Monday, September 28, 2009

Another (unanswered) call for help to LifeRing Partners

Email received at the LifeRing Service Center today:

I am married to an alcoholic who is currently attending AA meetings and finds them helpful and fulfilling.  I am looking for ways to help myself heal emotionally and cope with her recovery; she strongly recommends Al-Anon, AA's companion organization for friends and loved ones, but I am uncomfortable with the 12-step format and the religious content.  LifeRing was, I believe, recommended by an acquaintance (it may have been my father-in-law, come to think of it) and looking over the website, the LifeRing Partners program sounds perfect for me.  Unfortunately, I'm not having any luck finding a schedule of LifeRing Partners meetings in the Northern California area.  Is one available, and if so, where might I find it?



Dear A:

A quick answer.  LifeRing Partners as of today is "all hat and no cattle."  Energy has been put into drafting a Statement of Principles (how nice!) but so far no one has stepped forward to actually organize anything. Sooner or later someone with the talent and tenacity to turn this concept into a living reality will appear.  Watch the website for announcements.   

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Full house for CAADAC LifeRing Training

The turnout of treatment professionals for my full day LifeRing training yesterday surpassed expectations.  More than 25 people squeezed into the conference room next to the Service Center in Oakland.  Some had come from as far as Sacramento for the six-hour session.  All except three, who were LifeRing convenors, were working in the addiction treatment field.

Peg Miller, a Vice-President of CAADAC and responsible for organizing trainings in CAADAC Region 4, which includes the Bay Area, organized the event, handled logistics, and awarded people their certificates of completion at the end.  LifeRing CFO Robert Stump organized coffee and pastries in the morning and helped set up the room. Service Center volunteer Lou A. assisted with room setup the previous day.

The program took six hours, not counting an hour for lunch.  During five of those hours, I presented a slide show of exactly 200 slides. Here's my outline:

An Introduction for Addiction Professionals
By Martin Nicolaus MA JD
CAADAC Region 4 Training
Sept. 19, 2009

• To understand basic facts about LifeRing
• To get how LifeRing works
• To pick up tools that can be used with clients
• To facilitate client involvement with LifeRing

Hour 1: Basic facts about LifeRing
• What is LifeRing?
• Where is LifeRing?
• Who goes to LifeRing?
• How is LifeRing organized?

Hour 2: The Three-S Philosophy
• Sobriety
• Secularity
• Self-Help

Hour 3: How LifeRing Works
• Empower Your Sober Self: A short overview
• In more depth:
o The Divided Self
o Horizontal Synergy
o Confrontation v. Support Strategies

Hour 4: The LifeRing Meeting Format
• Circle seating
• “How was your week?”
• Crosstalk
• Limits
• Aim: Living Room atmosphere
• Closing ritual: Round of applause
• Peer leadership
• Signup sheet -- basket

Hour 5: How people build Personal Recovery Programs (PRP)
Two Pathways to PRP
Through the “How Was Your Week” Meeting Format
“Random access”
Through the Recovery by Choice workbook
• Nine Domains (Work Areas)
• My Decision
o The A-S T-chart
• Domain 1: My Body
• Domain 4: My People
• Relapse Chapter
• Pulling the PRP Together
Result: Diversity of Programs
Pros and Cons of PRP

Closing Thoughts
• LifeRing is a Strength-Based Approach
• The Aim of LifeRing is Choice
o We need more pathways
o Choice should not be controversial
What can providers do?
Choice is good program policy
More choices = more recoveries

For more information:
  • – LifeRing, the organization
  • – LifeRing Press e-commerce store
  • LifeRing Service Center, 1440 Broadway, Ste. 312, Oakland 94612
  • 1-800-811-4142
P.S.  Today, Monday, Peg Miller kindly sent me the program evaluations (feedback sheets) filled out by participants at the end of the program.  Namely:

WORKSHOP EVALUATION (scale is 0-below satisfactory to 5-above satisfactory)

Your overall rating of subject matter:
•    20 5's
•    2 4's
Your overall rating of the trainer:
•    17 5's
•    5 4's
Your overall rating of the materials'handouts:
•    15 5's
•    4 4's
•    1 2
•    1 0 with comment (needed handouts--powerpoint printouts)
•    1 not marked--"handouts" circled followed by comment:  "sparse  hard to follow"
Your overall rating of the training/workshop: 
•    16 5's
•    6 4's
Your overall rating of the fees:
•    18 5's
•    3 4's
•    1 not marked and with comment:  "two days I went to training in NAPA... cost $75...$10 is nice"

Comments on this page:

Very good TR...affordable in very hard times
Educational, motivational in terms of realizing the need for choice.
Helped solidify what I had gleaned from the web site and publications
It was great!!!
Uncomfortable room
Enjoyed this training...learned a lot
Very interesting!
Excellent presentation   Very worthwhile
I am glad that I had a chance to learn more about the organization.
Most important point missed...we refer less to LR with clients because there are few, and we teach clients to stay connected to others, to stay sober.
I was surprised by how much I learned today.
Difficult to sit in these chairs in small room
Lots of good info... Some areas/topics were too lengthy--redundant.  Good program--Glad to see it growing in availability.

