If you’re a LifeRinger from early on then you know and will remember Itchy well. But if you’re like me and didn’t come along until later on, then you may not have had the opportunity to get to know Itchy or much about his role in LifeRing.
As I’ve come to learn in the last week, that’s a damned shame – because we missed out. Itchy passed away on July 9th after battling a long illness, but as a co-founder with Martin Nicolaus, along several others who’d first found one another online via an e-mail list started by one of the only secular recovery groups available at the time (S.O.S., or Secular Organizations for Sobriety), he was here from the very beginning. At a certain point they felt they needed something more – another, different take on secular sobriety – and that it was time for a shake-up. A rebellion, if you will, that eventually became LifeRing Secular Recovery.
Of course there’s a lot more to it than that (there always is), but only the people who knew him can really talk about Itchy. And so it seems that the best way to get to know who Itchy was, what LifeRing meant to him, and what he meant to his friends, acquaintances, and admirers here is to read their stories of their time with him.
Very sorry to hear that Itchy is gone. He was one of the founding members of LifeRing, a member of the first Board of Directors, a signer of the original Bylaws, and for many years a LifeRing convenor — the only Lifering convenor — in the state of West Virginia. His great sense of humor, his tenacity, his generous spirit will be missed by everyone who knew him.
Looking through the dim mists of time, I see a gathering of human beings at a “wilderness” camp, UU in the Pines in Florida in a very dark year, 2001. They have gathered together to give birth to a new, “official” organization dedicated to helping folks fight off their demons and build a new life for themselves free from the slavery of addictions.
I consider the group that gathered a family of kindred spirits. Like a family we had a few dominant personalities and a bit of damaged goods (I considered myself one of the latter) and many varied, different styles and points of view. Like a family at Thanksgiving dinner (an ironic holiday, eh?), we had our battles and conflicts during that seminal
weekend. The most notable was the great “cigarette war” that broke out, split the camp into the “smokers” (‘plotting together’ in the Smoking Area) and the “non-smokers” (‘plotting together’ throughout the rest of
UU in the Pines)…
Itchy smoked but as I remember stayed pretty much above the fray, although Marty, my old friend, you may remember it differently. Our memories being what they are. 🙂 Through all of this we were united in our desire to create a safe, supportive, democratically run and scientifically based alternative for those in need. I think we succeeded. The growth of LifeRing in the absence of any large seed money and given the non-authoritative
(anti-authoritative) nature of our process and most of our membership over the last 17 years has gladdened this old heart.
Now to the point. I remember “Itchy” as a rock. He (along with Jack) was one of those with very long-term sobriety, serving as proof that it could be done. He seemed to have stacked up the years effortlessly while going through many personal trials and tribulations, not the least of which was convening weeks of meetings in West VA with little or no
attendance and his frequent health issues.
Of course as we stack up the years we realize that our journeys are never ‘effortless’ but always rewarding.
Like many of us he was also a curmudgeon. The occasional “epic battles” of philosophy and style between himself and Marty were amazing and at times amusing to behold and ultimately helpful for the growth and health
of our organization. At times I thought of Itchy as a grounding conscience for our “leadership” as he tried to keep things as simple as possible while many of the rest of us were building intellectual and
actual and administrative and technical castles of complexity.
Just as Marty’s focus, energy and intellectual rigor were essential in those first years while we were “getting off the ground”, I think Itchy’s grounding presence was equally as essential.
I fondly remember our occasional jams at Congresses. It was always a pleasure for Itchy, Bill S. and me to drag out the guitars when we could and just play and sing. “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution!”
He will remain for me a sober “Itchy”.
He will remain loved by those of us who knew him.
Twenty years ago this summer, my addictions were taking me to my hard, hard bottom. By summer of the next year, I was on my way to finding sobriety, and the original SOS email list. Itchy was there at the beginning and I told him before that he was a big part of my sober life. I cherish the time I got to meet him, and the Lifering Congress, and am so sorry I never got to visit him face to face again.
I didn’t know Itchy well but I always looked forward to seeing him at the early LSR Congresses (when they were called that), then held in Berkeley for the most part.
I recall one such meeting in particular. He had flown in and had rented a car at the airport. From there, he drove to Berkeley. While he was there, he managed to get a parking ticket which didn’t please him. His handling – he took the ticket off of his car, walked down the street and put it on Marty’s windshield.
Whatever you do, don’t tell Marty; he probably paid it without realizing what had happened.
From her Facebook post:
Very sad to hear of the passing of a friend who was in my online support group, Robert “Itchy” Bradley. I had the privilege of meeting him in person in Florida a couple of times and also in Berkeley when LifeRing had its annual conventions. In fact, I even had a chance to dance with him.
Itchy lived in a rural area in West Virginia with his two sons (now grown) and several cats. He was one to tell it like it is but, at the same time, extraordinarily kind. As one of the oldest hippies, albeit younger than I am, he was a member of my Question Authority group and, although he didn’t post to that group, he definitely questioned authority.
He will be greatly missed by many but remain in our hearts. As I rehearse Fauré’s Requiem this evening, I will be thinking of him. Requiem Aeternam, dear friend.
He had a way with words and action.
From his blog post, all of which can be read here:
“…the immortal” as I called him after my first Lifering Congress meeting with him, has passed away.
I don’t know which of us mentioned the phrase first. But, it became a catchword and remained so long after the second Lifering Congress at which I saw him.
I only talked to him a few times but he was one of those people who you very quickly felt like you’d known a long time. He was proud of his tattoo! I asked for that pic when he told me about it!
Itchy’s tattoo commemorated his sobriety anniversary date, July 21, 1987; this year would have been his 31st. As posted by a member of the LSRMail list who also remembers him fondly, here’s ITCHY in his own words on the celebration of his 18th:
Itchy is survived by his wife and two sons. To assist his family with his memorial, please visit and donate to their Go Fund Me page here.