Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In Memoriam: Jason Kelly

An email from Jason Kelly's sister, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada last week announced that Jason was dead. I was shocked and saddened by the news. I had been in correspondence with Jason only a few weeks ago when he was in Thailand. He had planned to start a LifeRing recovery meeting there, with a minimum one year commitment. Jason was the driving force behind our organization’s decision to hold our 2005 annual meeting in Guelph, and all of us who worked with Jason on that project admired his boundless energy and creativity. Thanks to Jason, many participants in our network grew in our awareness and appreciation of Canada. The Monday evening LifeRing meeting in Guelph, which Jason founded, continues to meet to this day.

I sent condolences on behalf of myself and on behalf of the entire LifeRing Secular Recovery network to the family. The Guelph Mercury newspaper covered the memorial service here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Where do I start?

This email came to the LifeRing Service Center today:

I live in Bend, Oregon, and to my knowledge there are no LifeRing groups locally. I would like to find out more about LifeRing and maybe get a group started in Bend. Currently, I do attend AA meetings but find all the emphasis on God unhelpful for me,though I enjoy the fellowship. Where do I start?

Thanks for writing. To get a meeting started, you need two main ingredients: people and a room. Assuming you have six months or more clean and sober, a good way to begin is to locate at least one other person who will partner with you in this project. You two can be the core group around which other people will cluster.

Try to get a room in a location that already has recovery traffic. A lot of treatment centers host support group meetings on their premises. Ask them first.

There's an extended discussion of how to get meetings started in the book, "How Was Your Week?," available from LifeRing Press ($15). The key chapter is available free online as a PDF file here.

There are ideas, materials, and resources on the Meeting Starter Page.

There is an email list for LifeRing meeting facilitators ("convenors"), here. You are welcome to join the list as a meeting starter. There are lots of experienced convenors there who can help you. And be sure to watch this blog!

As they say in the theater, "break a leg!"

Remembering Kay Rossi Ph.D.

LifeRing convenor Carola Z. writes:

Kaye Rossi, PhD, was a psychologist and addiction counselor at the Center for Recovery at John Muir/Mt. Diablo Hospital in Concord. She passed away on June 16th. She was 52.

Kaye was pro-LifeRing and I actually first heard about Lifering through her. We once asked her to be on our Advisory Board. Some of you on this list may have known her, too.

I first met Kaye when I checked into the CFR alcohol recovery program 6 ½ years ago. She had a great impact on me and my recovery. I joined her after-care-group, however, I dropped out after a year since I thought I could recover on my own without any group support. I relapsed shortly after and called Kaye the very next day. “I’m glad you called…” she said and pointed me into the right direction – I rejoined her after-care-group and went to LifeRing meetings. Now, 5 ½ years later, I am a Board Member and lead weekly meetings where I often quote from Kaye’s insights. I would like to share this one:

In one of her group sessions, a young man who was going to go on a safari trip to Africa soon, expressed his concern about possibly being triggered to relapse when gathering around the campfire. “Use your cellphone and call somebody” was the advice he got from a group member and he replied: “At $3.00 per minute, that’s expensive!” Kaye simply asked him: “So, what’s it worth – your sobriety?” That stuck in my mind.

A couple of years later around dinner time, I got upset about my mother-in-law and while looking at our worn-out, hand-me-down rug under our dining room table that she had given us, I was seriously contemplating getting drunk. “What’s it worth – your sobriety?” I remembered and instead, I asked my daughter to come with me that evening to buy a new rug. We did.

I never buy on impulse, and this one cost me $450.00. Was it worth it? Absolutely, Kaye!

I will never forget her.


Thank you, Carola. Outstanding treatment professionals like Kaye Rossi are priceless, and their loss is a blow to the whole community of recovering people. My sympathies to her family and to all her clients.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All the libraries in Dublin

Dennis in Dublin writes: 
Your book, Empowering Your Sober Self" is in all the libraries in Dublin County [Ireland]. Our new member is a librarian and took the book out at work. She then looked up the web site and found us. The meeting is now up to a stable 5 members.