What did you learn today from Martin A. Nicolaus about LifeRing?
•    Three-S Recovery Philosophy; Strength-Based Sober Self Empowerment engine is positive practice of reinforcement; abstinence only is foundational; Personal Recovery Plans are highly individualized through support mtgs plus workbook; able to combine with variety of the models
•    Choise is best...many different paths
•    LifeRing is truly secular; LifeRing offers a choice other than faith based or 12 step; LifeRing emphasizes empowerment and positive reinforcement of the individual
•    A lot.  Ways I can improve the program I work for by LifeRing tech and beliefs.
•    Many interesting things, among others personal recovery plan, that I found very powerful tool in recovery.
•    The S & A model for recovery and how it works through reinforcement.  That all "personalities" are equally capable to become addicted.
•    It is focused on building on strengths of the individual--provides a choice--Personal Recovery Plan.
•    Lots--the choice factor; the love--feeding the S; forgive me--I'm way too tired and burnt to say more, but I got so much out of it.
•    Philosophy and history of LifeRing.  I am a convenor.
•    How to get treatment programs to mention LifeRing as a group option.
•    That it mirrors my thinking about Treatment Approaches.
•    We have another option
•    Focus on individual treatment.
•    The client is instrumental in his own recovery if given the opportunity.
•    Secular spirituality--support sober self.
•    There is an alternative approach to group support other than NA/AA.
•    Friend.
•    Lots!  I knew nothing of LifeRing.
•    The PRP program.
•    Philosophy...mtg structure.
•    It gives clients more of a choice.
How will you incorporate this information into your practice as a drug and alcohol counselor personally and in the agency you work in?
•    Philosophy and concepts (client choice, strength based, flexible treatment and support options);  Skills--workbook exercises--alt. HWYW support mtg formats.
•    Continue with MET, RET  use LifeRing principles in class, educate staff, talk with LifeRing meetings as Option more.
•    By A--facilitating myself with the visual and cognitive tools and use them in 1 on 1 sessions and groups; B--suggest to agency to use LifeRing possibily in continuing care program.
•    Investigating L.R. for and in my own recovery.  The applying LR to the program.
•    I will use the point that the patient takes responsibility for his own recovery more than I did before.  I would share todays experience with coworkers.
•    The strengthening of each individual will be the focus.  And shifting the focus from flaws to what they are capable of and what they find works for them.
•    Help clients and staff understand the nature of building up the sober self through the interchange bewteen people--focusing on here and now
•    I bought the work book--I'm sure I'll use it next week!
•    My meetings will have an enriched meaning due to the workshop today.
•    Refer
•    I will introduce the information about LifeRing to my director.
•    Gives me encouragement to do more research on the subject.
•    Already do--offer as a choice of support group.
•    I hope to start a group for teens.
•    Present client with choices...give basic info about LifeRing.
•    Working more with clients to focus on a personal service plan.
•    Plan to discuss implementation of LifeRing on the approval by my Program Director.
•    Consider choice.
•    LifeRing used to do presentations at NCADA...can do again.
•    Not in field.
•    I am a convenor.
How can you contribute this material to your fellow counselors?
•    Educate and consult re: LifeRing as resource; inputs to program policy and planning; follow ups to stay current on related research
•    In community meeting; 1 on 1 discuss content
•    Familiarizing myself with the materials and sharing them at staff mtgs.
•    Word of mouth.  Introducing things from work book into our program.
•    Through LifeRing Website.
•    Case conferencing, loaning my materials and discussing the information.
•    Not sure yet.
•    I will discuss the information with other convenors ASAP (any who were not present)
•    Talk about it
•    Sharing interaction.  Communicating presentation ideas.
•    Tell them to check it out.
•    Already do.
•    Do presentation.
•    Share information, go to LifeRing meeting, go to web site; present it in Case Conference.
•    Staff Meeting.
•    Discuss this training with them.
•    Shared information.
To your clients?
•    Client info and materials re: LifeRing; use workbook exercises--ind, and group; Encourage ? families LifeRing
•    Will use stuff from workbooks; agian, refer as much to LR as AA
•    Sharing the ideas learned; by continually recognizing the sober person living inside my clients
•    Introducing things from workbook into our program--word of mouth.
•    Refer them to the closest meeting place and website.
•    The strengthening of each individual will be the focus.  And shifting the focus from flaws to what they are csapable of and what they find works for them.
•    Plan to start a LifeRing group and turn it over to a group member eventually.
•    Pamphlets of where meetings are and the workbook.
•    NA
•    None yet.
•    Continue letting them know there is no one road or treatment towards recovery.
•    Give them another option.
•    Give them choice at intake.
•    Do a presentation.
•    Incorporate LifeRing materials to practice.
•    One on one sessions.
•    Paroles/State prison
•    Consider choice.
•    Shared info.


