Early last fall, I set off from Denver, CO. to spend 4 1/2 months in Europe, partially to stay in Paris for an extended period, where I could practice my French, which had atrophied considerably since I quit teaching it 20 years ago. My other goal was to visit all the LifeRing meetings in Europe. Though these projects put a substantial dent in my savings, the journey was well worth it!
My first stop was Dublin, Ireland. There are now 10 face-to-face LifeRing meetings up and running in the Republic of Ireland, and 2 in Northern Ireland. I was able to attend all but one of these meetings at least once, and a couple of them twice, as I stayed in Dublin for a full 2 weeks. Some of the Dublin meetings are held in a hospital which includes a treatment center for addiction. These meetings draw from the inpatient population and from people who live in Dublin. They are extremely well attended, averaging 30 to 40 people every week. They break up into 3 different rooms and each group has its own convenor. As I recall, the inpatients may choose to attend either a 12 step meeting, or a LifeRing meeting at the same time. This strong attendance and the fact that the hospital is willing to give 3 rooms up to LifeRing is very encouraging for us. The other meetings take place around the city, with one being in a community center on a street where drugs can be found, another in a suburban library and another in a beautiful old retreat house.
While I was there, Dennis S and James Mc. organized a LifeRing dinner at Marks and Spencer on Grafton St in the heart of Dublin. There were 14 or 15 of us in attendance, and I was able to get to know several Irish LifeRingers. I was presented with a check from LifeRing Ireland for 500 Euros to be sent to our Service Center in Oakland. You can be sure that, instead of losing the check, as I have done with other checks throughout my life, I went straight to the Dublin Post Office on Connolly St and put it in a registered envelope to Oakland.
At our dinner, I was finally able to give Dennis his LifeRing Pioneer Award, for starting LifeRing in the Republic of Ireland. Dennis has all the right skills and the requisite good-will for starting LifeRing from scratch in a new country. He has given several radio interviews and has made sure that LifeRing has been featured in several prominent Irish newspapers. Although he had Irish citizenship, Dennis was born in the USA and has recently moved back to Pennsylvania. I’m sure he is really missed in Ireland!
From Dublin, I took the train to Belfast in Northern Ireland, where I attended one of the 2 LifeRing meetings there. There were between 8 and 11 of us at the meeting, including Philip H who has been convening these meetings for several years. I was sorry to have missed meeting Clare J, who together with Philip was able to to write a grant for LifeRing Northern Ireland which has allowed them to be able to print hundreds of beautiful flyers and brochures and pay the rent at the Quaker meeting House in Belfast.
Next, I took the train to Cork, where I was met by Bev C, who convenes the LifeRing meeting there, but lives 40 minutes away in Clonikilty. Bev and his wife Miriam and their son Arthur let me sleep late and fed me wonderful food. We had plenty of time to talk about LifeRing’s future, and especially what our International Structure might look like. LifeRing Ireland is in the beginning phase of organizing itself as a country, and Miriam and Bev have recently joined the LifeRing International Planning committee.
I was picked up in Clonikility by Louise F who generously drove me, via a very scenic route, to County Kerry where we attended a LifeRing meeting in Kilorglin, a very small town which was drawing only 3 LifeRing attendees. The meeting has since been moved to Tralee, a larger town.
From Kerry I hitched a ride back to Dublin with Louise’s sister-in-law and got on a flight to Copenhagen the next morning.
In Copenhagen, I was met at the airport by Pernille F, who put me up for the weekend. She and her partner and their daughter took great care of me! Pernille had arranged a “one off” LifeRing meeting in Copenhagen which was attended by 4 of Pernille’s sober friends as well as by Goran D and friend, who took a boat from Malmo, Sweden to attend our meeting. Goran has been convening a LifeRing meeting there for several years, and has recently added a second LifeRing meeting in a treatment facility there. We had a great meeting – they all agreed to speak English for my benefit, and they decided to start a weekly meeting in Copenhagen, which has, by now, been up and running for a couple of months.
In Copenhagen, I boarded a train to Stockholm, Sweden, where there has been a LifeRing meeting for 2 years. They too generously chose to speak English for my benefit. Their meeting is held at a counseling center, where convenor Lars B also works. Lars has been convening for 2 years and at the meeting we discussed ways to share the responsibility of convening. Their attendance has averaged around 6.
At every meeting I attended, I met very friendly people who are staying clean and sober with the help of LifeRing. I went from Ireland, a country well known for its religious affiliation, to Denmark and Sweden, where religion has very little presence in public life. Needless to say, there is a need for LifeRing in both situations.
By the time I got to Stockholm, my wallet was skinnier than expected, so I had to pass on visiting England. There is one face-to-face meeting there in Lincolnshire which began in December 2012. I’ve been able to speak with Ade, the convenor, on the phone, and he tells me that they are holding their own with an average of 3 attendees every week. Had I gone to England, I would also have tried to connect with some of the members of the LSRUK email list. This group has been going strong for as many as 10 years. They still have a check-in every Sunday.
From Stockholm, I flew to Paris where I practiced my French, both by meeting Parisians who wanted help with their English in exchange for helping me with my French, and by watching The Simpsons dubbed in French. I set up a temporary LifeRing meeting for 6 weeks in a Starbucks in the St Germain des Pres neighborhood, but I did very little outreach so I was the sole attendee at every meeting, but, hey, it was in Paris so there was no suffering!
I had a great time meeting so many people who are both thrilled and relieved to have found a secular path to recovery. Everyone I met was in agreement about our 3 principles, Sobriety, Secularity and Self-Help. Nonetheless, I was struck again and again by the variety of ideas and opinions about best practices for our organization. We are a diverse group of people in recovery. As we grow, and we are growing at a respectable pace, one of our challenges will be to listen to each other, giving a fair hearing to new ideas that may improve our ability to help people get and stay clean and sober. At the same time, and equally important, we’ll need to show respect for the hard work that has been done so far; for testing and establishing practices that have served us well.
I hope I’ll be fortunate enough to be able to meet our European LifeRingers again; and I especially hope that there will be more and more LifeRingers to meet around the world.