Sunday, September 7, 2008

LifeRing at the National Association of Addiction Professionals' Conference

From Andy Ross, who represented LifeRing at the annual meeting of the National Addiction Professionals' Association (NAADAC) in Kansas City:

I'm back in Wichita from the National Conference of NAADAC, the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Counselors; combined with the annual conference of KAAP, the Kansas Association of Addiction Counselors; and NALGAP, the National Association of Lesbian and Gay Addiction Professional, which was held last weekend in Overland Park, Kansas. I do not have a count of how many attended though it seemed to me to be not a great many more than attended the last KAAP conference I went to a couple of years ago.

Perhaps the increased cost of travel, the date being the Labor Day holiday weekend or the fact that somehow Overland Park has escaped the world's notice as a premier "destination" city contributed to a turnout that was a bit lower than I expected. Nonetheless, there were several hundred attendees, many from Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and nearby states but also representatives from all of the regional centers in the nation and a few international members.

I arrived at the Overland Sheraton Wednesday, August 27th, around 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. and found the exhibit hall about half full of exhibitors booths already set up or being set up and, with a little fumbling on my part, was able to get the LifeRing booth set up properly.  There were perhaps 40 - 45 other exhibitors, ranging from SAMHSA, NIDA and a few other government agency reps; to a Narcotics Anonymous booth, Hazelden (the Minnesota based treatment program and publishing house), providers of urinalysis and drug testing kits, nutritionists, meditation music and literature providers; really, a whole gamut of services.  The government booths, especially,  provided a plethora of free literature and information. 

The exhibitor's hall was open Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and just about everyone attending hit the hall each morning bright and early as that was also where the free continental breakfast, juice and coffee were served each day prior to the beginning of workshops and plenary sessions.  Again, as to the total number of attendees, I can only make a guess but the most I saw, based on a quick guesstimate-headcount at a plenary session, was about 175.  I believe quite a few attendees, especially from Kansas and Missouri, came for only a part of the conference and returned home and they were coming and going throughout the weekend.

Our booth was at a junction of two aisles of exhibitors and directly across from the coffee tables so we had excellent traffic flow past the booth and many people stopped and chatted with me about LifeRing's philosophy and about the nuts-and-bolts aspects of how we operate.  The one pamphlet I wish now I had thought to request more of, specifically, was the LSR Online booklet.  Because the majority of attendees were from the middle of the country, where LifeRing has few face-to-face meetings, our online presence particularly interested many. 

Attendance in the exhibitors' hall was pretty spotty and sparse whenever workshops and meetings were in session which gave me time to browse the other booths and to attend some workshops myself.  LifeRing got an unexpected and unsolicited plug at the workshop of Gary Blanchard, MA, LADC1, whose presentation focused on his book, Success Centered Addiction Recovery Facilitation.  Mr. Blanchard had been by the booth and picked up pamphlets and spoken to me and he was very impressed with LifeRing's approach, which neatly dovetailed with his own "non-traditional" philosophy of addiction treatment. He urged everyone at the workshop to check out our booth and I spoke with most of those in his workshop later in the day as they came by to see what we were about.

Thursday was the busiest day at the booth and Friday morning was a continuation of that but the traffic tapered off by late afternoon.  Saturday, by contrast, was quite light and by early afternoon a number of the other exhibitors were already breaking down their booths or leaving them largely unattended.  In retrospect I wish I had kept a log of how many came by and perhaps taken notes as Marty did in Nashville.  I'll know to do so in the future!  Trusting to memory proved to be a less than adequate method of tracking contacts.   Everyone I met expressed  interest in alternatives to traditional recovery support and also acknowledged the very great desirability of such alternatives. 

