Since I got sober over four years ago, I have developed a love/hate relationship with AA meetings. One month I am in a pink cloud while I am cutting cake at the Saturday night speaker meeting and other nights I just brandish my cake knife like a sword wielding samurai.
I don’t know if my mood swings have something to do with the possibility that I might be bipolar (pending further investigation) or I am just tired of hearing how alcohol is so “cunning, baffling and powerful.” They make it sound like alcohol itself is some Dr. Frankenstein mad scientist and alcoholics including myself, will forever be attached to alcohol, whether or not we are still drinking.
In other words, I will always be Frankenstein’s Monster, just a second away from a drink.
For me the clincher to seeking another support group in addition to AA was saying the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t know why, but the prayer truly depresses me. It reminds me of my having to go to St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan every Sunday when I was a kid. Sometimes I recite it in Greek, at the end of the meeting and I feel like I am back at Church.
Several months ago, while writing a rehab review, I discovered there was a place called Refuge Recovery. The organization was founded by Noah Levine, who is the punk Buddhist meditation teacher, author, counselor and recovering addict behind Dharma Punx and Against the Stream. Refuge Recovery also has recovery support meetings.
I was introduced to Buddhism through my Japanese-American ex husband. He was supposedly a Shinto Buddhist, and even though he was actually about as Buddhist as Ted Nugent is vegan, I still took my son to a temple downtown when he was a baby. I loved the smell of the incense and the sound of the gong and hearing the magical words, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.” I wasn’t sure what the chant meant, but it was music to my ears.
My other connection with Buddhism revolved around the last time I drank. I happened to have a stone Buddha statue sitting on my desk and I asked the Buddha for help.
So I decided to check out this Refuge Recovery thing.
I went on their website and looked up Refuge Recovery meetings in the Southern California area. Compared to 12-step meetings, these are few and far in between. Plus, I live in the Mojave, which doesn’t even have that many AA meetings. I found a Refuge meeting listing in Bakersfield and emailed the facilitator. He replied, saying so far, no one had showed up for the meeting, but he still kept it running in the hopes that someone would come, eventually.
I was tempted to drive up to Bakersfield, but after I realized that Bakersfield was about two hours away from Mojave, and that this dude and I would be the only ones doing the meditation, (which is done with your eyes closed by the way), I decided against that. Plus, I have been watching too many episodes of The Following on Netflix lately.
There are a few meetings in LA and the San Fernando Valley during the week. I decided to check out the Valley. Mostly because the LA meetings are on Melrose, and as far as I can remember, from living in LA, parking on Melrose is a complete nightmare. I emailed the facilitator to make sure that the meeting still existed and that hopefully more than one person attended. He emailed back and his result was affirmative. Yes, the meeting is still there and quite a few people attend regularly.
I emailed back and asked about parking.
I don’t know what the Mojave has done to me. In a weird way, I have regressed from city life. Pretty soon, I will be riding a mule instead of driving a car. He emailed back and informed me that there was plenty of parking. Even though I have a GPS on my phone, I looked up the address on MapQuest and wrote down the directions neatly on a piece of paper.
Before I left the house, I patted my Buddha on the head, like it was a puppy.
Prior to embarking on my expedition, I drove to Albertsons to make sure I had enough provisions, as if I was about to execute a Haji to Mecca. I bought a venti Iced Americano and a tuna salad croissant. The sandwich was sealed in a carton. As I drove south on the 14, I tried to open the carton with one hand. I veered a little out of my lane, probably giving the impression that the idiot driving the SUV was intoxicated. I gave up on the sandwich. I was not in the mood to get a DUI, considering that I have been sober for four years.
I arrived at the meeting. There were quite a few people, more men than women, and we were given the option of sitting on a mat or on a chair. I chose a chair, which was parked right next to a statue of Buddha, which had a purple amethyst crystal perched in its lap.
There was a smell of incense in the air. The aroma comforted me. It reminded me of when I took my son to the temple.
The meeting began with someone reading the preamble, which talks about the purpose of Refuge Recovery—to use mindfulness and other practices to relieve the misery caused from addiction and other unhealthy desires including codependency. I heard about the Buddhist principles, including the four noble truths and the eightfold path. The four noble truths revolve around suffering and how suffering is a result of life, but that there is a journey that leads to the end of anguish. After that, the facilitator guided us into a meditation.
Now mind you, when I used to hear the word meditation, I would think of the Beatles and their visit to India to hang out with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and how John Lennon came up with the song, Sexy Sadie. I thought meditation was a joke.
This particular guided meditation was called “mindfulness of the feeling tone.” The purpose was self-awareness and detachment from feelings, after letting them run their course. It was the first time I have ever really meditated, aside from a few YouTube videos. Except for the fact that my stomach would not stop growling, I enjoyed the process. After the meditation, the meeting was open to sharing. There were a lot of people, but everyone, including myself, shared.
What’s cool about Refuge Recovery is that there are many parallels to the 12 steps. In fact, I once read somewhere that Bill W. himself was interested in checking out Eastern philosophies.
After I came home, I had the idea of looking up “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” (which was not chanted during the meeting by the way). The word “renge” means “Lotus” a plant that grows in mud yet somehow that plant thrives and grows. The Lotus plant appears serene despite the environment that it is in. The irony is that I have a lotus flower tattoo (along with a tiny wolf that looks more like a Chihuahua) on my arm.
Call it chance.
This chain-smoking skeptic may have a shot at Buddhahood. Anyway, I plan on going back next week. And I still plan on going to my Saturday night AA meeting.
I will cut the cake with a smile on my face.