Monday, July 26, 2010

Report from Hawaii

Now I've had a chance to dig out from under the backlog and the frontlog that piled up while I was in Hawaii, I'm going to take a few minutes and jot down a report and some memories, and post some photos.

The main purpose of this trip was to try to get LifeRing started in Hawaii. To do that we needed someone or someones in Hawaii to come up with the airfare and hotel. Would you believe it took almost two years to get that done?

The principal engineers were Lorraine Robinson, head of a women's prisoner re-entry program; Eddie Merseneaux, head of a North Shore recovery program; and Bernie Strand, representing Access to Recovery (ATR), a federally funded granting and training council.  In this team, Lorraine was the sparkplug, Eddie was the engine, and Bernie was the fuel pump -- she found and moved the money.  Here's me with Lorraine, photo above.  Lorraine's program is called Ka Hale Ho‘ala Hou No Na Wahine-- Hawaiian for The Home of Reawakening for Women. More about that later.

My main job was to do an all-day workshop explaining LifeRing to treatment professionals.  Even though this had been talked about for many months, the authorization for the money didn't get cleared until three weeks before the date of the workshop.  I was a bit concerned that there might not be much of a crowd, with so little time to prepare.  But Lorraine and Eddie and Bernie each turned out their staffs and their contacts, and Eddie's email blast hit just about every addiction and mental health professional on the island -- an impressive list. It also helped that the island of Oahu is not all that big, and almost everybody knows almost everybody.  Result: the conference room was full up with 50 people, all but one being staff at one or another treatment agency.  

Some very senior people attended, including the counselor who heads all substance abuse training in the State of Hawaii; at least one psychiatrist medical director; and a lot of younger staff as well.  Here's a photo of me with Eddie.

We met in a kind of unusual location: the conference room of Hilo Hattie's, probably the leading vendor of all things Hawaiian in Honolulu.  You wandered to the conference room through aisles and aisles loaded with Aloha shirts and every other conceivable item of Hawaiian merchandise, and soft hula music wafted in the background.  That was lovely and very relaxing, but there was a downside.  The conference room walls didn't reach to the ceiling; they were just partitions.  Moreover, there was another conference room directly to one side, where another program was going on.  And after lunch, a hula class began on the other side. But the price of the room was right!  Luckily, I have a robust set of vocal cords, so that even after the microphone gave out, which it did, I was able to reach the back rows without too much trouble.

I started the program by asking people to identify themselves and say why they were here, and I was struck by how closely these folks followed the consensus of other treatment professionals I had met at conferences such as NAADAC, CAADAC, and APA (search this blog for those acronyms for details).  That is, they all had clients who were willing to do recovery, but the 12-step approach was not their cup of tea.  They were looking for additional tools, choices, to offer their clients. OK, that's why I was there. Hilo Hattie's provided a nice big flatscreen TV on which to run my PowerPoint, and I presented a somewhat modified and expanded version of the 200-slide workshop I had given previously to two different CAADAC audiences in Oakland and in Sacramento.  You can download the original version from here.

At lunch, we had a prominent guest speaker, Gary Hooser (right), the outgoing majority leader of the Hawaii state senate and candidate for Hawaii lieutenant governor. I had the privilege of being introduced to Gary before his talk, and gave him a LifeRing lapel pin, which he wore during his talk. He spoke mostly about political realities in general, but also disclosed that his father was an alcoholic and his brother was a drug addict, so he knew something about the topic of our concern.  I've met a number of politicians in my time but I thought Gary was rather special in his frankness, directness, and courage.

After lunch, I started off by showing the 1 min 37 second Flash animation of how LifeRing works (here).  I'd not had the chance to test this with a live audience before.  It was fun to switch back and forth between the screen and audience faces to gauge the reaction. Somebody important once said that the measure of a good idea was whether you could explain it in 30 seconds as well as in 3 days, and I like to think that the LifeRing idea is passing that test, at least on the short side.  On the long side, both Eddie and some other listeners felt at the end of the day's presentation that there had been enough material presented for three days, and encouraged me to prepare a longer workshop. I have to agree; I barely scratched the surface of the Recovery by Choice workbook, for example, and never touched on some of the issues in the later chapters of Empowering Your Sober Self. There were some great questions asked. BernieStrand asked a brilliant one, namely whether it made sense to talk about building a Personal Recovery Program with a person on day one of their recovery, in view of the presence of cognitive distortions, etc.  I could have spent an hour on that one alone.  Here's a photo of Bernie and me, to the right.  A longer workshop format would leave time for more audience participation, breakouts, demonstrations, one-on-ones, and the like.  So, that's for the future.

After the day's workshop, Lorraine took me to her program for a short visit, and I got a chance to meet three of the residents.  Lorraine's program is a six-month residential program that helps women who have been released from state prison on parole to try to reintegrate into the community.  I got a lucky break there.  One of the women, M., told the story of her job interview earlier in the day, when she was turned down because of her felony rap.  She said that on the bus ride afterward, her mind was a battleground between part of her that wanted to say "f*ck it" and get drunk and go back to prison, and the other part that boosted her courage and urged her to hang in (she did).

The next day, Lorraine invited me to give a short talk to her program residents, and then lead them in a LifeRing meeting.  We met on plastic patio chairs under a canvas awning in the parking lot that forms the internal courtyard of the program.  I had given a few LifeRing talks to parolees, but never to an all-women group, and I mentally listed about 10 different ways that I could screw it up. I chose to use M.'s story about her mental battle after the job interview as the boat on which to sail into my talk about the A and the S and about empowering your sober self.  That was a happy approach, and after I had finished my introduction, I started the round of "How Was Your Week?" to my left and sat back to watch. The residents took to the format like ducks to water. It took just a tiny nudge to start the crosstalk, and I was treated to a phenomenally excellent LifeRing meeting, with the women giving each other support all across the circle.  The sun set and we had a few showers as the meeting went on. We spent two hours going around, and I worried that fatigue and short tempers would set in, but no need.  The engaged body language and the animated facial expressions of the women sustained the session until we were all the way around the circle.  We then broke for refreshments, prepared by the residents, and I got excellent one-on-one feedback from several of the women, who contrasted the LifeRing approach positively with other kinds of meetings they had attended.

An evaluation survey filled out by the residents the next day gave LifeRing very high marks; I'm going to post that separately.  There was strong support for having the LifeRing meeting at this facility once a week.  One of the guests at this meeting was a counselor from a related program, who volunteered to be the convenor.  Plans were laid to transition the meeting to an outside location, where nonresidents of Lorraine's program could join in.

That was the end of my LifeRing business in Hawaii, but I had planned to stay for the weekend and do some R&R. After all, it's Hawaii. My new friends were exemplary in their Aloha spirit, driving me literally all around the island to see the beautiful beaches and other sights.  I also got to eat poi, the traditional Hawaiian dish, which tasted like lightly grape flavored ice cream (not at all like library paste, as I'd been warned).  Hawaiians are legendary for hospitality, and my friends were shining embodiments of that legend.  I took a ton of pictures (like these plumerias), which I will post somewhere when I get the time, and I have a head full of wonderful memories.

Well, working to get LifeRing started in Hawaii was a tough assignment, but somebody had to do it.  LOL.

