Saturday, December 26, 2009

Great letter from Eugene OR

James K. from Eugene OR writes:

I convened a successful first LifeRing Secular Recovery meeting Monday, December 21, 2009 here in Eugene, Oregon.  It was helpful and, dare I say, fun, for all!  I look forward to more meetings and hope we can grow while spreading the LifeRing philosophy.
I have a few comments I'd like to share with Mr. Nicolaus:
In 'How Was Your Week' (V1.00.0), Sec. "Internal Ferment in the twelve step world."  I would try and replace 'ferment' with something.  Ferment is to alcohol as white is to school glue.  'Discord' and 'discontent' come to mind. [...]
Also, p. 11.  Very nice example; indigenous tribesman and firewater c.1700s.  I love this use.
"Recovery by Choice."  I love this workbook!  A few ideas:  tear-out t-chart and plan pages, more sections dealing with medicine in recovery (more methadone please), perhaps adding more commonly used treatment devices such as suboxone and antabuse. Maybe a version for inpatient and a slightly different one for outpatient and one mode for groups of several or more people to use together along with their own copies or own sections.
Thank you so much for this opportunity!
-- J.K.
James, thank you for that great letter.  I'm delighted that LifeRing is taking root in Eugene, and I feel in my bones that Oregon is going to be a big state for LifeRing one of these days.

Thanks especially for the comment on "How Was Your Week."  On my to do list for the next year is to update this volume and get it printed as a regular paperback, instead of the copy-shop plastic comb binding that it now has.  I'll certainly rephrase "ferment" to something less "spiritual."

You have great suggestions for the workbook.  It's designed right now primarily for bibliotherapy (individuals doing it more or less on their own).  But we're also using it in small peer-led groups and there are treatment professionals using it with clients, both individually and in groups.  If you could provide some more concrete, detailed suggestions how the book could be adapted for inpatient and outpatient use, respectively, that would be very helpful.

Best regards for the new year, and best wishes for the success of LifeRing in Eugene,

-- Marty N.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fundraiser Mailing Goes Out

A small handful of dedicated volunteers prepared the annual LifeRing fundraiser mailing on Dec. 9 at the Service Center in Oakland. If you are on the mailing list, you probably will have received the mail piece by now, or will receive it in the next day or two. That is, unless our paper folding machine ate it.

Here's what it took to get this mailing out to you.

First, preparing the mailing list. This means selecting the most likely donors from our database. In this case, we included everyone who had donated to LifeRing within the past four years, plus everyone who had purchased something from LifeRing Press within the past two years. We also added all current or past LifeRing convenors so that the convenors could take the letter to their meetings and encourage meeting participants to pitch in.

Then, the mailing list has to be verified and sorted. For this we use a program called Dazzle Express, which costs $195 a year. Dazzle Express checks each address in the mailing list against Post Office data to make sure the address exists and the zip code is correct. It also checks for duplicate addresses. This year, the Post Office also required us to subscribe to an additional service that keeps track of change-of-address forms, and costs us an additional $250 for 100,000 addresses. The Dazzle Express software also generates traying reports, tray labels, and other paperwork required by the Post Office for our nonprofit mailing permit.

Once the mailing list is done, we convert it into an Excel file, and this becomes the data file for a Microsoft Word MailMerge printing operation. Once that's running -- and this gave us considerable trouble because of Microsoft Office 7 issues -- the job went to Fluffy, our HP 9050 printer. We acquired Fluffy second-hand from a bankrupt auto dealer at a good discount earlier this year, and it has brought much joy. Fluffy not only printed this duplex job in less than half the time it took last year on our small office lasers, it also spit out the finished paper nice and flat, instead of crinkled as in the past.

Then it was time for the folding machine. Our venerable Martin-Yale light duty friction-feed desktop paper folder, already temperamental in its youth, proved irrepressibly cranky in its decline, and indulged in spectacular paper jams that destroyed more than 50 mail pieces. By the end of the run, the rollers were barely turning over, an acrid overheating smell rose from the apparatus, and even liberal doses of 3-in-1 oil on the bearings revived it only briefly. One of the things we will have to do with the funds we raise is to purchase a new and more robust folder.

From the folder, the surviving stack of folded pieces went into the tabber. The tabbing machine, which automatically places little white round gummed stickers on the edges of the paper to keep it closed, was also unhappy at first, but recovered its good form for most of the run after a spray of WD-40 on its feed rollers. Magical stuff, that.

