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Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path To Addiction Recovery (EXCERPT)

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Refuge Recovery is a practice, a process, a set of tools, a treatment, and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addiction. The main inspiration and guiding philosophy for the Refuge Recovery program are the teachings of Siddhartha (Sid) Gautama, a man who lived in India twenty-five hundred years ago. Sid was a radical psychologist and a spiritual revolutionary. Through his own efforts and practices he came to understand why human beings experience and cause so much suffering. He referred to the root cause of suffering as "uncontrollable thirst or repetitive craving."

This "thirst" tends to arise in relation to pleasure, but it may also arise as a craving for unpleasant experiences to go away, or as an addiction to people, places, things, or experiences. This is the same thirst of the alcoholic, the same craving as the addict, and the same attachment as the codependent.

Eventually, Sid came to understand and experience a way of living that ended all forms of suffering. He did this through a practice and process that includes meditation, wise actions, and compassion. After freeing himself from the suffering caused by craving, he spent the rest of his life teaching others how to live a life of well-being and freedom, a life free from suffering.

Sid became known as the Buddha, and his teachings became known as Buddhism. The Refuge Recovery program has adapted the core teachings of the Buddha as a treatment of addiction.

Buddhism recognizes a nontheistic approach to spiritual practice. The Refuge Recovery program of recovery does not ask anyone to believe anything, only to trust the process and do the hard work of recovery.

My book contains a systematic approach to treating and recovering from all forms of addictions. Using the traditional formulation, the program of recovery consists of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. When sincerely practiced, the program will ensure a full recovery from addiction and a lifelong sense of well-being and happiness.

Of course, like every path, you can only get to your destination by moving forward, one foot in front of the other. The path is gradual and comprehensive, a map of the inner terrain that must be traversed in the process of recovery. The path includes daily meditation practices, written investigations of the causes and conditions of your addictions, and how to find or create the community you will need in order to heal and awaken. We have also included stories of people who have successfully recovered with the help of Buddhist practices.

Although I am credited with writing the book, the large community at Refuge Recovery is the inspirational and creative force behind it. This community has helped shape, inform, and enhance the program with their direct experience of practicing these principles. This book, then, should be viewed as a collaborative effort, a book written for the plural rather than the singular--the "we" instead of the "I," since it speaks for Buddhists and addicts everywhere.

Lastly, we are aware that more will be revealed. It is our hope that we have offered here a substantial and useful foundation to the Buddhist recovery movement. We have every intention to learn and grow and revise as we go.

The path of Refuge Recovery begins with the First Truth: addiction creates suffering. This is not a philosophy. It is a practice; it demands action. We must understand, acknowledge, admit, and accept all the ways addiction has caused suffering in our lives. We take this action by writing and sharing an in-depth and detailed inventory of the suffering we have experienced in association with our addictions.

You are probably already painfully aware of how addiction leads to suffering. Addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, people, gambling, money, food, or whatever the addiction creates an almost unbearable amount of suffering, confusion, and harm in the life of the addict and the lives of the people who love the addict.

What usually starts as a search for happiness and pleasure almost always ends in tremendous sorrow, loss, confusion, and suffering. Very often it leads us to suicidal thoughts, despondency, and shame. For the addict in the midst of addiction, life is often a downward spiral that ends in incarceration, institutionalization, violence, loss, and death. Some may continue to function in seemingly normal ways--working,
parenting, and participating in society--but an internal death occurs, a numbness arises, and they start to disconnect from themselves and from others. A wall of denial and suppression, too high and too thick to scale or break through, keeps others out and keeps the addict in, trapped by his or her own defenses, prisoner to his or her addictions.

To start the process of healing and recovery from addiction, the first thing we must do is accept how our addictions cause suffering in us and in the ones we love. We begin by understanding that addiction always creates suffering.

Suffering is greed, hatred, and delusion. For the addict it may manifest as: Suffering is the stress created by craving for more. Suffering is never having enough to feel satisfied. Suffering is stealing to support your addiction. Suffering is lying to hide your addiction. Suffering is feeling ashamed of one's actions. Suffering is feeling unworthy. Suffering is living in fear of the consequences of one's actions. Suffering is the feelings of anger and resentment. Suffering is hurting other people. Suffering is hurting yourself. Suffering is the feeling of being isolated and alone. Suffering is the feeling of hatred toward oneself or others. Suffering is jealousy and envy. Suffering is feeling less than, inferior, or beneath others. Suffering is feeling superior, better than, or above others. Suffering is greedy, needy, and selfish. Suffering is the thought that I cannot be happy until I get. . . . Suffering is the anguish and misery of being addicted.

All these feelings are unnecessary suffering caused by an imbalance between our instinctual drive for happiness and our instinctual need for survival. It is also very important to remember that the end of suffering does not mean the end of pain or difficulties, just the end of creating unnecessary suffering in our lives.

Once we understand this, we can begin to determine whether or not we have crossed the line into addiction, by looking at all the ways that our drug use, drinking, eating, gambling, sex, or relationships have become a source of suffering. This is a process that cannot be skipped or half-assed. The foundation of our recovery is a complete admission and acceptance of the suffering that we have caused and experienced due to addiction.

Adapted from REFUGE RECOVERY: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction by Noah Levine. Copyright © 2014 by Noah Levine. Reprinted with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.