Heart of Recovery

This week, George G. tells the story of how he first came to sobriety, the 12 steps and Shambhala Buddhism, and shares some of what he has learned along the way. In his piece, he refers to the Heart of Recovery, a Buddhist 12 step meeting inspired by Kevin Griffin’s book, One Breath at a Time, that meets every Wednesday evening in Eagle Rock and Tuesday evening (starting March 10, 2015) at the Westside Center, from 7:30-9:00pm.

Hello, my name is George, and I am an addict. I’ve been introducing myself in this way at countless 12-step meetings for more than four years. I still remember the shame and paranoia I felt during those first few meetings, totally confused as to what was I doing there and about the events in my life that lead me to having to attend these meetings.

Today, I have no problems admitting I am an addict. The second noble truth tells me so.

And my behavior for the last 36 years on this planet shows me plenty of evidence as to how I have looked to external things over and over and over again for comfort, to ease the pain of being alive, to not have to face the challenges presented to me, to hide behind resentments I have for myself and others, through the ease and comfort of a glass of beer, a small marijuana joint, sexual fantasies, food, money, and anything that I can use to “relax and just have fun.”

The Addict

Like many addicts I too have a childhood that is a bit traumatic. Not that all addicts have such childhoods, but I feel all addicts can identify with having experiences that for some reason make life too much to handle emotionally. For me, it was vivid memories of the war in Nicaragua, the sexual encounter with a female babysitter at the age of four, and the constant moving around my family did until I started middle school.

On top of that, there was the new language, the gang-bangers, the taggers, the guns, the fighting – the streets. When I was home, it was the rage my mother carried because of her traumatic upbringing by an alcoholic father, and my father, who was there physically but unavailable emotionally.

By the time I was fourteen, discovering alcohol and marijuana was like meeting my new best friends. I was never a falling down kind of drunk. In fact, I prided myself in “having control” of my using and being able live a double life. There was George, the college student, and George, the club promoter.

My life seemed to be okay on paper, but emotionally I was a basket-case, constantly riding the manic highs and lows of my emotions.

I could go from feeling blissed-out and high as a kite, feeling that I had figured out the meaning of the universe, to feeling lower than dog shit not worthy of anything good on this planet.

Feeling good? Feeling bad? They are all good reasons to get drunk, get high, and then try to get laid. The result was a dark destructive path that shadowed my existence wherever I went. Keeping secrets was something I had to do. I had to avoid letting people get to know the ‘real’ me even if it meant keeping secrets from myself.

Isolation is a trademark of every addict – whether they are actively engaging in their addiction or not. Every human can relate to the fact that there is something about life that just does not seem fair. But as an addict, I would obsess over this “unfairness.” I would build resentments so big that they extended to everything and everyone. They were directed against individuals, institutions, governments, and anything that I could blame for my fragile emotional state.

Unknown to myself, I needed these resentments to give me an excuse to say “screw everyone – I’m getting high.” The worst part was that it all seemed perfectly logical. After all, every man should be able to make time in the day to unwind while secretly simmering in his own self loathing.

Then something happened. A miracle! An auspicious coincidence hidden behind an uncomfortable situation put forth by my fiancé, which went something like this: “either ‘we’ get counseling or I’m not going to marry you.”

The next day we found Shambhala.

The 12 Steps of Recovery

I wish I could say that once I started meditating, I got sober and life got better. The reality is, it took two more years for me to admit I was an addict. Meditation and the Shambhala teachings did help, at first.

But it turns out a smart addict is pretty dumb when it comes to admitting their addiction.

I used my material gains, logic, and the new found spiritual insights (a.k.a. the 3 lords of materialism) as tools to outsmart myself, and avoid admitting that I needed help.

It took two years of therapy to realize I could not get to the root of my emotional challenges until I got sober. And sobriety was simply not something I was able to do.

Enter the second miracle.

I did a five-day retreat with Kevin Griffin, the author of One Breath at a Time, where I learned about the 12 steps of recovery and how they apply to Buddhism.

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have been adopted to treat all kinds of addictions including: narcotics, marijuana, eating disorders, nicotine, debt, gambling, sex and love addiction (yes there’s such a thing as SLAA and I’ve been to their meetings), and more. At first, the 12 steps might seem to be overkill, and, at times, in conflict with the Buddhist teachings. After all, they use words like God, surrender, and give it up to a Higher Power. So I knew that if I was going to do this thing I had to find a way to bridge my now devoted Shambhala path with the 12 steps.

