“Using Buddha’s teachings to overcome addiction”
These eight steps can be used by people who have not responded to the 12-step approach, as well as those who are already in recovery, psychiatrist Paramabandhu Groves and Valerie Mason-John explain.
For a print-friendly version, with two practical exercises, scroll down to bottom of this page.
We cannot avoid suffering if we open our eyes to it. Suffering is all round us. But freedom from suffering is in front of our eyes, too. Some turn to an addiction to find meaning in life. Fortunately, addiction itself and the suffering it causes can lead people through the doors of a Buddhist temple, a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and many other places that offer some type of solace.
Sometimes, though, we choose to stay in our suffering. Many people caught up in addiction are afraid of recovery. They are afraid of the institutions that could help them.
One such institution that has helped people with addiction has been the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous, and many other programmes in this tradition. It has saved many lives, helped many families, and outlined 12 steps and 12 traditions to the path of freedom. If the steps are followed diligently, there are 12 promises ranging from having a new freedom and happiness, to having no fear of people or fear of financial insecurity. However, 12-step programmes are not for everyone, and many have turned away, desperate for another way of recovery.
The eight steps outlined in this article can be used by people who have not responded to the 12-step approach, as well as by those who are in recovery. For example, they can also be used by people in a 12-step programme who are perhaps trying to understand their 11th step more fully. This step is: “[We] sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”.
In the 12-step tradition, God can be interpreted as the God of your understanding, “Good Orderly Direction,” or “Higher Power”. Although the Buddhist tradition has no place for God as a creator divinity as understood by the theistic traditions, there is nevertheless a clear and definite understanding of a suprapersonal dimension, an “other power,” in Buddhism. We include the suprapersonal in the eight steps, but the eight steps can equally be practiced without reference to or belief in a higher power or suprapersonal dimension.
WHAT ARE THE EIGHT STEPS?
We have taken the principles of the “four noble truths” and expanded them to help with recovery from addiction. The first three steps relate closely to the first three truths. All eight steps together make a path that leads away from the suffering of addiction, which is equivalent to the fourth noble truth – the path leading from suffering to freedom.
The the eight steps are as follows.
Step One: accepting that this human life will bring suffering
Step Two: seeing how we create extra suffering in our lives
Step Three: embracing impermanence to show us that our suffering can end
Step Four: being willing to step onto the path of recovery and discover freedom
Step Five: transforming our speech, actions, and livelihood
Step Six: placing positive values at the centre of our lives
Step Seven: making every effort to stay on the path of recovery
Step Eight: helping others by sharing the benefits we have gained.
The first three steps involve paying close attention to our experience – to our thoughts, feelings, and emotions – and to our bodily sensations. We can think of this as a voyage of discovery, as we explore in moment-by-moment detail how our minds and hearts work. Paying deliberate attention to the fine detail of our experience, as it unfolds in the present, is called mindfulness. We try to stay open to whatever we might find, not making assumptions about what our experience is like. Often we hold on to an idea of our experience – for example: “This pain is unbearable” – which, when we face it calmly, might turn out to be different.
Through mindfulness we begin to see and experience the nature of our suffering and how we cause ourselves more suffering, especially through addiction. We also start to see the possibility of letting go of some of our suffering. Having a clearer understanding of how our minds work, in the fourth step we introduce kindness – one of the qualities of mindfulness – more fully. We aim to bring more kindness to our experience so that we can explore the pros and cons of both addictive behaviour and life without addiction. The purpose of this step is to help us boost our decision to let go of addiction.
With a clear intention to overcome our addiction, we will need to come to terms with our past actions and transform our current bodily actions, our speech, and our livelihood in ways that promote our happiness – this is the fifth step.
The sixth step looks at what values can help us to stay oriented toward recovery. We speak of this as a “positive refuge”. We begin to explore what will take the place of the addiction(s) that our lives have been centred round. We ask ourselves: “What healthier alternatives could we put at the centre of our lives?”. This is hard, because it could mean letting go of people who have journeyed with us up until this point.
If we want to stay on the path of recovery or return to it when we have a slip, we will need to make some effort. We explore the sort of effort that is helpful to recovery in the seventh step.
Finally, in the eighth step, we are concerned with helping others. We share open-handedly with others what we have learned or gained. As well as benefiting others, this consolidates our own recovery.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The authors have written a book, Eight Step Recovery, published by Windhorse Publications which gives more useful tools.
The most essential tool for anybody’s recovery is the breath. When we notice the breath, connect to the breath, it will slow us down and help us to pause. In these pauses we get to know what we are thinking and feeling, and can begin to make choices with clarity. Two helpful meditations are detailed in the link below, and you can access more here.
Paramabandhu Groves is a psychiatrist in the NHS, and has specialised in addiction for 20 years. He is clinical director of Breathing Space, the health and wellbeing wing of the London Buddhist Centre, and teaches mindfulness-based approaches to help with depression, addiction and stress. He developed the Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention course for addiction, renamed the Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery course. He is author of Practical Buddhism: Mindfulness and Skilful Living in the Modern Era, and has published academic papers and contributed to books in the field of addiction.
Valerie Mason-John, also known by her Buddhist name Vimalasara, is the author and editor of seven books, including Detox Your Heart: Ways of Working with Anger, Fear and Hatred. She is a TEDx speaker on the theme of self-harm, a trainer in conflict transformation and has worked in the field of addiction for 15 years. She also delivers the MBAR course.