P.S.  I just heard from Rachaell at the Service Center that a Hawaii agency has ordered more than 100 LifeRing books.  That's a good sign.  Lots of people told me they wanted to help LifeRing get started in Hawaii, but one never knows how serious it is until they cut the check.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Denver (Finale)

Sunday morning opened without a cloud in the brilliant blue sky.  The Unitarian church being busy with services, our LifeRing group convened in a community center next to Cheesman Park, as we did in 2007.  Immediately the contrast with three years ago was obvious.  In 2007, the whole body met around a modest conference table.  This time we needed a conference room with a head table and classroom seating.  This session, known formally as the Delegates' Assembly, is composed of LifeRing participants who have been selected as delegates by their meetings.  The basic rule is that each meeting (face-to-face or online) gets to select one delegate, who has one vote in the Assembly.

Tim S. from Tucson acted as Secretary to the session, and his Minutes will give a comprehensive report.  I'll just give a short synopsis.  The group approved the Minutes of last year's Delegates' Assembly.  We then heard the Treasurer's report, by LifeRing CFO Robert Stump.  This led to discussion of how LifeRing handles money; the report was approved unanimously.  LifeRing Office Administrator Rachaell C., the only person doing LifeRing work who is paid (as a contractor on part-time hours), then presented information about the role of the LifeRing Service Center in Oakland.  I then presented the Annual Report, which, after discussion, was also approved unanimously.  I then yielded the chair to Craig Whalley, a leading member of the Expansion Committee, who presented the Expansion Committee proposals.  These proposals had been worked out over the course of six months with input from a wide variety of stakeholders.  They were then published and publicized widely (we even had a YouTube video) for comment.  In view of the deliberate and transparent process that had preceded them, these wide-ranging proposals aroused no deep controversy at the meeting.  The labels of some of the newly created leadership positions were amended, and then the whole package was adopted without abstention or dissent, giving rise to a burst of applause from the group.  As it happened, I was the only person present who had also attended the LifeRing founding Congress in 2001.  This session had the same enthusiastic and energized atmosphere.

After a short humorous side-show, of which more below, we went on to the elections for the Board of Directors.  There were three vacancies, and three candidates, so this was not a complicated affair.  Craig Whalley, a former member of the Board of Directors, was elected back to the board.  Joe M. of San Francisco and Tom J. of Denver joined the Board for the first time.  Tim's minutes will give more details.  After an expression of thanks to the Congress organizers, the group adjourned for a short break.  Then the newly elected Board of Directors met for the very important business of filling the newly created leadership slots with people.  Thanks to Steve S. for this portrait of the new board.

Since this was my last appearance as CEO of LifeRing, I was the subject of repeated honorifics.  At the Saturday session, the Board presented me with a full-size functional life ring fitted with brass plaques containing words of thanks (photo above, thanks to Steve S). At the dinner, I was awarded a nautical clock with a lifering motif and more messages of appreciation (photo right, by Steve S).  At the Assembly, LifeRing participant Shauna W., a classmate of mine at Boalt Hall School of Law, Class of '86, had me and the group in stitches with a roast embroidering on some of my radical activities of the 1960s and 1970s, including a fantastic post by somebody on a forum somewhere in 2001 claiming that I had disappeared into the jungles of Brazil with a guerrilla army.  I squirmed and loved it.

While the newly elected Board met to do the heavy lifting of dividing up the workload, I seized my new freedom and went for a long walk in the park and a visit to Denver's top-notch Botanical Garden (photo of prize-winning roses, above).  I got a bit of a tan and returned to the meeting site just in time to help Kathleen G., the hard-working main organizer of the event, turn off the lights and close the doors.  I learned that Craig Whalley (photo, right) had been elected Executive Director of LifeRing (the CEO position has been retired) and that most of the other new positions have also been filled.  Craig is a wonderful person, whom I have known for many years, and he has my full support.  Pouring my energies into LifeRing as founder and CEO for the past thirteen years has been a wonderful and rewarding experience for me.  I'm proud as heck that the network has now grown both in size and in talent to the point where I can hand over the leadership to others.

I'll still be working on the new website for a while, and I've got some unfinished LifeRing writing projects in my hopper, and of course I'll still be attending (and probably convening) a meeting or two, and blogging, and a bit of traveling and speaking as author.  But first, a break. Did I mention that the World Cup is starting at the end of this week?  What perfect timing.

Website Redesign Underway

A brand-new LifeRing website is under construction.  You'll see a new, cleaner, and more attractive design, with  up-to-date web functionality, based on an up-to-the minute web platform, WordPress 3.0.  All of the core content of the current website will be preserved as pages on the new site; some of it as-is, some with reformatting or other edits.  Some of the content will be reshaped into blog posts, retrievable through categories and tags.  Some of the content will drop away.  

What content will drop away? It's largely up to you.  Content will drop away if (a) the pages get a low number of hits and especially if (b) no one maintains and updates the content.  Among the top candidates for obsolescence are:
  • The Gallery
  • The Humor Page
  • Keepers
  • Lawyer's LifeRing
  • Music
  • Recreation
  • Science
Selected content from some of these pages will become blog posts.  But the pages themselves will disappear, unless someone steps forward and pledges to maintain them. 

Stay tuned for further updates.  The new website is scheduled for unveiling by the end of this month.  I will stay on as webmaster until about the middle of August to make sure that the new site is running smoothly and in good condition to hand over to my successor.  -- Marty N.  

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Denver (2)

Bill Staudenmeier is a soft-spoken man.  You could see yourself in a room with him, one on one, pouring out your troubles, and having him ask questions, ever so softly, that cut right to the heart of your issue.  In the  crowded auditorium of the second floor of the Unitarian Church in Denver, Bill had to raise his voice to be heard. His topic: mindfulness.  Bill had us sit with our feet square on the floor, back straight, shoulders relaxed, eyes either closed or in soft focus (easy for me, just had to take off the glasses), and become aware of our body, limb by limb, our breath, our vision.  What I got is that mindfulness is an exercise, or a set of exercises, where we become quiet and, well, mindful of our bodies.  This helps relax us, dissipates stress, gives the speeding mind a rest.  And there's more.  It's not only an exercise, it's a  mental tool that you can take with you and use in a great variety of situations.  For example, when you're in the presence of "your" drug, and you're experiencing a craving, the mindless thing to do is grab the drug and put it in your body.  The mindful thing is to say, "Ah, I'm in the presence of this drug and I'm being triggered and I'm experiencing a craving.  How boring! Well, soon this feeling will be over and there'll be something else more interesting to draw my attention."  Mindfulness generates a calm inner observer that gives us distance and cool in the presence of emotional barking dogs.  And there's more.  Mindfulness is not only a meditation exercise and a tool for self-government, it's a philosophy for being in the world.  If we are mindful of ourselves and of our relationship with other beings and things, we are likely to be more truthful, more kind, and more fair in our behavior.  And that's a good thing.  Many people in LifeRing are interested in broader life guidance and philosophy issues -- what does it all mean? -- and Bill Staudenmeier's introductory exposition pointed toward an entirely secular, soft-spoken, and spiritually enlightened body of thought.  In keeping with his motto of speaking kindly, Bill also said some kind things about my book, Empowering Your Sober Self, for which I am grateful. Bill's talk got a special lift at times from the huge round stained glass window that formed his background.  This being a Unitarian church, the window's motifs consisted of flowers, jewels, feathers, and other non-religious designs; nevertheless, as Bill spoke in his calm, thoughtful manner, occasionally it seemed as if a halo had materialized approvingly around his head.  See photo, above.