Letter From a Faith-Based Treatment Program

This email came to the LifeRing Service Center today:

I am the owner of a outpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility located in B___, NJ. Some of our clients are resistant to the disease concept of addiction and to the "powerlessness" suggested in the 1st step of AA. Our agency is faith based, however, we are open minded regarding providing treatment services that are secular for those who are not inclined to practice the 12 Step philosophy. Do you think LifeRing secular treatment would be beneficial? What is LifeRings philosophy/vision statement? Thank you for your response.

Dear Ms. _________:

You are not alone. I have spoken with dozens of treatment providers at all kinds of programs and heard the same message that you have expressed. The 12-step approach works well for some clients, but by no means for everyone. A program that has high professional standards will offer clients choices, so that more clients find something that fits and works for them.

LifeRing publishes a workbook, Recovery by Choice, that embodies the LifeRing approach. Its 300 pages in 14 chapters contain many dozens of worksheets and exercises that treatment providers find useful in a variety of settings, inpatient or out. There is easily enough content for a long-term program. For shorter interventions, the counselor is advised to select key items from each chapter, or from the chapters that are most applicable to the particular client.

The LifeRing approach in the most general terms is based on positive social reinforcement. It is, broadly speaking, a cognitive-behaviorist approach.

You can find out more from the following sources:

http://lifering.org/faq/index.htm -- a very short FAQ page

http://www.unhooked.com/lsr/three_s_philosophy.htm -- outline of the basic philosophy

http://www.unhooked.com/trxpro/index.htm -- Introduction for treatment professionals, with more resources

http://unhooked.com/lifering.org/index.htm -- About LifeRing, the organization

http://lifering.com/ -- Online bookstore, where you can order print and CD publications about LifeRing, including the workbook

I hope this is helpful and that we can be of assistance in offering your clients more pathways to recovery.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My neighbor V.

LifeRing convenor Lorne from Montreal (see recent post about diehards) adds a P.S. to his message:

My neighbour V__ came over at 9 am already sloshed with a bottle of beer in his hand claiming all the while he wished he could stop. I showed him the Lifering brochure .... He started going to see a psychologist. He thinks beer is not "alcohol".

I really don't know how to help V__, he knows he has a problem, but can not take in the info. He doesn't think it's so easy to just stop cold turkey like that but is always asking me how does one live without the use of drugs. And I have to admit, between you and me that I find it hard to see V__'s "Sober Self", in fact I have rarely seen it when he is sober.

No, that is not true, V__'s Sober Self must be what I have seen on the rare occasions I've seen him sober, when he doesn't need anything from anyone else, much less company to cry in his beer with, on which occasions he definitely does not consider he has a problem!

It sure comes out different when you factor into the equation a real person you know, not "Sober Self", but V__'s Sober Self. I feel inadequate at not being able to see my neighbour's "Sober Self".

Am I blind? Because it is precisely for people like him that I want to start up Lifering here.
These are great questions. There's no doubt that learning to see the sober self, the S, in a person who is still actively drinking, is a cognitive challenge. We may well ask ourselves if we need new glasses, or if the whole theory is just a fantasy.

To begin with, if V is still alive -- and we know he is, because he is talking with Lorne -- then we can be sure that he has a sober self. If his inner addict self, his A, occupied 100 per cent of his psychic space, then Lorne would probably not be talking. The prime directive of the A is to drink and/or use drugs. The A knows no limits. Its thirst has no bounds. If a person is 100 per cent A, and is not locked up, then it's only a matter of time and money before they drink themselves to death or die of an overdose. Since V is drinking already in the morning, he is in considerable danger of sliding in that direction, and you would be quite right to assume that his S exercises very limited influence.

Still, V is alive. That means he stops drinking at certain points, and perhaps on certain days, and he limits himself (apparently) to beer, which means that he is less likely to fall into an alcoholic coma and suffer cardiac arrest than a person who drinks hard liquor. You can see the influence of the S, which is rooted in the survival instinct, in this choice of beverages. And, as Lorne observed, there are some days when V appears sober and somewhat rational. So there is an S.