Then the pieces needed to be placed in the proper Post Office trays. The pieces came off the printer in proper sequence, and there were only four trays, and the Dazzle Express software created a list of what pieces go into which trays, so in theory this should have been a simple operation. But due to the problems with the folder, the pieces got quite out of sequence, and didn't seem to match the numbers on the printed list, so that the whole mailing had to be resorted manually before it went into the trays. This took the operation into a second day.

At the Business Bulk Mail Unit in the main Post Office in Oakland the next day, the clerk checked our work briefly, stamped it OK, and sent us on our way. But the next morning came a phone call that there were problems -- the Post Office's Merlin software found things out of order -- and we had to go back to the Post Office, bring more money, and move things from one tray to another before we had the official blessing.

So, when you get this modest mail piece, please give at least a fleeting thought to the people and the processes that brought it to you. And if you didn't get the mailing but would like to get the warm feeling that comes from helping a deserving nonprofit, you can donate online by clicking here, or you can mail a check to LifeRing Service Center, 1440 Broadway Suite 312, Oakland CA 94612. Thank you.

New Blog: The Shape of LifeRing in 2010

Convenors will want to check out the new blog, Lifering-10, and join the discussion there to shape the future of LifeRing in 2010 and beyond.  The blog begins with the report of the Expansion Committee. This contains proposals for greatly expanding the ranks of LifeRing leadership.  The blog allows anyone to post comments either on the Expansion Committee report as a whole or on its separate components.  Convenors are asked (a) to familiarize themselves with the proposals, (b) to sound out their meetings on the main issues that the proposals raise, and (c) to provide their own and their meeting members' feedback.

You'll be hearing more about these issues in the New Year.  We want to make sure that every LifeRing participant is aware at least of the general drift of the proposals, and has the opportunity to comment on them.  These proposals will form the centerpiece of the 2010 LifeRing Congress/Expo in Denver in June.

Please post your thoughts about the proposals in the LifeRing-10 blog (not here), thank you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Service Center Gets New Look

Starting Thanksgiving weekend, a handful of volunteers transformed the LifeRing Service Center from a seedy looking chaotic mess into a pleasant, tidy and better organized place to serve the meetings.

(If you don't see the movie, view this in Firefox, Chrome, or any browser other than Internet Explorer.)
The Service Center is a compact (euphemism for tiny) office space with an interior view (on an airshaft).  It houses the computers that (try to) keep track of LifeRing meetings and the printers and other office machinery that put out much of our publicity.  It's located in downtown Oakland CA. The rent is $600 a month.

LifeRing Press books are stored there and your LifeRing book orders are picked, packed, and shipped from there.  It also serves as the meeting place for the monthly LifeRing convenor workshops (second Saturday of each month except August and December) and for a workbook study group (Tuesday evenings).  

The office rehab operation involved moving dozens of boxes of books, reorganizing a big steel shelf, moving two big metal file cabinets, disassembling and removing a custom desk, assembling a brand new L-shaped desk out of the box (in hundreds of pieces), and taking down and reassembling all of the electronics, among other tasks.

Credit for the major makeover goes to David F. from Marin County, Robert S. (LifeRing Treasurer), Jim R. (LifeRing Secretary), and Karen I. (IT guru).  I helped out and took some pictures, see video above.

The job isn't completely done yet -- there will be more decorations on the walls and the main computer will be upgraded -- but it was sufficiently completed by Monday morning to provide a more hospitable welcome and working environment for Rachaell C., our new Office Administrator. I'll post "After" photos when the finishing touches are added.

If you're local to the San Francisco Bay Area, come see the new digs for yourself at our Open House Saturday Dec. 19 from 1-4 pm.

Tenacity Pays Off

This message came to the Service Center this week from Brian P., convenor of the LifeRing in Vacaville CA.  Vacaville is a town of about 100,000 located halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento.  The LifeRing meeting in Vacaville was started originally by one of LifeRing's founding members, Bill Somers, at the church to which he and his wife Anita B. belonged.  After Bill's death, the meeting dwindled away.  LifeRing convenors Ken K. and John D. restarted it at the Vacaville Kaiser facility (photo), but for many months it barely hung to life.  So when an email arrived at the Service Center with the subject "LifeRing in Vacaville" I was prepared for the worst.  What a sweet surprise:

