WHAT IS REFUGE RECOVERY ?
Refuge Recovery is a non-religious buddhist-inspired path to freedom from addiction. This is an approach to recovery that understands: “All individuals have the power and potential to free themselves from the suffering caused by addiction.” We are a mindfulness-based addiction recovery community that utilizes buddhist philosophy as the foundation for the recovery process from all forms of addiction. We hold regular meetings to support those seeking relief from the suffering that addiction causes. Our meetings are open to all. Refuge Recovery is an abstinence based program asking our members to practice abstinence from the substance or process addiction that is causing the most harm, then to begin looking at all the ways craving is causing harm in their lives.
The idea of applying Buddhist principles to recovery is not new. In a pamphlet published by the very first AA group in Akron, Ohio in the 1940s, and edited by Dr. Bob Smith, called “Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous,” one of AA’s earliest members shared the following thoughts on Buddhism: “Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right contemplation. The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for or in addition to the Twelve Steps. Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than considerations of self are basic to Buddhism.”
Author and Buddhist teacher Noah Levine, the founder of ATS and Refuge Recovery, has taught Buddhist principles and practices to alcoholics and addicts for over 25 years. A recovering alcoholic/addict himself, he’s written four books: Dharma Punx, Against the Stream, Heart of the Revolution, and Refuge Recovery. For his many accomplishments, he was the recipient of a Heroes in Recovery Award from Foundations Recovery Network in 2015.
Noah founded the Against The Stream Meditation Society, LA in 2008. While meditation societies are open to anyone seeking to learn about Buddhism, members of those communities have histories of substance abuse, and Refuge Recovery evolved out of these recovering alcoholics/addicts’ need for mutual support.
Refuge Recovery originated with meetings taking place at Against The Stream Meditation Society in Los Angeles in 2010. Soon Refuge Recovery meetings began in the Bay Area, Nashville, Boston, and New York. Noah Levine wrote the book Refuge Recovery (2014), about how the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path can be used to relieve the suffering of addiction. It also encouraged the formation of Refuge Recovery support groups wherever possible. Since then, meetings have started all around the United States and in several other countries.
Refuge Recovery draws a mix of people. Some also participate in 12-step recovery programs. Many have years, even decades, of time clean and sober. They are attracted by how a Buddhist perspective can deepen their spiritual practice. Others may have failed to find a home in a 12-step program. They are attracted to Refuge Recovery’s secular, non-theistic approach.
RR offers individuals actively engaged in recovery a home to address their addictive thoughts and behaviors through non-theistic spiritual guidance and a supportive community. Refuge Recovery doesn’t ask anyone to shift a belief system, or for that matter to believe in anything at all. You also don’t have to be Buddhist to participate. The founders of Refuge Recovery were inspired by the knowledge that while the theistic spiritual approach in AA and other 12-step programs helps many in their personal recovery, a significant number find it be a hindrance. These people need an alternative path. As evidenced through its exponential growth since the book Refuge Recovery was published in 2014, Refuge Recovery’s treatment and support approach is addressing a profound need.
Mindfulness and Meditation
Refuge Recovery groups practice meditation and mindfulness in every group meeting and in our program of recovery. Refuge Recovery offers guided meditation during groups (typically 20 minutes). The group offers a variety of meditations and mindfulness practices.
Meetings - Refuge Recovery Meetings are based on and incorporate mindfulness and meditation.
In most cases, the meeting format is as follows:
Volunteer reads the preamble
Volunteers read explanation of the program and principles
20-minute meditation led by group member
The secretary reads the introduction
Weekly reading from Refuge Recovery or other RR Literature
The Speaker chooses a topic and shares their experience with it
Group sharing, each person takes 3-5 minutes to share something related to the topic, or their thoughts/opinions
The group leader closes the meeting with a short reading and typically a reminder of the importance of anonymity
The Secretary requests donations and/or help with cleanup as necessary
Announcements and a group dedication
Meetings vary slightly in content based on the participants, but follow this structure.
The Four Noble Truths
Refuge Recovery asks you to live according to The Four Noble Truths. These are as follows:
Taking inventory of suffering, to understand what you have experienced and what you have caused.
Investigate the causes and condition of your suffering and begin to let go.
Understand that recovery is possible and take refuge in recovery rather than in addiction
Follow the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path
Refuge Recovery uses the Buddhist Eightfold Path as an intrinsic part of the recovery process.
