In this week’s episode, I speak with Dave Owens from Refuge Recovery in Kansas City, Missouri. Dave is an atheist who wasn’t comfortable with most of the AA meetings around here, and he was never able to put a lot of sober time together until he learned about the We Agnostics Group in Kansas City and our sister group Freethinkers in AA Kansas City.
Earlier this year, Dave discovered Refuge Recovery which he enjoys and finds helpful to his recovery. Knowing about Dave’s involvement with Refuge Recovery, I invited him over to my house to record this podcast, which I think turned out to be both fun and informative.
What is Refuge Recovery?
Refuge Recovery: Is a mindfulness-based addiction recovery community that practices and utilizes Buddhist philosophy as the foundation of the recovery process. Drawing inspiration from the core teachings of the Four Noble Truths, emphasis is placed on both knowledge and empathy as a means for overcoming addiction and its causes. Those struggling with any form of addiction greatly benefit when they are able to understand the suffering that addiction has created while developing compassion for the pain they have experienced. We hope to serve you, and meet you on the path.
If you would like to learn more, the website refugerecovery.org has a lot of useful information about the process and practices of Refuge Recovery, as well as a directory of meetings. The resources page contains links to pamphlets, meeting formats, podcasts, books and more. The book Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovery from Addiction, by Noah Levine is available at Amazon in paperback, e-book format, and audio.
Should you wish to contact Dave or if you are interested in attending the Refuge Recovery meeting in Kansas City, you can visit their Facebook page, Refuge Recovery Kansas City.
00:00 John S: This is episode 70 of AA Beyond Belief the podcast, and I’m your host, John S.
00:26 John S: Today we’ll be talking about Refuge Recovery with Dave Owens. Dave has been attending meetings of Refuge Recovery since it came to Kansas City in March of this year. We will explore the basics, the process and the practices of Refuge Recovery. The four truths and the Eightfold Path. Alright, here with Dave Owens here at my home in Kansas City and we’re gonna be talking about Refuge Recovery. Dave is getting involved in helping to start a Refuge Recovery group here in Kansas City and I thought it would be fun to have him over here to talk about Refuge Recovery, how it works, and why it might be of interest to people who prefer a secular approach to recovery. So, Dave, you wanna talk a little bit about this, tell us a little bit about Refuge Recovery and what it involves.
01:22 Dave Owens: Okay. First off thanks for having me. I’ll just go ahead and read straight off back of the Refuge Recovery book to give you an overview.
01:31 John S: Okay.
01:31 Dave: Says Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-oriented, nontheistic recovery program that does not ask anyone to believe anything, only to trust the process and Dave the hard work of recovery. In fact, no previous experience or knowledge of Buddhism is required. Recovery is possible, and this book, the program, provides a systematic approach to treating and recovering from all forms of addictions. When sincerely practiced, the program will ensure a full recovery from addiction and a lifelong sense of well-being and happiness.
02:08 John S: And I was reading through the book a little bit and I know that, and I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I know that you Dave. But basically there are four truths of recovery, and then there’s an Eightfold Path and I thought maybe it might be interesting, would you wanna go through the four truths of recovery and talk about that? Would that be a good way to Dave this?
02:30 Dave: Sure. The four truths are that addiction creates suffering, that the cause of addiction is repetitive craving. Recovery is possible and the path to recovery is available. And basically that just kind of breaks it down as to understanding what addiction is and how recovery is possible. The Eightfold Path breaks down to understanding, and that’s that we understand that recovery begins when we renounce and abstain from all substances or addictive behaviors. It’s intention, we begin the work of changing our relationship toward the mind’s tendencies and habits. Communication and community, we take refuge in the community as a place to practice wise and skillful communication and to support others on their path. Action, we abstain from all substances and behaviors that could lead to suffering. We practice forgiveness and compassion toward all people we have harmed or been harmed by including ourselves.
03:37 Dave: Livelihood and Service. We look at our relationship to money, we try to be of service to others whenever possible, being generous with our time, energy, attention, and resources. Effort. We commit to the daily discipline practices of meditation, wise actions, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, and awareness. Mindfulness and Meditations. We develop wisdom and understanding through the practice of meditation and applying the truth of the dharma. And the final point on the Eightfold Path is, concentration and meditation. We work on our dedicated daily practice of meditation, awareness, and investigation.
04:17 John S: Okay. So the Eightfold Path is what you would follow after, as you go through the fourth truth of recovery?
04:26 Dave: Well, the best way I can describe that is if you were to think of the Eightfold Path as each point or fold being kind of like spokes in a wheel. It’s not so much like a 12-step type program where each one builds on the other it’s more that you work on all of them together.
04:50 John S: Gotcha.
04:51 Dave: It’s going back to the analogy of spokes in a wheel. If one is out of balance then the whole wheel is out of balance.
04:58 John S: Right.
05:00 Dave: So these are things that you try to apply in any possible way throughout your day, throughout your life, and throughout your recovery just as a way to keep everything in balance.
05:13 John S: Gotcha. Okay. So okay. I don’t wanna necessarily understand it like some sort of a linear thing. When I was reading through the book, okay, so I was looking at the first two truths. Addiction creates suffering. And what I found really interesting about that is it really goes into a really in-depth inventory of how our addiction causes suffering. So that helps a person understand…
05:43 Dave: Well, I think a lot of people, when they’re in the depths of their addiction, they don’t really realize that the suffering is not that, it’s not really specific to just the addict. It’s everyone around them as well as themselves. And understanding how your addiction has caused suffering both to you and to others, helps you get a fuller understanding of what your addiction is, the extent of it, and helps you kind of… It gives you more of a jumping off point to actually get more focused on what you can Dave to repair that damage and eliminate that suffering.
06:27 John S: Gotcha. I was almost kinda thinking about it from my AA world as kinda like a first step. Would you compare it to maybe the first step in a way or…
06:36 Dave: Well, yes and no.