Candice Shelby, the next speaker, comes from several generations of drunks, which did not prevent her from becoming a professor of philosophy, which she is.  Her interest in addiction was piqued by the dawning awareness that philosophers, by and large, didn't know the first thing about it.  Candice spoke in an edgy, animated tone, with endearing wisecracks and asides that let you know she knew some things about addiction from personal experience.  She made well-deserved fun of rationalist theories of addiction (theories that deny that addiction is real and see addictive behavior as a rational choice).  Her battle with the philosophers ultimately led her to look for answers in the neurobiology of the brain.  She spent a couple of years  acquiring the equivalent of a second Phd, as she put it, in the subject.  She took us onto a tour of the human brain: neurons, axons, neocortex, limbic system, amygdala, dopamine, and all that. She showed that some of the addicted persons' response to triggers, and some relapse mechanisms, are not conscious and not within the rational framework; that emotions are faster and more powerful than rational thinking, and that people sometimes truthfully do not have a clue why they did what they did. All in all, if I were a rationalist, Adam-Smithian philosopher, I might have felt crushed by the onslaught of neuropsychological research findings that Candice marshaled. I have read a number of neurobiological explanations of addiction, particularly those trotted out to clients in treatment programs to prepare the clients for step one, and Candice's was definitely one of the best informed, better than that of some medical doctors, and far more lively and witty.  But it had some of the same limitations.  The standard program lecture on neurobiology of addiction typically builds up the power of addiction to such an extent that it becomes quite incomprehensible how and why many people are nevertheless able to shake off their addiction and get free.  What is the neurobiological basis of recovery?  Candice's talk, perhaps because her time was up before she could finish her prepared text, left this issue unexplored.  It would be interesting in a future LifeRing event to hear her lively analytical mind present the results of her study of the brain's inherent powers of recovery.  

After lunch -- on our own in an area of Denver with quite a few choices of restaurants -- we reconvened in the cooler downstairs room of the church, and heard a short presentation by Anne Hatcher with ideas toward building a LifeRing Partners group.  Hatcher, a veteran counselor and teacher with a formidable list of credentials and affiliations, is a plain-spoken, empathetic person.  Among the points of her talk that stuck with me was that the people in a relationship with an addicted person often find themselves adapting to the addicted person.  This, of course, tends to reinforce the addiction, requiring further adaptations, and so on in a vicious spiral.  The conduct that Anne has seen work is for the partners to put their own priorities first, and force the addicted person either to adapt to that, or be left alone.  Anne would like to see a LifeRing Partners group come into being.  She left us with some handouts that I will be posting shortly.  

Next came a convenor workshop, led by Dru B. of Union City CA, where Dru convenes a highly successful Friday evening meeting at the Kaiser Chemical Dependency Recovery Program.  The meeting is remarkable in that it has had a consistently good attendance, averaging about 25 in the past year, despite the fact that it commences hours after the treatment program's schedule is over and everyone has gone home.  It's also remarkable in that it is a success story in a time slot where most other meetings have not done well.  Dru runs a standard format, How Was Your Week?, and has created an atmosphere where there is lots of cross talk with people engaging one another.  The workshop session also featured presentations by Mona H. of Connecticut, focused on meetings by conference telephone; by Lynn C. of Sacramento, describing recent developments in the LifeRing chat rooms, and by Lloyd E., describing the workbook study format he has been developing in his study group at the Kaiser CDRP in Oakland. He too has developed additional material for posting.

The afternoon closed with a brief presentation of the Expansion Committee Report by Craig W., Kathleen G., Lauretta M., and Carola Z., leading members of the working body that was formed at last year's Congress to engineer the transition of LifeRing from its founder to a new generation of leaders.  As the Expansion Committee proposals had been thoroughly ventilated and publicized for months both by mail and by electronic media, there was very little discussion at this session.  Except for the fact that this was not a Congress session but just a workshop, it would have been adopted by consensus voice vote then and there.  

Dinner that evening not only satisfied the belly, it demonstrated the growth of LifeRing in Denver.  At our last annual meeting in Denver three years ago, everyone fit around a single table.  This time it took four tables to hold the group, more than the restaurant could accommodate in its separate dining room, so we ate in the main room.  It was also delightful and reassuring to see that the average age around the tables was probably  ten or 15, maybe 20, years younger than at the last occasion.

I had the pleasure during the dinner to award the annual LifeRing Pioneer certificates.  The award goes to LifeRing participants, usually convenors, who push the envelope in a good way, for example, by starting a new meeting, or a new online venue, or performing some other service that helps the organization move forward.  The number of awardees was at an all-time high.  The certificates this year took their graphic theme from the plaque mounted on the Pioneer 10 spacecraft.  A few small modifications enhanced NASA's original design for our purposes; see image.

(To be continued)

No Snow in Denver

Is there still snow on the ground in Denver?  I wondered when getting ready to pack my suitcase for the trip to the LifeRing Congress.  A quick check online showed not only the absence of snow, but the presence of a heat wave.  So I packed shorts.  When I got into Denver, it turned out that the predicted 85 degrees was on the low side.  A sign outside a bank in downtown Denver at about 3 in the afternoon said 90, and Jim R.'s car said the temperature on the asphalt was 102.  Denver was in full bloom, with roses and bearded iris and other flowers making a spectacular show on the streets near the Congress venue, see photo.

The Denver LifeRing regulars have their act together.  Kathleen Gargan and Tom J. had a LifeRing banner up outside the Unitarian Church at 14th and Lafayette by midafternoon Friday.  Tom, who broke his right arm when he fell off a chair trying to hang the banner at last year's Congress in Berkeley, stayed on solid ground for the banner hanging exercise this time.  (See photo.)  Despite Kathleen's vintage Volvo shutting down with vapor lock on the way back from the airport after picking up Mona H., who was coming in from New York, everything was in place for the evening's reception.  I got to meet Phil S., a Denver regular with whom I'd only corresponded via email, as well as Bonnie and Jim and Lokken and Kirk and Anna and other Denver LifeRing participants.  It was clear that Denver LifeRing has grown significantly.  I also had the privilege of chatting for a while with Anne Hatcher, a veteran addictions counselor and teacher in Denver, and we discovered that we shared a common friend in Bill White, the author of Slaying the Dragon, the excellent history book.
Michael Walsh and Adam H. drove in from Victoria BC, an amazing scenic trek through the Northwest.  Jim R. and Karen I. as well as Dru B. drove in from Oakland.  Mary S. came in from Albuquerque, and showed off her spectacular custom-made sobriety bracelet with a gold life ring (see photo).  Andy R. got in his car at 2 pm Friday in Wichita and drove in one shift to Denver, arriving around 10 pm.  Others flew in airplanes.  By the next morning, when the Expo program began, the upstairs auditorium of the Unitarian church, with its gorgeous stained glass window, was just about full.