We mustn’t assume that the sober self has already reached the stage where the person is able to articulate their sober strivings in a consistent way, and, even more, take decisive action such as to come to a meeting.

If you’re acquainted with the Prochaska/DiClemente Stages of Change model, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Neighbor V sounds like his S is in what Prochaska/DiClemente call the precontemplation stage. Or maybe V's sober self is already in the contemplation stage, since he’s seeing a counselor and talking with Lorne who, he knows, is alcohol-free and a recovery activist. V is "thinking" about quitting, but his thinking is still up in the purely verbal mode, really more of a pose than a real thought, and it doesn't have a solid connection to action.

In that stage Lorne will probably not have success getting the person to come to a meeting, except maybe once out of curiosity (to be followed by non-attendance). To the extent that you are able to engage in continuing dialogue with the person, which is very good for him, your method should be Socratic and your goals should be to stir up the thinking and questioning processes. In Motivational Interviewing they call this “developing discrepancy.” It means, to help the person become more aware of the contradictions between what they believe they are doing and what they are actually doing, between their professed goals and their current actions – in other words, between their S and their A. Eventually, in time, if other circumstances are favorable, the person’s S will progress to the action stage.

I personally would not build my strategy for creating LifeRing meetings on the hope of attracting and retaining people who are in that pre-action stage of development. Coming and returning to a meeting, any meeting, is an ACTION. Recovery support meetings are created and sustained by people whose S has reached the action stage.

Desperately Need LifeRing Partners Meetings

This email came to the Service Center last week. It reflects exactly the content of a long string of telephone calls we have received from other people in different parts of the country.

I live in the Livermore area. I am a wife of an alcoholic who is currently in recovery with our Kaiser health plan. They do offer a family night once a week which I have attended, but after 12 weeks it starts over again. Do you have a support program for the spouses? I was not impressed with the Al-A-Non speaker we had at our group night, even the program directors apologized....it was just so far out there. I am looking for a support group without a religious factor, where I can go and discuss and learn from other folks in the same situation, how to live with a recovering alcoholic.
-- C.
We have numerous requests like this. We desperately need a convenor -- really, a lot of convenors -- to bring the LifeRing Partners concept down from the clouds and make it a reality on the ground. Where are you, you pioneering, enterprising, tenacious, creative people? Come forward!

LifeRing in Ireland

Convenor Dennis S., who has been working to establish LifeRing in Dublin, writes:
Two LifeRing meetings are in the process of forming in Dublin, Ireland. They both should be running by the end of August. One is in the community and is in a hospital setting. If you have any interest in participating, contact lifering.dublin.irl@gmail.com. As soon as final details are confirmed, an e-mail will be sent confirming date, time and location of both meetings.
He adds that one of the meeting locations applied for is at St Patrick's Hospital, historically the site where the first AA meeting in Ireland was founded.

LifeRing for Veterans

Dave R., a convenor who has been working to set up a LifeRing meeting at a Veterans Administration facility in San Francisco writes:
Before last week's meeting, [convenor] T__ and I had a 20-minute Q & A session with [program director] J__, a few VA staff members from departments connected with J__'s substance abuse program, and 2 resident interns.
All of these folks seemed genuinely interested in learning about LifeRing. T__ and I fielded a lot of questions about LifeRing as a whole, our approach to recovery, our meeting formats, and the similarities and differences between LifeRing and 12-step programs. Everyone seemed very engaged by what T__ and I had to say, and there wasn't a hint of (as AA puts it) "contempt prior to investigation".

The meeting itself went very well. The vets who attended (about 15 or so) were very enthusiastic about what LifeRing has to offer, to the point that they've already expressed the desire for a second weekly on-site meeting (J__ is also strongly supportive of this, and has already told me that she has a time slot or two where we could make that happen).
When I talked with J__ yesterday, she also said that one of the vets who attended our [VA facility meeting] had even made a point of getting himself over to one of our regular open S.F. meetings, liked what he found, and plans to go more often... and this guy is apparently a big 12-step advocate. Others had a lot of interest in the "outside" meetings as well; T__ and I will make sure to connect them with those resources.