06:38 John S: You have to forgive me ’cause this is all I know.
06:39 Dave: No, I totally understand. See I think with the way the first truth inventory breaks down, it’s kind of a… I would almost say that it combines the first two steps.
06:54 John S: Gotcha.
06:55 Dave: It just helps you… Yes, you’re recognizing that your addiction is a problem, you’re understanding more about it and I think when you take a step back and you’re able to look at it objectively and you understand the damage that has been done both to yourself and the people around you, it helps humble you.
07:15 John S: Yeah. And I could see how that could be helpful like if you’re just now coming to grips with a problem with addiction, and you show up at a refuge recovery meeting looking for… Because you’re interested in a secular approach, is this where they would start?
07:34 Dave: Well, a lot of… The way that we start all of our meetings usually, once we go through the formalities, explain what the program is. The first big… I guess the first course, we usually start off with a meditation. We Dave a guided meditation that usually runs anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on what the meditation is. And it could be anything from as simple as the mindfulness of breathing, which is good for people who don’t really have any previous meditation experience. It could be a bit more in depth. There’s one that I’m really fond of that’s just the loving kindness meditation, that helps you… I view meditation as being a way to hit the reset button. Like if you’ve had a bad day and you’re stressed out about things, taking a little bit of time to relax, clear your head a little bit, it really does help all of the little trivial worries of the day fall away and you can actually focus on what’s important.
08:52 John S: Right.
08:53 Dave: And I love the way that I feel when we get into a meeting ’cause I usually… The meetings are usually right after I get off work. So if I’ve had a bad day, taking 10 or 20 minutes to relax my mind, it really helps me just… My bad day is over, the bad part of my day is behind me, I can focus now. I’m here with other people who are suffering like I am, that are interested in recovery. We can be more focused on that rather than, I know I’m guilty of it myself, I’ve been in numerous AA meetings where when it’s my turn to share all I Dave is vent about my day.
09:34 John S: Yeah.
09:34 Dave: And not that that’s good, bad or indifferent, but it allows you to kind of… Instead of taking up more time on the meeting and other people commenting “Oh, maybe you should try this, maybe you should try that.” The nice thing about it is it just helps you say “You know what, that’s really not all that important.” So for a newcomer, we would probably start off, a lot of times we’ll… Before the meeting even begins kind of “Hi, I’m Dave” and “Is this your first time here? Dave you have any previous meditation experience? How did you find us?” That kinda thing. Helps get a little bit of an idea of what… Not really, I don’t wanna say what we’re dealing with but…
10:18 John S: Where the person’s coming from.
10:19 Dave: Right. And it helps to… We can tailor the meeting a little bit around that.
10:25 John S: Sure. Okay, that makes sense. What limited experience that I have with meditation, and I’m thinking I wanna get more involved with it is when I was doing it on a regular basis, it helped me discipline my mind. And one of the things that I did was like what you are saying is I learned how not to latch onto thoughts. So if I had a lot of negative crap going on in my head, I just realized that was just my brain working, and I could just let those thoughts go by and not latch onto ’em.
10:57 Dave: Right. I think probably the best way it was described to me when I first got into meditation was, you think of it like you’re lying on your back looking up at the sky.
11:08 John S: Yeah.
11:08 Dave: And there’s birds that’ll fly by and there’s clouds floating by and planes going by overhead. And rather than when you see something latching on to it and following it across the sky, you just let it go across your field of vision and then just, okay that was neat, that came by and now it’s gone and then here comes something else, and you just let that go by too. The easy way to Dave it is just bringing it back to focusing on breathing.
11:36 John S: Yeah. That’s really interesting. It’s almost like your mind is like a projector and it’s all these thoughts and stuff are just going by all the time right?
11:45 Dave: Right.
11:45 John S: And then through meditation you can just let those things go and kinda bringing yourself into more of a calm, aware state of mind.
11:55 Dave: Yeah. It’s kinda like if you had a camera and when you see the bird fly by instead of following it with the camera you just let it go across, in front and okay now whatever else is gonna come across in the filed of view is whatever comes.
12:11 John S: Okay.
12:12 Dave: And you can’t really… The thing that’s interesting about meditation is, I had the idea when I first decided that it was something I wanted to look into. I had the idea of, oh well this is just, you wanna clear your mind and just no thoughts.
12:26 John S: Right. [chuckle] That used to drive me crazy.
12:28 Dave: Well, and the funny thing about that is, the more you try to think about not thinking…
12:33 John S: The more you’re thinking.
12:34 Dave: Right. You end up just completely… You making it so much harder for yourself rather than just allowing yourself to say, “I have a brain, my brain works and because my brain works I have thoughts.”
12:46 John S: Yup.
12:47 Dave: Those thoughts are gonna come and go just like you’re gonna hear sounds. Instead of just focusing on that sound you’re just, “Okay, there’s a sound and now it’s not there anymore.”
12:58 John S: Yeah. Well that’s how I always saw it. We started a meditation meeting a long time ago at this group I used to go to. What used to drive me crazy was everybody was trying to achieve the state of no thought.
13:16 John S: And I knew that that was gonna be impossible for me. We had this guy come over who taught us how to meditate in the beginning, and he suggested what you did. Just imagine there are clouds floating in the sky or leaves drifting in a stream, you don’t have to grab on to ’em, just let those thoughts go. And that’s how I would meditate. I would use my thoughts, I wouldn’t try not to have them.
13:39 Dave: Right. Well, and like I said, the more you focus on trying not to think about anything, you’re fighting a losing battle at that point.
13:48 John S: Right. Ain’t that interesting? Okay. I noticed that you had the inventory on the first truth of recovery, addiction creates suffering. And I would recommend this book by the way, I’ve got it on Kindle, I need to get the hard copy. But I thought it was a really good inventory process. If I remember right, you actually have questions, right?
14:11 Dave: Correct.
