Recovery Dharma: Buddhist Practices for Alcoholism & Drug Addiction Recovery

In episode 269 of the Elevation Recovery Podcast, Matt Finch reads from the book “Recovery Dharma: How to Use Buddhist Practices and Principles to Heal the Suffering of Addiction.” The passages help to find freedom from any types of obsessive or habitual behaviors such as alcohol addiction, drug addiction, and other unwanted behavior patterns.

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Matt Finch: We cultivate relationships within a recovery community to both support our own recovery and support the recovery of others. After we have completed significant work on our inquiries, established a meditation practice and achieved renunciation from our addicted behaviors, we can then become mentors to help others on their path to liberation from addiction. Anyone with any period of time of renunciation and practice can be of service to others in their Sangha.

Announcer: Thanks for tuning into the Elevation Recovery podcast, your hub for addiction recovery strategies, hosted by Chris Scott and Matt Finch.

Matt Finch: Greetings, and welcome to episode 269. This is Matt Finch, and today I'm going to be reading a few passages from this awesome book called Recovery Dharma: How To Use Buddhist Practices and Principles to Heal the Suffering of Addiction. This is a really cool book and it's got a lot of awesome ideas in it. Came out in 2019. Here's what the back of the book says, "Recovery Dharma is a peer led movement and community that is unified by the potential in each of us to recover and find freedom from the suffering of addiction. This book uses the Buddhist practices of meditation, self inquiry, wisdom, compassion, and community as tools for recovery and healing. We welcome anyone who is looking to find freedom from suffering, whether it's caused by substance use or process addictions like codependency, sex, gambling, eating disorders, shopping, work, technology, or any obsessive or habitual pattern. We approach recovery from a place of individual and collective empowerment, and we support each other as we walk this path of recovery together."

Matt Finch: Now for the intro of the book, which gives a really nice overview on this program, "What is recovery Dharma? The word Dharma doesn't have a single English meaning. It's a word in an ancient language called Sanskrit, and it can be translated as truth, phenomena, or the nature of things. When it's capitalized, the word Dharma usually means the teachings of the Buddha and the practices based on those teachings. The Buddha knew that all human beings to one degree or another struggle with craving, the powerful sometimes blinding desire to change our thoughts, feelings, and circumstances. Those of us who experience addiction have been more driven to use substances or behaviors to do this, but the underlying craving is the same.

Matt Finch: Even though the Buddha didn't talk specifically about addiction, he understood the obsessive nature of the human mind. He understood our attachment to pleasure and aversion to pain. He understood the extreme lengths we can sometimes go to chasing what we want to feel and running away from the feelings we fear, and he found a solution. This book describes a way to free ourselves from the suffering of addiction using Buddhist practices and principles. This program leads to recovery from addiction to substances like alcohol and drugs, and also from what we refer to as process addictions. We can also become addicted to sex, gambling, technology, work, co-dependence, shopping, food, media, self-harm, lying, stealing, obsessive worrying. This is a path to freedom from any repetitive and habitual behavior that causes suffering.

Matt Finch: Many of us who have found our way here might be new to Buddhism. There are unfamiliar words, concepts, and ways of looking at the world. It can be intimidating and uncomfortable to sit in a meeting with people throwing around words like karma, Dharma, Sangha, and Buddha. If you have felt this way, you're not alone. The purpose of this book is to lay out our path and practice in a clear and simple way that can be of use to people who are brand new to recovery and to Buddhism, as well as those with some experience. It describes the original Buddhist teachings to show where our program comes from. It introduces the essence of Buddhism's basic teachings, the four noble truths, in a way that shows how practicing the eightfold path is a pragmatic toolkit for dealing with the challenges of both early and long term recovery.

Matt Finch: This is a renunciation based program. Regardless of the type of addiction we identify with, all of our members commit to a basic abstinence from the substance or behavior of our addiction. For those of us whose addictions involve things like food and technology from which complete abstinence may not be possible, renunciation will mean something different based on thoughtful boundaries and intentions in our behaviors. For some of us, abstinence from things like obsessive sexual behavior or compulsively seeking out love and relationships may be necessary as we work to understand and find meaningful boundaries. Many of us have found that after renouncing our primary addiction for a period of time, other harmful behaviors and process addictions became apparent in our lives, but rather than getting discouraged, we found that we can also meet these behaviors with compassion and patient investigation. We believe recovery is a lifelong holistic process of peeling back layers of habits and conditioned behaviors to find our own sometimes hidden potential for awakening.