Just from memory I did meet with counselors from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, W. Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Vermont, New Hampshire and Minnesota as well as a man from Kenya and three counselors from Reykjavic, Iceland.  It was an exhausting weekend from which I am still not quite feeling fully recovered; but tremendously rewarding and well worth the time and effort.  I encourage anyone who has the chance to attend similar events to do so and represent LifeRing to the people best placed to refer newcomers to recovery to our philosophy and support!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

LifeRing at the APA in Boston

From Kathleen Gargan, who represented LifeRing at the American Psychological Association Conference in Boston:

I'm back from the 2008 American Psychological Association Conference in Boston. This was a fascinating, if exhausting, experience. The exhibition Hall was open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and from 9;00 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

On Thursday and Friday, I handed out 317 "Welcome to LifeRing" pamphlets, and repeated my "In a Nutshell" description of LifeRing: "Can I tell you about LifeRing? LifeRing is a non-profit, secular alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous for people who don't relate to the spiritual or religious focus of the 12 step approach."

I learned quickly how important it was to get the word "nonprofit" out of my mouth as soon as possible, since most of the other booths were there to sell something. On Saturday and Sunday, traffic was much lighter and I gave out 75 pamphlets and visited exhibit booths of treatment centers, as well as academics who were giving papers on addiction related topics.

I also visited the AA and NA booths and was received cordially in each case. By far, most of the people I talked to were very positive about LifeRing. No one wanted to argue about The One True Way to get clean and sober.

One man asked if AA was "threatened" by our group. I told him that it certainly doesn't need to be, and asked him what made him ask such an interesting question. He laughed and said something about territoriality.

Even people I interrupted as they walked by very quickly with the "my destination is more important than anything you could possibly tell me" vibe thanked me for stopping them when they heard about LifeRing.

Several people wanted to know if we had studies to show the effectiveness of LifeRing; some asked if we were related to Rational Recovery, and many people expressed surprise to hear that such a thing as a secular recovery program could exist!

Therapists from Oregon, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Massachusetts and Utah wanted to know if there were face-to-face meetings in their area. Psychologists and students from Kuwait, Egypt, Spain, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico now know about LifeRing.

I collected cards from several people who want more info One author from Pennsylvania expressed interest in doing an article about non 12 step recovery programs for the state Psychologists' journal. I plan to follow up with an email to each one. It was wonderful to hear so many people say that there is a great need for a secular alternative to 12 step programs.

It seems to me that having a presence at this event automatically gave LifeRing a certain gravity; as if we should be taken seriously as a resource for recovery. There were no representatives from Women for Sobriety, Smart Recovery or S.O.S. Likely this is because it is expensive to participate. (I learned when I arrived that we were

required to rent 10 square ft of carpet, $218.00 for 3 & 1/2 days,

and if we wanted a table and chair, we would need to rent them as well, and for equally appalling amounts)

I also feel that it would be helpful to have more than one person "personning" the booth. Sometimes as I was talking to someone, I noticed 4 more people walking by. Also, as time went on, I found I had less energy to approach people. I would have helped to have had at least one other person there to reach more people and to trade off with. Of course this will not always be possible, but it's something to think about for future conferences.

All in all, I'm very glad I got to do this gig, and I recommend to all!

I'm sure there is pertinent information I am leaving out. Please ask me questions if you want to know more!

-- Kathleen

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Letter to Dr. Davis from an Audience Member

[Note: Dr. B.J. Davis, Clinical Director of Strategies for Change in Sacramento, was guest keynote speaker at the 2008 LifeRing Congress in Berkeley May 31 2008. See Congress review page. After his talk, which was met with a standing ovation, Dr. Davis received the following letter from an audience member.]

Dear Dr. Davis:
I attended your presentation at the LifeRing Congress yesterday. I am passing on a monumental and heartfelt thank you for offering me something that you may very well not be aware of. Your efforts helped me release something that although I was not fully conscious of, I have been holding onto for several years now. I struggled with binge drinking, starting in 1998 and came close to death on a few occasions. I was admitted into Clearbrook - a 28 day, 12 step program in Pennsylvania in 2002. I had attended AA meetings prior to that time and it never resonated with me. In fact, the bulk of that which AA stands for always felt completely contradictory to who I am and what I believe.