14:12 John S: And then the second of the four truths, the cause of addiction is repetitive craving. There’s also an inventory that follows that. Is that right?
14:22 Dave: That’s correct.
14:23 John S: You want to talk about that second one, that second truth?
14:27 Dave: The way that it’s described in the book for the second truth inventory, it says, to write an in-depth and detailed inventory about the difficulties that you have been trying to avoid. Investigate how craving for more pleasure and less pain led you into addiction. And for most of us, that pretty much sums it up right there is that, the craving for more pleasure and less pain. I can’t speak for everybody but speaking for myself, I know that I would get into what I call apocalyptic thinking where I would fixate on something, and the more I would think about it the more my brain would go to this worst case scenario.
15:09 John S: Right, exactly.
15:10 Dave: Just expecting these awful things are going to happen.
15:13 John S: Exactly. That’s how I always lived my life, I had worst case scenario thinking. Which I thought was actually good in a way because the worst case scenario never materialized.
15:22 Dave: Right. But you’re prepared for it.
15:23 John S: I’m prepared for it.
15:25 John S: But in the mean time, I was a basket case.
15:27 Dave: Well, what I would Dave is because I would constantly be thinking about all these horrible things that were probably never going to happen, I would replay these scenarios in my head over and over and just constantly thinking about, “Oh, this is bad” and I would think, “Oh well, my girlfriend didn’t call me back and she’s probably out cheating on me right now,” or “maybe she’s dead in a ditch somewhere.” And, “Oh my god.” I would sit there and I would drive myself nuts over it. And a lot of times I would start drinking just as a way to make my thoughts slow down.
16:04 John S: Exactly, exactly.
16:07 Dave: It was never enough to just, “Oh, okay, yeah, I’ve got a nice cool buzz I’m good,” no, no, no, I have to shut it off.
16:13 John S: Absolutely. I know. In fact, that was the hardest part and I’ve said this many times. When I first stopped drinking, is because I still had ongoing problems in my life that were the result of my addiction. Okay? Legal problems, all kinds of problems. Money problems, you name it. And the only way I knew to shut off the worry, and the fear, and the dread was to drink.
16:34 Dave: Right. And that just becomes a horrible cycle because…
16:38 John S: It creates more. [laughter]
16:39 Dave: It creates more problems. And that goes back to the second truth, the cause of addiction is repetitive craving.
16:46 John S: Repetitive craving.
16:47 Dave: And the nice thing about when you Dave that second truth inventory, is it helps you understand that there were causes of that craving. And once you can identify what caused you to Dave that, you can correct the behavior that follows it.
17:05 John S: Now is this similar? Would you say that this is similar to the fourth and fifth step sort of? And then where you identify personality traits or what they call character defects whatever, and then try to improve on those? Is it similar to that?
17:23 Dave: I think it is. The nice thing about it is, it’s sort of broken down into smaller pieces.
17:29 John S: Okay.
17:32 Dave: When I first got started with AA, the fourth step just terrified me. It was like all these horrible things from my past that I’ve done, I don’t wanna think about that, I just wanna leave that in the past and move forward. Well, that’s a nice thought and it would be nice if we could just, “Okay, well, that’s in the past and I don’t have to deal with it anymore,” the fact is that there’s repercussions. And the way that this is broken down it’s not so much here, just go back and dig up all this crap from your past and you’re gonna drive yourself crazy thinking about all of this. It’s broken down into smaller pieces and there are specific questions that it asks that make it a whole lot easier than trying to think about it and this grand, “Oh, I have to go back and think of everything that I’ve done.”
18:30 John S: Right.
18:32 Dave: Okay, I started drinking when I was 15 and I stopped when I was 35, so that’s two decades worth of dirt that I’ve got to go digging through. And with this it’s bite size. So because you’ve got specific questions. Okay, I’m looking at the book right here, one of the very simple… “When did it become a problem?” It’s not asking you, “Well what led up to this?” just “When did it become a problem? What’s the thing that you’re most afraid of? How did your addiction affect that fear?”
19:10 John S: Right.
19:12 Dave: It’s specific questions that make you really think about it rather than… The fourth step to me seems fairly abstract. Searching and fearless moral inventory.
19:25 John S: Right. It’s kind of a free-flowing whatever pops into your head type, yeah.
19:29 Dave: And it’s like, “Okay, well, just moral inventory, what does that mean?” Is it just the bad things? Dave I include the good things? And even the sponsors that I’ve had were not real helpful they were just, “Well, you’re over thinking it, you just need to Dave it.” Well that doesn’t help.
19:50 John S: What I liked about it when I was reading through the book, I actually like thinking. I think thinking and understanding helps me in my recovery. And I think that I’ve been doing that ever since I’ve been sober really, trying to understand what was going on with me. But my experience in AA especially for some period of time was that they were focusing so much on faith and belief, that understanding was not something that was really valued. Whereas I think people that are now approaching this from a secular perspective, I think that we like to understand. So the way I see things now, I don’t come to believe but I come to understand.
20:36 Dave: I think that’s a good way to look at it. I know for me the faith and belief thing, really that was a big turn-off for me with AA.
20:48 John S: It’s a big turn-off for a lot of people.
20:50 Dave: And I think until I found secular AA meetings, the longest I had managed to stay sober was four months. Because too many times it got to a point where going to a meeting it felt like I was going to be crucified. If I was to openly state that I don’t believe in God, then it would immediately turn from a recovery meeting to a come to Jesus meeting, which happened to me more than once.
21:18 John S: Right. Well, in our part of the country, especially if you live in the outskirts of the city.
21:23 Dave: Right. So when I found the secular AA meetings it was a breath of fresh air for me because it was like hey, these are people who are like me. They have a problem, they wanna get better, but they don’t wanna get bashed over the head with the Bible.
