Well, my dear blog friends, you’ve waited long enough.
As you know, LifeRing held its annual conference earlier this month in beautiful San Diego this year, and I know you’ve been dying to hear aaaaallll about it…
Before we get started, though, my sense of propriety requires that I must warn you that I thought in order to share the immediacy of these events with the wider LifeRing world – since in addition to being the blogstress I’m now LifeRing’s “Facebook person” and everything – that it would be a good idea to try being one of these live Facebooker people and post stuff on our Facebook page as the conference went along.
I mean, how hard can it be, amiright? Yeah!
I even downloaded a nifty app that allows one to access more than one social media account at a time on their smart phones, which I’m happy to report works like a charm. (Honestly. I give it 5 stars!) I proceeded to take pictures, and then spent hours trying to upload them and post them to Facebook with limited degrees of success.
Therefore, you get to enjoy the sucky pics I took in all their bleary-eyed glory* (thanks again to Dan Carrigan for getting a coupla great shots).
So, here it is – my take on things, for the second year running**. Thilling, idn’t it?
Friday, June 3rd
First and foremost, I’d like to offer my sincerest thanks to folks like Rob Mullally and the treatment professionals at Lasting Recovery Outpatient Rehab and Treatment Center in San Diego – which offers 4 (count ’em, 4!) of our meetings at their facility – for the roles they played in hosting our conference this year. They were not only gracious enough to allow us to hold two different portions of our conference in their space, additionally, several members of Lasting Recovery’s staff agreed to give presentations about addiction brain science, how they serve people in recovery, and the state of choice in recovery today.
The conference started on Friday June 3rd with a Meet and Greet at Lasting Recovery’s facility, followed by a workshop, “Leadership By Example, Influence, and Design” conducted by Dave Fletcher, a long-time LifeRing Colorado meeting convenor.
What with my innate wallfloweryness and all, I admit I didn’t mingle as much as I could’ve, but it was still lovely to see so many of the people we met last year in Salt Lake City attending again this year, and meeting a few new people to boot. Rob Mullally, the delightful Irish gentleman who as I mentioned before was instrumental in getting LifeRing installed at Lasting Recovery, is a stand out, as is George from LifeRing Vancouver (both of whom will also likely join the BOD).
One of the very best parts of the entire weekend for my husband and fellow LifeRinger Rich and I was getting to meet Jackie, a long time e-mail list friend I’d never had the pleasure of meeting in person before who made the trip all the way from the East Coast just to join up with some of us list “old-timers” at the conference, especially Craig W. and Rich. It was such a joy!
As it turned out, it was also the perfect opportunity to mention the importance of all connections made in recovery. One of LifeRing’s main missions is starting new meetings – as many as possible in as many places as possible – but one of our main obstacles is giving convenors (and potential convenors) good tutelage on what makes for great meetings they can apply wherever they are.
This is where Dave Fletcher of LifeRing Colorado stepped in and conducted a workshop called “Leadership Through Example, Influence, and Design”. He posed a series of questions, and then we broke off into smaller groups and discussed different ideas and approaches among ourselves about what we thought were our best meeting experiences were. Then the larger group got back together and presented their favorite things. The biggies? Connection, intimacy, laughter, and motivation.
Afterward a few of us went out for a bite to eat and bit more time to catch up (while I continued futzing around with that damned phone), and then said our our adieus until meeting again Saturday morning at the Qualcomm building auditorium where the main events of the conference were to take place.
Saturday, June 4th
A word about Qualcomm: It’s the Starbucks of North San Diego; there’s one on every corner. You think I’m kidding, don’t you? Between looking at a map, running around trying to find which one we were going to be meeting in, and the F-15 fighter jets out of Miramar screaming overhead, we found ourselves in heady state of disoriented awe…
Looks a little like measles, don’t it? We’d never seen anything like it. As it turned out, we were meeting in very nice Qualcomm Building Q, which Rob explained how to get to perfectly (which we were able to secure for the very fair price of free, thanks to a friend of his). And which, yes, means there are also Buildings A – P…
Thusly, once settled in at the ample auditorium space, in the pages of my trusty Dollar General spiral notebook I turned to a clean page following a delish Pork Piccata recipe to begin taking copious notes, and the conference started off nicely with LifeRing’s own Board of Directors Chair Byron Kerr speaking about “The State of Lifering”.
The highlights of included:
- New meetings have sprung up throughout the U.S. as well as in Sweden, Ireland, and London, UK.