(To be continued).

Monday, May 24, 2010

From Little Acorns Grow ...

James McS.  posted the following on the Aardvarkian Tales blog, and graciously gave me permission to reprint it here:

It all started in a dining room of a house in north County Dublin. Present and correct were two men, two women and two dogs. I can’t speak for the dogs but I know for a fact that the four humans were (and are) recovering addicts, mainly alcoholics but there was some drug abuse, too.
LifeRing had arrived in Ireland.
Tonight, in St. Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, we had two groups of 19 people, each recovering (or hoping to recover) from whatever their drug of choice happens to be. People from all walks of life, looking for hope, support, and camaraderie. The St. Patrick’s group is one of three active meetings in Dublin. The other two are located at the Methodist Mission on Abbey Street, and the Stanhope Street Alcohol Treatment Centre. The last piece of the jigsaw, St. John of God’s Hospital, will fall into place within the next month or two.
LifeRing has arrived in Ireland.
It’s a recovery program without a program. By this I mean there are no Steps, no Higher Power, no powerlessness over our addiction. The choice to whether or not drink or use is put in our hands. We alone are responsible for picking up a drink or drug. End of story. Sure, we’re powerless once we do — that much is obvious — but if we chose not to, that choice empowers us. That, in essence, is what LifeRing is all about. We keep it secular and leave our Higher Power (if we have one) outside the room until we leave. We chat to each other, we cross-talk, we laugh, cry, but ultimately we’re all about positivity. Our “drunk-a-logues” and “drug-a-logues” are a thing of the past. Our “war stories” remain just that — stories. We talk sobriety in the here and now. We ask each other: “How was your week in sobriety?”
It is an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous and its Twelve Steps, and without becoming all preachy, LifeRing offers the addict a different forum from which to draw strength. Some addicts can’t “get” the AA approach, so LifeRing shows them another way. It has worked well in the U.S.A. and the signs are that it will work well here in Ireland, too.

For the original click here.   Thank you, James!

Friday, May 7, 2010

How LifeRing Works

Here's a Flash video that explains how LifeRing works and what we mean by the motto "Empowering Your Sober Self" -- in 98 seconds.  I had fun making it.  I've improved it a little and added a sound track since first posting it.  Your comments are welcome.

You can see a silent version of the same content as a Flash video here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Adolescents of All Ages

I had the pleasure on Thursday morning of attending and staffing a LifeRing exhibit table at the 13th Annual Northern California Tobacco, Alochol, Drug, School Wellness & Youth Development Conference for Educators, held at the Clark Kerr Conference Center of UC Berkeley.

The attendees were teachers, counselors, and community leaders from seven Northern California counties. All were concerned with prevention and treatment of the tobacco, alcohol, and other drug issue among young people, particularly teenagers.

The most frequent question to me was "Do you have meetings for teens?"  Since, at the moment, none of our meetings is limited by age group, my answer had to be, "Our meetings are open to adolescents of all ages."  That got a laugh.

There was a universally positive reaction to a secular option for sobriety support.  A number of people volunteered that a lot of teens tended to resist the religious aspects of the 12-step groups.  
The problem is how to convert the positive reception we get from educators working with teens into actual meetings -- or some other organized presence -- in the schools.

A few years ago the counseling staff at a local high school wanted to start a set of support groups, including LifeRing, on campus.  The initiative was killed by the principal, not because of any animus toward LifeRing, but -- observers believed -- because the program would call attention to the campus drug problem and taint the school's reputation.

I had brought only 50 local meeting schedules to the conference, and these went quickly. This wasn't a book-buying crowd -- didn't sell one book -- but the schedules and brochures got into a lot of hands.  Maybe some of them will trickle down into the hands of some wide-awake students.

The keynote speaker at the conference, Dr. Ken Winters of the U of Minnesota, presented a PowerPoint entitled "This is Your Brain on Adolescence."  It featured MRI scans of brains lit up by cocaine and charts of dopamine levels -- the scenes a faire of addiction lectures.  It carried a sound and important message about the lifetime dangers of early alcohol and other drug use.  The adolescent brain is engaged in a major neural reorganization, a very bad time to be throwing addictive drugs into the works.

Still, the notion that teen behavior and attitudes generally, and the proclivity to do drugs in particular, are rooted in developmental brain anatomy, is overly broad and unfair. Only a minority of teens do drugs.  Some teens are impulsive, others are cautious.  Some take risks, others avoid them.  For every teen who has impaired judgment, there is another who is wise beyond their years.  We certainly see kids who do drugs and hide it from their parents, but we also see kids who fight hard to get their parents off drugs and into treatment.  Bottom line:  teens deserve as much respect as adults for their individuality, their wisdom, and the choices they make.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

An Outline for Workbook Study

Lloyd E., who just began a Tuesday night workbook study group at the Kaiser CDRP (Chemical Dependency Recovery Program) in Oakland, has drafted a short study outline that I want to pass along, below.  The Recovery by Choice workbook was written mainly for individual study, and the convenor who leads a group through the text needs to select a few issues out of the many that the book contains, or -- experience shows -- it may take a group several years to complete the book.  There are several outlines in existence, and more will probably be created.  Lloyd's outline is short, but it touches on every chapter in the book.  He's based it on a review exercise in the Relapse chapter.  Here it is:

Recovery by Choice
Weekly Topics of Conversation
1.  Decision:          Do we remember why we originally wanted to get clean and sober?  Have we found additional reasons?  How do we make sobriety our priority?
2.  Body:                 Can we make progress in addressing concerns about our bodies and our mental health?
3.  Exposure:        Have we done the best we can to minimize our exposure?  Or are we being reckless about getting into trigger situations and neglecting our reminders?
4.  Activities:         Can we make progress in learning to do life’s activities clean and sober, and in starting up new activities that interest us?  Or are we barely functional or doing very little different from when we were drinking/using?
5.  People:             Have we worked out who are the friends and who are the opponents of our recovery, and can we make progress in improving our relationships?  Or are we spending too much time with people who are a drag on our recovery, and not enough with people who care for us as sober persons?
6.  Feelings:          Can we succeed in building more clean and sober pleasure into our lives.  Can we identify and deal with our trigger feelings, and do we feel better about our emotional lives?  Or are we treating recovery as a punishment or retreating into numbness?
7.  Lifestyle:          Can we pinpoint our major lifestyle issues and can we make progress in repairing damage that addiction did to our lifestyle?  Or have we resigned ourselves to the way things were and given up trying to solve real-life problems?
8:  History:             Have we reviewed our personal history and come to an understanding of what part of our life was us, and what part was our addiction?  Do we have a clearer sense of who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.
9.  Culture:            Can we recognize the sources of support and the problems areas for our recovery within our culture, and have we begun to figure out our roles in it?
10. Treatment:    Have we made the necessary decisions about treatment and support groups, and do we know how to get what we need from these resources.
11.  Relapse:         Do we understand the structures of relapse and do we recognize what might undermine our recovery?  Do we have a better sense of ourselves, .and do we monitor ourselves frequently for early warning signs.   Have we prepared ourselves to eject immediately in case of relapse?
12.  Plans:              How do we develop our Personal Recovery Plans for the short and long term?

