SLAA versus Buddhism

I just finished thirty minutes of zazen, and what better way to treat myself than to drink a nice “Lucky Buddha” beer (according to the bottle, it’s an “enlightened beer”)? Of course, drinking beer means that I’ve violated the fifth of the “Ten Grave Precepts“….but, oh well.


Next Thursday will be the last day of my “Introduction to Zen Buddhism” class. I’m so glad that I’ve taken this class, as it gives me a lot of comfort to know that I’m attempting to have a more spiritual life. I love the teacher. She’s a young, probably thirty-something, American woman who has such a kind and gentle energy. It’s pretty clear that she was like this before she ever got into Buddhism, so I often find myself thinking that somebody like her doesn’t really need Buddhism to teach her to be a better person. I’m glad that the class is being taught by a young American laywoman instead of a Japanese monk. I’m not racist, but I think it would have been hard for a newbie like me to relate to somebody who is so culturally and spiritually different. Before I took the class, zen seemed so esoteric and mysterious, and this woman has made it appear so warm and inviting. I love her honesty and humility, and her willingness to share her weaknesses with her students.

This wasn’t my first experience with meditation. When I was twenty-one, I went on a ten-day silent Vipassana retreat when I was living in France. I got a lot out of this experience but the meditation teachers seemed so aloof and somewhat hierarchical. To continue our meditation practice at home, they also said that it was very important to meditate for an hour every morning, and an hour every night. In an ideal world, yes, this would be the best thing to do, but how many people can really afford to mediate for two whole hours each day?! I certainly couldn’t keep this up for long, and when I failed, their rigid “two-hours per day” rule made me give up completely in despair. It would have been far more encouraging if they’d just told us to mediate each day for as long as we could manage, even if only five minutes. For someone like me, who is already so hard on herself and rigid, I needed a more gentle approach.

Besides the teacher, I also like the people in my meditation class. I haven’t gotten to know any of them really well, but a quick, intuitive scan of the room always reveals that everybody meditating with me is thoughtful, smart and questioning. I feel safe around these people.

I’m now so interested in Buddhism that I’m thinking about starting the “Secular Buddhist Studies Program” with the Interdependence Project up in New York City. I want to learn as much about Buddhism as I can now, and the good schoolgirl in me very much likes the idea of being involved in a Buddhist “program”. I’m sure it’s very un-Buddhist of me to like the idea of getting some kind of certificate for having completed the program, but, well, that’s just the way I am, I’m afraid.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I am quite so enthusiastic about the people who attend my Saturday SLAA meeting. I wouldn’t say that I feel “unsafe” or that I actively dislike anybody, but, well, I just don’t particularly like sitting in a room filled with fellow addicts. Maybe this is just because I don’t like seeing my own worst qualities reflected in other people.

I probably shouldn’t feel this way because, according to Josh Korda, there isn’t much of a difference between people who end up at a twelve-step meeting and people who start going to a Buddhist centre:

With the exception of a few students who are just interested in it philosophically, the vast majority of people who come to Buddhist centers, it’s similar to why people wash up on the shores of AA: It is because they have really hit bottom. The difference is, people in AA have hit bottom with drinking or drugs, and with Buddhism it’s because they’ve hit bottom with excessive thinking of some sort, or fear, or some form of behavior. The problem may include drinking or drugs, but often they just feel their mind is a really uncomfortable place to be. They suffer from what the Buddha calls papanca—thinking too much, proliferation of thought, worry, fear, anxiety. So the arc of recovery is, “How do I get to a place where I can be in my own mind, my own body—which carries so much stress—comfortably?” (

The main difference between twelve-steppers and people who attend Buddhist centres is that addicts are probably a lot more self-absorbed and self-obsessed. I would also say that this applies to me since nearly every single one of my waking thoughts is concerned with my own unhappiness and what I can do to make myself feel better. Nonetheless, I do like to think that I think about other people at least some of the time.

I hung out with my sponsor and two other women recently, and that experience clearly revealed some of the issues I have with addicts. These women all knew each other, and they spent most of the time talking amongst themselves and ignoring me. Of course, they didn’t mean to ignore me, or hurt my feelings, but, well, they did. It was that addict self-absorption again. I wasn’t expecting to be the centre of attention or anything; it would just have been nice to have been included in their conversations. I know that I would have made sure to include somebody who was an “outsider” in a group.

I do feel bad complaining about these women, however, as they are all perfectly nice, and my sponsor has helped me a lot, and supported me whenever I needed her to. I guess it would just nice to be around people who were a little bit more “healthy”, and I feel that the people at the Zen centre are that for me.

On the other hand, my issues with the women from SLAA could very well be denial on my part – my desire to tell myself “Oh, I’m not like them. I’m not a real addict”. My sponsor is always trying to get me more involved in SLAA activities (e.g. going out for lunch after the meeting; attending the group consciousness meetings; going to SLAA conferences and fellowships)  and I’m somewhat reluctant. I do admit that I’m an addict, but I don’t want all my weekly social interactions and engagements to revolve around SLAA. Addiction is just a part of me; it doesn’t define me.

