How Buddhist-Inspired Addiction Treatment is Different
As the field of addiction and substance abuse treatment evolves, one thing has become increasingly clear: there is no one-size-fits-all path to recovery for drug and alcohol addiction. For this reason, alternatives to 12-Step based programming such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have sprung up as community-based support for those struggling with addiction, including a couple of specifically Buddhist options: Refuge Recovery and Recovery Dharma. It’s no surprise that many people find Buddhist principles and Buddhist meditation helpful on the path to healing from substance abuse disorders; mindfulness meditation, DBT, and ACT are all treatment modalities that contain elements of Buddhist practices and have been scientifically proven to treat a wide array of mental health issues, including addiction to drugs and alcohol.
At Flatirons Recovery, we incorporate these treatment models, as well as aid our clients in connecting to a community-based recovery program that works for them, whether Refuge Recovery, Recovery Dharma, 12 Steps, SMART Recovery, or others. But beyond that, the very foundation of our program is based in some of Buddhist Psychology’s core principles. These principles reflect not only our clinical approach, but the very way in which we relate to our clients, to addiction, and to the path of recovery itself.
The majority of our clinical staff, including our executive and clinical director, have master’s degrees from Naropa University here in Boulder, Colorado, a Buddhist-Inspired graduate school that bases its counseling program on meditation, mindfulness, and transpersonal psychology. Several of our curricula included a cumulation of over two months of meditation retreats as part of our training. Our theory is that we must get to know ourselves and face our own demons in order to help others do the same. As staff of Flatirons Recovery, we continue to practice this personal development in our daily lives.
Some of our Guiding Principles and Practices that are Buddhism-Based include:
Basic Goodness is the concept that we are good at our core, forever and always. In Buddhism, Basic Goodness is also referred to as “Brilliant Sanity” or “Buddha Nature.” According to this principle, Enlightenment always resides within us, and the practice of meditation is a means to connecting with that inner Buddha, over and over. This can be applied to your life, whatever your spiritual orientation. Our basic goodness is as vast as the sky, while our experiences—emotions, thoughts, habits, and addictions—are but passing clouds. There are days when the sky is so crisp and clear that it feels like its sweet blueness will absorb you in its calm. But more often, there are clouds. There are moving bits and pieces swirling around, shifting your experience of the sky, blocking its view. Sometimes, like is the case with addiction or trauma, the clouds can feel so oppressive that it can feel like they are the entire sky. But we know that they aren’t. We know that the blue is back there, bigger than the whiteness we see.
According to the principle of Basic Goodness, we may be lost, or trapped, or wounded. But never broken. Deep inside, we remain unshakably good, unshakably whole. Addiction doesn’t break us. It breaks our connection to our true selves. It breaks a connection that, with love, endurance, and a little bit of guidance, can always be rebuilt. This is the way we approach our clients and their recovery. Not as something to be fixed, but as people in need of guidance reconnecting with the strength, wisdom, and goodness that already exists within them.
Mindfulness, in its simplest form, is the capacity to be with whatever it is that is happening in the present moment without judgment. In other words, mindfulness is the practice of making friends with your experience, whatever it may be. Being mindful includes having greater awareness of our thoughts, bodily sensations, emotional states, and what is happening around us. It is an acceptance of who and what we are and of the true nature of the present moment, just as it is.
At Flatirons Recovery, we include mindfulness practices all of our therapeutic programming, whether it be through meditation, yoga, walking, or simple body scans. We do this because we believe that by developing a greater mindful awareness of ourselves, our habitual patterns, and what causes us to experience more suffering, we have more opportunity to take right action, and begin making some of the difficult changes in our life that most people enter into treatment to make.
By developing consistent mindfulness practices into one’s life in addiction recovery, we begin to rewire the neural pathways in our brain and reorient our emotional and relational systems toward that of greater connection, health, and healing. Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to—among other things—help people cope in healthier ways with the pain, cravings, anxiety, depression, and stress that may accompany substance use disorders.
In Buddhism, the concept of impermanence, or the principle that everything is always changing, is one of the “Three Marks of Existence.” All of the suffering we experience—the addiction, the negative situations in which we may find ourselves, the mental health symptoms that may feel so unbearable at times—none of these are permanent. We can always, no matter what, count on them to shift. This is great news, and an extremely helpful viewpoint in early recovery when it may feel like the addiction and all the pain that comes along with it has become an unwavering cornerstone in one’s life. Change is not only possible, it is inevitable. And it is within our power to move that change in the direction of our choice.
The principle of impermanence helps us when we feel stuck. It helps us when we are temporarily powerless over a situation to know that it will pass and we can come out the other side. It can also help us to resist getting too comfortable when we have made progress, and therefore find ourselves stagnant and resistant to deeper growth and healing.
So, what if I’m not Buddhist? Do you Have to be Buddhist to join our treatment program?
Not at all! We welcome all religious and spiritual backgrounds into our program. Beyond that, we value your personal beliefs as a vital part of your healing journey. We strive to make our program individualized to fit the needs of each person, and therefore offer elements of Buddhist psychology and practices alongside alternative treatment models, so that each individual can find the path to recovery that calls to them.