My only quibble with this outline is that it has 12 -- count them -- 12 points.  Inevitably people will start to refer to this as the "12 Steps of LifeRing."  (Sigh and groan.)  Apart from that, I think it's a great starting point for a workbook study group.  Initial reviews of the opening session were raves.  It took more than five years of nudging and begging to get a room at this facility for a workbook study meeting, and this one looks like it's going to be a big success story.  Congratulations, Lloyd!

Shining Model in Walnut Creek CA

Carola Z. writes:

Just a quick note with some good  news:  The meeting we started at Kaiser CDRP in Walnut Creek [California] celebrated its first anniversary today.
The meeting is every Wednesday from 12:15 to 1:15 pm in Room 3D at 710 Broadway 3rd floor.  It's still going strong and we had a nice large group of regulars and newcomers today.
 I had made a commitment to convene this meeting for a year, and I am especially happy to be able to announce that I handed it over today to two very capable members of that meeting as the new convenors.

Way to go, Carola!  Starting a new meeting and then passing on the convenor role to other members of the meeting is a shining model of how LifeRing takes root and expands.

Carola makes it sound so simple, as if there were nothing to it.  But there's a lot to it.  First, you have to get the room -- sometimes a battle of years with an entrenched and obscure administrative bureaucracy.  Then, you have to create the positive LifeRing atmosphere in the room:  safety, openness, honesty, freedom, humor, caring ... the environment that empowers the sober self, and keeps people coming back.  It's only then that you get regulars who build up sober time and learn the ropes of the LifeRing process.  And it's only when you begin to have such a core group that you have your pool of future convenors to whom you can hand the clipboard and the basket, give a friendly hug, and move on to start another meeting somewhere else.

The core message of the LifeRing convenor handbook (How Was Your Week) is "Pass it on!"  The "it" here is the convenor role.  When convenors remember that message and put it into practice, as Carola has done, then LifeRing thrives and grows.  There are, unfortunately, also some negative examples.  Last week at the monthly convenor workshop at the Service Center, I learned that a certain meeting that I had started fourteen years ago, and passed on long ago, was now without a convenor.  People had gone to the room, sat and waited, and no convenor had showed up. So, I went and acted as pinch-hitter tonight. There were ten participants, and we had a great meeting. A member of the meeting told me that the regular convenor had convened this meeting for more than three years.  No one knew what had happened to him, and we had only sketchy contact information for him in the database at the LifeRing Service Center. I enjoyed pinch hitting and I'll do it again next week; but I shouldn't have to.  Convenors who fail to develop other convenors and pass the meeting on will eventually burn out, and risk taking the whole meeting down with them.  That's not a recipe for a healthy, expanding organization.

So, congratulations and a shining gold star to Carola and the other convenors who "pass it on!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Letter to My Addiction

One of the exercises in the Recovery by Choice workbook -- and it's an old exercise, widely used, not invented by me -- is writing a letter to one's addiction. You write a "Dear Jane" letter to the addiction, then you write your addiction's response to the letter, and you conclude by replying to the response. In the framework of the "A" (addict self) and "S" (sober self) metaphor, it's a dialogue between the S and the A.

Mark J. did this exercise last month and read it out loud to his group. So many people commented on it that it came to my attention, and with Mark's permission I'm reprinting it here:

Dear Jane,
I am writing you this letter in regards to discontinue our relationship altogether. I want to be forthright with my stance on this. We have spent a time in our lives that for life safety reasons I realized needed to be ended. I ask of your acceptance of this as I need to move on and pursue a life that is productive to my development and responsibilities. There were good times, yes. However the damage to my well being both physically and emotionally has caused me to seek recovery and I’ve found it to be a life worth living. Let me not leave out the fact that I have caused damage to others as well when we were together. Let me state again that I am taking action at this writing to cease relations with you permanently.

I have read your letter and think you maybe need a break for a while and I am more than willing to let things cool off (or until you finish your phase). But let’s be serious, you know we are meant to be together. A break from this relationship is fine with me, but to consider never seeing each other again is not like you. You are the one who sought me ought and wooed me with your words, touch and actions in all situations when you felt the need. You came to me! Through those times we produced the best sensations and moments of true genius that you demonstrated to others. The music on computers you made was untouched in individuality. You were afraid of talking to the people you really wanted to talk to until we were together. When we were together you consciously new it was better than sex and you ignored sexual advances with the thought that sex would get between you and I. We had mystique. It was I with you the greatest spiritual moment in your life happened, and you dare wonder if it was real or imagined. Of course it was us. Do I need to go on? I think you know the answer to this question. So now after all I have given to you, this is suddenly something you would never consider again? I know you romanticize about me and you think you can shut out or use your bullshit recovery techniques to stop yourself from me. However, I’m always here and that makes you wonder doesn’t it? You can’t forget about us can you? I understand you are going through some voluntary brainwashing to delude yourself from our relationship, however to think you’ll leave me for good is not something I’m worried about.
In remembrance of old times,

Dear Jane,
I have read your reply and cannot overstate the fact that you and I together is life threatening to me. I will die and hurt others along the way. While it is true that there were times together that still bewilder me, I am working towards moving into the now and there is evidence that this is happening. I simply enjoy being sober more than the ups and downs of being with you. The adventure of life is unfolding and I know in my heart that I can always find a way sober no matter what may happen. The past experiences with you brought a change in how I wanted to live. I don’t want to shut my memories out and accept that I will remember the “good times” as well as the bad. This is not a war and I will not fight you. I just simply will not take you. The things that I thought I needed you to do with me I now am doing myself and I don’t need an audience to tell me when I know something is right. From this moment on I choose a life worth living.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

LifeRing in 2010 and Beyond

The LifeRing Service Center in Oakland was humming and buzzing last week with the Expansion Committee mailing.  In a few days, every LifeRing convenor in the world should have the committee's proposals in hand. (If you didn't get one, it's probably because we don't have contact information for you in the database.)

The committee of eleven worked long and hard to produce these proposals, and they deserve a full and detailed reading.  The time for membership discussion is from now to March 15.  You can send feedback via comments on the LifeRing-10 discussion blog, or via email to, or via snail mail or phone to the Service Center (1440 Broadway Ste 312 Oakland 94612; 1-800-811-4142).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Growing in Dublin

This email came in to the Service Center this week from a counselor in Dublin, Ireland:
I am writing to you in the hope that I may receive information about facilitating LifeRing meetings within our organisation. We are a community based organisation based in Dublin 12, we work with both problematic alcohol and drug users. We have at the moment A.A meetings being held each week, but it has come to our attention that the amount of people attending these meetings is far less than the amount of people who need help. When we put the question to the people who don't attend, their response is that they believe it was themselves who chose to drink or take drugs and that it should be themselves who chooses and has the power to stop. Since finding out about and from reading your web-site,(which I really enjoy and agree with) I have mentioned it to some of our service users and they seem excited at the idea of attending these meetings.
I understand that there are 2 meetings being held in Dublin, but I am hoping that maybe we can facilitate them here also. Is there any possibility of this? Or can I receive some information please about training myself to become a convenor of LifeRing.
Dennis S., the LifeRing convenor who founded the first two LifeRing meetings in Dublin, promptly contacted the writer and offered his assistance and cooperation.  It's very likely, from the looks of it, that Dublin will soon have three LifeRings.

