Refuge Recovery: Where Addiction Meets Mindfulness



In May of 1935, the infamous Bill W. was in Akron, Ohio on business. Bill was a stock broker from New York and an alcoholic. After a disappointing shareholders’ meeting, he felt drawn to the hotel bar. Fighting desperately to maintain his sobriety, Bill thought to himself, “I’ve got to find another alcoholic.” Enter Dr. Bob, an Akron surgeon, who had struggled for years with his own drinking problem. How the two met remains unclear, but the bond formed between Bill W. and Dr. Bob was the foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a movement that has impacted the lives of millions.


Even before its formal inception, connection and community were already the centerpiece of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA was built on the idea of connection and for the purpose of community. I wholeheartedly agree that connection and community are integral in the recovery progress. But, let’s talk about a different recovery-based community: Refuge Recovery.


Refuge Recovery was founded by a man named Noah Levine in 2014, but the guiding philosophy dates back twenty-five hundred years. At that time, Siddhartha (Sid) Gautama uncovered what he believed to be the root cause of suffering: an uncontrollable thirst or repetitive craving. This thirst tends to arise in relation to pleasure, but according to Sid, it may also arise as a craving for unpleasant experiences to go away, or as an addiction to people, places, things or experiences. After many years, Sid found a way to free himself from the suffering caused by craving. Refuge Recovery is based on Sid’s success.


So who exactly is Sid and what the heck is his secret to ending suffering? Siddhartha Gautama is also known as the Buddha and his secret is no secret; it is the teachings of Buddhism. Refuge Recovery is rooted in the idea that all individuals have the power and potential to free themselves from the suffering that is caused by addiction. Through mindfulness, compassion, forgiveness, generosity and other Buddhist principles, any willing individual can be freed.


Developing mindfulness allows us to observe our internal stream of consciousness. It helps us understand the way we relate to pleasant and unpleasant experiences, how this affects our habits of craving and in turn, manifests as addiction. Self-compassion allows us to realize that addiction is not our fault, but rather, it is a strategy for living that no longer serves us. We have found ourselves caught up in a cycle that keeps us in a state of suffering and confusion. Refuge Recovery believes that responding to our lives with understanding and non-harming can free us from addiction.


At the very core of Buddha’s teachings are The Four Noble Truths: there is suffering, there is a cause of suffering, there is a way to end suffering, and there is a path to end suffering. Refuge Recovery is based on a very similar set of 4 truths: addiction creates suffering, the cause of addiction is repetitive craving, recovery is possible, and the path to recovery is available. Further, Refuge Recovery teaches that recovery from addiction does not require turning our lives over to a higher power. Instead, it requires admitting to ourselves that addiction is causing suffering in our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. Refuge Recovery offers a set of tools to experience life more clearly, release ourselves from the bondage of addiction, and move forward in our lives.


This isn’t to say that Refuge Recovery suggests we go at addiction alone. In fact, the very opposite is true. Refuge Recovery emphasizes “sangha,” or community, in the same way AA emphasizes fellowship. Refuge Recovery follows The Eight fold Path to Recovery in the same way AA follows the 12 Steps. Both programs offer organization and most importantly, the crown jewel, connection. If you are struggling with addiction and find that you don’t connect with AA, know that there are other recovery-based communities out there. Refuge Recovery may be what you are looking for to end your own suffering.


As a therapist, I have helped clients with varying needs and backgrounds incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives. In turn, I have had the pleasure of witnessing these same clients strengthen their skills in self-compassion and relate to their lives in a new way. Mindfulness is a growing concept and I believe that Refuge Recovery is a direct result of its rise. Some may say that mindfulness is trendy, but can you really say that about a practice that dates back twenty-five hundred years?In my own clinical practice, I believe in the power of offering alternatives. Individual differences fuel the need for alternatives and our world is only becoming more diverse.


*The official website for Refuge Recovery (www.refugerecovery.org) helped inform the writing of this blog post. Please see the website for additional information.

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