So, here’s the deal. Even though I’ve been involved with LifeRing since the very beginning of my sobriety in the Fall of 2007, this is the first year I’ve attended its Annual Meeting and Congress. Not because I haven’t wanted to go of course, but because, well, hanging out in enclosed spaces with a bunch of people I don’t know has never been my forté.
So why go this year, then, as opposed to, say, never?
Some of it has to do with becoming LifeRing’s “blog mistress”, some of it this year’s venue in beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah – not only does LifeRing have a fantastic presence there, but I also have family I hadn’t seen in far too long there – and some of it the need for an extended road trip with my hubby and fellow sobrietist Rich from our home in California through some of the Southwest’s gorgeous canyonlands on our way to and from SLC.
But I digress. This is my take and report on the conference, and here’s the real deal, Holyfield:
Recovery in America is changing, my friends, and all for the better as far as I’m concerned.
Friday afternoon consisted of checking out the Meeting venue and greeting some of our fellow attendees. Mahala Kephart, LifeRing Board Member and one of the main reasons we have the presence in Salt Lake that we do, was this year’s event planner and coordinator extraordinaire, and from the moment she greeted us as we walked in the door of the Marriott Library on the University of Utah’s lovely campus, I knew it was going to be a great weekend.
The bulk of the meeting was held in the Gould Auditorium inside the Library, an open, airy, well-lit and yet still intimate-feeling space. The Friday afternoon Meet and Greet was a casual, low-key affair that actually made it a pleasure to meet some of our fellow attendees, many of whom like us had also traveled from afar, such as LifeRing Colorado‘s delightful Kathleen Gargan.
On Saturday morning we arrived in time to hear Kevin McCauley, M.D. from The Institute for Addiction Study speak about his personal experience as an addict as well as his professional experience in becoming a part of the addiction treatment solution. It was heartening to hear a physician say that more needs to be and can be done to give addicts the best chances possible to get and stay clean, whether it be through using medication like naltrexone to quell drug receptors in the brain or by giving patients a choice in which recovery group to attend, such as…LifeRing!
To say Dr. McCauley’s talk was refreshing would be an understatement, particularly when what I’m used to hearing from pretty much every practitioner involved in the medical community is something akin to what Dr. Drew Pinsky – accepted as the medical “expert” in the field of addiction medicine – has to say about the necessity of the 12 Steps in recovery, without which “…recovery is not possible.”
Next was a fascinating and informative talk given by Peter Gaumond, SAMHSA Recovery Branch Chief, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, about building and giving voice to an inclusive and engaged recovery community, including those involved in the “alternative” recovery movement such as LifeRing. He spoke about the significant changes needed to our current drug control policies, such as offering addicts treatment as opposed to mandating prison sentences.
Gaumond also spoke about newly acquired information, such as studies which showed the need for using different language when talking about addicts and addiction. A study they’ve recently done showed that when people are described as having a “substance use disorder” as opposed to being described as “substance abusers” or “drug addicts”, the public’s perception of them – and how they should be treated – was significantly altered. People with a disorder are deserving of and should be given various and sundry treatment. Substance abusers, however, should be thrown in the slammer for as long as it takes to get it through their thick skulls that they should just…say…no.
Très intéressant, no? He also touched on the fact that the U.S.’s new Drug Czar, Michael Botticelli, is himself a person in recovery as opposed to, say, your garden-variety governmental policy wonk.
The final speaker of the morning was our own Martin Nicolaus, J.D., co-founder of LifeRing and author of its principal texts “Empowering Your Sober Self” and the subject of his talk, the “Recovery By Choice” workbook. His demonstration of the dichotomy between the “Addicted self” versus the “Sober self”, and the role the workbook can play in helping one empower their Sober self was enlightening, entertaining, and informative. The talk was a privilege to listen to from the man himself!
After a delicious lunch buffet, people not used to early mornings capped off by warm, full bellies such as my husband and I (a coupla night owls who typically arise somewhere around mid-morning and most usually consider a fruit smoothie a complete lunch) felt compelled to skip the early afternoon sessions to go back to our hotel close to University and take a nap.