I just wanted to check in regarding the Thursday Vacaville meeting which I have been convening for about 18 months or so. If you will recall, I  picked up the meeting from the individual who had originally started it.  I must confess, it was extremely slow to start. I originally worked with Ken and John D.  Often, I would often be the only one in attendance. I am happy to report that we have finally have turned the corner and  developed a core constituency of about seven people ranging in age from 71 to 24. While it still is a bit tenuous, having an established base is helping to enlarge that group.
 Kaiser continues to be very good to work with and they have been good with program referrals. Kaiser, recently finished construction and opened their full care Vacaville hospital.  Even through the construction chaos they always strived to insure that we had a meeting room.  From time to time, I entertained the notion of trying a different night for our LifeRing meeting but Kaiser indicated they would be limited on meeting space until after the construction was finished. Now that construction is finished, Kaiser has offered us  the opportunity for an additional meeting on Monday nights from 7-8PM. After polling the existing group as well as asking others, it would seem that there is a need for Monday meetings.
 Accordingly, I would like to take advantage of this opportunity and add the second meeting to the schedule.  Another individual, Robert M., has expressed in interest in convening the Monday meeting for at least six months.  Rob has been attending my meeting as well as the LifeRing Monday meeting at Kasier Vallejo for the past nine months.  I have also given him (and he has read) the LifeRing convenor handbook and related materials. He like myself, also participates in Kaiser's long term CDRP initiative, Phase III. I have offered to assist Rob with this program insuring that I can attend his meetings regularly for the first several months to try and insure a smooth start.  [...]
 Also, one area that I have been remiss in is in passing the proverbial green envelope. I have been reluctant to do so for fear of frightening someone away.  I have made personal contributions through the Vallejo meeting  in lieu of passing the envelope, but starting with the first January meeting I will start passing the envelope and remit the proceeds to the "home office" monthly. If you would kindly advise as to where I should send this it would be appreciated.  I will see that Rob does so as well.
 As a personal aside, I wanted to take this opportunity to  congratulate you on your book, Empowering Your Sober Self.  It is a great read and it offers some of the most refreshing perspectives on addiction that I have read to date. I can also tell you that you made John D's day by including his vignette.  He has every reason to be proud of his recovery and as you know, he has given much of himself to help others in need.  It is great to give credit where credit is due. [...]

Congratulations to Brian and Rob and the other regulars of the Vacaville LifeRing for this achievement.  In a follow-up email, Brian comments on the fact that getting a new meeting started, especially in a new location, may take an extraordinary amount of tenacity. He writes:

I read a book sometime back about Fred Smith, who founded Fed Ex, entitled Overnight Success. The name of the book always stuck with me because it was deceptively accurate.  While it is true that he became success in the overnight business his journey to achieve that success was anything but overnight.  I think there was a lesson there for me.

Not only for Brian, for all of us.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teaching in Sacramento

Dr. B. J. Davis and I had a good day Saturday Nov. 21 in Sacramento CA, teaching a group of addiction counselors about LifeRing and Choice Theory.  LifeRing convenor Robert O. in Sacramento deserves major kudos for getting the event on the calendar and getting every detail, including ample refreshments, in place on the day of the event.  Two leading members of CAADAC (the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors), namely regional director Pete Nielsen and regional vice-president Karl Hexberg, arranged for Continuing Education Units, email-blasted the regional membership, and prepared the paperwork, and Karl sat through the entire session.

We started at 9 am, and I began my 200-slide PowerPoint about half an hour later.  I covered basic facts about LifeRing, such as where the meetings were located and typical characteristics of our membership, and then outlined the 3-S philosophy.  I got to the end of the second S by lunch time.  It was a good interactive session with just about everyone in the room getting into the discussion and nobody falling asleep.

After lunch I finished the third S, and then Dr. Davis talked for about 45 minutes about Choice Theory and his research into Quality of Life in recovery.  Then I picked it up again and covered the LifeRing meeting format and the Recovery by Choice workbook.  I had to cut it short as we ran out of time but certainly the main points got across.  The audience were attentive the whole time.  There was lots of crosstalk, all of it positive.  Even though a number of folks present identified themselves as 12-step, there was no tension or animosity on either side.

Both Dr. Davis and I got a lot of thanks at the end, and I got a couple of inquiries about giving the LifeRing talk in other towns.  There were people from Vallejo, Petaluma, Yuba City, and other towns plus local Sacramento folks at the session.  Our only regrets were that not more people from social services agencies in the city attended, because apparently they were not included on the email lists.  We're talking about repeating this training in the spring, this time with broader advance publicity.