- LifeRing in Michigan is looking expand up to 15 meetings!
- We need more of them! And more convenors willing to train other convenors to sub for them/start new meetings of their own (although we must also accept “No” as a perfectly valid response).
- Toward this end, we’ve established “Regional Representatives”, headed by Lisa Swing-Corney of LifeRing Akron, to help coordinate and support meetings/convenors throughout the organization, which has been going well
- Craig and Robert are doing a tremendous amount of work via the LifeRing Service Center office in Berkeley, and one of Craig’s newest ideas – he’s created a new convenor “Care Package” to send to new meeting convenors, which includes signage and literature as well as a donation basket for those convenors who’d like to pass it around to cover meeting costs/collect donations for the org.
- Byron and others in the organization have been able to attend several conferences over the past year, including the CCAR “Multiple Pathways of Recovery” conference in Groton, CT which opened LifeRing Board Member Njon Weinroth’s presentation, and have made many vital new contacts with others in the recovery community.
- One of these contacts, “In the Rooms”, has invited us to test using their medium for LifeRing video meetings.
- Peter Dodge, of the Peter G. Dodge Foundation, was a panelist at a Transcendental Meditation conference Byron attended in Manhattan in 2015. Dodge is one of the few people who’ve ever stated at such an event the fact that they were unable to recovery value for himself in the predominant support model, and that supporting alternative models is of vital importance to other people like him. Suffice it to say, Byron got on with him like a house on fire, and have remained in touch since.
- We’ve grown over the past year in wider reaches of the general public, including on Facebook and Twitter, and the future looks bright.
Byron’s talk is available on LifeRing’s YouTube channel here.
Jeff Cox, Lead Counselor at Lasting Recovery, then spoke about the fact that, regardless of one’s definition of addiction (although he touts the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s definition as the most accurate), Lasting Recovery bases part of its treatment protocols upon the knowledge that people who leave treatment engaged in self-help as well as mutual support groups are typically better off once they go “out there.”
At some point in time, they also decided that the concept of multiple pathways of recovery for all individuals is valid, and deserves recognition and support. As a result, they’ve opened up to recovery resources other than strictly 12 Step, including LifeRing, with success!
Jeff’s talk is available on LifeRing’s YouTube channel here.
The next speaker was Chenyka Ramos, a counselor at Lasting Recovery who talked about what her role is in helping people through what could be described as “The Dilemma of Change.” I think most addicts can certain identify with what that means – it’s the conundrum of being of two minds about your addiction and recovery, of being “stuck” between staying in it and getting out from under it, and all the different feelings of fear and uncertainty both provoke.
It’s a squirrelly place to be, this dilemma. It can range through six different stages – pre-contemplation, contemplation, determination, action, and termination or potential relapse, and back again – like taking one step forward, and two steps back.
Chenyka’s talk is available on LifeRing’s YouTube channel here.
The next speaker was Kai MacDonald, M.D., Lasting Recovery’s Medical Director, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist with 25 years of study of and research into the brain.
I was looking forward to his presentation the most because I’ve been enthralled with the science of addiction for quite a while now, and I was not disappointed. My husband also enjoyed it thoroughly, as I’m sure did everyone else.
Dr. MacDonald possesses a (spoiler alert) shit ton of knowledge about neuroscience and addiction as a brain disorder, but more importantly, the ability to prsent all that information in an engaging, entertaining manner pretty much anyone can learn and benefit from.
Entitled “50 Shades of Brain: Black, White, and Grey in Addiction Treatment”, this presentation discusses the “causal complexity” of addiction, explains the central opiate center of the brain, how addiction “hijacks” the brain’s dopamine system, how brains can be “plastic and static” allowing for both build up of muscle and scar tissue, and how addicts, like all other human beings, are both social and unique creatures who tend to need to take both group and individual recovery therapies into consideration.
I was surprised to hear that addicts who endorse the brain model of addiction exclusively accept less responsibility for their addiction-driven behaviors and actions, a sort of “the devil (in my brain) made me do it” analogy. I have been convinced for such a long time that understanding the science of addiction will evolve the treatment for it into something more than a spiritual “curative” that it gave me food for thought, upon which I suspect I’ll be chewing for some time to come.
Dr. MacDonald’s presentation – a must see, IMHO! – is available on LifeRing’s YouTube channel here.