21:41 John S: Right, yeah. And that’s why I think a lot more people that are in… It’s not… Maybe might not be for everybody but I think what I like about Refuge Recovery is, it gives you questions to ask yourself, it gives you things to Dave to understand about your past, it helps you learn to meditate. All these things that are basically, you can find all that stuff in AA but without the dogmatic approach to, that you’re good, you’re bad, or you gotta Dave this just right.
22:20 Dave: One of the things that I like about it is that there is, throughout the whole program it stresses to be kind. Not just to other people but also to yourself. A lot of times in the AA I found that there were times when I would leave meetings feeling worse than when I went in. And sometimes I would wonder, “Well is there something inherently wrong with me?” I had the problem that I’m here to get better and all these people they’re all talking about what God has done for them. “Oh I just gotta turn it over to God.” I said “Well, that’s great that that works for you but what am I supposed to Dave? I’m kinda left out in the cold here because I don’t have that crotch.” And finding any kind of secular recovery meeting, it can be difficult especially depending on where you are.
23:19 John S: Right. Yeah we’re pretty lucky here that we actually ended up having a pretty decent community of people here that wanna have a secular approach to their recovery. And I Dave appreciate that, I like it because I think we’re actually more open minded. I think that we’re more willing to look into other avenues, things like this. But there’s lot of variety in our experiences though too. There are some people who might not like this, they might think it’s too spiritual, they might think it’s too religious in nature and that kind of thing.
23:58 Dave: Well and the way that I look at it is, Refuge Recovery is based on Buddhist teachings, but it’s not based on Buddhism as a religion.
24:09 John S: Right.
24:10 Dave: There’s no talk of reincarnation, there’s no talk of karma, it’s just… Basically, it all boils down to being a nice person. Be good to yourself, be good to other people.
24:23 John S: Right.
24:25 Dave: I think probably the most… I hate to even use the word religious but I think the closest to anything like that that it comes to is, and it’s not even so much talking about karma, it’s just that if you’re nice to other people they’re more likely to be nice to you.
24:41 John S: Right, right. Yeah. [chuckle]
24:43 Dave: That’s not really karma, that’s just good manners.
24:45 John S: Right, exactly. Exactly. Okay. So you understand where I’m coming from, I come from this… I came into AA when I was 25 years old and I’m 55 now. So this is all I freaking know. So anytime I read something I think “Oh, that’s sounds like step five, whatever.”
25:05 Dave: Right, right.
25:06 John S: So anyway. So anyway I was looking at the third truth which is recovery is possible. You wanna talk about that a little bit?
25:15 Dave: That one it pretty much speaks for itself. You have to accept that recovery is possible.
25:21 John S: Right.
25:22 Dave: And I think that’s something that a lot of people, especially early on, just don’t see it as… It’s not even on the radar.
25:33 John S: Right, that’s right.
25:34 Dave: Especially when you’re in the depth of your addiction and you’re still actively using or whatever, I think for a lot of people they just don’t think that there’s a way out. They think, “Well this is me, and this is how it is, and this is how I am and I’m just gonna have to accept that.” And when you accept that recovery is possible, when you come to understand that, it’s [chuckle] almost the spiritual awakening that they talk about in AA.
26:07 John S: Yeah. See, that’s how I was viewing it too. I was viewing it as that moment where you realize that “I need help and there is help.”
26:16 Dave: Right.
26:17 John S: That there is hope. And I think it’s necessary because without that, why even bother?
26:25 Dave: Well and that’s pretty much where a lot of people, when they get to that point they just have to realize that there is an alternative to living my life this way.
26:36 John S: Right.
26:36 Dave: I’m miserable, I’m broke.
26:40 John S: Right.
26:42 Dave: I’m causing the people around me to suffer whether I realize it or not. I don’t think I realized how much my drinking affected other people until after I got sober.
26:56 John S: Right.
26:57 Dave: There were people that were concerned about how much I drink. There were people that expressed that concern, and one of the things that I’ve always said is, “If other people think you have a problem then you might.”
27:10 John S: Right.
27:11 Dave: If you think you have a problem then you Dave.
27:13 John S: Right. That’s [chuckle] a good way of putting it, that’s a good way of putting it. I used to always tell people, “If you think you have a problem, then you probably have a problem.”
27:21 Dave: Right.
27:21 John S: And you really Dave ’cause just that you’re sitting around considering that you have a problem, is a problem in itself. You have to figure it out.
27:31 Dave: And I know people that will admit that they have a problem, they just don’t really have any desire to stop.
27:36 John S: Right.
27:39 Dave: And what can you Dave?
27:41 John S: Right.
27:41 Dave: There really isn’t anything you can Dave except just hope that someday they’ll get it and be there when they’re ready to reach out.
27:51 John S: Right. Now I noticed on the third, on that one, there’s not an inventory connected with that one. Is there?
27:57 Dave: No, it’s just that recovery is possible and that’s pretty much…
28:02 John S: Okay. So when you guys… When you go through this, Dave you have discussions about these four truths? How Dave people… How Dave you learn to implement these in your life?
28:17 Dave: Well, what I Dave at our meetings is we Dave a meditation, and then there’s a reading which we could either say, “Okay, well we’re gonna just have a discussion about this particular truth or this part of the Eightfold Path.” Or I’ll find a passage in the book and say “Hey I wanted to get your thoughts on this.”
28:45 John S: Okay.
28:46 Dave: So in some ways I’ve attended big book studies where it’s like “Hey, we’re gonna read this little section and then we’re gonna talk about it.”
28:54 John S: Right.
28:56 Dave: It can be the same way.
28:57 John S: Yeah, okay.
28:58 Dave: Just a different way of looking at it.
29:00 John S: So it helps people learn and discuss and learn from others too.
29:06 Dave: Right. It gives you a chance to share your experiences. You find out that we’re not so different.
29:16 John S: Right, yeah. Yeah, which I think is a important part of our recovery. Then this other one, this is the one that I thought was step three. The path to recovery is like when you… Isn’t that where you… Okay, this is where you’re looking at the Eightfold Path right?
