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Refuge Recovery: Applying Buddhism to Addiction Treatment

The Ins-and-Outs of Refuge Recovery and How It Can Treat Substance Use Disorder

Article Contents

What is Refuge Recovery?

Refuge recovery is the practice, process, tools, treatment, path to healing, and suffering caused by addiction. It is inspired by the teachings of Siddhartha (Sid) Gautama, a man who lived in India over 2500 years ago. Sid was a radical psychologist and spiritual revolutionary. He received enlightenment through his practices on why humans experience and cause suffering. According to Sid, the root of all suffering is an “uncontrollable thirst or repetitive craving.” He asserted that the “thirst” leads to pleasure but could bring cravings for unpleasant experiences or addiction to material things, people, or even places.1

Refuge Recovery operates on a non-profit basis and offers non-theistic recovery methods for those with addiction. It is similar to recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous since it offers free assistance, group meetings, and lifestyle guides. Refuge Recovery relies on full therapy, including transitional living options, Buddhist-based techniques, and mindfulness techniques. The program also uses science-based therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, attachment theory, motivational interviewing (MI), and more.

Buddhism and the Non-Theistic Approach to Recovery

Sid’s journey led him to understand and discover a new way of living that put an end to suffering. Sid was able to achieve this lifestyle by practicing meditation, wise actions, and compassion. After Sid mastered the art of living a suffer-free life, he taught others how to live a life of freedom and well-being. Sid was later known as the Buddha, and his teachings became Buddhism. The Refuge Recovery program adapts the core teachings of the Buddha as a treatment for addiction.

Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-oriented but non-theistic recovery program, meaning it does not require participants to believe in any form of a higher power. The participants of this program are also not required to possess any prior knowledge of Buddhism. Refuge Recovery teachings state that recovery is possible if the person going through the journey is willing to work towards it.

Refuge Recovery uses a systematic method for recovering from all forms of addiction. The program consists of the famous Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. It is believed that when the program is sincerely practiced using these two concepts, a full recovery and a prolonged sense of well-being can be achieved.1

Refuge Recovery Core Concepts

The Refuge Recovery system is gradual and comprehensive. The path requires daily meditation, records the causes and conditions of a participant’s addiction, and creates a community that helps one heal and awaken. The goal of the program is to allow its participants to learn, grow, and evolve. The process is split into two: The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path.2

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths follow the traditional Buddhist system and begin with actions.

1st Truth: Addiction Creates Suffering

The first truth involves taking stock of all the suffering you have experienced and caused because of addiction.

2nd Truth: The Cause of Addiction is Repetitive Craving

The causes and conditions that led to addiction are investigated and used to start the process of letting that addiction go.

3rd Truth: Recovery is Possible

This part of the process involves understanding that recovery is possible. The refuge is taken on the path that leads to ending addiction.

4th Truth: The Path to Recovery is Available

This truth is meant to lead to the next concept of the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is a continuation of the Four Noble Truths. In this process, you engage with the process of the Eightfold Path that leads to discovery and freedom from addiction. The eight steps include:

  1. Understanding
  2. Intentions
  3. Speech/Community
  4. Actions
  5. Livelihood/Service
  6. Effort
  7. Mindfulness
  8. Concentration

Ways to Work toward Recovery

Meditation is a significant part of the Refuge Recovery process. It is said that wisdom develops through the practice of formal mindfulness and meditation. Meditation leads to seeing things clearly and healing from the causes of addiction. In turn, one also heals from the suffering that addiction brings to their life.3

The practice is called present-time-awareness. It is used in all aspects of the Refuge Recovery process, and it allows one to take refuse in the present. The three types of meditation used for present-time awareness include:

  • Mindfulness and recovery meditation
  • Heart practice meditation
  • Forgiveness meditation.

What Happens at a Refuge Recovery Meeting?

Refuge Recovery meetings help members recover from all forms of addiction. This not only includes harmful substances like drugs and alcohol, but also material items and actions such as sex, food, technology, money spending, and other forms of addiction.

The only criteria required to attend a meeting is a desire to be free of addiction. The members practice a daily recovery program that involves meetings, meditations, personal inventories of their processes, retreats, mentorships, and service as integral components of their recovery. The group uses peer-led meetings to create a helpful atmosphere. An ongoing support network that can be relied upon by anyone that wishes to find and maintain an addiction-free lifestyle.

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