regarding meditation and growth...Its never too late to clear out that old behaviour to make space for a new healthier happier way of life. In less than couple of weeks, it will be one year of my path to personal growth, meditation and self care. Its been one helluva interesting ride. Has it been easy? NO! Enjoyable?...DEFINITLEY NOT! Educational, painful, healing and evolving?...ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY!!!
The following are resources mentioned in this blog, for those struggling with addiction or simply wanting a different and/or better way of life...
- Refuge Recovery World Services - https://www.refugerecovery.org
- Against The Stream - https://www.againstthestream.com
- Refuge Recovery Book By Noah Levine - https://www.refugerecovery.org/store/refuge-recovery-book-group
- Alcoholics Anonymous - https://www.aa.org
- Alanon - https://al-anon.org
- Narcotics Anonymous - https://na.org
- Overeaters Annonoymous - https://oa.org
• This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of institutions or organizations unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any group, club, organization, company, or individual. ~ TMS