Note that this email comes from a counselor at a program that so far is exclusively 12-step oriented.  If you looked at this program from the outside, seeing only the surface, you might write it off as a stone 12-step program, beyond hope.

But the clients on the inside have different ideas.  The amount of people attending the 12-step meetings, the writer observed, "is far less than the amount of people who need help."  That's just about a universal condition in every 12-step program.  As we know from AA's own triennial membership surveys, reported in Don McIntire's journal article (covered in my book Empowering Your Sober Self), out of 100 people who approach AA, at the end of 90 days, 90 per cent have walked away.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there's a gap here.  To its immense credit, the staff at this program in Dublin actually asked the people who don't attend AA, why don't they?  This is almost revolutionary in a profession that's very strong on talking at clients but not so good at listening to clients.  But the client-centered spirit of Carl Rogers is penetrating even into substance abuse treatment, the most backward province in the kingdom of mental health treatment, and the result is what you see:  clients who insist that they're not powerless to get free of alcohol and drugs, and who want support groups that acknowledge that power and reinforce it.  In short, clients who want LifeRing.

Even in Ireland.  Or perhaps: especially in Ireland.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Albuquerque Model

Cell division is a basic growth process in biology, and we're seeing a great example of it in Albuquerque.  Justin S writes:

I have been attending the Albuquerque, NM LifeRing Wednesday evening meetings for about a year.  This chapter/meeting was  originally founded by Mary S., who is still the primary convenor.  I have been co-convening and benefitting from Mary's counsel since last June.  Since our attendance has been good (and sometimes too large), we've decided to start a new meeting on Monday nights in the same location. 

Here are the details:

  • Time:          Monday 6:00 PM
  • Location:     Albuquerque, Anna Kaseman (Presbyterian) Hospital
  • Address:      8300 Constitution Ave NE        Main Entrance to Conf Rm B
  • Focus:        How was your week?
  • Map:          Map Link
  • Wheelchair Accessible:  Yes
  • Contact:      Justin S.
  • Phone:        505-249-6366
  • Email:

Justin concludes by asking that the info be posted on the meetings page. Done!  Congratulations Albuquerque LifeRing, congratulations Mary and Justin for a job well done.  This is a model to emulate.

At the risk of over-analyzing, let's take a look.  Mary, who started the meeting, has been doing two things right.  One, she has created a safe, supportive atmosphere that makes people want to come back, and that generates good word-of-mouth to attract new people.  Two, she has encouraged regular participants, such as Justin, to step into the convenor role.  She's done it in part by creating opportunities for Justin to be the backup convenor and co-convenor in the existing meeting.  This has given Justin the confidence and the skills to go out "on his own," as it were, and start a new meeting.

As a result, newly recovering people in Albuquerque who are considering their support group options now have twice as many reasons to select LifeRing as they had before.  And treatment professionals considering their referral options have twice as many reasons to refer clients to LifeRing.

Just imagine if every LifeRing meeting in the world followed the Albuquerque model.  After about a year or so, the number of LifeRing meetings would double.  And in another year, double again ... The mind boggles.  Of course, circumstances vary, and nothing is ever so simple.  Still, there are important lessons here.  The convenor's goal is two-fold.  One: create a safe and supportive environment where people can empower their sober selves.  Two: help and encourage regular participants to become convenors, so that the LifeRing network can "live long and prosper."  If you're a convenor, do you have both of these goals firmly in your view?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wants Meeting in Bend OR

This message from Chuck H. in Bend, OR arrived at the Service Center yesterday:
There are only 12-step meetings in Central Oregon - no secular approaches.  We are interested in starting a secularly-oriented group and would appreciate any assistance that can be offered. The treatment centers here are all 12-step focused.  -- Thanks!
Thanks for your message.  As with similar requests that come in to the LifeRing Service Center, we will be happy to help you with an initial supply of brochures and some other materials that you can use to spread the word about your planned new meeting.  And when you have a room and a date and time that can be posted on the online meeting list, we will send you display copies of each LifeRing Press publication on invoice. 

Do not hesitate to approach the 12-step treatment centers about your project and to ask their assistance.  The 12-step world is not a monolith.  There are "my-way-or-the-highway" types, to be sure, but there's also the "whatever-works" types.  In every treatment center there are clients who are willing to do recovery but don't find the 12-step approach a good fit for them.  In many treatment centers there are professionals who see it as part of their ethical responsibility to offer the client choices and to help the client find an approach that works for them, whatever it may be.  Like any new approach, you will probably find doors slammed in your face at first, and you will need persistence and tenacity to prevail. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon.

Note also that there are now others in Oregon working on starting LifeRing meetings.  Please get in touch with the persons starting LifeRing in Eugene and in Portland, and share your experiences and resources.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Letter from Tampa

From Tampa, Florida, reader D.L. writes today:
I would like to start a meeting in the Tampa area.  I have been to meetings in Pinellas Park on Friday evenings and enjoyed them.  I also have read the book by Nicolaus and as a physician I agree with many things he has said.  It was also nice to read about the work of one of my psychiatry professors at UCSD School of Medicine, Dr. Mark Schuckit.
Howver, driving to Pinellas is not an option for me any more.  I started working Friday evenings.  I would be willing to search for a meeting place for starting a meeting here in Tampa.  There are at least five people who would like to come to the meetings initially.  Also, I want to go to the treatment centers (12-step based) to ask them if they would be willing to pass information to the people about LifeRing.  I would need information about how to start a meeting and also any supplies that you find necessary for the start.  If I find a place for rent, could I count on you to help me out at least initially with it?
Dear D.L.:  I salute you on your initiative to start another LifeRing meeting in the Tampa Bay area.  The area is certainly large enough to support more than the single meeting that now exists there, the Friday night group at Pinellas Park.  To put it more strongly, a city of that size needs to have a multiplicity of LifeRing meetings in order for the LifeRing concept to become established and to replicate.  Many people in recovery, particularly in early days, want and need more support than one meeting a week.  LifeRing may not appear like a viable support option to them until they have three or more LifeRing meetings per week within driving range.  Treatment professionals who do referrals see it the same way.  We've heard it time after time: I can't be referring clients to a group that has only one meeting.  (Of course, there would be more meetings if they made more referrals; but that's another topic.)  And so, a LifeRing meeting that's the only one of its kind in an area leads a difficult existence, and it takes extraordinary dedication, tenacity and hard work on the part of its core group regulars to keep it alive in the long haul.  When there are more meetings, all of them benefit and all of them can prosper.

That being said, the topic is how to proceed.  Your best guide is to read the book, "How Was Your Week," available from LifeRing Press.  A key chapter is available free online here.  You should definitely approach the treatment centers, no matter how 12-step they are, and ask for meeting space, bulletin board space, and referrals.  Some of our oldest and best meetings are at 12-step treatment centers; they need us there.  If you are able to get meeting space at a treatment center, there is rarely any rent to pay, as you are providing a service to the clients.  The LifeRing Service Center does not have the resources to subsidize room rentals for meetings, even at the beginning.  What the Service Center can and will do is to send you brochures and other literature to help you get started; and as soon as you have a meeting room and a time that can be posted on the online meeting list, then we can send you display copies of LifeRing Press books on invoice.