Quite frankly I found the whole thing offensive, short sighted, and erroneous. At the same time, the aggressive, hostile, shame-inducing, punitive, thoughtless, deeply insensitive, and invalidating tactics of the 12-step treatment center made AA, on its own, seem light-weight, in terms of harm. My time in treatment is truly one of my most disturbing memories - in my adult life, anyway. I hesitate to go too deeply into it because firstly, it would require dozens of pages, but more importantly, I believe that to whatever extent I hold the responsibility for having created the circumstances for which I ended up in treatment, I am also able to create and put for my solution to the same extent. I like that the solutions to all of my life challenges remain in my hands.

Since years have passed since my treatment, I felt that for the most part I had moved beyond my negative and enormously frustrating feelings as well as the deep conflict that I endured during my 28 days. During your presentation, it became apparent that I had not fully let go of that experience and its impact, until today. As I heard you speak the very essence of what I have felt, believed and attempted to express on countless occasions -- during and subsequent to my treatment, I realized that there were still pockets of stored sadness, desolation, deep frustration, and even fear -- fear of once again being misunderstood, or being accused of having a sick-mind, even though I knew (ironically, in my mind) that my mind was precisely the very part of me that held my solution. If my mind had guided my decisions, I never would have had a drink. I was always clear that my poor choices and decisions were directed by emotional conflict, pain, etc. and my mind at those times was abandoned.

To hear you speak so confidently and knowingly of the very things that I too have known, yet have failed to successfully communicate and in some ways, fully embrace, proved to be quite a profound experience for me. Therefore, I have to point out your one inaccuracy, which is that you said at the beginning of your presentation that you did not have anything profound to offer. That proved to be unquestionably false for me. As I heard your wise and insightful words combined with your compassion, understanding, and alignment with universal truths that transcend any short-sighted concepts and beliefs espoused by AA (and other organizations), I somehow felt compelled and safe to release whatever was left inside of me that once felt so hurtful.

Without sounding too dramatic here, I came close to leaving the room during your presentation, because I actually got teary eyed and was fearful I might just burst into heavier tears. Yet my tears did not reflect any current sadness, but rather a release of old sadness, replaced with a renewed feeling of freedom and hope that I had neatly tucked away and fiercely protected. Thank you so much for offering me the segue between having shut myself down and feeling safe and free to re-open certain places in my heart and mind.

Again, I may be treading dangerously close to drama here, but after treatment, I felt much like I imagine a little boy would feel after being punished for doing something wrong that in reality he didn't do at all. Or better stated, being accused and punished for doing something wrong and bad in the face of attempting to do something quite pure, innocent and good. Your insights touched me similarly to how a boy would have felt if a parent believed him for the first time after years of carrying around the guilt and shame for something he never did. That pretty much sums it up for me.

Truly, thanks so much for your courageous efforts, your big heart and your wise mind. I personally think you should have an endless supply of Ben n Jerry's and anything else your heart desires..... and so it shall be.

(Name Withheld)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Recovery Skills Format

As noted on the bulletin board, the Ontario (Canada) based group Addictions are Us recently affiliated with LifeRing. Addictions are Us brings their own "Recovery Stills" format where meetings consist of three parts, an open discussion (much like How Was Your Week), a directed topical discussion (like one section of a Recovery By Choice Workbook group), and a carry-over of a past discussion. The group's new brochure describes the format in more detail. Take a look at it here.

What may be of most interest to LifeRing convenors is the rotating topics list for the second section. Most are topics that appear in Recovery by Choice. Some are not. Some convenors may have a list like this – plus topics of local interest – handy for times when their group wants to do something a little different.