29:34 Dave: Correct.
29:34 John S: And you’re making a commitment to it. Is that how you would refer…
29:39 Dave: It’s not even necessarily so much about making a commitment to it, it’s just becoming engaged with it.
29:45 John S: Okay.
29:48 Dave: Understanding… Once you’ve accepted the four truths and you start working on the Eightfold Path which like I said, it’s not so much a step-by-step thing as it is more just a holistic type of thing. These are the things that are going to help keep you clean and sober, these are the things that are going to help with your recovery, these are things that you should be mindful of. The things that you should work on, practicing in everyday life.
30:18 John S: Okay. Okay. And that’s when you get into this. Shall we go into the Eightfold Path a little bit and talk about some of these things?
30:25 Dave: Sure.
30:26 John S: Okay. So the Eightfold Path, and it’s kinda cool, they break everything down. ‘Cause you can break the Eightfold Path down like in three different chunks, right? Wisdom, ethics, and meditation? Did I get that right?
30:40 Dave: Yeah.
30:41 John S: So like on wisdom, you’ve got wise understanding, reality and wise intentions. Is that right? Maybe I should let you tell me. [laughter]
30:53 Dave: Well, and I think a lot of it… The three pillars that come straight from the teachings of Buddhist philosophy, the three things are awakening, truth, and community or Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And with each one of those you have to think of it as, again, they all kinda go together. It’s not so much that, “Well, I’m gonna focus just on this.” or “I’m gonna focus just on that.” It’s not like I remember a lot of times in AA they say, “You need to work the steps, work the steps.” And I always viewed that almost like playing a game, you’re leveling you up. “Okay, well I just did step one, now I’m on to step two and step three. Oh, step four was hard but now I’m on to step five.” With this it’s more of, hey these are things to work on altogether.
32:02 John S: Gotcha.
32:04 Dave: It’s not, “Oh, well I’m gonna work on understanding now and then once I feel like I’ve got that then I’ll work on intention.
32:09 John S: Gotcha.
32:13 John S: Yeah. That is kinda funny. In a way I think that because they wrote the steps out numerically in order like that, it was almost a mistake because that’s not really how we experience it. We actually experience a lot of those things simultaneously.
32:31 Dave: Right. And I thought of it as, if you think of it almost like a recipe, does it really matter if you mix up the steps in a recipe a little bit? Depending on what it is, it might.
32:50 John S: But usually not.
32:51 Dave: Right. As long as you cover all your bases, you can usually turn out a good product in the end.
32:56 John S: Right.
32:58 Dave: And I think that’s where, I remember early on in my sobriety, in one of my attempts at sobriety anyway, I had already started working on making amends and I had somebody tell me I was doing it wrong. Said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re not there yet.” [chuckle] Is there something inherently wrong about wanting to right the wrongs?
33:29 John S: Right. And sometimes you almost have to because you’re just… I was at that point I wasn’t like on that linear progression at that place where someone checked off all the boxes and said, “Okay, you’re ready for this.” But I had to be able to look people in the eye. And that was what it was about for me. And there were people that I was seeing on the street that I would wanna walk the other way when they came down the street, and I had to go talk to those people. And so it didn’t matter to me whether or not I was on that step. So I think that yeah, I mean that’s just… That’s how my recovery has always been. It’s always been, gosh, it’s more like as you described this in Refuge Recovery. It’s experiencing things simultaneously in different ways. And then maybe my understanding has grown to over time. I’m sure that I must have started off listening to people and be a little bit more regimented but as time went on I could look back and realize that, “Oh, wow, this is how it really happened.” And how it really happened is a lot different than the way it’s laid out in the story.
34:48 Dave: I remember it’s like okay, while you’re working on step four you’re also working on eight and nine at the same time.
34:56 John S: Yeah.
34:56 Dave: Yes, I understand that they all build on each other. But I think a lot of people have this understanding that the steps are like I described, it’s like a leveling up in a video game. And I would hear people in meetings that would talk about, “Oh well, I’m working on step number X, Y, or Z.” And it’s like well, with this it’s more… Well, these are all the things that we’re working on all the time.
35:27 John S: All of the time.
35:28 Dave: And in doing so, it kinda helps you to understand more about your place in the community. Like for me, just being placed in the position I’m in was not really necessarily something that I actively tried to Dave. The gentleman that started the Kansas City Sangha of Refuge Recovery, he was trying to get things off the ground and I had attended a few meetings and I really enjoyed it, and then he dropped this bomb on us that he was moving, and needed someone to take over and…
36:10 John S: And that was you.
36:11 Dave: Well, it just fell on me, I was really the only one that regularly attended the meetings. We’d have other people that would showed up here and there. We had a couple of guys that came from out of town that were here for work that… And these two guys, it was an interesting story, they’d never met each other before but they worked for the same company.
36:33 John S: Interesting.
36:33 Dave: And they got sent to Kansas City.
36:35 John S: Oh, really?
36:36 Dave: One of them was a gentleman, I believe he was from Florida. He attended Refuge Recovery there. And the company had put him and this other guy in a hotel together, and the one guy, “Hey, what are you reading there?” And he started telling him about it and the says, “I think I might need something like that.”
36:55 John S: Isn’t that interesting.
36:56 Dave: And they attended the meeting and they were only here for a few weeks, and they came to the meetings every week and aside from me I think they were probably the most regular attendees that we had at that point.
37:09 John S: You know what’s interesting is, when you’re describing that, the one guy was he reading the Refuge Recovery book?
37:15 Dave: Yeah.
37:16 John S: So he’s like in AA, we’re not gonna tell anybody what we’re… You know? So are you more open about it? People if they go to Refuge Recovery would they just tell people at work “Hey, this is what I’m doing?” Are you more… Tell us that.
37:32 Dave: One of the things… I think I’m understanding what you’re asking.