The whole set of my 200 slides is available for downloading at workshop.ppt 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Visit to Charleston

Despite beautiful summer weather -- 76 degrees and a blue sky -- about 30 people turned out at the Unitarian-Universalist meeting hall in Charleston South Carolina this past Sunday to hear me talk about the LifeRing approach to addiction recovery.  Most of the credit goes to LifeRing convenor Matt Dean, who founded the LifeRing meeting that convenes in the same building on Friday evenings, and who proposed the program to the Lowcountry Secular Humanist Association who sponsored my talk and paid my transportation. 

This was the first "normie" audience (people mostly not in recovery) I'd spoken to in quite some time, and they hung in there even when I ran a bit over time.  I spoke without any text or notes and that seemed to work OK.  The feedback I got directly, as well as the feedback that came indirectly (usually more telling) were all positive.  

The Humanists have adopted LifeRing as the  charitable organization to which they will direct their donations for the rest of this year.  Quite a few people told me how relieved they were to have a secular recovery alternative where they could refer their family and friends in this mostly Bible-belt area.  

Matt together with media maven Todd Fresh (who edited the terrific B J Davis DVD available from LifeRing Press) were perfect hosts and took the time to show me around historic downtown Charleston.  

I have to say, this city has worked hard to clean up its act.  In the old days it was the main port from which captive Native Americans were sold into slavery in the West Indies; it led the secession from the Union to preserve slavery; and of course it's the site of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began.  

I didn't see a single Confederate flag, and the whole tenor of the beautifully preserved or restored historic downtown is to let bygones be bygones and let the tourist dollars roll in from wherever.  And of course the fact that the city has an active Secular Humanist group and a LifeRing meeting is a jewel in its reputation.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A message to warm an author's heart

This message came in today from David F., LifeRing convenor in San Rafael CA:
I got an e-mail yesterday from a guy who wanted to know if he could "drop in" on tonight's LifeRing meeting. We exchanged e-mail a couple more times to be sure he got the directions, etc. Tonight, he showed up and, when it came time for him to talk, he said he'd gotten sober on his own for a while, then began drinking and it was affecting his marriage. He didn't now where to turn for help. One day, in the Self-Help section of a bookstore, he saw your book. It looked interesting so he bought it, read it, liked the way it was written and what it said very much, got on the web site and found our meeting and here he was tonight! I think he gelled very well with LifeRing and we'll see him again real soon and for a long time!
So, hey man.....Congratulations!  -- David
Thank you David.  This is the kind of thing that makes an author's long lonely hours of research and writing and rewriting worthwhile.  The book was designed to bring people to LifeRing meetings and it looks like it's working. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Your input needed on website redesign project

A major redesign is in the works for the (a/k/a website.  Whether it needs it or not (LOL!).  The site first launched on June 16 1996 and it's been growing like a kudzu vine ever since.  Now a talented and experienced web designer has stepped forward.  He is Chris Adams. 

Chris' day job is as senior art director for Rolling Orange (see and his personal website is at   He has designed websites for Santa Cruz Snowboards, Giro, RockShox, Bell BMX, Blackburn, Mahlzeit (Zurich), Carnegie Hall, Weisman Art Museum (Minneapolis), Electronic Arts, 3M, Andersen Windows, Stanford University, Stanford School of Medicine, Yale University, University of Chicago, Santa Clara University, Covad, Cisco, Borland, QPorter (Zurich Mobile), Straub Hospital & Clinics (Honolulu), Wilcox Health (Kauai), and 3M Dental, among others.  We are in good hands. 

Chris' design process begins by casting as wide a web as possible for user input.  In the coming days, if you have any connection with LifeRing, you will be invited to share your views about the ( website via an online survey.  Your emails, letters, even phone calls are also invited.  Chris and the rest of the LifeRing IT group want to be sure that everyone has a chance to be heard and that no idea is overlooked. 

Two survey forms are now up on the web, asking for your input.  One is for the "general public" -- anyone at all with an interest in LifeRing, especially our online presence.  Click here for that one.  The other is aimed more specifically at LifeRing convenors, who are the living core of this organization.  Click here for the convenor input form.  Both are anonymous, and there's no rule against filling out both.  But do it now, or very soon.  (Survey is now closed.  Thank you to all who participated.)