The next speaker was Tracey Helton Mitchell, a recovering addict with over 18 years clean and sober, and the author of recently published “The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin”, whose story I found so inspiring I rushed out to the merch table afterward to buy the book and caught her just in time to get it signed. (You can also get your own copy through the LifeRing Bookstore – see link in “Books and Movies” below.)
Tracey started out by saying she was one of the subjects of an HBO documentary made and released in the ’90’s called “Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street”, which chronicled the lives of young homeless heroin addicts living on the streets of the tough Tenderloin District in San Francisco. And although heroin was her main drug of choice, she said she was basically addicted to “more”. As in, “I’ll take more of that, please”, without much discrimination toward many substances. It also meant she had to do, and did do, almost anything to get her hands on “more” of whatever she could get.
Going to jail repeatedly and eventually being given a shot at a county-run treatment program (as opposed to simply just prison time) made all the difference for her, and she’s made the most of her life since. Now that an opiate epidemic has taken control over the entire country the way crack did the inner city in the 80’s, she feels that sharing the uniqueness of her experiences gives her the best opportunity to be a source of hope to addicts who think there isn’t any for them.
She calls herself “a recovery unicorn” – she hasn’t relapsed since stopping all of “more” – and is an advocate of flexible recovery approachs tailored to suit the individual, something she’s felt she needed to do for herself along the way. Part of her plan included using LifeRing’s “Recovery By Choice” workbook – specifically the section on avoiding relapse – so she learned to find recovery in lots of different places, and encourages everyone else to do the same.
Tracey’s talk is available on LifeRing’s YouTube channel here.
The sixth speaker of the day was Sarah Zemore, Ph.D., Senior Scientist of the Alcohol Research Group of the Public Health Institute, who reported on the initial findings of a $40 million dollar longitudinal study they’ve been conducting via online surveys of the success rates of various treatment options and modalities – including mutual support groups including LifeRing, SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, as well as 12 Steps (and which LifeRing members were invited to participate in).
Dr. Zemore presented the information from the study to date, which is not complete but the final results of which will eventually be published in journals (and that will also be sent to us). So far, she said, the thing that’s stood out to her and her fellow researchers the most is the idea that “the opposite of addiction is connection”, something we’ve all heard anecdotally from a variety of sources over the years but which data analysis now seems to be bearing out. The final result of the study should be most interesting…
Finally, our last scheduled speaker of the day, Dr. John Monterosso, PhD., USC researcher in addiction and self-control, was unable to make the conference due to an unexpected illness, and I was especially looking forward to his presentation, as well. The director of Lasting Recovery kindly filled in to talk to the group about the challenges they’ve faced in widening LifeRing’s reach in the San Diego treatment community, and some of the reasons why.
Since my hubby and I had been up since the crack of dawn (OK, 7:30, but still), we decided it was a good idea to make haste back to our hotel for a nap prior to the evening’s planned events, so I missed out on that last part.
On Saturday evening, a large group of us met at a Chili’s Restaurant (right across the parking lot from our hotel, no less!) where we had a great chance to nosh on Baby Back Ribs and socialize a little more, and during which we were treated to a mini awards ceremony.
Per LifeRing Board member Tim Reith, here’s the skinny on that:
“There were six ‘LifeRing Pioneer’ awards. Historically, the ‘Pioneer’ term referred to the efforts associated with the first few years of LifeRing when things were just coming together and there were awards for those people who were sort of ‘in at the beginning.’ The BOD decided to retain the name; even though we are maturing, people are still breaking new ground and pushing things forward. Hence there are still, and there will always be, ‘Pioneers’ at LifeRing.
Sunday, June 5th
Web Information and Resources
Dr. Kai MacDonald Recommendations:
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
The work of Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health, both in print and on the web.
For example, see Dr. Volkow’s TED Talk about why our brains get addicted here
Website/Dr. Volkow’s Page: drugabuse.gov Facebook: facebook.com/NIDANIH
“Pleasure Unwoven,” a film by Dr. Kevin McCauley. Dr. McCauley spoke at last year’s conference in Salt Lake City and was one of my favorites there, so I can highly recommend it, as well. (Link included in the “Books and Movies” section below)
Other Web Resources:
Alcohol Research Group
Peter G. Dodge Foundation
Books and Films
The “Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street” documentary can be viewed in its entirety here
Dr. McCauley’s film “Pleasure Unwoven” can be viewed in its entirety here.
*Note to self: Get a better camera! Point taken.
**If I’ve forgotten anything or posted incorrect information here, for the love of God, somebody please tell me and I’ll fix it!