37:37 John S: Right, right. Sort of the anonymity thing, in a way.
37:41 Dave: Well, as far as the anonymity is concerned, usually… There’s still who you see here and what you hear here.
37:50 John S: Honor someone’s right to privacy.
37:53 Dave: Right. We Dave mention the importance of anonymity and confidentiality.
37:58 John S: Right.
38:00 Dave: Usually at the meetings we just introduce ourselves by first name. It’s not, you know, “I’m an alcoholic… “
38:10 John S: Right. You don’t attach a label or anything.
38:10 Dave: “I’m an addict.” It’s like okay, we’re here because we have a problem.
38:14 John S: Right.
38:15 Dave: Whether your addiction is drugs, alcohol, gambling, whatever it is, addiction is addiction and it doesn’t matter what your addiction is.
38:26 John S: Gotcha.
38:28 Dave: I’ve seen studies show that during… They’ve done PET scans on the brains of addicts where they show that the same parts light up whether your addiction is alcohol, cocaine.
38:42 John S: That’s right.
38:42 Dave: Whatever. Once the stimulus is introduced the same parts of the brain are lighten up.
38:46 John S: Yup, yup.
38:49 Dave: One of the things that I like about Refuge Recovery is that it’s open to addicts of all stripes.
38:54 John S: Sure.
38:55 Dave: It doesn’t matter what your problem is, you have a problem, we wanna help.
38:58 John S: That’s right. I’m gonna be talking to a doctor this week for a podcast, Nicole Labor. And she gave a talk and she says, “There’s no such thing as cocaine addiction, there’s no such thing as heroin addiction, there’s no such thing as alcohol addiction, there’s just addiction.” And I believe that. And she showed the same thing that you were talking about those studies, where they are looking at how parts of the brain are activated by addicts when they actually just even see the drug or whatever, it’s all the same. And so I believe that too. And she makes a point that just from a public policy standpoint, it’s almost… We’re almost doing a disservice when we focus on the drug and not the addiction.
39:42 Dave: I agree with that.
39:43 John S: Because we’ll have like a “Oh, we have a crack epidemic, we have a heroin epidemic, we have an opioid crisis,” right?
39:50 Dave: Mm-hmm.
39:51 John S: Well, no we don’t, we have an addiction problem. Because all those substances you could just interchange them one for the other.
40:00 Dave: Well, and that’s something that a lot of people have found just through the cause and effect of addiction. There are people that, “I’m gonna stop drinking.” So what Dave they Dave? “Well I’ll start smoking pot, that will help.”
40:17 John S: Right.
40:17 Dave: And the thing that people find is that until they actually focus on understanding the nature of their addiction, whatever they’re substituting, they abuse it the same way.
40:30 John S: Right.
40:31 Dave: I talked to a gentleman recently, he said that when he quit drinking he thought, “Oh well, I’ll smoke pot ’cause at least I’m not… “
40:38 John S: That was my first thought.
40:39 Dave: “I’ll smoke pot ’cause at least I’m drinking.”
40:41 John S: Right, that was my first thought. And I was never a good pot smoker anyway, it made me totally paranoid. But I thought it might be a good option still.
40:52 Dave: He was saying that, “Oh well, at least I’m not drinking, so if I’m just smoking pot then that’s fine because I’m not addicted to pot.”
41:00 John S: Right.
41:00 Dave: And the problem was he said that shortly after he decided to substitute marijuana for alcohol.
41:08 Dave: He was getting high four five times a day.
41:10 John S: Right.
41:11 Dave: Wake up in the morning I’m gonna get high and go about my day and lunch break I’ll step out and… And it’s all the same, it doesn’t matter.
41:21 John S: It is. What’s happening from a scientific standpoint from my understanding, I’m gonna learn more about it, is that it’s really a dopamine issue.
41:29 Dave: Yes.
41:30 John S: It doesn’t really matter. Marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, whatever, you’re still increasing your dopamine levels way above the threshold that you’re able to withstand, and that’s the whole problem. And then once you start the addiction, once your brain changes through addiction, it doesn’t matter what drug it is.
41:53 Dave: Right.
41:54 John S: So anyway. But in AA, you can theoretically be sober and smoke pot. [chuckle]
41:58 Dave: Yeah. Well, at least you’re not drinking.
42:03 John S: I’m not trying to bash AA but that’s the truth anyway. We actually had a meeting the other day where a woman came in and she said that she had smoked pot. She went somewhere and she smoked pot or whatever, and she wanted to know if she was still sober. And we said, “Well, the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. It’s for you to decide.”
42:26 Dave: Some AA meetings that I have attended had been more lax than others about it. But I’ve been to some where as soon as somebody starts bringing up any kind of addiction issue other…
42:35 John S: They shut them out.
42:35 Dave: Yeah. They say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is Alcoholics Anonymous.”
42:41 Dave: “This isn’t Addicts Anonymous.” Which, as we’ve already covered it’s all the same.
42:47 John S: Right. True.
42:48 Dave: But you would get some people that would say, “Oh well, yeah, I used to drink a lot but I also did heroin.” “Okay, we’re not gonna talk about the heroine because we’re alcoholics here.”
43:02 Dave: “We just wanna talk about drinking. If you wanna talk about your heroine, you have to go to an NA meeting for that.” Well, with Refuge Recovery it’s more inclusive to where, “Okay, it doesn’t matter, okay you may have been an alcoholic and a heroine addict. That’s cool.” Dual addictions are not uncommon.
43:22 John S: No, not at all really. No. Most of us probably are, actually. Anyway, you were talking about where you’re at right now with your… So the person who started Refuge Recovery in Kansas City he moved on, and now you’re trying to get things going?
43:39 Dave: Yeah, it fell in my lap and it was more that I saw the value in the program, and even though I was just not really wanting to take on the responsibility of leading the group in Kansas City, I didn’t wanna see it just go away.