That’s when the third miracle happened.

On Monday March 16, 2009 I went to my first 12-step meeting. I was one week sober. On April 8, 2009 SMCLA held its first Heart of Recovery meeting.

With the help of a few sangha members, I managed to convince the center directors to allow this meeting to be offered. Every week, we invite addicts and their families to come share their stories and support one other. In addition, we explore how the 12 steps and Buddhism can work together to help an addict come to terms with their addiction and learn to walk on the beautiful, extraordinary, spiritual and magical path of sobriety and recovery.

The Heart of Recovery

The past four years have not been easy. The first two years of sobriety were consumed with the continuation of extreme emotional mood swings caused by years of drug abuse, which caused huge confusion about the daily happenings of my life.

Getting a haircut was at times the most overwhelming experience and I had to cry myself to bed.

I would sit for 20 minutes to find that tears would just fall.

I had to accept that my wife and I were headed toward the end of our relationship. I began to question every decision I have ever made trying to understand how my life had come to this. The rug had been pulled underneath my feet and I had been left with absolutely no reference points – absolutely none!

I was a broken young man in his early thirties. I felt all alone as I watch others enjoy the goodness that life had to offer while I had to clean up the ton of garbage that was the wreckage of my past.

Even though these were really hard times I could not help noticing that something was happening! I don’t remember exactly when but at some point the spiritual principles of the 12 steps (honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, acceptance, humility, willingness, forgiveness, maintenance, spirituality, and service) began to really create sparks with the Shambhala teachings, and especially the six paramitas (generosity, discipline, patience, effort, meditation, and wisdom.)

The groundless confusion I was experiencing began to find its way through my body into my mind and radiate from my heart. It all accumulated when I had to do my 12-step inventory. As part of the fourth step we use bravery to look into the past and present and do an inventory of every resentment we ever felt.

We see how each resentment was either based on something we did or something that was done to us. Then we ask ourselves ‘what is our part in this?’

I was astonished to see that it did not really matter if I was the source of the resentment or if was the gangsters that attacked me after-school for having the attention of a girl.

My feelings were still grounded in anger, selfishness, grand ideas of self, overt sensitivity, non-compassion, and plain fear.

Not only that, but I saw how I had been using this habitual tendency to hold on to resentments as a way to kickstart an all too familiar addictive pattern of isolation, humiliation, destruction, and depression that eventually lead to numbing out through external means like booze, drugs, sex and food.

Sobriety uncovered the Dön in my mind, pushing up all the suppressed feelings from years of numbing out. I saw no choice but to jump into the spiritual principals of the 12 steps and Shambhala if I wanted to heal my broken mind and heart.

I no longer was theorizing the teachings of the Buddha and Shambhala, I was swimming in them, bathing in them, brushing my teeth in them, washing the dishes in them.

Everything that I experienced and felt were reminders that drugs, alcohol, and resentments only lead to a place far, far away from the awakened heart I longed for.

It all came to an amazing sense of gratitude last summer when I heard Acharya Mitchell Levy declare to a packed room at Warrior’s Assembly that the Heart of Recovery is an outrageous act of fearlessness! Tears fell from my face as my heart swallowed up the goodness of the Acharya’s words.

Choosing to be Sober

Today I have over four years being clean and sober and I still choose to call myself an addict. I also choose to stay sober. Why? To me the question comes down to whether I feel that I’m missing out on life by being sober? The answer for me is – to the contrary, I feel more alive that ever!

Why would I want to numb life with external means and risk having my ‘addiction’ wake up the dragon that once ruled my life? Chögyam Trunpga Rinpoche inspires me to say that where as before I felt the world was a feather touching my balloon-like existence, I now feel the world is a knife cutting through my eyelids, illuminating the way towards an open, vast, bright, brilliant, wakeful heart – the Heart of Recovery.




Heart of Recovery Meditation Group meets Wednesdays at Eagle Rock Center  & Tuesdays at Westside Center. Learn more



2 thoughts on “Heart of Recovery

  1. I have heard of the center and yet never looked into it. I now realize I wasn’t ready to listen, accept and embrace the principles in my life. Today I feel a new chapter in my recovery/life is ready to begin.