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.

1 comment: said...

Lorraine and M here! We are thrilled to read the blog entry and will verify the truth of everything Marty said regarding our excitement and embracing of LifeRing in Hawaii! M says, "wow! I just cannot wait to start another session here!" She won't have to wait long; our first meeting will be Thrusday, August 5th at our site; this will actually be the second LifeRing meeting ever held in Hawaii. From now on, LifeRing is HERE!! We love it and are grateful for this gift!