Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Approach to Recovery
Learn about Refuge Recovery, the Buddhist recovery program with meetings across the world.
What is Refuge Recovery?
Refuge Recovery is a relatively new program founded by Noah Levine. Noah is a Buddhist teacher who has authored several books, including the Refuge Recovery book. His organizations Dharma Punx and Against the Stream have helped many people discover meditation, find recovery, and begin investigating the dharma. Together with a team of teachers and individuals in recovery, he crafted the Refuge Recovery program.
Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist approach to recovery that utilizes the Four Noble Truths to help individuals recover from the suffering of addiction. Like many other support groups for recovery, there are regular meetings, a basic text and literature, a mentorship relationship, and a program of action to take. Noah and many of the people who helped craft Refuge Recovery have experience with other recovery programs, and perhaps brought some of their experience to this new offering. Although based on Buddhist teachings, all are welcome and absolutely no experience with meditation or Buddhism is required.
My Experience with Refuge Recovery
I found Refuge Recovery when I was relatively new to recovery. I was pretty active in Alcoholics Anonymous in early recovery. I went to meetings regularly, had a sponsor, took others through the steps, had commitments, served on service committees, attended conferences, and stayed as involved as possible. However, I consistently felt like something was missing.
Although I did not see it clearly at the time, I believe I was trying different things in an attempt to make it work for me. I didn’t feel quite right, and tried doing things like taking a commitment on the General Service Board, getting a panel with Hospital and Institutions, and working my steps again. However, I found myself still just feeling like something wasn’t clicking right for me.
At the time, there was no book or Refuge Recovery program. There were simply Buddhist recovery groups at Against the Stream in Santa Monica. I had read Dharma Punx, and read Noah’s other books as they were released. When I began attending these Buddhist recovery meetings, I immediately felt more comfortable. Noah was there at one of my first meetings, and shared an idea central to Refuge Recovery: all beings have the power and potential to free themselves from the suffering of addiction.
As an atheist who struggled with the issue of a higher power in twelve-step, this really landed with me. It’s not that I thought I was all-powerful or could do it by myself, but the idea of turning my recovery over to a supernatural power just didn’t sit well with me. This new approach of taking action, responsibility, and control over my recovery really reached me and made me feel comfortable.
When I stopped going to twelve-step meetings, I caught a lot of crap from people. When I would see people around town or at Refuge meetings, I was often told that I had to come back to AA in order to stay sober. However, my sponsor in AA at the time perhaps said the most useful thing to me during this time. He was an old-school Big Book thumper with 35+ years of recovery in twelve-step, and told me that as long as I had a community of people to support me and was taking care of myself, he was happy for me. Although it was a difficult transition, I ended up going to Refuge meetings regularly, and letting go of the twelve-step program which didn’t really work for me anymore.
I will say that I am not here to bash twelve-step. It helped me greatly in early recovery. However, there came a point where it really didn’t feel healthy for my recovery anymore. When I found Refuge Recovery, the program resonated much more immediately and deeply with me, and it simply made sense. This isn’t to say that Refuge is the right answer for everyone. However, it has been my answer and the foundation of my recovery.
The Refuge Program
The Refuge Recovery program is relatively similar in format to other recovery programs like twelve-step. There is a book, Refuge Recovery, a mentorship relationship, and steps to take. Although I have never directly asked Noah or any of the founding teachers, it is my belief that they took much of what works about twelve-step in constructing this program. There are guiding principles, inventories, similar meeting formats, and a main office. In the last year or so, meeting directories have been printed, pamphlets made, and guidelines laid out.
In the Refuge Recovery program, the work is based on the Four Truths of Recovery, which are the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths adapted to be understood in the context of recovery. Meditation practice is encouraged, and the book offers some meditation scripts and suggested practices. There are also many instructions for those who are beginners to meditation practice.
Refuge Recovery meetings are generally pretty similar to other recovery meetings. There is a meeting format, time for participation, and a structure. Some meetings have a speaker and discussion, while others consist of some readings from the book. Generally, meetings begin with a guided meditation. Although I’m sure this isn’t true across the board, my experience with these Buddhist recovery meetings is that they tend to be more focused on growth and finding solutions than many twelve-step meetings I have been to. The principles discussed are often deeper than just drinking and using, and may involve mindfulness, compassion, equanimity, and a number of other topics.
Getting Started with Refuge Recovery
If you’re new to Refuge Recovery or interested in getting started, I recommend getting the book and finding a Refuge meeting near you. The book really lays out the program well, and a meeting can help you connect with those who know a bit about the program. You can also join the Refuge Recovery Facebook group if you’re on Facebook.
Differences Between 12 Step and Refuge Recovery
There are a few big differences between Refuge Recovery and the popular twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. First, Refuge Recovery teaches that recovery from drug addiction does not require reliance on a higher power. Instead, we use the practices of mindfulness, compassion, and other Buddhist principles to help us relieve the suffering. This doesn’t mean we go it alone. Sangha, or community, is an important part of the program, much as fellowship is in twelve-step groups. However, Refuge Recovery does not involve a reliance on any power greater than ourselves. Rather, we utilize the teachings of the Buddha to free ourselves from suffering.
Another big difference between Refuge Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous lies in the understanding of addiction and recovery. Twelve-step groups teach us how to turn our will and our lives over to a higher power in order to stay sober, and that we are always addicts or alcoholics. Refuge Recovery, on the other hand, gives us a set of tools to see experience more clearly, release ourselves from the bondage of addiction, and move forward in our lives. Seeing clearly is the point of mindfulness meditation, and Refuge helps us to look at the causes and conditions behind our addiction. The difference here is that Refuge doesn’t repeatedly demand we go to meetings for the rest of our lives, but encourages us to continue in our practice as we build a life in recovery.
The final difference I often see in Refuge meetings is that all are welcome. In many twelve-step groups, individuals are encouraged to stay on-topic to the program’s specific substance. That is, people are discouraged from talking about “outside issues” and other drugs at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Refuge meetings may have people who are heroin addicts, alcoholics, survivors of trauma, in recovery from a mental health disorder, or there because they have a loved one who is suffering from one of these things. In essence, meetings are generally open, and there is less differentiation between how our suffering manifests.
As Refuge Recovery is an important part of our lives here at One Mind Dharma, we do recommend checking it out! If you have any questions about the program, are looking for a mentor, or want help finding a meeting, please reach out to us!