Thank you to Rick Millman for this personal story of recovery.
From early on something didn’t feel right about me. There was emotional and some physical abuse in the home. All of the relationships in my nuclear family were tarnished. I didn’t fit in at school. I had social anxiety, didn’t play sports, and got beat up a lot. When the cool kids started dating, I felt left out in the lurch. And so, I escaped my present moment experience through fantasy in its many guises. First movies, music, and daydreaming that I would be a big star of the stage and screen one day. Someday, one day.
Eventually adolescence brought more pressure on me and I felt unsuccessful in most, if not all areas of my life. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. Eventually, I found a group whom I thought would accept me–the “heads” as we were called. I also liked to identify myself as a hippy or freak. And I was proud of it! I experimented with marijuana, alcohol, and moved on to quaaludes and psychedelics. All of these things helped me to feel significant in the world, and comfortable in my own skin, if even for a few hours at a time. I also discovered pornography as a means to feel a sense of connection to another, however false, in the safety of my fantasies, where I could direct the scene and not get hurt.
Even back then I longed for some kind of spiritual path that would heal me. Drugs and music were my first real initiation into that world.
I was born into a secular Jewish home. We only went to synagogue on the High Holy Days, which I found incredibly boring. My parents put me into Sunday school beginning in second grade, so I would know enough to be Bar Mitzvah’d (a Jewish Rites of Passage ceremony) at the age of 13. It was the thing to do, culturally speaking.
In Sunday school, the teachers would read the stories from Genesis and Exodus. They reminded me of Grimm’s Fairy Tales–only they were “grimmer,” and supposedly true! One thing they taught that made sense to me was that God was infinite. Therefore, Jewish art did not depict individual personalities as being representational of God.
My mom liked musical theater. I was eight years old in 1973 when she first took me to see Jesus Christ Superstar. I didn’t understand it–this was nothing like The Sound of Music! My mom told me that there were people who believed in different religions. Christians believed that the guy I was looking at on the stage was the Son of God. Very odd and hard for me to fathom.
Then I learned that the Jews thought the Christians were wrong, and many Christians thought I was going to hell! This kind of shameful attitude did not sit right with me. My spiritual wandering went on for many years, so I turned toward the East. They were more inclusive and non-judgmental, more accepting. As you can see, I already sensed a lot of discrepancies between the different religions, and had a hard time reconciling them.
Meanwhile, I was kind of artsy-fartsy. I wrote poems and songs. I felt a spiritual connection within music and the arts. I especially liked the Beatles. I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life. So, I started to learn about meditation and dropped acid.
My first “drunk” happened when I was 15 years old. My parents had gone out for the evening. I went into the liquor cabinet, grabbed a flask, some orange juice and mixed it with three types of bourbons. I started feeling the effects, but even on this first try, decided that it still wasn’t enough to experience a true “drunk.” I was so soused, my sister had to help me to the bathroom where I had my first religious experience with the porcelain god. My sister was so worried about me, she slept on the floor of my room to make sure I was still alive by the next morning. I was. Barely.
That event happened on a Saturday night. I know this because the next day I had to go to Sunday school. I already hated Sunday School. Now I was REALLY hating it! I had to hide in the bathroom, swearing that I would never do that again. And I didn’t, until I discovered pot a few months later. Then I started to drink one or two beers along with the weed (my first attempt at “controlled drinking”).
I experimented with other drugs as well (especially psychedelics), but once I hit the age of 21, alcohol became my main drug of choice. I knew what time the dealer was open for business, what the cut was, AND that it was FDA approved!
While doing all of this, I was channel surfing in 1988 and came upon a special with Bill Moyers interviewing this guy who was talking about mythology. Mythology? You mean those stories of Zeus and Odysseus and stuff? Aren’t those just grown-up fairy tales? But this man wasn’t talking about that. He was talking about Native American stories, stories of the Buddha and the similarities found between the Buddha, Moses and Jesus. He taught me that it was okay to consider these stories as true when read metaphorically rather than literally and historically.