It is excellent that you know of a group of five or six people who are ready to attend the new meeting once it finds a home.  It would be good if you could enroll all of them as a search committee to speed the process.  Please also enroll yourself in the LifeRing convenor email list, and read and comment on this convenor blog.  Break a leg!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wants LifeRing Inside

Arden M. wrote the LifeRing Service Center, in a letter received today:

I am currently incarcerated on a non-violent drug offense at the _________ in _______, New York.  I am the inmate coordinator of the Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Treatment (DART) program, where I help to provide drug and alcohol counseling to inmates who request placement in the program or are mandated by the Court.
I have a copy of the book Empowering Your Sober Self, that talks about the LifeRing approach to recovery, and am interested in knowing if you could send me some of your resources.  I am seeking donations of books and other material that I can use in the program.  Although the program is administered by social workers and counselors, it is mostly facilitated by inmate facilitators.  We are in need of any resources that could help us in presenting a better program.  I hope you can help in our endeavor.  I would like to set up a LifeRing group in this facility. [...] Sincerely, Arden M.

As with other similar requests, the Service Center can and will send a sampler of our brochures and a copy of the Presenting LifeRing magazine.  In some cases we send a copy of the How Was Your Week handbook.  Our church mouse budget (the only way in which we are 'religious') doesn't allow us to send more, particularly to a prison setting where the meeting can't pass the basket.

If any of the readers of this blog would like to contribute to a Prisoner Literature Fund, we will dedicate your donation to sending LifeRing literature to convenors like Arden for use of LifeRing participants on the inside.

You can make a donation by clicking the yellow "Donate Now" button on this page, which will take you to a charitable donation site (Just Give) which will send you an official acknowledgement for tax purposes.  There you can dedicate your gift to the Prisoner Literature Fund.  Thank you in advance.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We Need to Teach the Teachers

I had the distinct pleasure this afternoon of speaking about LifeRing to a group of interns in San Francisco.  These were all students at different colleges, ranging from trade schools and community colleges to UC Berkeley and even an Ivy League school or two.  Some were undergraduates, some were working on a Psy.D. degree or M.F.T. certificate. They were all interning at New Leaf, the major center for counseling services to the LGBT community in San Francisco and the region, and they were a bright lot; you could feel the electricity from their brains crackling in the air.

Just one problem:  almost none of them had heard of LifeRing before.  You'd think, wouldn't you, that their teachers somewhere along the line would have mentioned to them that there are other approaches to substance abuse besides 12-step, and named some names?

In a recent New Yorker article, the writer tried to find out whether professors of economics in the universities had updated their theories in light of the recent economic crash.  The answer was mostly negative.  Most of them got their minds cast in cement a couple of decades ago.  Could it be that something like that is going on with the professors of addiction studies?

I can think of some honorable exceptions: teachers who regularly send their students to check out support group meetings, including LifeRing.  But clearly, judging by the experience of these interns, we have work to do.  We need to educate some educators.

If you are a student in addiction studies and related fields and you have a teacher who has never heard of LifeRing, please forward their contact information to, and we will undertake to send them some educational materials.  Or, if you prefer, we'll send you the material and you can hand deliver it -- the best way.

And if your class would like to have a live LifeRing lecture, we can probably arrange that, too. Get in touch with the LifeRing Service Center, or 1-800-811-4142.

P.S.  Pietro Carnini, the New Leaf staff counselor who set up the gig, sent a very nice follow-up letter saying:
The interns found your presentation to be very informative, and they were pleased to hear about an alternative self-help program for those struggling with addiction.  Their knowledge regarding this topic has been increased, and I believe that this is a result of your excellent presentation.  I would welcome you to return next year to provide training on this topic.
And thank you, Pietro, for the invitation.  I look forward to doing it again.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Passing it on: A Model

A basic rule of convenor work is "pass it on" -- recruit someone else to take over the convenor role in the meeting, after a period of time.  At the Service Center, we recently received a letter that's a model of how to handle that transition.
Dear LifeRing:
This is to inform you that my commitment as convenor of the Wednesday San Rafael Kaiser CDS meeting has ended as of December 30.
As my replacement, Caryl K. has volunteered to convene the meeting starting the following Wednesday.  At that time, she will assume responsibility for turning in the basket receipts, ordering pamphlets and books, etc.  Additionally, she has given her consent to be listed as a contact for this meeting; her phone number is [____].
I wish to thank you for the opportunity to be of service to this organization which is a much needed alternative to the non-secular recovery groups.
Dee S
It's a pleasure to get a communication like this.  It lets us know that the convenor, who had been in this role for about a year, understood the basic message of the How Was Your Week book, namely to "pass it on."  And it allows us to update our database so that we know who is the current convenor of this meeting, and we have an address where we can send brochures, schedules, receipts, and letters, and we have a phone number to which we can refer callers for information.  In short, it keeps alive the connection of that meeting with the rest of the LifeRing network, and with the recovery community as a whole.

You might think, "Well, of course! Isn't that always true?"  Unfortunately, not.  There are cases where convenors pass the baton and don't tell anyone outside the meeting that they've done so.  Sometimes in remote areas convenors even drop the baton and tell no one.  As a result, at the Service Center, we have no idea who is convening that meeting, and sometimes we have the unpleasant surprise of hearing from strangers that they went to the listed meeting and nothing was there.  That happens rarely, but even once is too often, because it undermines the credibility of the whole organization.  It taints the brand, as marketing people say.

Therefore, thank you, Dee S, for showing how it's done right.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Face, New Look at Service Center

A while back I covered the cleanup and remodeling work underway at the LifeRing Service Center in Oakland.  See blog item.  I promised photos of the "After" condition.  Then something happened to my camera (duh, I fell on it when texting while walking in the park in the dark) and I couldn't follow through.  Now at last I have some snaps to share.  Ta-daa!
Here's Rachaell Castro, our new and great Office Administrator, at work in front of the computers that keep track of your literature orders, your meeting basket contributions, your donations, and much else.  And yes, that's a real orchid in the foreground and a real palm tree in the back.  The big white box in the rear is Fluffy the HP9050 printer.

This is the meeting space, where the monthly convenor workshops meet, as well as the weekly Tuesday eve workbook study meetings, and numerous spontaneous gatherings.  Photo collages of past Congresses line the wall.  And yes, that's a real silk plant in the corner.

This is the business end: the shipping desk, stock shelf, and the mailing machines.  This hasn't changed much, except that it's neater, we're better equipped with packing material, and the worn-out jam-happy folding machine has departed in favor of a newer and bigger model, visible in the left rear.  This is where LifeRing Press books are shipped out, where the Northern California schedules are folded, where mass mailings are folded and tabbed, and much else.  Pictures of the LifeRing Constitutional Congress in 2001 are on the right, under the clock.

