Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Albuquerque Model

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

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

Here are the details:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wants Meeting in Bend OR

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Letter from Tampa

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

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

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wants LifeRing Inside

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We Need to Teach the Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Passing it on: A Model

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

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

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

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Face, New Look at Service Center

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Treatment Journal Reviews Empowering Your Sober Self

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Preferred Provider in Boulder CO

Stephanie Bryan emailed the website yesterday:

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

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

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

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

My website is

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

Desperate in Montana

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

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

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

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

Need Vet Convenor in Oakland

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

Convenor web site desiderata

Chris A., who is working up a new design for the website, is asking an important question:  Why do convenors come to the website?  What are they looking for?  What do they do when they get there?

Truth, we don't know the answers very well, and we need to know.  The new website design will have a convenor section.  What should be there?

Here are some random guesses what convenors are looking for on the LifeRing website:
  • To check that their meeting is correctly listed
  • To find out if they're "doing it right"
  • To see how other convenors handled similar issues they're facing
  • To get questions answered about the convenor role
  • To get information about our books, brochures
  • To get more supplies when they run out
  • To share something interesting or frustrating that happened
  • To see copies of documents like nonprofit status papers or insurance 
  • To get information about upcoming events (Congress/Expo)
  • To get reinforcement for being in the convenor role
  • To see what is happening in or with the network
  • To connect with other convenors
  • To learn more about LifeRing history and background
  • To find possible substitute convenors for themselves
  • To make announcements about holiday closures 
  • To find out what to do with money and signup sheets
If you're a LifeRing convenor, past present or future, please post a comment here with your desiderata for the convenor section of the coming new LifeRing website.  Thanks!