The problem was I didn’t know how to put these ideas into practice. I still felt empty inside. I dabbled with yoga, Taoism, Jungian psychology, etc., but there was little follow through.
Despite my research, I spent most of the time drinking from the ages of 25 – 30. By 30, I realized I was going nowhere fast, and that there had to be a better way. There were no Buddhist recovery programs around at the time, so after a few attempts at going it alone, I realized I needed help from others. So, I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous and got into substance abuse treatment. It worked–I truly believe that any program can work if I put the energy into it, so that’s exactly what I did. That was back in 1995.
More recently, (as of 2013) I have embraced Buddhism. I don’t so much believe in a “higher power,” but rather a deeper power than I can access from the inside as well as the collective wisdom of all you folks. Buddhism seems to fit that particular schema, and makes the most sense to me.
I mostly follow the Theravada school of Buddhism in the Thai Forest tradition. I joined some 12-step recovery groups that had a Buddhist orientation. Then I heard of a fellowship that did not feel a need to use the 12 steps as the “middle man.” I could simply use the Buddha’s path of liberation through practicing the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and all the other practices that corresponded with them. Over the next few years I helped start some meetings in the Baltimore area. When Recovery Dharma formed in July of 2019, all of our Baltimore meetings decided to switch our affiliation with this new community.
I am also involved with the online sangha, and I must say I feel every bit as close to members of the national and international community as I do my homies. In fact, you are ALL my homies!
One of the most helpful tools I have utilized in the past few years are what are known as “The 6 Rs.” I learned these after attending a 10-day online retreat with Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center. The main meditation used for this retreat was a Metta (lovingkindness) meditation. So, when I begin my meditation practice, I first begin by simply becoming aware of the breath as I breathe in and breathe out. I then say to myself “Calming and quieting the physical activity.” Then I begin a body scan and relax the various parts of my body. Relaxing on the in breath. Relaxing on the out breath.
I then say to myself “Calming and quieting the mental activity.” As I watch the process of my mind, I get to see how there is suffering in my life (First Noble Truth), and it’s causes (Second Noble Truth.) It’s not the craving itself that causes suffering. It is the fueling of these cravings and aversions. “I want this. I don’t want this. I have to have this. I have to get away from this.” These things are going to come up. The problem is when I allow myself to get lost in the stories I create around them. (What I have just shared refers to what the Buddha called the Three poisons–greed, hatred, and delusion.)
The Third Noble Truth says that letting go of this suffering is possible. This is where the 6 Rs come in. The first R is to Recognize when I am beginning to get lost in the stories. Then I Release the thought–mid-sentence if necessary. Then I Relax all the areas of tension in my body that tighten up around the thought. Relaxing on the in breath. Relaxing on the out breath. The type of meditation I learned was a smiling Metta meditation. It is believed that smiling releases chemicals in the brain that correspond with joy and peace. Usually when we get lost in our delusions, we may find that we have also stopped smiling. So, the fourth R is to Re-smile. The fifth R is to Return to the object of meditation. It can be the Metta meditation, or whatever other type of meditation I am engaging in. The sixth R is to Repeat as necessary. I may need to do this once every 10 minutes, or 10 times every minute. It doesn’t matter. No matter how focused or out of focus I am during any given sitting, the more often I do this, the more successful I am at building my meditation muscles.
This helps me during my daily activities as well. If I am feeling angry, or craving to act out with one of my compulsive activities, such as eating and over engaging with technology, I have an opportunity to stop and use the 6 Rs as a tool for letting go.
This is one of the many ways I learn to seek refuge in the deeper power that exists inside me. It is something I learned from some wise friends, and I try to pass it along to others who are on this path of recovery.
I have not reached Nirvana–complete release from suffering (yet!). This is definitely a process, not an event. But I must say I feel more comfortable in my own skin and in my relationships with others. I am grateful to be on this journey with the rest of my homies!