Cravings & Triggers
Daily Program
Trust – Using it and re-building it.
Dreams About Using
Setting Goals
How to Handle New Free Time
Importance of Diet
Importance of Exercise
Problem Solving
Small Steps – Large Changes
Anger Management
Identifying Feelings
Allowing for Change in Yourself
Alternative Sources of Support
Cycles in Mood
Stress Management
Helpful Criticism – How to deal with it.
Substitute compulsions / addictions
Dealing with loss
Holidays – Extra plan for handling those special functions
Post Acute Withdrawal symptoms

Convenors seeking to make their own brochures may also find Southern Ontario example illustrative.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Draft of new brochure, for comment

This past week I've given LifeRing presentations to two groups of lawyers, one in Hayward and another one here in Oakland, today. At the Oakland talk a number of social workers were also in the audience. There were expressions of surprise both from the lawyers and from the social workers when I mentioned the recent federal court case that said 12-step groups are religious and that a government official cannot refer a client exclusively to 12-step groups. I was surprised they were surprised -- I kind of thought that maybe lawyers would know this stuff and that social workers would have been told by their employers. Am I naive, or what! Sooo, right after the noontime talk today I drafted up a new LifeRing brochure, called "Choice of Support Groups: It's the Law," and I would appreciate it if those of you concerned with this issue would have a look at it and give me the benefit of your comments on the brochure. The draft is posted for your download here. Please post comments on the brochure here.

The text of the brochure is drawn largely from my earlier blog post about this court case, there. Please post comments about the court decision there. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Confrontation Therapy, R.I.P.

Two of my favorite scholars have combined to write a powerhouse of an article that everyone interested in addiction treatment will want to read. William R. Miller, co-author of the Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches (reviewed here), and William L. White, author of the monumental history Slaying the Dragon (reviewed here), have written what hopefully will be an obituary for an era, entitled "Confrontation in Addiction Treatment." It's in Counselor Magazine.

I've posted excerpts and a short comment in the New Recovery Blog; go there.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Email from a Treatment Professional

The head of a hospital-based treatment program where LifeRing meetings started last year sent this email to the LifeRing convenor who had asked to move the LifeRing meeting to a larger room on a different evening:

"All the newest scientific literature in recovery says "one size does not fit all - and should not" implying people should have choices that will keep them coming, as it is difficult to affect change when the patient does not attend. Historically, we have viewed resistance to 12-step programs as "denial". We are moving away from that dogmatic approach to substance abuse counseling. This is my long-winded way of attempting to say I no longer view LifeRing as "competition" to [12-step], especially given the extraordinary acceptance it has had among our IOP patients who would not have otherwise attended AA or NA.

Consequently, I suggest you move the meeting to whatever date and time you wish.... Given what we are learning about substance abuse treatment, disallowing to the change would not be in the best interest of the patients wishing to attend, and therefore hard to justify. ...

So, in summary, I say move the meeting on your own.... Again, congratulations on a very popular treatment alternative that has meant the difference between attending or not attending self-help groups for a large number of our patients."

Monday, January 21, 2008

2008 Congress Coordinator Steps In

I'm delighted to be able to announce that Gillian Ellenby has accepted the position of 2008 Congress Coordinator, effective immediately.

Gillian is a former member of the LifeRing Board of Directors and the former Secretary of LifeRing. She is an active and experienced LifeRing convenor, and has participated in LifeRing Congresses going back to 2002, when she was one of the presenters. She has been involved in all aspects of Congress organizing in the past.

Gillian will be the central go-to person for all 2008 Congress issues. Please contact her at

Monday, January 7, 2008

Education level of CA counselors

CAADAC, one of the California addiction professionals' organizations, has released a membership survey showing, among other things, the highest educational level reached by its membership. It shows that 29 per cent, the largest single category, do not have a junior college certificate or college degree; they have completed unspecified drug/alcohol studies only. Another 18 per cent have a junior college degree. Twenty-eight per cent have a B.A. as their highest degree; 20 per cent have an M.A., and 5 per cent have a Ph.D. Altogether, 47 per cent don't have a college degree; 53 per cent do. The association's membership includes counselors and program administrators. Source.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Get well soon, John G.!

We've received a terrible medical bulletin from John G., the convenor of the LifeRing meeting in Brampton, outside of Toronto. He is going to be starting radiation therapy soon and will have to reduce his activity. If you would like to send him a get-well wish, please address it to John at

Thanks. -- Marty N.