43:58 John S: I’m glad you did.
44:00 Dave: And so I told them that I would be willing to go ahead and take over, at least for now, and help try to grow the program and see if we could get something more substantial than just the handful of people that we had. I think so far the most we’ve had at one meeting is five people which…
44:21 John S: But you haven’t been at it that long though, right?
44:22 Dave: No, I think he really just got things started, it’s been less than a year. I think he really got things started back, I wanna say March or so. It’s been just since the spring.
44:36 John S: It takes a while. Besides, Refuge Recovery doesn’t have the name recognition yet like AA does.
44:42 Dave: True. And we don’t have a regional central office or anything like that. That also kind of makes it a little bit more difficult to get the word out. We have a Facebook page that has I think around a hundred followers right now.
45:02 John S: It’s a good page, too. I like it.
45:05 Dave: We Dave have our meeting listed on the main Refuge Recovery website.
45:08 John S: And actually that Refuge Recovery website is pretty cool, too. You did a good job with it.
45:13 Dave: There’s a lot of good information out there. There’s also a lot of videos on YouTube from Refuge Recovery talking about either various people doing dharma talks or there’re several that it’s basically just a video of a guided meditation.
45:33 John S: Cool. There’s also a Refuge Recovery podcast you can get on iTunes.
45:37 Dave: Yup. There’s a good online presence right now between the online and word of mouth is really the only way that we can spread the word about it. There are a few Buddhist centers here in town, and we’ve been reaching out to them as far as getting the word out. I’ve talked to a couple of people about possibly, if nothing else, getting some flyers out to some of the inpatient rehab facilities.
46:14 John S: Absolutely.
46:15 Dave: Haven’t quite gotten there yet but I’ve got stack of flyers we put some out.
46:22 John S: I think that they would love to hear about it. People need options. I’m all pro-choice. I think that the more options you have for people, the better. AA might be great for one guy, Refuge Recovery might be good for another guy, another one might want both.
46:38 Dave: Right. I think I fall into that last category. I still attend AA meetings. I lead the Refuge Recovery meetings here.
46:48 John S: There’s no reason that we have to be in a camp. You can go to Smart, you can go to Refuge… You can go to AA, Smart, and Refuge Recovery. You can go Dave all three if you want to, and then they go to therapy. You could Dave a number of different things.
47:00 Dave: Yeah, absolutely.
47:01 John S: You probably should if that’s what helps.
47:08 Dave: I think if you were to just take a look at all of the different options and learn what you can about each one, you can apply what works for you and disregard the rest.
47:17 John S: Yeah, absolutely.
47:19 Dave: For me, I think the meditation really does help. The fact that we’ve got the meditation as well as recovery discussion all kind of rolled into one meeting. I know that there are a lot of AA meditation meetings. There’s Buddhist AA meetings.
47:39 John S: That’s right.
47:40 Dave: But like you said, I like the fact that this presents another option.
47:44 John S: Yeah. And it is a secular option. When I was reading through the book, I was… And it might be just the way that my mind works because I always interpret anything from a psychological standpoint. When I was going through all those questions and the different inventories, like “Wow, this is really, really good.” This really forces a person to stop and think and look at their own behaviors, and to understand and learn from ’em.
48:10 Dave: Well, and I think that self-awareness is a big part of mindfulness. If you really take the time to reflect on the things that have caused… That have fueled your addiction, it really helps you to understand it and it gives you more tools that’ll help you avoiding falling back into those old destructive behaviors.
48:37 John S: I agree with that. So I think that you guys are off to a pretty good start. So I know that you’ve been meeting outdoors for most of the time, right?
48:46 Dave: Mm-hmm.
48:46 John S: Down by the river, but you might be having a place inside here pretty soon?
48:50 Dave: Yeah. We’ve been… Well, we started our meetings we were at the Riverfront Park, and here in the last few months we’ve been meeting at Lou’s Park, which is a really nice park but it’s also… When the weather is really nice it can be very busy.
49:08 John S: Oh, yeah.
49:10 Dave: It’s nice that it’s pretty centrally located, it’s convenient for a lot of people. But on a nice day, there’s a lot of people out walking their dogs, and there’s children playing on the playground, and… There’s just a lot of potential distraction which can make meditation difficult.
49:29 John S: Right.
49:32 Dave: We are currently in talks with a place that is… It’s looking very promising that we may have an indoor venue…
49:41 John S: That’ll be great.
49:42 Dave: In the very near future.
49:44 John S: That’ll be great.
49:45 Dave: Don’t want to say too much about it because we haven’t really gotten anything official sorted out.
49:48 John S: Sure. But your meetings are on Thursday at 7:00?
49:52 Dave: Right now, yes.
49:54 John S: Okay.
49:55 Dave: That’s as far as… With the new venue, we’re not 100% sure yet but we’re hoping to keep it around the same time.
50:03 John S: Okay. Yeah, I’m gonna have to check out some of these meetings. I’ll just have to… When I go, I’m just gonna be, I’m just gonna not talk about anything I know. [laughter] I just feel like, I feel like I got too much AA inside of me, and I just feel like I could really… [chuckle]
50:19 Dave: Well, just like anything else, there’s a topic presented and you just discuss based on your own life experiences, how that relates to you.
50:31 John S: Okay. Well, that’s good.
50:35 Dave: You may end up internally comparing a lot…
50:38 John S: Yes.
50:39 Dave: And that’s okay because again, that’s drawing from your own life experience.
50:44 John S: Right.
50:46 Dave: So that’s not good, bad, or indifferent. It’s just…
50:50 John S: The way it is.
50:51 Dave: Right.
50:51 John S: Yeah. Well, I’m glad. I’m so, so glad. Dave you know when this started, Refuge Recovery?
50:57 Dave: I don’t…
50:58 John S: Okay. Well, we’ll find out.