We hope very much to launch the new design in January, which means an enormous amount of work between now and then, and everyone's timely cooperation is necessary.  I'm excited about this project, and I think you will be too.  We're going to have a top notch professional looking website, and that's going to inspire even greater confidence in the organization and attract even more people to this positive, empowering recovery environment of ours.

Monday, November 2, 2009

LifeRing Training in Sacramento Nov. 21

Following up on the well-reviewed Sept. 19 LifeRing training in Oakland, I'll be co-presenting a new LifeRing training for treatment professionals in Sacramento on Saturday, Nov. 21.  This'll be in part a replay of the Sept. 19 presentation in Oakland, and in part an entirely new and exciting event, with the addition of my co-presenter, Dr. B.J. Davis of Strategies for Change.  Dr. Davis is, of course, the author of the new DVD, What is Recovery?  A Quality of Life Analysis (available from LifeRing Press), and a frequent and dynamic presenter at professional conferences.  Here's an online flyer with the information about the event.  As in Oakland, there'll be 6 (six) CEUs available for treatment professionals.  Even better than Oakland, which cost $10, this event is FREE.  LifeRing convenors and other participants are, of course, invited to sit in.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Choice of Support Groups: It's the Law

My article, "Choice of Support Groups: It's the Law" is in the current issue of Counselor magazine, which is not only the best publication of its type but also, now, the official journal of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC).

The article discusses the recent federal court decision holding that the 12-step program is religious in nature, when viewed in light of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

If you don't happen to receive this publication in the mail, I've scanned this article and made a PDF file for downloading.  It's at  -- be patient, it's a 16 mb file and takes a bit of time to download.

This article is an expansion and update of the LifeRing brochure of the same title, available for download here.

You can also view a slideshow and an informal video of a talk I gave on this topic, here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Seventeenth

Today is my seventeenth anniversary clean and sober.  I woke up at 5 am and by a quarter to six was on the road from my home in Berkeley to Sacramento to staff the LifeRing table at the annual conference of CAADAC, the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors. Here's a snapshot of the Sacramento skyline from my car window at dawn.

Shortly after 7 am I landed in the LifeRing meeting in the Rose Room of the Marriott. This was the first LifeRing meeting ever at the annual CAADAC event.  When I arrived, the CAADAC organizers were still setting up and there was no lobby sign directing people to the meeting, but the nice person unpacking at the registration desk immediately answered my request for directions to the LifeRing meeting.  And lo!  There were familiar LifeRing signs in the hallway and outside the door, and inside, Sacramento convenor Bob O. had assembled a pioneer bunch of LifeRing participants to make the meeting real.  We didn't have all that many CAADAC people in the room at that hour, but the fact that the meeting was on the schedule helped a great deal with name recognition as I sat at the LifeRing exhibit table this morning.

We had a good table just inside the entry door of the exhibit room -- a considerable improvement over last year when we were packed like sardines -- and CAADAC CEO Rhonda Messamore came over and delivered a friendly welcome early in the morning.  Later in the day I had a few minutes of chat with CAADAC President Joe Aragon, and gave him the sixty-second version of how LifeRing works.  I also had a chance to pick up copies of the new October issue of Counselor, the magazine for addiction professionals, containing on p. 40 my article, "Choice of Support Groups-- It's the Law!"  This mag goes to all CAADAC members as part of their membership, and a stack of copies was on the next table over.

Of the dozens who stopped at the table to look and chat, just one person walked away in a pout when told this was a way to get clean and sober other than via the 12 steps.  Everyone else perked up in interest.  Every counselor I talked to knew that client resistance to 12-step is a reality, and most understood that professionalism means offering the client options. It was particularly rewarding to talk with the many chemical dependency students who were attending the conference.  Almost without exception, they were being taught that there are multiple roads to recovery and that they need to understand and provide options to their clients.
The future is bright.

But there's a way to go.  The theme of this year's CAADAC event was "Moving Beyond Tolerance:  Creating a Multiculturally competent workforce."  You would think then that the keynote plenary address would take off on this theme and feature -- dare we hope -- a speaker from some culture other than Wonder Bread?  Wrong.  There was no greater cultural diversity among the plenary speakers this year than in past years.  One of the few speakers on the program who has genuine credentials of birth, scientific competence and clinical experience in this subject -- Dr. B.J. Davis of Strategies for Change -- was marginalized to an afternoon breakout in competition with four other speakers.  Davis would have been the logical plenary keynoter for a conference with this theme, if the Association meant "development of a multiculturally competent workforce" as more than window dressing.

