Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Buddhism

Every Detox Fail You? Try the Thai Buddhist Detox

Thamkrabok Thai Buddhist monastery, where addicts and alcoholics get sober according to Buddhist teachings.

For those in search of them, there are detox and recovery choices other than the 12 steps and drug-maintenance. For example, the Beeb is reporting results from a UK nonprofit that show that 95 percent addicts who go to a Thai Buddhist monastery stay clean after treatment.

East-West Detox, a Berkshire nonprofit organization (or “charity” in British-speak), helps British people who want addiction treatment to go to Thamkrabok, a monastery about two hours’ drive north of Bangkok. After the charity’s National Health Service (NHS) funding was cut in 2007, they commissioned Queen’s University in Belfast and London’s Brunel University to study its effectiveness over the following three years.

The report, released recently, states that 95 percent of those who receive the four-week Thamkrabok treatment stay drug-free, compared with 38 percent of NHS patients in UK detox centers, and recommends the NHS reinstate funding, though the Berkshire NHS trust says it currently has no plans to do so.

Thamkrabok’s treatment involves drinking a secret herbal formula and then sticking a finger down the throat and forcing yourself to vomit. Addicts in treatment receive other herbal remedies—to help, for example, with sleep—and they’re taught to meditate, chant, and contribute to the work of the monastery. Those receiving treatment are asked to make a solemn vow, called a “sajja,” stating that they “really want to stop using drugs/alcohol” and that they’re attending of their own volition.

The Thamkrabok website itself says it “does not offer miracle cures” and cautions readers to take any success-rate claims with a grain of salt. However, it makes this claim for itself:

What can be said, without any doubt, is that ALL ex-addicts who keep their SAJJA—with honesty and integrity—remain 100 percent drug free.

One of the BBC pieces tells the story of Sarah, a former heroin addict and mother of a young child, who had been prescribed methadone and Subutex (buprenorphine) to help wean her off heroin, but she “just found herself stuck on them.” Since coming back from Thamkrabok in 2004, she has remained free of her addiction.

I also follow a blog by Paul Garrigan, an Irishman who got sober from alcoholism in 2006 at Thamkrabok. Check out his blog for more information about this Buddhist-oriented way of staying sober.

Buddhism meets the 12 steps

The Wisdom to Know the DifferenceEileen Flanagan’s book about the Serenity Prayer, The Wisdom to Know the Difference: When to Make a Change—and When to Let Go, was reissued in paperback yesterday. In preparing the book for reissue, she combed through her archives looking at outtakes… Since one of my favorite interviewees of hers was Park Dong-Sun, a Korean Buddhist monk and recovering alcoholic, Eileen gave an outtake from her interview with Park for the readers of Guinevere Gets Sober.

Eileen brings an honest and deeply thought Quaker perspective to the Serenity Prayer, but not necessarily a perspective from recovery—the community that, from a cultural perspective at least, perhaps gives this prayer the most sky-miles. No one can “own” a prayer… but for hundreds of thousands of people on the planet, the Serenity Prayer brings to mind “the rooms.” Eileen relies on her subjects to provide the personal perspective she herself lacks… and Park Dong-Sun, a longtime Buddhist practitioner, is an entertaining and wise subject. It’s brilliant that she found him.

If you’re looking for a book to teach the principles of discernment between the time to change and the time to accept things as they are, then this book is worth the price. In my review I recommended the chapter about “seeking divine assistance” for people who have trouble with “the God thing” in 12-step programs… But I also recommend the chapter on “letting go of outcomes.” Eileen’s Quaker practice of stillness gives her prose a calm and steady tone and provides the lubricant that helps the medicine go down… Especially when she’s telling me, for example, that I need to let go of my image of what I assume I should be doing, because it may close my mind to divine guidance that contradicts that picture. Something I need to hear right now…

Thanks to Eileen for the text below.

Happy Labor Day weekend.


Park Dong-Sun, a Buddhist monk and recovering alcoholic, on the 12-step path

Park Dong-Sun came to the United States decades ago to establish business contacts as an exporter/importer. Now in his late 60s, he notes that it was very common for people to drink socially in his native Korea, but not to get drunk. In the United States, however, he started getting drunk, especially when his business failed, and his drinking accelerated. “I used alcohol as a lubricant for socializing,” he explains, though he did not like the effects.

A turning point came when he watched a friend’s son struggle with addiction and then get sober with help from the recovery community. Park was inspired to go himself, first to Al-Anon and then AA, where he observed people who had successfully stopped drinking, something he had been unable to do on his own. “I wanted to be part of it and use their program to quit drinking, and that’s what I did the last 25 years, and I haven’t had a drink since,” he explains.

As Park studied the Twelve Step Program, he had to translate some of the language from the Judeo-Christian tradition into Zen Buddhist concepts. “It was a struggle,” he recalls, but it rekindled his desire to study and practice his own tradition, which he has done for more than 20 years now, along with working the AA program. He does walking meditation about two hours every day. “I haven’t made much progress,” he says laughing. “But I did spend lots of time studying the teachings, over and over and over.”

He takes the saying Let go and let God and relates it to the Zen teaching Let go of all your concepts of life, explaining that this is a powerful teaching, though difficult to practice. “Ultimately the Zen training and practice is to stop conceptualizing. As soon as we conceptualize we limit ourselves, and with that limitation, we cannot see the whole.” For example, you can’t become enlightened by effort. It only comes when you’ve let go of any ambition to be enlightened, which is why so few do it. Park notes that it is difficult to let go completely, especially all of a sudden, “so we move progressively one step after another.” He compares it to doing the Twelve Steps. “There is no beginning, and no end,” he says, like the Serenity Prayer, which he says helps people to get to a higher level.

Park explains that Buddhism recognizes that there are different levels of spiritual practice. A typical church or temple service only requires an elementary level, but the Twelve Steps require an intermediate or even advanced level of spiritual practice, which is why he says they are so difficult for newcomers. One thing that helps in both Buddhism and recovery is community, which Park compares to a nurse that administers the medicine we need. He expresses gratitude for his own communities and thanks all his teachers, including the Buddha.—Eileen Flanagan

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