Matt Finch: Our program is peer-led. We don't follow any one teacher or leader. We support each other as partners walking the path of recovery together. This is not a program based in dogma or religion, but in finding the truth for ourselves. This is wisdom that has worked for us, but it is not the only path. It's fully compatible with other spiritual paths and programs of recovery. We know from our own experience that true recovery is only possible with the intention of radical honesty, understanding awareness, and integrity, and we trust you to discover your own path. We believe this program can help you do just that.

Matt Finch: Ours is a program that asks us to never stop growing. It asks us to own our choices and be responsible for our own healing. It's based on kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and deep compassion. We do not rely on tools of shame and fear as motivation. We know these haven't worked in our own individual pasts and have often created more struggle and suffering through relapse and discouragement. The courage it takes to recover from addiction is ultimately courage of the heart, and we aim to support each other as we commit to this brave work.

Matt Finch: Many of us have spent our lives beating ourselves up. In this program, we renounce violence and doing harm, including the harm and violence we do to ourselves. We believe in the healing power of forgiveness. We put our trust in our own potential to awaken and recover in the four noble truths of the Buddha and in the people we meet and connect with in meetings and throughout our journey in recovery. The truth is that we can never truly escape the circumstances and conditions that are part of the human condition. We've tried that already through drugs and alcohol, through sex and codependency, through gambling and technology, through work and shopping, through food or the restriction of food, through obsession and the futile attempts to control our experiences and feelings, and we're here because we realized it didn't work.

Matt Finch: This is a program that asks us to recognize and accept that some pain and disappointment will always be present to investigate the unskillful ways we have dealt with that pain in the past, and to develop a habit of understanding, compassion and mercy toward our own pain, the pain of others and the pain we have caused others due to our ignorance and confusion. That acceptance is what brings freedom from the suffering that made our pain unbearable. This book is only an introduction to a path that can bring liberation and freedom from the cycle of suffering created by addiction. The intention and the hope is that every person on the path will be empowered to make it their own. May you be happy, may you be at ease, may you be free from suffering."

Matt Finch: Where to begin? How can we use Buddhism for our recovery? There are three ways in which we focus our energy, not step by step, but in a holistic way as our insight and our awareness grow. We come to understand the four noble truths and use them as a guide for our own path of recovery. This program doesn't ask us to believe in anything other than our own potential to wake up, just allowing ourselves to believe that it's possible, or even that it might be possible. We begin to believe that our own efforts will make a difference. This is the realization that there is a way to recover and then the decision to start that process.

Matt Finch: As we learn about the four noble truths, including the eightfold path that leads to the end of the suffering caused by addiction, we put these principles into practice in our lives. This book includes an introduction to these truths, and there are many ways to continue studying them. The eightfold path is a guide to a non-harming way of being in the world. It's not just a philosophy, but a plan of action. Meditation is an essential part of the program. This book has some basic instructions, so you can start right away. Most of us have found it very helpful to attend meetings that include an opportunity to practice meditation with others. A key to this program is establishing a regular meditation practice in and outside of meetings. This will help us begin the process of investigating our own minds, our reactivity and our behavior. We look deeply at the nature and causes of our suffering so we can find a path to freedom that's based on authentic self-knowledge.

Matt Finch: The following chapters talk about these three aspects of the program, the three jewels of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as a way of developing the wisdom, ethical conduct and spiritual practice that we have found leads to recovery. We hope that people in groups will use this book in ways that are useful for their own processes of recovery. We offer some suggestions in that spirit. You're invited to take what works for you and leave the rest. At the end of each section are a series of questions to explore. These inquiries can be used as part of a formal process of self investigation with a mentor, wise friend or group as tools to explore a specific life situation, as guides for a daily self inquiry practice, or as meeting discussion topics. A wise friend or mentor can be of great help in deepening your understanding, and we encourage you to reach out to people you encounter at meetings.

Matt Finch: Supportive friendships are an integral part of the practice. The questions may bring up shame, guilt or sadness, or for some, they may potentially activate trauma. It can be very beneficial to get supports set up ahead of time, such as taking the questions only one at a time, timing the work so you can have a chance to engage in self care afterwards, and so forth. The intent of the questions is to deepen our practice so we can experience relief sooner, not to bring us more suffering. Our path is not a checklist, but is rather a practice in which we choose where and how to invest our energy in a way that is both wise and compassionate toward ourselves and others. We do not complete our journey based on how much we meditate or how many meetings we go to or how many written inventories we've completed.

Matt Finch: The practice of the eightfold path helps us develop insight and self-compassion as we begin to look into the causes and conditions that led to our own suffering with addiction. The tools will come to bear the signs of where and markings of our using them. This path doesn't have an end. Your life, like all of ours, will probably continue to present you with challenges. What the path does offer, however, is a way out of the suffering that our habitual reactions to challenges often bring and an end to the illusion of escape we tried to find in substances or behaviors. It's a way to break our own chains with our own hands. It's a path of freedom.

