LifeRing Annual Conference a Big Success

LifeRing Congress 2014 Poster     Concluding yesterday, June 1, the 3-day LifeRing Annual Conference in Santa Rosa, CA, came off without a hitch. Here’s a brief summary of what happened (warning, it relies on the not-always-reliable memory of the author).
     Friday’s event was at the Arlene Francis Center, a funky, warm-hearted facility located on the wrong side of the tracks along with several shelters for homeless people. There, the early arrivals met for socializing and a convenor workshop. The socializing, as always happens at LifeRing gatherings, was lively and very talkative. There was a presentation on a large screen of a number of greetings sent by members or groups of members, both snapshots and brief videos. Despite a few technical glitches, the greetings were very well received and established a precedent that I hope will be continued at future conferences.

     After dinner (Peruvian for some of us!) we re-assembled for a Convenor Workshop, sharing thoughts and concerns about how best to nurture meetings and to grow LifeRing. Good ideas flew around a bit too fast for me to keep track of, but it was one of an ongoing pattern of discussions about the future of our organization. It was very clear that LifeRing played and plays a very important role in the life of all present.
      Saturday was the main event for the Conference with a series of speakers for the 50 or so LifeRingers present. It was held at the Glaser Center, a rather more upscale venue in downtown Santa Rosa. I won’t go into too much detail about what was covered, but it all was interesting and highly relevant.
      First up was Dee-Dee Stout, author, drug counselor and trainer in various aspects of drug and trauma therapies. She spoke of her experience with “harm reduction” which was a topic few in the audience believed in, but the presentation was nevertheless interesting and informative.
     Another viewpoint was presented by Brad L., an area representative of SMART Recovery. He stressed the similarities between SMART and LifeRing and seemed most interested in having the two groups cooperate in pursuit of common goals. Forging alliances while recognizing differences is a goal of several LifeRing Board of Directors’ members. There was hope for an appearance by a representative of Women for Sobriety, but that didn’t happen this time – LifeRing will keep trying! S.O.S. is another secular group we’re interested in knowing more about. They declined our invitation to appear.
     There were two presentations by treatment providers from the Napa/Sonoma area who spoke, one team from Mountain Vista Farm in Glen Ellen, CA, and another from Olympia House in Petaluma, CA. The audience was struck in both cases by the positive attitude of speakers towards secular recovery in General and LifeRing in particular. The treatment industry plays a very important role in informing their clients of alternative groups such as LifeRing and others. Getting them to see the benefits of the secular approach is important to our future. The father and son team from Mountain Vista Farm, Lee and Thompson Hamilton, spoke of the many common elements between 12 step groups and LifeRing, at least as outlined in the two groups’ literature. Dr. Wayne Thurston led a team of speakers from Olympia House who outlined the far-reaching efforts they make on behalf of clients. Both centers are interested primarily in finding out what the client’s needs are rather than insisting that they follow a pre-determined course of treatment.
     There was a most interesting presentation by John Heller, the attorney for the plaintiff in a case (Hazle vs. Crofoot) that moved “choice in recovery” one big step closer to reality. Also present was Barry Hazle, Jr., himself who showed great determination in pursuing his insistence on being offered non-religious support options by the State of California. The case made it clear that, in the Ninth Federal Circuit at least, the State cannot punish those who wish to avoid a religiously-based treatment requirement. The implications of the case go much farther, but for now at least that limited principle is the law in several states and that alone promises to shake things up a bit for all government bodies.
     Candice Shelby, who has appeared several times at LifeRing’s annual meeting, gave a fascinating lecture on new understandings of the nature of genetic inheritances and their relationship to addiction. It is hoped that we can post a copy on this website soon. Shelby wrote an earlier essay that has been on this website for some time, and has remained one of the most-read pages: “Addicts are NOT powerless: The Trick is Knowing Where the Power Is” (
     There was also a presentation by Dr. Meenaskhi Subbaraman of the Alcohol Research Group who discussed a substantial survey of people in recovery that had almost 4000 respondents including several hundred from Lifering. Dr. Subbaraman couldn’t offer a firm comparison between the profiles of LifeRing offered by responses compared to the larger sampling, but she was able to offer some highly interesting numbers about LifeRing itself.
     After the speakers, the somewhat dazed audience retired to a fine dinner – the Banquet that always accompanies a LifeRing Conference.
     On Sunday morning, we returned to the Arlene Francis Center for the Congress portion of the Annual Conference. This included a final chance to be nominated for the LifeRing Board of Directors election, which will be done by absentee voting of delegates elected to the post of Delegate. Before the nominations were opened, however, one candidate, Martin Baker, tried to secure a change in the bylaws so that directors would not be required to be described as “an addict in recovery.” Baker said he was very uncomfortable with the terminology and felt it was unnecessary. The change was voted down and Baker withdrew as a candidate. When the time came, a new candidate surfaced – Dan Carrigan was nominated and accepted a candidacy.
     The field of candidates is now set: four people running for four seats. That includes two current board members, Njon Weinroth and Byron Kerr running for their seats and Emily Marcus and Dan Carrigan also campaigning. The outcome of the Instant Runoff Voting procedure will determine which candidate will take the remainder of Jeff Koch’s term and which will serve full terms.
     Aside from the defeated language change, no other bylaw amendments were offered nor were there any “directives” to the board. “Directives” are efforts to insist that the board carry out this or that policy or action.
     The final event was each delegate giving a report on his or her meeting. These reports are always very interesting in terms of giving a feel for both the difficulties and the joys of convening a LifeRing meeting.
     The Congress adjourned at about noon and the 2014 LifeRing Annual Conference was concluded.