P.S. 9/28/09:  I've posted the PowerPoint at workshop.ppt -- just the slides, no sound track.  When I get time I hope to create a sound track and make a Flash video (or a series of them) based on this presentation. -- MN

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A veteran counselor speaks

This email came in to the LifeRing Service Center today:
I am a 54 year old recovering alcoholic, 25 years sober today actually.  I've read Martin's book [Empowering Your Sober Self] and am very excited.  I am a licensed alcohol counselor in practice for 17 years and my experience is that about 60% or more of clients DO NOT want anything to do with AA.  For all the reasons that Martin cites.
I've always wanted to do something for the community (vs. for my own practice/income) and I think starting LifeRing in this area is the ticket.  I'd like to know how to get started.  I've got a place to hold the meeting, for up to about 12 or so.  After it gets bigger I can deal with finding a bigger place.  This is a VERY rural area so even AA meetings hover around 6 to 18 very seldom going over 25.  But I'm sure there is a hunger for some alternative to "the 12 steps" in addiction recovery around here and I'd like to get a meeting off the ground.  There are no [alternative] meetings even close to here.  ...
Please let me know how to start and what help is available from your organization.  I've read Empowering Your Sober Self and have the workbook on order.
The book that this writer probably needs most immediately is How Was Your Week?  That's version 1.0 of a handbook for LifeRing convenors (meeting starters and meeting facilitators).  A key chapter, dealing with how to start meetings in new locations, is online free here.  More information about available resources is on the Meeting Starter page of  I wish the writer the very best of success in starting LifeRing in his neck of the woods, and congratulations on 25 years clean and sober!  

Saturday, September 5, 2009

LifeRing at St. Patrick's Hospital, Dublin

The second LifeRing meeting in Ireland will open Oct. 8, at St. Patrick's Hospital in Dublin, founding convenor Dennis S. has announced.  The meeting will at first be limited to hospital residents only.

Permission from hospital authorities to open the meeting came after Dennis submitted LifeRing print materials and spoke personally with clinical staff members.  

St. Patrick's is a private non-profit mental hospital that prides itself on its up-to-date methods and facilities.  It is also a very historic place, having been founded in 1745 by a grant from the great English satirist Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels), who left his estate to found a hospital "for fools and mad."  It was the first mental hospital in Ireland and is one of the  oldest in the world.  More.

The hospital is Ireland's largest independent mental health service provider.  Besides clinical services, it promotes mental health education and is an advocate for the rights of the mentally ill.

St. Patrick's was also the site of the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Ireland.

Second LifeRing at MPI

Merritt Peralta Institute is the oldest adult residential addiction treatment facility on the West Coast.  If you had any doubts about its treatment philosophy, the wall-size framed poster of the 12 steps, with letters 3 inches high, opposite the reception desk, removed them. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the 21st century, in March 2000, after three LifeRing presentations to staff and patients, and a prolonged soul-searching, the facility allowed the first LifeRing meeting onto its premises.  I had the honor of being one of the founding convenors, and this was my regular Wednesday night meeting for about three years.

MPI was also the second treatment program where patients got a choice between the LifeRing meeting and a 12-step meeting  on site in the same time slot (Kaiser Oakland was the first).  At the appointed hour, a counselor takes to the PA system and advises clients that they have a choice of AA in Room x and LifeRing in Room y. The LifeRing meeting usually holds up very well in that setting.  When I was the convenor, there were a couple of nights when no one came, but quite a few nights when everyone came, either because the AA speaker failed to show up or because the clients had quite enough of AA for the day, thank you.  On the average, the LifeRing meeting drew about a third to a half of the program's census when I was present.  I hear from John D., who has been convening this meeting for some time now, with help from Rick K., that the attendance has picked up from that ratio, and that the room is usually pretty full now.  So I should not have been surprised to get a call from one of the staff counselors two weeks ago asking for a second LifeRing meeting to be established at MPI, please.

This is the new reality for LifeRing.  Ten years ago we would knock and knock on the doors of treatment programs like MPI and the doors would get slammed in our faces.  We had convenors ready to lead meetings, but no rooms or referral sources.  Today, we get phone calls from treatment programs asking us to start a LifeRing meeting, or another LifeRing meeting, please.

