by Dr. Cathryn Jacob
I created the Secular Buddhist Recovery Facebook page in December 2019. I was a member of some secular Dharma and addiction recovery groups and even some recovery Dharma groups. However, I couldn’t find a forum that linked the teachings and practice of secular Dharma alongside the emerging psychology, neuroscience, medical and other therapies that I had found useful in my recovery.
I, like many in addiction recovery, had discovered the Dharma through a 12 step recovery program. There are many similarities between the 12 step program of recovery and the Dharma. However, we need to find a “power greater than ourselves”, often referred to as a “God of our understanding” as part of the traditional 12 steps. I, like many, struggled with the concept of a transcendent God; and one evening I googled agnostic and Buddhist and found Stephen Batchelor’s Books. Thus began my journey to learn more about and try to practice the teachings of secular Dharma.
Concurrently, as part of my recovery, I had also needed to learn about and address other issues that many in recovery struggle with. Examples might include, past trauma, guilt and shame, anxiety and depression, unhelpful patterns of reactive behaviour, self-loathing, an inner critic, difficulties dealing with emotions and developing inner resilience.
I found a profound overlap between what I was learning about and the Dharma; in fact, many of the authors I was reading identified as Buddhists from various traditions.
I felt strongly, that these resources, married with the teachings of secular Dharma, should be shared and discussed with others in recovery. I, therefore, decided to start a Facebook group, in the hope of finding other like-minded individuals and those that would benefit from these teachers as much as I had.
I have subsequently been helped by others who have joined the group and we now have 2 administrators and 3 moderators of the group. What follows is a brief description of the group, what we discuss, and our main objectives.
Key Themes, Objectives of the Group
The Secular Buddhist Recovery Group is a sangha of individuals who wish to learn, help and support each other in recovery from alcohol, drugs and other addictions using the practices and teachings of a nonsectarian approach to the Dharma. The group is for those who seek or are in recovery from addictions and for those with an interest in addiction recovery using a secular Dharma perspective.
We are a fairly new group having been set up less than a year ago but our numbers are growing steadily. We now have a few hundred members but hope to grow.
Our aim is for members to draw from, post and discuss teachings from any of the various Buddhist traditions that people in recovery may find helpful, but approached through a secular lens. We share teachings, videos and quotes from a number of past and present teachers of the dharma, as well as from modern researchers, authors and teachers on various psychological, medical and scientific topics that we may find helpful in our recovery. These topics include modern neuroscience and neuroplasticity, psychology and evolutionary psychology, shame, self-compassion, compassionate mind training, mindfulness, meditation amongst many other relevant topics.
Examples of teachers and authors that we draw from can range from His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Ajahn Chah, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, Stephen Batchelor (and other secular teachers), The Secular Dharma Podcast, Buddhist Bootcamp and all the way through to Rick Hanson, Gabor Mate, Tara Brach, Brene Brown, Robert Wright, Paul Gilbert, Kirsten Neff – and the list goes on.
Not all of the posts are specific to addiction recovery but all are geared towards our own and others flourishing. The main emphasis of the group is however the teaching of Gotama and how we can apply the Dharma in our everyday lives.
There are many Dharma addiction recovery groups and in no way is this group set up as an alternative to any of these groups. We simply wish to have a forum through which we can share the Dharma and any other relevant teachings from a very wide range of backgrounds, programs, teachers and traditions. However, we all share a secular Dharma ethos and approach to these teachings.
Secular Buddhist Recovery does not have a specific book or program of recovery for members to follow and we do not yet have Zoom or face to face discussion meetings. But these are things that we may one day work towards. Our core aim is to share and discuss the secular Dharma and how this helps us in addiction recovery.
We do not exclude any aspect of any Buddhism tradition as long as it promotes human flourishing and does not cause harm. We don’t even encourage anyone to become a Buddhist. Simply, learn about the teachings, use what works and discard what does not. Come see for yourself, you need not take anything on faith.
We do ask that new members have personal experience of or a particular interest in addiction and that they agree to the group rules. This needs to be a forum in which our members feel safe to be and to discuss and share.
Dr. Jacob has obtained the Royal College of General Practitioners Certificate in the Management of Alcohol Problems in Primary Care.