It would be interesting to hear the perspective of other people who have attended twelve-step meetings. Do my complaints above just sound like somebody who is still a bit a in denial about her addiction, or do I have a point?

All I know is that, right now, I’m getting more out of going to the Zen centre and meditation than I am from going to SLAA meetings. But perhaps that will change when I start working the steps?


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14 thoughts on “SLAA versus Buddhism

  1. arekino April 6, 2013 at 9:58 am Reply

    >It was that addict self-absorption again.

    Logically, if people are self-absorbed then you need to get in their faces to make them notice you. What about any newbies that joined the group after you? None of those seem to want to reach out to you?

    • petrichoric April 6, 2013 at 10:37 am Reply

      You’re right, Arekino, but I just didn’t feel particularly comfortable getting “in the faces” of these women. I haven’t had the best experiences with women in the past, as women can be extremely elitist and catty. Obviously not all of them, but I’ve had enough of that to make me tread very cautiously when I’m in a group of women.

      Yes, there are some other women in the group I’d like to connect with, and I really should make more of an effort. “Reaching out” to other people is actually quite a big part of a twelve-step program – and not just when you’re in crisis, but just to say hi, and catch up.

  2. jimidcricket April 6, 2013 at 10:56 am Reply

    Even before I was done reading your post, I was curious if you had a shambhala center or a dharma punxs meditation group in your area?
    For myself, I have been in and out of other 12 step meetings for years. I have come to feel dispossessed or alienated from any merit that seems to be found by so many people who attend meetings. However, I enjoyed the fellowship offered and a chance to socialize with people who didn’t do a ton of drugs or drink…
    I found that even tho the program itself offered some good structure for “recovery” from addiction, I struggled to feel I wanted to socialize and restructure my life around these “addicts”.
    back and forth..
    I wanted to change my lifestyle so i could live thru making better choices.. and..i had a hard time with the 12 step lifestyle.. (This was my attitude pre SLAA)
    That was until I was able to broaden the range of people I surrounded myself around who were making conscious efforts to either change their life or maintain healthy personal habits and attitudes..
    granted.. after finding SLAA .. MUCH of my negative disposition towards meetings changed, it was as if a pressure valve released and I rested into a place I was thankful to find I could relate to people with a little more honesty and depth..
    I also began to find people with similar interests and yet different lifestyles.. thats how I came to also frequent shambhala and dharma punx meditations..

    thru that, I found myself more willing to hang out with people who identify themselves as being addicts without having to feel so threatened by having to call myself an addict outside of the rooms..
    I can identify myself as a healing person who is (hopefully) living healthier than yesterday..
    it doesnt matter if I am hanging out with buddhists, addicts, grocery clerks or professionals..

    If I am what I eat.. then i will place myself in a health food store and not just a specialty shop that sells one thing..
    I can have my “go to” meal.. be it SLAA or zen meditation..
    Its the freedom not just from addictions but to the freedom to embrace myself in many forms.
    (tho embracing myself IS a baseline)

    EMBRACE YOURSELF.. get a sponsor.. involve yourself with other people who are addressing the challenges you are facing..

    we dont have to do it alone and we also don’t have to do it in one room..

    this was a much longer response than i intended, and i hope i made sense..
    I like your writing and your approach to the general topic..

    Im not able to attend meeting at this time and so reading helps

    • petrichoric April 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm Reply

      Hello! Thanks for the comment, and sorry for the long delay in responding. Yes, there is a Shambhala Centre here in town, and there’s also Dharma Punx. I don’t really quite understand what Shambhala Buddhism is, to be honest. As regards Dharma Punx, it’s actually at a time when I’m at work, so I can’t go.

      I’m glad that you’re an SLAA man (at least I think you’re a dude based on your handle). At the moment I’m very resistant towards the idea of attending co-ed meetings. I would feel vulnerable and I also have a lot of anger at men. It will be good for me to hear the male perspective from the safety of my computer.

      • jimidcricket April 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm Reply

        ha..well keep it the women’s meetings then and save the co-ed meetings for a time when you may feel integrated or comfortable..
        HOWEVER.. Even tho I am a man, I pretty much can attest to having similar feelings towards men as you mentioned.
        (anger and trust… disappointed etc)
        I am able to address some of those issues in both co-ed and men meetings..
        (when I am able to go)
        it seems like you have plenty of supportive input that branches into other healthy initiatives besides the 12 step venue..
        The hardest part for me is when, despite the yoga, or the art or the meetings and step work… wedging in healthy diets and healthy people against that bat shit crazy, obsessive fantasy behavior I know all to well. It seems I am continually attempting to curb my impulsive destructive nature into some other productive expression.

        I have enjoyed reading your experiences, say with the arab fella. It is a familiar process of behavior and thinking… I have been the same way with women in the past..
        and today I work (slowly) at giving myself other means to relate to others and myself..
        I look forward to more

  3. Pandora Viltis April 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm Reply

    I read a lot of myself in this post and my experience with AA. The people in AA were terrific for my early recovery, but eventually I felt like they were stuck in a loop of the recovery rooms. My husband was often the only non-AA person at social events with these people and I found that weird.

