Martin Nicolaus’s Prepared Remarks for the 2014 LifeRing Annual Conference

Below is the talk that LifeRing’s founding leader wanted to give at our recent Annual Conference. Unfortunately, Martin Nicolaus ran into car trouble which you can read about on his personal blog Here. So what follows is what Marty would have presented to the Annual Conference had he made it on time:


MartyThank you for inviting me to speak here today.  To have served this organization as founder and its initial CEO has been an honor and a privilege.  I am deeply grateful for the support I’ve received over the years from the LifeRing network.

I get a great warm feeling from seeing the caliber of the people who are taking the lead in serving the organization today.  The basic principles of LifeRing address urgent societal needs.  A cadre of people with exceptional vision, energy, talent, and endurance has coalesced around these principles. On this basis, the outlook for LifeRing’s future is very good.

The time for me to participate in guiding the organization is past.  However, I have been asked for my view of the road ahead.  Of course, I have no crystal ball, and life has a way of laughing at our best-laid plans.  But here goes.

If you study closely the history of the traditional recovery model, you will learn that the pivotal event in lifting it out of obscurity was its sponsorship by John D. Rockefeller and others among the top one tenth of one per cent of 1940.  Three quarters of a century later, that old money is still there, but there are also new voices at the pinnacles of economic power who proclaim the creative disruption of old models.  While my personal sympathies lie with the 99 per cent, it may well be that the principles of LifeRing will find resonance among the new one tenth of one per cent who have arisen with the technologies of the 21st century.

LifeRing has achieved miracles on a shoestring budget, but more money would be a big help.  What if LifeRing could afford to fly people in for convenor trainings?  What if every delegate to the annual meeting had their expenses covered?  What if LifeRing could afford to donate books in quantity to deserving hospitals and institutions?  What if LifeRing could afford to pay market-rate honorariums to speakers?  What if there were a full time professional staff at the Service Center?  What if LifeRing could afford to mount exhibits at every recovery oriented conference?  What if there were LifeRing-based treatment centers?  Amounts of money that would barely be rounding errors for some of the newer tech companies would be life-changing for LifeRing.

Not only the elite, but also the base is changing.  The so-called millennial generation is in many ways more congruent with LifeRing than with the legacy approach.  The millennials are less religion-centered, more pragmatic, more open to innovation than their parents and grandparents.  They are also unfortunately still largely seduced by the bait of the alcoholic beverage industry.  But when it comes time for them to get unhooked, they will find LifeRing a compatible and effective recovery environment. They will choose LifeRing.  LifeRing is in tune with today and tomorrow.

There is every reason to be optimistic.  But I would warn against banking on the expectation of miracles.  The establishment of a new movement in the healing arts, broadly conceived, is a marathon, not a sprint.  I have seen a study that estimates it takes an average of seventeen years between a movement’s publication of its manifesto and its recognition as an established trend.  As has been said about progress in science in the universities, progress in healing institutions moves forward one funeral at a time.

For this reason, I sing the praises of tenacity.  Energy, talent, brilliance, creativity are all important; we could not do without them.  But the secret of success in the long term is just showing up.  When treatment programs ask for alternative meetings, LifeRing needs to be there.  When speakers are asked for, LifeRing needs to be there.  When meetings are on the meeting list, the convenors need to be there.  When journalists approach, LifeRing needs to respond. Where there are committees, conferences, and councils with an interest in addiction and recovery issues, LifeRing needs to show up.  Tipping points, where an organization suddenly becomes well lit and magnetic, occur from the accumulation of countless small impressions.

It almost goes without saying, but bears emphasis nevertheless, that in order to go the distance, LifeRing needs to stay united.  There is no shame in adopting from the older groups the truth that principles are above personalities.  Groups survive when its members practice the arts of encouragement, respect, civility, and negotiation; groups corrode and die when they practice manipulation, control, insult, and intimidation.  These guidelines are all the more important when groups rely heavily on online communications.

But the most important quality for the success of LifeRing is personal sobriety.  None of the work that has gone into establishing and growing this organization would have been possible without sobriety.  The measure of credibility that LifeRing has earned with the treatment profession is based on the reality that what we do has helped us stay clean and sober.  If we ever forget this basic truth, LifeRing will be swept away and forgotten.  But if we demonstrate in our own lives, and in the lives of our friends and families, that the LifeRing way works for us, that LifeRing is the gateway to a new and sober life, then nothing can stop us.  Sobriety silences all critics.  Sobriety opens all doors.  Sobriety conquers all.