Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Getting the word out -- Alumni Newsletters

A good example of how to spread the word about LifeRing appears in the current alumni newsletter of a treatment program in Concord, CA. A PDF scan of the page is here.

The newsletter is mostly full of 12-step content. In fact, a typical 12-step testimonial appears on the same page as the LifeRing article.

The newsletter is not an organ of any 12-step organization. It is the organ of the alumni group of the treatment center, and the treatment center is officially neutral and unaffiliated with any particular support group. Thus, publication of an article about LifeRing in this newsletter does not violate any rule of 12-step organizations banning material about "outside issues."

The article's author, identified only as "Owen," is a graduate of that treatment program, a member of its alumni group, an AA old-timer, and an active LifeRing convenor.

Convenors, please read Owen's article. It is a model of how to talk about LifeRing to a mostly 12-step audience. There are other newsletters similar to this one. Let's take advantage of these platforms to get the word out about LifeRing.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Seven Reasons to Be a Convenor

People who become LifeRing convenors do it for a variety of good reasons. The following seven are the ones I hear most often. One: it helps their recovery. Two: it expresses gratitude. Three: it's a moral obligation. Four: it gives a higher meaning to their life. Five: somebody has to do it. Six: it feels good. Seven: for love.

It Helps My Recovery

Being a convenor can be helpful to one's personal sobriety in several obvious ways. For example, the convenor is expected to appear at the meeting on a regular basis, and any kind of regular sobriety practice is usually an effective recovery tool. (For examples, see Recovery By Choice, Ch. 3, Sec. 11, My 'Daily Do.') The convenor has a higher profile as a person in recovery than the average participant, and is therefore likely to have a larger and more active support network. Acting as convenor involves a deeper emotional commitment to recovery than the average person. Relapsing while in the convenor role would be a serious setback not only for the convenor (it would end their current usefulness as convenor) but also for others in the meeting who may have come to look to the convenor as a role model. For these and similar reasons, many persons who already have their personal recovery programs well launched choose to take up the convenor role for its ongoing supportive benefits. There is more discussion of this issue in the final chapter.

To Give Something Back

A second reason to become a convenor is gratitude. When I decided I had to do something about my drinking, I found a support group already functioning and available to me. A handful of convenors had arranged for the room, put out literature, and got the meeting up and running. I derived an enormous lifetime personal benefit from their effort. Most newcomers are in a similar situation. After one accumulates some sobriety time one begins to feel grateful to the group. The dollar or two that the average member puts into the basket falls far short of compensation either for the benefit one has received or for the effort that others expend to keep the group running. Donating one's time as convenor is one way to show gratitude and give something back.

Because of the Golden Rule

A third reason to become a convenor is similar to gratitude, but on a different level. It is based on the golden rule of ethics: what goes around, comes around. When I sowed addiction, I reaped addiction and fed on despair. Becoming a convenor is an ethical affirmation of one's individual responsibility for the messages circulating in the social network. The convenor sows a message of sobriety and prepares a harvest of hope and positive transformation.

For More Meaning in Life

A fourth reason to become a convenor is to reach a higher sense of meaningfulness in one's life. Meaning in life arises from connectedness with others. Drugs and alcohol led many people into social isolation, or into a set of phantom relationships with drinking/­drugging partners or codependents. Participating in a self-help recovery group over time means re-connecting with people (or connecting for the first time) and establishing authentic relationships. This is a great improvement, and it is enough for many people. However, some people seek a meaning in life beyond self-repair and self-transformation. Becoming a convenor is a way of dedicating oneself to a mission of service to others, and this can yield a deeper sense of purpose and direction in one's life.

Because Someone Has To Do It

A fifth reason why people become Life­Ring convenors is because they feel that something has to be done. Despite more than 50 years of nearly everyone being funneled into recovery on the twelve-step pattern, the drug and alcohol problem shows no signs of abatement. There is a great deal of room for improvement in the way we as a society approach the issue. Someone has to step in and help build another road. The Life­Ring convenor is the agent of an unspoken social consensus that it is time to give people a meaningful choice of recovery paths.