Understand that recovery begins when you abstain from all substances, work towards forgiveness, and acknowledge that you need help so you can begin to take responsibility for yourself and your impact on others.
the intention to build a lifestyle that is rooted in compassion and unattached appreciation.
Take refuge in community and practice
Abstain from substances and incorporate Buddhist principles into your life.
Give back to others and try to be of service to them
Put effort into creating a daily practice of meditation, yoga, exercise, actions, kindness, and compassion.
Practice mindfulness daily
Practice focusing the mind through meditation
Mindfulness and Recovery – Mindfulness has been shown to be highly effective in reducing stress, cravings, and relapse, providing the recovering addict continues to practice. When you stop practicing mindfulness, the benefits gradually go away. Refuge Recovery is based on the idea that most people use substances such as drugs or alcohol as an escape from the stress of their lives. Behavioral studies consistently show that stressed individuals are more likely to use drugs, or process addictions to escape. The first step to joining Refuge Recovery is to agree to abstain from potentially harmful behaviors like using substances or acting on process addictions.
Buddhism and Recovery – There are multiple studies showing that Buddhist practices are ideal for recovering addicts because they increase self-awareness and spirituality, which decrease risk-behavior.
Meetings and Recovery – Self-help meetings have been positively correlated with abstinence and continued recovery, through a combination of providing an outlet, peer pressure, and accountability. While there are no Refuge Recovery specific studies, a 16-year review of AA attendees found that the more meetings a participant regularly attended, the more likely they were to stay clean or sober.
A Non-Theistic Approach to Recovery
While Refuge Recovery is based on Buddhist teachings, it is non-theistic, meaning that it does not involve a higher power or God. This is ideal for people who want to get in touch with spirituality without following a specific religion, or who follow a specific religion and do not want to take a traditional Christian-based recovery program.
Refuge Recovery is a relatively new recovery option, but it offers a variety of science and mindfulness-based recovery techniques designed to help you improve your life, and your way of thinking. This holistic approach attempts to tackle the causes behind addiction, so that a recovering addict can change their life for the better.
A Short History of Refuge Recovery
Inspired by the success of peer-led programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, Noah Levine set out to write a book that would enable people with little or no training to establish effective buddhist-inspired recovery groups, and to offer a purely buddhist-inspired recovery experience. The fellowship of Refuge Recovery has taken on the task of building an independent non-profit organization to support the effort. The book, Refuge Recovery, was published June 10, 2014, and the organization’s home on the web is RefugeRecovery.org. Refuge Recovery has grown to encompass over 600 meetings internationally since 2014.
Refuge Recovery respects the work of our 12 step predecessors in recovery...
Many of us are drawn to Refuge Recovery from 12-step recovery programs. The deeper we go into this spiritual tradition, the more we realize that the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path is its own complete system for recovery from addiction, a system that predates Alcoholics Anonymous by two dozen centuries. For most of us, this revelation does not create a conflict because we learn that in buddhist principles there are parallels for each and every one of the 12 steps. In fact, the realization that the actions recommended by A.A. and the other 12-step programs are mirrored in such an ancient tradition can be very affirming.
Roughly a dozen books have been written about these parallels and we encourage you to study the topic. However, in Refuge Recovery, buddhist principles are presented as a complete system of recovery to those suffering from addiction, an alternative path to 12-step recovery. Without a doubt, some in 12-step programs will bristle at this. It might surprise them to learn that the idea of presenting Buddhist principles as an alternative approach to the 12-steps first appears in some of the earliest AA literature.
In a pamphlet entitled “Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous,” published by the very first AA group in Akron, Ohio in the 1940s, and edited by Dr. Bob (AA’s co-founder), is this remarkable passage: “Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindedness and right contemplation. The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for or addition to the Twelve Steps. Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than considerations of self are basic to Buddhism.” Essentially, Dr. Bob endorsed Refuge Recovery some seventy years before it began.
Anyone who has been around a 12-step recovery program for any length of time has witnessed multiple examples of people who are unable for a variety of reasons to follow the 12-step path. The need for a viable alternative to the 12 steps is clearly evident.
If you are wondering how to relate to people that choose to work the Refuge Recovery program instead of the 12-steps, we hope that you will heed the advice offered by the A.A. Big Book in the chapter Working With Others:
“If he thinks he can do the job in some other way, or prefers some other spiritual approach, encourage him to follow his own conscience. We have no monopoly on God; we merely have an approach that worked with us. But point out that we alcoholics have much in common and that you would like, in any case, to be friendly. Let it go at that.” – Alcoholics Anonymous (Fourth Edition), page 95.