Matt Finch: The practice, renunciation. We understand addiction to describe the overwhelming craving and compulsive use of substances or behaviors in order to escape present time reality, either by clinging to pleasure or running from pain. We commit to the intention of abstinence from alcohol and other addictive substances. For those of us recovering from process addictions, particularly those for which complete abstinence is not possible, we also identify and commit to wise boundaries around our harmful behaviors, preferably with the help of a mentor or therapeutic professional.

Matt Finch: Meditation, we commit to the intention of developing a daily meditation practice. We use meditation as a tool to investigate our actions, intentions and reactivity. Meditation is a personal practice, and we commit to finding a balanced effort toward this and other healthy practices that are appropriate to our own journey on the path. Meetings, we attend recovery meetings whenever possible in-person and/or online. Some may wish to be part of other recovery fellowships and Buddhist communities. In early recovery, it is recommended to attend a recovery meeting as often as possible. For many, that may mean every day. We also commit to becoming an active part of the community, offering our own experiences and service wherever possible.

Matt Finch: The path, we commit to deepening our understanding of the four noble truths and to practicing the eightfold path in our daily lives. Inquiry and investigation, we explore the four noble truths as they relate to our addictive behavior through writing and sharing in-depth, detailed inquiries. These can be worked with the guidance of a mentor, in partnership with a trusted friend or with a group. As we complete our written inquiries, we undertake to hold ourselves accountable and take direct responsibility for our actions, which includes making amends for the harm we have caused in our past.

Matt Finch: Sangha, wise friends, mentors; we cultivate relationships within a recovery community to both support our own recovery and support the recovery of others. After we have completed significant work on our inquiries, established a meditation practice and achieved renunciation from our addicted behaviors, we can then become mentors to help others on their path to liberation from addiction. Anyone with any period of time of renunciation and practice can be of service to others in their Sangha. When mentors are not available, a group of wise friends can act as partners in self inquiry and support each other's practice.

Matt Finch: Growth, we continue our study of these Buddhist practices through reading, listening to Dharma talks, visiting and becoming members of recovery and spiritual Sanghas, and attending meditation or Dharma retreats when we believe these practices will contribute to our understanding and wisdom. We undertake a lifelong journey of growth and awakening."

Matt Finch: All right. That's my reading from this book. Again, the title is Recovery Dharma: How to Use Buddhist Practices and Principles to Heal the Suffering of Addiction, from 2019. Here's the table of contents real quick. Introduction, What is Recovery Dharma?, The Practice, Awakening Buddha, the Truth: Dharma, the First, Second, Third and Fourth Noble Truths, Wise Understanding, Wise Intention, Wise Speech, Wise Action, Wise Livelihood, Wise Effort, Wise Mindfulness, Wise Concentration, Community Sangha, Isolation and connection, Working with Others, Wise Friends and mentors, Service and Generosity, Recovery is Possible. Then there's an appendix with selected meditations, questions for inquiry, glossary of terms, meeting format.

Matt Finch: This book is 105 pages long. I read it and really liked it. I'm not a Buddhist, but I do love Buddhist philosophy and psychology, as well as many other things. As you know, if you've been listening to this podcast for a while, a very eclectic background with things that I like. What I like about this book and the use of Buddhist practices, principles, Buddhist psychology and philosophy for adding it to somebody's recovery plan if it resonates with them, is it really helps people with acceptance, non-grasping, non-aversion, radical forgiveness, self forgiveness, forgiveness of others, self-compassion, compassion for others, non-harming speech, non-harming action to ourselves and others, unconditional love, and it's truly a beautiful system that has really helped me to decrease significantly, radically my amount of suffering in life and really has boosted my mental health.

Matt Finch: Many, many, many years ago, I started to learn about Buddhist philosophy in psychology. In fact, my favorite book that I ever read on it, which was really long and really thorough, was called The Wise Heart by Jack Cornfield. It has 930 reviews and ratings on Amazon with a total of 4.8 out of five stars. It's called, again, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. It's all the way back from 2009. Jack Cornfield is such a good writer. He's written a lot of books, and I actually gifted this book to a client once and she absolutely loved it.

Matt Finch: That's it for today. I know that we haven't talked about Buddhist psychology, philosophy practices and principles for addiction recovery. Definitely I'm not an expert on it, but there's some really cool books out there, as the one that I just read from, and so many others. All right. That's all for today. On the next episode, Chris Scott will be back from The Bahamas. First he went to New York and then he went to The Bahamas. Next week we'll be doing part two of the impulsivity and its relationship to addiction. All right. That sums up this talk. Thanks so much for joining me and take good, good care of yourself.

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