Luckily, I quickly found not just one but two LifeRing regulars with the requisite six-months-or-more sober who are ready, willing and able to convene this new meeting.  They are Rick B. and Jon M.  We'll be launching the new Tuesday evening meeting at MPI this coming week, day after Labor Day, at 8:30 p.m.  

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What If There Were LifeRing Treatment?

Quite a few recovering people in various treatment programs have expressed the wish that LifeRing filled more than an hour in their week.  The desire for "more LifeRing" is especially strongly felt in programs where the other hours consist of heavy-duty 12-step lectures and meetings. 

Of course, there is no such thing as a LifeRing treatment program, and there probably oughtn't to be.  We are a peer-to-peer support group, and should always remain that.  So much of our fundamental approach is premised on horizontal support dynamics that the introduction of vertical relationships -- inevitable in today's insurance-dominated treatment settings -- would bring about wrenching distortions.  Still, wouldn't it be liberating if today's treatment professionals saw their role as not only facilitating 12-step involvement but also facilitating LifeRing involvement?  Whatever works best for the client?

For treatment professionals in Northern California, an opportunity to learn the basics of LifeRing is coming on Saturday, Sept. 19.  Thanks to sponsorship by CAADAC, the California association of addiction professionals, I'll be presenting an all-day workshop at the LifeRing Service Center in downtown Oakland.  I'll be selecting material from Empowering Your Sober Self (my new book), from the Recovery by Choice workbook, from How Was Your Week (our convenor handbook) and from other sources.  This six-hour program is aimed at treatment professionals, and six hours of Continuing Education credit, plus an hour of Professional Development credit, are offered.  However, space permitting, any interested person, including of course any LifeRing participant, is welcome to take part.  It only costs $10.

Here's a page with details about the venue, parking, meals, etc.  Hope to see you there!

Choice is the Law: Forthcoming Article

The October issue of Counselor magazine, the premier monthly journal of addiction professionals, will include an article I wrote about a recent federal court decision that requires a secular option in coerced treatment settings.

I reported on this court decision -- Inouye v. Kemna -- in a talk to the 2008 CAADAC conference, and there is an informal video and a slide show of the presentation on the LifeRing website, here.  But the upcoming Counselor magazine article is the first print coverage of this important federal court decision, and of its precedents, in a nationally distributed medium read by addiction professionals.

The court decision says, in a nutshell, that criminal justice officers and addiction treatment professionals in a government setting should be aware by now that they cannot force clients into 12-step treatment or support groups over their objection, but must provide secular alternatives; and if they do coerce clients into 12-step, they and their agencies can be sued for money damages.

Better Early Than Never -- LifeRing Meeting at Counselor Conference

For the first time ever, the annual conference of the California Association of Addiction Professionals (CAADAC) will include a LifeRing meeting.  The group's annual conferences traditionally have featured 12-step meetings at the start or end of the day.  This year a LifeRing meeting will also be offered, namely on Friday, October 2.  The time:  7 a.m.  The place: The Rancho Cordova Marriott in Rancho Cordova, suburb of Sacramento, California.  You do not have to be registered for the conference to participate in this meeting.

A LifeRing exhibit table (paid for by supporters of LifeRing) will be at the conference also during meeting hours, 8:30 am to about 6 pm. 

New LifeRing Canada Website

Convenor and LifeRing Board Member Michael Walsh from Victoria BC has launched a prototype of the first LifeRing Canada website at

Note among other things the nifty Canada version of the LifeRing logo, the bilingual organizational name on the Contacts page ("LifeRing -- societe canadienne de retablissement laique") and the printed local meeting schedule here -- the first printed local schedule outside Northern California.

A very nice start!  Congratulations Michael and the whole Canada group who are making this possible.  Credit especially local member Patrick who designed the site.  We look forward to seeing LifeRing Canada grow in all the other provinces and territories.  And, not coincidentally, note that the first LifeRing in Quebec is now under construction and will be opening its doors, it is hoped, very shortly.

Using Craigslist to Get the Word Out

Convenor David F. in San Rafael California has been using Craigslist to get out the word about the LifeRing meetings in Marin County.  Here is a PDF download of a recent item.  Because Craigslist automatically deletes notices after seven days, you have to stay on top of it and repost the notice regularly.

Notice the introduction, describing what we do, what our basic philosophy is, key points of our meeting format, all in easy-to-understand language and in a few words.  It concludes with links for the reader who wants to know more.  Meeting locations are hyperlinked to maps for easy access. 

This is a tool for helping meetings grow that can be used anywhere there's Craigslist.  Does it work?  Well, the meetings in Marin County have been growing. And it's free.