Refuge Recovery and Process Addictions

Addiction is the repetitive process of habitually satisfying cravings to avoid, change or control the seemingly unbearable conditions of the present moment. This process of craving and indulgence provides short-term relief but causes long-term harm. It is almost always a source of suffering for both the addict and those who care about the addict.

 — from the book Refuge Recovery

In short, a process addiction is any behavior that we engage in to avoid, change or control the seemingly unbearable conditions of the present moment.

We satisfy cravings in many ways. Although it may feel like substance abuse is the prevalent form of addiction in Refuge Recovery groups, many of us struggle with other addictions, including addictions to food, sex, technology, gambling, relationships, spending, codependency, etc. All are welcome in Refuge Recovery. Refuge Recovery meetings are meant to be inclusive of all addictions. Particular meetings may, at times, seem substance-abuse oriented, but please, remember: all definitions of addiction are welcome in our program.

Defining Recovery
For those of us with process addictions, total abstinence from all associated behaviors may not be a sustainable goal. How we embark on the process of recovery will thus vary greatly for each of us, and we will certainly want some help along the way. Here are some ideas and guidelines that may be helpful:

Having a Dharma friend or like-minded person you can talk to is key. It may be best to find another person who has had success dealing with the same addictive behaviors. If that is not possible, a therapist or counselor could be a good option. Having a trusted guide who understands your specific addictive behaviors is invaluable.

Read the chapter on “Intention” in the Refuge Recovery book. This lays the foundation for your work on defining your recovery process. Wise intention has three components: non-harming, renunciation, and goodwill. Each of these components requires us to engage in particular tasks that will help us define what “recovery” will mean to us.

Identifying harmful behavior 
Make a list of all of your behaviors that are harmful. Take an honest look at the behaviors that cause harm to yourself and to others.

Once you have identified your harmful behaviors, the next step is to rank them on a scale of 1–10, with 10 being “extremely harmful.”

This is a very individual process; be honest with yourself about which behaviors are causing the most harm in your life.


Now that you have your list of harmful behaviors ranked, make a plan with your mentor: which are you going to let go of first? Will you work with one behavior at a time? Or let go of them all? Consider complete renunciation if that is possible. Some people find it most useful to let go of the most harmful behaviors first; others, for whom that may not feel realistic, may choose to start with a less harmful behavior and work their way up. The specifics don’t matter; what matters is that you are letting go of harmful behaviors. We will want to identify what our “bottom-line” behaviors are and begin to abstain from them.

For behaviors like sex or technology addiction, a period of full renunciation may be wise. Remember that using our sexual energy is a choice; it is not necessary for our individual survival, and periods of abstinence may at times be helpful. If you are partnered and complete celibacy is not a realistic choice, it will be best to work with a mentor or trusted friend to come up with skillful solutions.

You’ve let go of some harmful behaviors—great! But you may still encounter difficulties as you attempt to engage in balanced behavior around your eating, sexuality, spending, technology use, and interactions with loved ones. Learning to approach these difficulties with a wise and friendly attitude—with a spirit of goodwill, kindness, and compassion toward yourself and others—will be crucial. A daily practice of loving-kindness meditation will become your greatest ally in this endeavor. This practice is outlined in the back of the Refuge Recovery book.

How do we know when we’re practicing recovery from our process behaviors? This is a very personal question. Many feel that their recovery process begins when they pick up the book and start working with a mentor. Others consider their recovery underway only once they’ve begun letting go of all their harmful behaviors. You must choose what feels most authentic to you.

With process addictions, the more we work with them, the more clearly we see the full extent our harmful behaviors, which often means finding more and more we need to let go of. Remember that this is a process; it is your responsibility to accept guidance, be honest with yourself, let go of your harmful behaviors, and meet the world from a place of kindness and goodwill.

Using the framework of the Four Truths and the inventory process, we engage in the following four tasks:

  1. We recognize fully and honestly how our process addictions and associated behaviors have created difficulties in our lives.
  2. We identify and thoroughly investigate the causes of our addictive behaviors, and move toward letting go of them.
  3. We become hopeful and optimistic about our ability to find freedom from these behaviors.
  4. We develop the skills necessary to free ourselves from our addictive behaviors through practicing ethical living, meditative training, and wise understanding.

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