Things were slower in the exhibit hall on the second day and I had a chance to chat at some length with Bob O., the LifeRing convenor in Sacramento whose quiet energy has a lot to do with the fact that we now have seven -- count them -- seven LifeRing meetings in the Sacramento area. The work that Bob has been doing exemplifies in my mind the role of area convenor (or "regional coordinator") that we are developing as part of the LifeRing expansion project. Sitting with me at the table all day Saturday, Bob had a chance to meet some of the CAADAC bigwigs and, perhaps more importantly, local area treatment providers and students.

It was also a pleasure to get a message from Jo Marie G., the pioneer convenor who started the first LifeRing meeting in Sacramento not so very long ago. Her job kept her away but she is doing fine and keeps in touch.

I also had the chance to meet the newest LifeRing convenor in Sacramento, Dan F. Dan is a counseling student and started the new Friday afternoon meeting in south City.

During dull moments in the exhibit hall Bob and I chatted with several people who took turns staffing the NA table. One of them told us that some judges in Marin County discriminated against NA and would only refer people to AA. That surprised me, but then it's not news that some judges need educating.

Speaking of educating, one of the people who stopped by the LifeRing table was a Washington lobbyist who represents counseling professionals. He said that his biggest headache is persuading legislators that addiction is a disease on a par with other mental health illnesses. They think it's a spiritual maladjustment or a character defect. But once he has them convinced it's a disease, he has to do a 180 degree turn and convince them that you don't need medical qualifications to treat it.

Just a few days before the conference, CAADAC sent out an emergency appeal to call the governor and tell him to veto a bill on his desk that would require addiction professionals to have the same educational background as other mental health treatment providers, namely a Master's degree at a minimum. This would throw the huge majority of California treatment professionals out of work. In this state you can provide front line treatment for the disease of addiction without having a high school diploma. Disaster was averted by amendment at the last minute.

My lobbyist friend was fully aware of the irony. Addiction professionals demand parity in funding but reject parity in qualifications. It's an Alice-in-Wonderland world.

In this regard, Bob O. asked why LifeRing spends the money (around $700) to put an exhibit table in this conference. Shouldn't the conference be paying us to be here? Certainly we don't make the money back in book sales. This is not, on the whole, a book buying crowd; counselors are notoriously underpaid. The answer, if there is a good one, is name recognition. We are still widely unknown in the profession, and it costs money to fix that. We're buying space in the "aha" region of the addiction professional's brain. If our name comes up, it sounds familiar to them, instead of strange. And that translates, over time, into referrals to LifeRing meetings. That's what we're paying for. It is, in my opinion, money well spent. Although really, for the price, the conference should throw in lunch.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Another (unanswered) call for help to LifeRing Partners

Email received at the LifeRing Service Center today:

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



Dear A:

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

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Full house for CAADAC LifeRing Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments on this page:

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

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


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

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A veteran counselor speaks

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

Saturday, September 5, 2009

LifeRing at St. Patrick's Hospital, Dublin

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

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

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

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

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

Second LifeRing at MPI

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What If There Were LifeRing Treatment?

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

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

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

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

Choice is the Law: Forthcoming Article

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

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

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

Better Early Than Never -- LifeRing Meeting at Counselor Conference

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

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

New LifeRing Canada Website

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

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

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

Using Craigslist to Get the Word Out

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In Memoriam: Jason Kelly

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

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

Friday, August 14, 2009

Where do I start?

This email came to the LifeRing Service Center today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Kay Rossi Ph.D.

LifeRing convenor Carola Z. writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will never forget her.


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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All the libraries in Dublin

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

Letter From a Faith-Based Treatment Program

This email came to the LifeRing Service Center today:

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

Dear Ms. _________:

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

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

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

You can find out more from the following sources: -- a very short FAQ page -- outline of the basic philosophy -- Introduction for treatment professionals, with more resources -- About LifeRing, the organization -- Online bookstore, where you can order print and CD publications about LifeRing, including the workbook

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

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My neighbor V.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desperately Need LifeRing Partners Meetings

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

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

LifeRing in Ireland

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

LifeRing for Veterans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LifeRing in Marin County

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

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

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

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