Because It Feels Good

A sixth reason why people become Life­Ring convenors is for the emotional rewards. The convenor's efforts frequently result in profound changes for the better in others' lives. To be a witness to so much transformation is already a privilege. To be a catalyst in such a process can stir one's feelings with indescribable force, bringing up tears of gladness. When I leave a meeting at which things have gone well, I feel a sense of warmth in my gut, unlike any other satisfaction I have experienced. Being a convenor not only does good, it feels good.

Because Convening is Love

A seventh and final reason why people become convenors is love. When people have been clean and sober for some time, they sometimes feel an upwelling of love pent up inside during the long winter of their addiction. Now it surges out of them and seeks an object. No flesh-and-blood person has sufficient magnitude to absorb this force. It requires a transcendent object. The role of convenor affords such overflowing love a worthy channel. Love the good in bad people. Nurture the health in people who are ill. Take people whose instinct is to hide and isolate, and bring them together. Connect them, protect them as they recover their self-respect and exercise their sober legs. Bringing people together in recovery is a transcendent embrace. To convene is to love.

In Appreciation of Convenors

The whole Life­Ring network exists so that people in recovery can come to the meetings, talk about their current recovery issues, get their sobriety charged up, help strengthen others’ sobriety, put a couple of dollars in the basket, applaud, feel good, and leave. This meeting process keeps people clean and sober, week after week. Thanks to their sobriety, people develop new lives, new relationships, new interests, new everything. They become transformed in diverse and wonderful ways that no one, not even they themselves, could have anticipated.

People can have perfectly satisfactory recoveries without becoming missionaries. We are a pragmatic organization, not an evangelical one. But there will always be some among our members who get inspired by what they see happening and leap up to get involved. Whatever their mix of motivations, when they see the need for a meeting, they step in and start one. When they see a lack of literature they get it or make it. When they see anything that needs to be done, they get down and do it. They are both talkers and doers, but above all doers. They not only dream, they convert their visions into nuts and bolts and make them work. They are producers, makers, shakers, people who move mountains. They are Life­Ring convenors.

Convenors are the core of our organization, and the bridge to its future. Those comfortable meetings with their friendly process, the week-to-week recharge of people’s sobriety energies, all the benefits that spin off from sobriety – none of that would have started, and none of it would keep going very long, without someone to found the meeting, set up the room, establish the meeting format, keep the conversation rolling, provide the literature, connect the meetings together, and perform scores of other services in and outside the meeting context. People emerging from the cave of alcohol and drugs need people who can bring them together. Recovery requires convenors and members who do convenor work. The convenors of yesterday and today need to pass on their accumulated experience and knowledge to the convenors of tomorrow, so that our network of hope, choice, and transformation may have continuity and growth.

-- From "How Was Your Week?" Ch. 2.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Self-Help and Service to Others

We had a good discussion at the Denver congress this past weekend about motivating more LifeRing members to take part in the organizational work.

Someone familiar with the Brand-A organizations quoted one of their slogans, "Don't ever say 'no' to XX," and someone else pointed to Step 12, which makes "carrying the message" an integral part of the core program.

So we talked about whether we should make "Service" the fourth "S" alongside Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Help. (Not much support for that!) And we talked about how we might redefine Self-Help to build service into it. And we talked about whether guilting people to do volunteer work is a good policy.

Nobody in the discussion favored guilting people. Guilt is a nasty, undermining emotion and is as likely to drive a person into the arms of relapse as to keep them sober -- unless, of course, they're really guilty of something. In my experience, guilt is not only nasty, it also doesn't work very well as a motivator. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Brand A Hospitals and Institutions committee (which presumably knows how to push the guilt buttons) has a very spotty record at providing Brand A volunteers to cover important meetings and presentations; at venues with which I'm personally familiar, where we also have LifeRing meetings, they've been no-shows time after time. Apparently their membership has developed a thick skin to guilt appeals, as would be only natural.