    I think a lot of what I’m enjoying about taking up yoga recently is that it allows me to be in my body without so many intrusive thoughts. Focusing on breathing is such a simple way to shut up my demons.

    • petrichoric April 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm Reply

      Yeah, a lot of people in recovery (early recovery especially) seem to throw themselves into the twelve-step thing. I do think that’s weird and unhealthy, but I also suspect that I am looking to find flaws in SLAA and the Twelve Step Programs in general, probably so I can justify not going back or something.

      Glad you’re liking yoga! Isn’t it crazy how something as simple as concentrating on the breath can be so healing?!

  4. williamx April 7, 2013 at 3:01 am Reply

    Seems to me an interesting difference between twelve steppers and ‘seekers’ is that a twelve step program is clearly defined and basically hand holds you through a particular process of getting well. Zen is more of self directed, nebulous process? I was in a recovery program way back in soldier days because I got busted coming back from Hawaii with a lighter stamped with a dope leaf and the word pakalol on it, and was going to be drug tested. It’s a funny story now and maybe I’ll babble it to you one day. That test though? I had no chance of passing. So I outed myself and told a tale to the dudes busting me so I wouldn’t get kicked out. I wasn’t really into the program but the women running my group were extra sharp. One of them was blind but if you were anything less than straight up with her she would hear it and just crush you. The other was super cute and I wanted her to like me. Yeah that is sad but you know, young army guy in a sea of dudes. So I learned alot. Still smoke the weed though . . .
    My experience of zen started in college (I have a philosophy degree) and . . . spoke to me. It just seemed right. I consider myself now sort of a zen existentialist. The world means nothing. Life means only what we make it mean. And it’s best not to care about intransigent, material things and better to focus on the relationships you have, and best to come to the relationships with no expectations other than honesty and genuine expression. To do that you have to be comfortable with yourself and able to listen, and speak, in the moment. That’s hard for me, because of wartimes and growing up a military brat I’m a bit disconnected, and don’t feel as much as maybe I should.
    Ok so that’s alot of background that you maybe didn’t need. But I want to say I think zen is a great thing for you. Empty your head now and again. Mind like water . . .

    • petrichoric April 10, 2013 at 12:00 am Reply

      I’m not surprised at all that you managed to think up a cunning plan to get out of being busted for weed! And, again, not surprised that you enjoyed the program because there was some tantalizing young lady there. I didn’t know you were into Zen. Do you meditate, or go to the Zen Center in Portland?

  5. williamx April 7, 2013 at 3:27 am Reply

    also I am super duper extra glad you wrote “Addiction is just a part of me; it doesn’t define me.”

    • petrichoric April 10, 2013 at 12:01 am Reply

      Sometimes I think, though, that it wouldn’t be so bad if I remembered a wee bit more often that I’ve got addictive tendencies. Might keep me out of trouble.

  6. LazyBuddhist April 7, 2013 at 5:54 pm Reply

    I second williamx on the kudos for the line “Addiction is just a part of me; it doesn’t define me.” One of my main problems with recovery programs was the emphasis on solidifying this identity of addict: I AM an alcoholic, sex addict, etc. Yes, I do have a problem with alcohol, and I really can’t drink normally, but intuitively (before I got involved with Buddhism), I opted not to take on the identity of an addict and associate myself with other addicts, and structure my life around meetings. Instead, I simply identified myself as a non-drinker. That’s it. It’s not so laden with identity as calling myself an addict. Also, I think it was key, for me, in not relapsing. I have 20+ years of sobriety under my belt, and never worked a step in my life. I certainly understand that it’s much more complex with something like love/sex addiction. It’s not something you can simply cut out of your life forever like alcohol or drugs. But, I would still be wary of that over-identification thing with your weaknesses rather than your abundant strengths.

    With Buddhism you get to a point of stripping away all the labels of identity, even that of “Buddhist.” I know a lot of folks who combine AA with a Buddhist path. And yes, your Buddhist communities can be just as messed up as a community of addicts. Look towards the teacher though. I’ve found when you have a healthy teacher with healthy boundaries who walks the walk, you’re going to have a healthy community (for the most part).

    As always, best of luck on your path.

    • petrichoric April 10, 2013 at 12:12 am Reply

      That’s pretty impressive that you’ve been sober for 20+ years. I don’t think it is very healthy either to label yourself an “addict”. It means you end up telling yourself a very negative little story about yourself all the time. Maybe some people need that to help them get a grip on their life again, but I already talk so negatively to myself that yet another negative label doesn’t help.

      I’m sure that there are a lot of fucked-up sanghas out there. I mean, just look at what happened with Joshu Sasaki. Stuff like that is so disappointing. I just want to finally meet some nice, decent, healthy people. I’m scared that my Zen Center is just going to be filled with weirdoes.

  7. williamx April 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm Reply

    I do meditate, but pretty much on my own time and in my own way. I try and get out in a greenspace and just clear my head and just hear the sounds of the world around me. If I am particualalr stressed or the weather super sucks I close of my room and and empty my head. I do these things a few times a week . . .

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