If you want to reach the Service Center, the email is  If your issue is with LifeRing Press, the direct email line is  That's "org" for the organization and "com" for the commerce side where we sell books and things. By phone call 800-811-4142.  If you want to talk live to a real person, namely Rachaell (she pronounces it "Rachel") call Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays between 9 am and noon.  Those are also the hours to come to the Service Center to buy books, and to pick up schedules and other supplies for your meeting.  The Center is located in Suite 312 (third floor) of the 1440 Broadway building, just a few steps from the corner of 14th and Broadway and from the Oakland City Center BART station.  See map link.  The Service Center's mission is "Serve the Meetings"  See you there!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Treatment Journal Reviews Empowering Your Sober Self

The current issue of Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly contains a review of my book Empowering Your Sober Self.  The reviewer, who is none other than the distinguished scholar William L. White (Slaying the Dragon and other works), writes, in conclusion:

Nicolaus offers us a clear window into the basic approach of LifeRing Secular Recovery, one of the major secular alternatives to AA. LifeRing was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 and became a national organization at a founding conference in Florida in 2001. LifeRing hosts face-to-face recovery support meetings, a range of e-mail lists for member- to-member communication, online (, chat rooms and Internet forum (bulletin board), an online social network (, LifeRing social events, and the annual LifeRing Congress.
In Empower Your Sober Self, Nicolaus has created an engaging text for individuals seeking recovery and for service professionals wanting a greater understanding of LifeRing’s core ideas and recovery support strategies. Empower Your Sober Self also includes the voices of many LifeRing members whose personal stories illustrate key points in the book.
 The discussions in this book include some of the more controversial issues in the addictions field. Nicolaus outlines positions on these issues clearly and forcefully and in ways that help distinguish LifeRing Secular Recovery from 12-step programs and from other 12-step alternatives. This book is intended to inform rather than convert. Not everyone will agree with the ideas and approaches set forth here, but for the past decade, individuals and families have used LifeRing Secular Recovery as an effective framework to initiate and maintain long-term recovery from life-impairing addictions. Those recoveries are cause for celebration, and this book details how they did it. Those seeking a solution to alcohol and other drug problems and professionals assisting people with such problems will find great value in Empower Your Sober Self.

This strikes me as a fair and even-handed assessment and I'm grateful to the writer.  It's also a good sign that the journal, which goes to the more research-minded echelons of the treatment profession and to academics, has taken note of this book.  Hopefully, the review -- and the book, for those who will read it -- will persuade a larger number of treatment professionals to include LifeRing meetings in their referral pool.

For a PDF copy of the complete review, click here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Preferred Provider in Boulder CO

Stephanie Bryan emailed the website yesterday:

I'm a therapist in private practice in Boulder.  I recently learned about LifeRing as I was searching for a secular support system for a client.  I attended a Wednesday meeting in Denver, learned about Empowering Your Sober Self, found copies at The Tattered Cover (the premier locally-owned bookstore in Denver) for my client and myself, read the book in its entirety and loved it, took my client to a Thursday meeting in Denver, was able to purchase a copy of Recovery by Choice at that meeting, and was able to use it with my client before he left town for a long-term in-patient treatment program in Arizona for people age 17-25.

I purchased two copies of Recovery by Choice directly from the LifeRing Service Center so I will have them for future clients.  I notice you do not have any treatment providers listed in Colorado, so I was wondering if I could be listed.  This is what I would like:

Stephanie Bryan, LCSW, CAC III, NCAC II
REAL Parenting
1530 55th Street
Boulder, CO  80303

"I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Addictions Counselor, and Certified Parent Coach.  I have worked in mental health and addictions since 1984.  My parent education and parent coaching work is primary prevention, helping parents raise kids who won't make some of the poorer choices their parents made.  I recently learned about LifeRing when I was seeking a secular recovery program for a client.  I attended some LifeRing meetings, read Empowering Your Sober Self, and realized the LifeRing approach is compatible with the clinical work I do.  I am trained in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, EMDR, and Brainspotting."

My website is

Thanks for your post.  On the website there is a "Find Treatment" tab and a page listing "Preferred Providers."  Preferred providers are, of course, providers like yourself who offer their clients treatment modalities beyond (or other than) 12-step.  We do not charge for these listings, although we always appreciate it when listed providers make a tax-deductible donation.  I, as the webmaster, am sometimes slow in responding to emailed requests for a listing, particularly when the request doesn't indicate any particular affinity with the LifeRing approach.  Sometimes the requests come from stone 12-step programs that are pretending to be better than they are so as to lure more clients.  But in a case like Stephanie's I am happy not only to post her listing, but to feature it in this blog, because Stephanie has actually read and used LifeRing literature with a client and has personally checked out a LifeRing meeting.  That makes her a Preferred Provider, for real!

Desperate in Montana

Cassie Z. from Great Falls Montana wrote to the Service Center yesterday:
My husband and I had a horrible time trying to get any support to stay sober, after we managed to get that way a year ago. AA doesn't fit or agree with everyone. I believe that people who are in Treatment Court that are forced to attend meetings -- AA, because that's all we have -- will quit the day they're able. I hope Lifering will appeal to more people for whom "working the program" just doesn't work. We have 3 or 4 outpatient facilities here, and Mental Health, Probation, etc., that I'm confident will understand my viewpoint and give it a shot, especially if I have the literature and a plan when I pitch it to them. I have 4 or 5 people who have said they'd attend if we had a LifeRing meeting. We have nothing like it in MT; we're desperate for a NEW approach.[...] Thank you, and I'm SO excited to get started!
When we get messages like these, we're happy to send a copy of each of our brochures and a copy of the Presenting LifeRing magazine free of charge.  Once Cassie and her husband have a meeting room and a date and time that we can post on the web, we'll be happy to send them a display copy of each of our other publications.  

Because we are such a low-budget operation, we cannot afford to send free copies of our books and bundles of brochures to everyone who writes in with the intention to start a meeting.  I wish we could, but we'd go broke.

We will send display copies of books and bundles of brochures to meetings on invoice (without advance payment), once they have a place and time, but we expect the convenors to pay for the literature once their meeting has got enough money from passing the basket, however long that may take.  

We have sometimes received donations from supporters earmarked to buy books for a specific meeting, or to buy books for new meetings in general, and we're happy to honor those.  

Need Vet Convenor in Oakland

This came in to the Service Center via email today:
Happy New Year!!
I would like more information about LifeRing and how we can possibly bring a weekly group to the Vet Center of Oakland. The Vet Center/ Oakland office is just right around the corner from the Oakland LifeRing Service Center. Vet Centers are a MH component of the Dept. of Veteran Affairs and provide readjustment counseling and outreach services specifically to all veterans who served in any combat zone and are dealing with PTSD. Services are also available for their family members for military related issues. Many of our Veterans have dealt with and currently deal with substance issues, as they have tried to self medicate the symptoms related to PTSD. Please contact me at [phone] @ your earliest convenience to discuss how we can possibly work together.
Based on my conversations with Tonisa C. who has been convening the Ft. Miley VA LifeRing group, it's clear to me that the convenor of this kind of meeting needs to be a veteran.  When talking about their military experiences, vets talk a language all their own and the convenor needs to be able to work without a translator.  If you are a vet, of any generation, and have six months clean and sober, please contact the LifeRing Service Center ASAP, at 1-800-811-4142 or email