One thing that became evident from the vets' questions, though: recovery plan-wise, they're probably looking for a bit more structure and guidance than the normal "how was your week" meeting format provides. Many of them wanted to know if we had anything similar to AA's Steps (and sponsorship), and in line with that, they expressed a lot of interest in what the workbook had to offer.
This might be one place where it would be helpful (if financially possible) to follow AA's lead and donate workbooks to the meeting. For one thing, most of these vets are essentially homeless and jobless, but the second consideration is that J__ did tell me that selling our workbooks in the [VA] facility may actually run afoul of some VA rules regarding "outside vendors".

And one final note: J__ said that she's planning to give a presentation on recovery options to one or more of the associated VA departments from which she gets treatment referrals. Her idea is to invite representatives from LifeRing, SMART, and AA, not as a debate type of thing, but rather an equal-time presentation of what each organization has to offer.
In any event- that's the news from the front! It's actually time for me to prepare for our second meeting this afternoon; I'll keep you posted!
It isn't surprising that LifeRing is getting a good reception from veterans. Several counselors from VA substance abuse programs in different parts of the country, whom I met at one or another professional conference in the past few years, have told me that combat experience drives people in different directions. Some become more religious and immerse themselves in religion like a hermetically sealed bubble. Others want nothing more to do with God stuff and look for realistic solutions that make sense.

When a government-run program like the VA pushes people into God-based treatment programs, it's a lawsuit waiting to happen. Federal courts have ruled repeately that the 12-step approaches are religious, for purposes of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and that government agencies have to give clients a choice between religious and secular programs. More info.

Notwithstanding the constitutional prohibition, government agencies have purchased trainloads of 12-step books and given them out free to substance abuse treatment clients. To the clients, it may seem that AA is giving the books away, but it's really the taxpayer's dime. We aren't privileged to see the ledgers of the publishing arm of AA World Services, but it's a fair estimate that a very substantial proportion of its revenues are from government subsidies.

LifeRing Press is a shoestring operation by comparison. There's no way that we can afford to give away books in quantity; not only the Press but the LifeRing Service Center as a whole would soon be out of business.

The best we can do right now is to start a special fund, Books for Vets. If you go to JustGive.org and make a donation, earmark it "Books for Vets," we'll credit it to the Vets' Book Fund, and we'll give free LifeRing books to vets that want it. Deal?

The San Francisco facility isn't the only place where LifeRing is connecting with veterans. Convenor Kevin B. writes:

Our Thursday afternoon meeting at the VA in San Bruno has been going well. It's not a huge facility and our most highly attended meeting had 10 people - we barely fit in the room. On the other hand we've had some great meetings with just 4 or 5 people. Instead of how was your week, we talked more about the deeper reasons why we drank or used or gambled. Dave, I know what you mean about the Vets being homeless and jobless. Coming to a meeting requires them to take a long bus ride, and they can barely scrape together the money for the fare. I've been trying to bring in the current military. They're a bit hesitant. They're young, they don't see angry drunken shenanigans as a problem and they're wary of the stigma of going to a meeting. Usually they'll only attend if they have to. Anyway, I'm continuing to put the word out and we're happy to have a slot at the VA.

This is all very good news. A few years ago, at the request of some veterans down on the Peninsula, we applied to the powers that be to start a LifeRing meeting at the VA facility in Palo Alto. They stonewalled us. Wouldn't answer letters or phone calls. Now the doors have opened a crack.

LifeRing in Marin County

Marin County, the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, has the highest per-capita income in California. Getting LifeRing started here has been a long, slow, pull. For years, we struggled to get and keep a foothold here.

Recently, something changed. Nobody really knows what. Maybe it's sunspots. In any event, this email came in from LifeRing convenor David F. last week:
Our three meetings have been getting larger and larger, so:

I have gotten another new meeting ready to start tomorrow and run on Tuesdays at the same location and time as our Wednesday meeting:

Kaiser Trailer 4
99 Montecillo Dr.
San Rafael, CA
6:30 pm
David Frey, convenor
wheelchair accessible
"How Was Your Week"
It's great news. Congratulations to the LifeRing convenors who have been facilitating the existing meetings. They must be doing something right. The word is spreading. Keep up the good work, folks!