The psychologist Albert Bandura at Stanford, after much experiment and study, has come to the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that people remember negative reinforcement for a long time, but it doesn't change their behavior. What changes behavior is positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement changes people's behavior even when they're not aware of it and don't remember it.

Positive reinforcement is built into the core of our usual meeting format. The How Was Your Week format, with its inclusion of feedback (crosstalk), incorporates positive reinforcement as a central element. The whole healing model behind the motto "Empower Your Sober Self" is built around positive reinforcement. When it comes to applying this moving force to people's recovery work in the meeting context, we know what we're doing.

But how and where do we expose our members to positive reinforcement that motivates them to step forward and do service work for the organization? I don't see that we've developed an effective enough channel for it.

Maybe it would help if we had a convenor testimonials page, similar to the general LifeRing kudos page, where convenors could talk about how their own service work has helped their recoveries and made them feel good. Idea?

I'll post my own list in a separate article here, excerpted from How Was Your Week? Anyone with affirmative experiences can post a comment. Maybe the string of comments, after a while, can be set to print and circulated more widely, in an expanded edition of the "Give Something Back" brochure. It's a start.

What do you think?

More leadership roles in LifeRing

When the founding members wrote the LifeRing bylaws back in 2000-2001, we wanted to create as "flat" an organization as possible, and would have provided for no officers at all if that were legally possible.

However, in order to operate on a sound businesslike footing, we had to form a corporation; and corporations have to at least three officers. That's how we arrived at the triumvirate of CEO, CFO, and Secretary -- the only official officers in LifeRing. If you add the nine seats on the Board of Directors, you get a maximum of 12 people with recognized leadership responsibilities.

Now, "flat" is good and there's much organizational research that validates this concept. You can scan the past decade of Harvard Business Review to find a string of learned, researched articles dissing the top-down hierarchical bureaucratic megalith corporation and lauding the horizontal network-type organization with its short communication lines and rapid response times.

We definitely want to stay flat ... but flat also has its dark side, at least in our implementation. Given our current setup, if you show leadership ability and interest, your options are severely limited. You're either convenor of a local meeting (or of a chat or list), or you're on the worldwide Board of Directors or an officer of the corporation. There's a huge gap of nothing in between.

Having no recognized intermediate leadership positions is bad. There's no ramp for people to move up on as their vision grows broader and their dedication to service becomes firmer. Because there's no transition, convenors may get stuck in a local perspective and may even isolate from the rest of the LifeRing network. I think we're infected with that malady in a number of places.

We do have a number of convenors who take on broader responsibilities than a single meeting. Whenever there's a problem in one of the meetings in their area, they help out. If somebody needs a substitute, they get the call. If there's a talk to be given, they take the lead in doing it. If a meeting is out of literature, they take care of it. When there's an area workshop, they're present. And so on. That's great. What's not good is that we have no express way of recognizing the role they play. We ought to have a formal title for them.

It's unrealistic to expect that literally every LifeRing participant will take on a leadership role at some time or other. But it's also unrealistic to expect that LifeRing can grow and prosper so long as we have a whole lot of nothing inbetween the local level and the worldwide level. That's why the Congress in Denver took up discussion of intermediate leadership. We made a start on it: Robert (Itchy) Bradley is now East Coast convenor. Kathleen Gargan is now Colorado convenor. When everybody gets home and has a chance to look at their local situation with new eyes, we'll undoubtedly define a series of additional intermediate roles, with responsibilities broader than a single meeting but smaller than the universe of the board member.

The ultimate guarantee of organizational "flatness" is our Delegates' Assembly. Each meeting has the power to send one person who has one vote in the DA, and the DA elects the Board of Directors. The meetings through their delegates are both the bottom of the organization, in the sense that they are its foundation, and the top of the organization, because they hold the ultimate power. So long as that remains the case -- and nobody is advocating a change in that -- we'll remain a flat, anti-hierarchical organization. But without creating a ramp of intermediate leadership, and granting formal recognition to the intermediate leaders who are active now, there's a danger that we'll get flat in the bad sense, like a soda with the bubbles gone, or like road kill.

Your thoughts?