Starting an R.R. Group

If you are interested in starting your own Refuge Recovery group, there are many considerations. Refuge Recovery groups follow the peer-led model first established by Alcoholics Anonymous and its many 12-step sister programs. It is helpful to have a basic understanding of this time-tested organizational structure when starting an R.R. group. So here is a brief overview of the A.A. group structure:

Alcoholics Anonymous is simultaneously one of the largest and the least visible non-profit organizations in America. In the U.S and Canada there are roughly 70,000 A.A. groups and 1.4 million members, so the average size group is around 20 members. A.A. has no central authority, minimal organization, and a handful of traditions instead of laws. Each group functions independently except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole. All of the essential group work is done by group members, with each member entitled to do their service in the way they think is best within the spirit of the traditions. This means that the group functions as a democracy with all plans for group action approved by the majority voice. No single individual is appointed to act for the group or for A.A. as a whole. In the words of one observer, “A.A. is the world’s largest functioning anarchy, and on the whole it performs astonishingly well.” (“The Drunk’s Club” by Clancy Martin, Harper’s, Jan. 2011)

In A.A.’s own words: “Each group is as unique as a thumbprint, and approaches to carry the message of sobriety vary not just from group to group but from region to region. Acting autonomously, each group charts its own course.” (“The A.A. Group, Where It All Begins” p. 16)

This is also the intent of Refuge Recovery and the book says this: “We hope that as the program grows, new formats and styles of meetings will be created.” (Refuge Recovery, p. 227) So your group is not only free to create any format or style of Refuge Recovery meeting you like, you are actually being encouraged to innovate.

That said, a few words of advice: as early as possible try to function as a group, rather than as an individual. In other words, delay decisions, such as where to meet, how long your meetings will be, what the initial format will be, and focus instead on getting other people involved so you can make these decisions as a group. Doing this helps to insure that the other members of the group feel that they have a stake in it (i.e., it is their group and not just a meeting they occasionally attend). Also, if you make all the important early decisions alone, as the group grows, they are likely to expect you to do all the required service work to keep it going, and this is a recipe for you to burn out on the whole business.

Our group looked at a variety of possible locations to host our meetings before deciding to ask a meditation center called Innerspace if we could meet there each week. We selected this location because it is a hub for many in the Buddhist community in Oklahoma City and it is not associated with a particular Buddhist brand. In fact, five different meditation groups meet there throughout the week from five different Buddhist traditions.

This decision was fortuitous because the many ways that Innerspace could help spread the word about our group had never been considered in our deliberations. Once we were put on their schedule, Innerspace sent out an email announcement to everyone on their mailing list and they distributed flyers to the people who attended classes there throughout the week. Our first flyer was created for practicing Buddhists:

“Refuge Recovery OKC is part of a worldwide community of people who are using the practices of mindfulness, compassion, forgiveness and generosity to heal the pain and suffering that addiction has caused in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Refuge Recovery is a peer-led practice, a process, a set of tools, a treatment, and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addiction.

Refuge Recovery began as part of Noah Levine’s Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, in Los Angeles in 2008. Noah is a renowned author and lecturer who struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction in his youth. He wrote Dharma Punx, Against the Stream, The Heart of the Revolution, and most recently Refuge Recovery, to be released June 10, 2014. Noah was also the focus of a 2007 feature film documentary titled Meditate and Destroy.

The weekly meeting of Refuge Recovery OKC is held on Wednesdays at 8:00pm at Innerspace, 2201 NW I-44 Service Rd., Oklahoma City, OK 73112, beginning April 30, 2014. This meeting is open to all forms of recovery. There is no requirement for attendance and we welcome all those who are seeking freedom from addiction. We will explore how Dharma practice can deepen this process.”

Internet and social media has also been an important way that we have spread the word about our group. Having our meeting listed on the Refuge Recovery website has brought in a few members, but the best tool we have used so far has been Facebook. Several of us have many friends in recovery and we have promoted our group to those we believe to be receptive by the use of a Facebook secret group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/rrokc/). The way that works is once you establish a secret Facebook group, you can invite any friends you think might be interested to join. If they accept, they will receive any announcements you post in the group on their Facebook feed. There is a line between promoting and spamming that you don’t want to cross, so you should be very selective before using this particular tool. One really cool way to do that is to search Facebook for “Buddhist” and then go to that page. Facebook will then show you a list of your friends who have identified themselves as Buddhist or who have liked Buddhist related pages.

Our latest flyer was designed for posting at 12-step recovery meetings, clubhouses and outpatient treatment centers. For this audience we rewrote the first paragraph of our original flyer to try and make clear that our intent is not to disrespect 12-step recovery programs. It now reads:

“Refuge Recovery OKC is a peer-led, weekly group-meeting gathered in the spirit of investigation of a Buddhist approach to recovery from addiction of all kinds. All are welcome. We invite you to join us and to find out for yourself if a Buddhist perspective is valuable to your process of recovery. This group is meant to be a support for recovery, not as a substitute for your dedicated practice.”

Peer led groups live or die based on how well they address the needs of the members. It is essential, especially early on, that the group frequently asks the members how well it is doing in this regard. Our group now conducts a business meeting monthly. We look back on our meeting format from the past month and discuss ways it might be improved. For the first few months we made changes to the format of our meeting after every one of these discussions. Currently we spend 20 minutes on meditation (using the guides in the book), then our group facilitator for the month picks a topic and reads a relevant passage from Refuge Recovery. The rest of the hour is individual sharing. The group seems to be happy with this format now, and it seems likely that we are done with the revisions.

We hope this information has been helpful and good luck with your new group. Please feel free to email us if you have any questions. We look forward to meeting you one day on the path.