51:00 Dave: I know, the guy that started it, Noah Levine, he’s written several books. He wrote the Refuge Recovery. He’s got two other books that I know of. There’s one called Dharma Punx and one called Against The Stream.
51:17 John S: Okay.
51:18 Dave: And originally he started in California of course. Against The Stream was essentially just a Buddhist Sangha, it wasn’t necessarily recovery-based. But it’s evolved, and I know there’s a lot of stuff on line you can find out about him.
51:41 John S: Yeah.
51:44 Dave: His story is pretty interesting. He talks about how he was drinking and using drugs as a young teenager, and how practicing Buddhism had helped him to come to terms with his addition and helped lead him into recovery. Not necessarily…
52:02 John S: That’s something else too by the way that people shouldn’t… That book has personal stories too in the back just like the big book. [laughter]
52:08 Dave: Right, right. Yeah, it does. And just like in the big book, the personal stories it’s where you really get a lot of the… It makes it a lot more relatable.
52:22 John S: Right, right.
52:25 Dave: Just like when you’re in a meeting and people are sharing, it makes you understand that maybe I’m not as screwed up as I thought I was.
52:33 John S: Right, right.
52:34 Dave: Because here’s a bunch of other people who’ve all dealt with the same things.
52:37 John S: Right. Okay, well, I think we covered some pretty good ground. There’s a lot here. There’s a lot too that I find just fascinating. Going through the Eightfold Path, this is something I’d never even heard of before until I ran across this book. So I love when I learn something new like this, so this is gonna give me something to delve into. And usually when we post a podcast, I’ll write out something and that’s always a good practice for me too, because it helps me learn a little bit more about whatever the subject is that we’re covering. This is really good information, Dave. This is very helpful for anybody who is just looking for some way to deal with their addiction that is comfortable for them.
53:35 Dave: Well, and one of the things that I really want to stress is that, although it is drawing from Buddhist teaching, it’s not necessarily trying to turn anybody into a Buddhist.
53:46 John S: No.
53:48 Dave: I still consider myself very much an atheist.
53:51 John S: Right.
53:53 Dave: I think that there is a lot of value in a lot of Buddhist teachings.
53:57 John S: Yup.
53:58 Dave: It’s well, okay look at Thomas Jefferson when he edited the Bible down to I think it was like 80-something pages, where it was the Life and Moral teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s like well, there’s still good information in there, there’s good lessons to be learned, and whether you buy into the rest of the religious aspect of it or not, there’s good teachings. And I think that a lot of people they see, “Oh, Buddhist” immediately their mind goes to “Oh, you’re sitting in a temple and incense.”
54:31 John S: But if you read the book, I love the book because it’s a process. I can see the process. Like I say, for me anything that’s spiritual or whatever, for me that’s just how it’s delivered I guess to me maybe. But I can see the practical aspect of it. And the meditation, I know for sure that meditation is helpful because I’ve experienced the benefits of meditation myself. Meditation to me though is like, it’s a good habit, it’s like exercising and when I’m doing it I appreciate it and I keep doing it, and doing it, and doing it, but if I stop doing it, it’s hard for me to get back into the rhythm of doing it again.
55:12 Dave: Sure.
55:12 John S: And that might be why it’s good to have a group to go to ’cause it forces you, you get the benefit of the community. You get the benefit of peers that support you in it, and then just the regular habit, the practice.
55:25 Dave: Yeah. Absolutely. And the meditations, some are pretty involved and some are pretty rudimentary. There’s one that I thought was kind of interesting, I haven’t done it yet but it was an eating meditation that was just kind of…
55:45 John S: Oh, really?
55:46 Dave: Yeah, it was causing you to… You basically… It’s a mindfulness exercise. It starts with passing out a snack. And well think about this, and think about the people that helped to whatever it is, if it’s something small like raisins. You look at it and think about what you’re about to eat, you touch it, smell it, think about what it’s made of, where it came from, the people that were involved in the growth, the transportation, the preparation of the food. And something as simple as eating can be a great mindfulness exercise. And it really does help… With things like that, it helps you to be present.
56:42 John S: Right.
56:42 Dave: And I think for a lot of us, myself included, we get so worried about everything else going on in the world around us that we don’t really think about what’s going on in the here and now. It’s like I’m right here, this is what’s happening immediately around me. The rest of the world is all way out there and this is where I am, I am here, this is what’s going on. And I think that focusing on that can be very helpful in recovery because once you can bring your thoughts into what’s going on around you and what’s going on right now, you realize that a lot of the things that are weighing on your mind just don’t really matter that much.
57:27 John S: They don’t really matter. Yeah.
57:30 Dave: If you’re worried about… Trying not to get too political here but if you’re worried about okay the current…
57:36 John S: We’re gonna bomb North Korea or something.
57:38 Dave: Right. If I’m worried about that, well what can I Dave about it? There’s nothing I can Dave about it. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and worrying about what’s going on in the Middle East right now doesn’t Dave me any good. So while it may be a concern, and it is concerning, you have to realize that, what is it that you can Dave about it? And if the answer is nothing, probably shouldn’t worry about it.
58:05 John S: Right. Yup. That’s a good lesson, that’s actually… That’s what I try to Dave, too, actually today. Okay. I think that we’ve covered pretty good ground here. I will definitely try to attend some of those meetings. We’ll get this podcast, what I Dave with these, of course we put them on our site, but then we also put ’em on YouTube and SoundCloud, and you can have the mp3 file, you can Dave whatever you want to with it.
58:34 Dave: Okay.
58:36 John S: Yeah, cool. Good way to get the word out. Thanks a lot for coming out today, it’s been fun talking to you.
58:41 Dave: Thanks for having me.
58:56 John S: Thank you so much for listening. All of us here at AA Beyond Belief, we’re very grateful for your support. If you like the podcast, please take a little time and visit iTunes to give us a review. If you don’t like the podcast, let us know what you don’t like. With that being said, you all.
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