Even the diehards long for something ...

A friend from Montreal writes:

Now I have received a phone call from D___ who is responsible for community activities such as the substance abuse program at the C___ who has arranged an "interview" on August 31 when she and other management personnel return from vacation. At that point I would be expected to explain LifeRing to the health professionals at the Quebec government run C___.

D ___ is already very impressed with the brochure and says I don't need to bring any other materials, she would very much like to have LifeRing at the C______ and finds it all the more interesting in that it would be new to Montreal. That's what she said when I told her somewhat sheepishly, that, well, I've never experienced LifeRing, personally, yet....except for that first rush of self-empowerment.

I have discussed the matter with 3 other friends from N.A. Virtually everyone who has read the brochure (the same one I was criticizing and picking apart) falls in love with LifeRing and asks me "where's the meeting, when's the meeting?" One of these friends requested more LifeRing literature, he's thirsty for more LifeRing literature. ...

Others suggest it would be quicker to just find some other venue, like some church basement somewhere. But I had it in mind to put down some solid roots. If it gets approval at the C___ I intend to approach the Referral Centre of Greater Montreal (which is funded by Centraide, sort of like Red Feather or United Appeal). To get a listing on the CRGM would mean there would finally be an alternative offered to people calling up there (I was referered to N.A. through the CRGM).

Marty, I need to know, what am I supposed to be doing now? Go on a convenor's blog? Wait until the final nod which won't be until the first week of September. (After D___, it goes to management).

So there are no less than 3 friends from N.A. my sponsor, and at least 3 employees of the C___ who are interested in attending the first LifeRing meeting. Not counting myself.

By the way my sponsor phoned up California and put me on the phone with Bob B., the oldest surviving member of N.A. whose own sponsor was Jimmy K. the founder of N.A. and I told Bob B. that I believed that freedom from the disease concept of addiction and self-empowerment were the wave of the future and he said "Make the most of what you have".

I somehow had the feeling that even diehards long for something unnamable that is out there.....that can't quite put their finger on it. By the way virtually all of these N.A. members, unlike myself have no gripes whatever with N.A., don't feel like 5th wheels everywhere, but are impressed with LifeRing just the same.

So I have to establish a time-line and start figuring out who does what. One of these people offered support and even to accompany me to the interview if this is a good idea. So, is it a good idea? He doesn't have access to the internet.

Any input would be appreciated as I have felt alone with all this "pipe dream" for a while now, and now it looks pretty close to getting done. The first meeting would be in English, from what I can see.

I've boldfaced the line, "even diehards long for something unnamable that is out there," because it expresses something that I'm hearing from other people in other places as well. I've mentioned in the previous blog post the phone call I got from a 20+ year AA member who read Empowering Your Sober Self and felt stirred to call up and get a LifeRing meeting started. This past week I got an almost identical phone call from the same state, same county. This caller had got Empowering Your Sober Self from his local library. He has spent the past four years in AA, and he was so motivated by his reading that he phoned to see if there was a LifeRing meeting nearby and, on being told there was not yet, enthusiastically volunteered to help get one started.

Listening to these voices, I get the impression that they feel a certain emptiness at the core of the 12-step approach, and although this feeling is unauthorized and implicitly subversive, and therefore must be repressed from consciousness, it nevertheless erupts to the surface, irrepressibly, in certain times and places.

As for the nuts-and-bolts questions of what to do until September -- well, September will be here very soon. There is quite a bit of reading that could be done in the interim. If people are in the mood, they could get together in a coffee shop and discuss the readings, and become acquainted with the LifeRing concept and format, so that by the time the flag is formally raised and the doors open to the public, there will be the beginnings of a core group.

Should you take another person to the interview? If the person is familiar with the LifeRing approach from reading, and makes a presentable impression, then by all means take them. Whenever possible, I always try to take at least one other person along when I go to an interview or give a talk; it helps me evaluate the session afterward, and it helps the person get familiar with the subject matter and become comfortable giving the talk next time, when called upon.