LifeRing in the Irish Times

This article by journalist Michelle McDonagh appeared in the Irish Times in January 2011.

"IMAGINE THAT inside every person struggling with drug or alcohol issues there is a conflict between a voice that wants to keep drinking or using and another that wants to be free of the drug and lead a better life. That is not just an imaginary situation, it is a common experience for people with addiction.  LifeRing, a new concept in addiction recovery which has recently started up in Ireland, claims to help people to empower their “sober self” and reduce their “addict self” through fellowship.

Dennis Stefan

When 63-year-old criminal defence lawyer, Dennis Stefan, retired from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Dublin five years ago, he was struck by the lack of alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-step programme. “I felt there was a real need for choice in Ireland. In the US, the addiction recovery community is a broad community which encompasses organisations like Smart Recovery, Addiction Recovery and Alcoholics Victorious, as well as AA, but choice is something that has not been available in Ireland,” he says.

Stefan, who describes himself as “31 years without a drink”, moved to Ireland because he wanted a change of scene. As a lawyer, the majority of his clients had been addicts and/or alcoholics and he had gone through the process of rehab in prison with them. He has also spent some time working with prisoners in Mountjoy jail in Dublin.  “I felt there was a real need for choice in Ireland. In the US, the addiction recovery community is a broad community which encompasses organisations like Smart Recovery, Addiction Recovery and Alcoholics Victorious, as well as AA, but choice is something that has not been available in Ireland,” he says.

In 2009, Stefan started the first Irish LifeRing meeting in his Dublin home with just five people – today, five LifeRing meetings take place every week in Dublin and two in Belfast, and new meetings will be starting around the country in 2011. LifeRing is a network of support groups for people who want to live free of alcohol, drugs and other addictions, such as gambling and food, working through positive social reinforcement. The meetings empower the sober self within participants.

Stefan explains: “It’s up to each individual to create their own personal recovery plan and the meetings are used as an opportunity to modify that plan, talk to others, and to get and give advice. We believe that the power is within ourselves to control our use of drink, drugs or whatever we are addicted to and it’s our choice whether to use or not to use today.”

LifeRing groups use a workbook called Recovery by Choice as a tool for building members’ personal recovery plans. Formats vary, but at most meetings the topic is: how was your week? Each person reports on the highlights and heartaches of their past week and plans ahead for the decisions of the coming week. Conversation among participants is encouraged although personal drinking and drugging histories are discouraged.

While acknowledging that organisations such as the AA do “wonderful work”, Stefan says that “one of the main differences between the 12-step programmes and LifeRing is that Life- Ring is a process whereby you develop your plan from the bottom up. You are the owner of your sobriety. You’re responsible for the good and bad things that happen in your sobriety. We all make bad choices along the way. Life-Ring is trying to help us make good choices and find out how other people did it.”

The three principles underlying Life-Ring are sobriety, secularity and self- help. Sobriety, for members, means abstinence from all drugs and alcohol, except where medically prescribed.  While Stefan stresses that they are not all atheists or agnostics, he explains that members believe it is unnecessary to involve or invoke a God or higher power to gain sobriety. Instead, it is up to each individual to harness their self-power to achieve recovery. He says the LifeRing programme works well with other therapies, and complements other recovery programmes, including the AA’s 12-steps.  LifeRing, a non-profit organisation with charitable status, was founded in 2001".  

Full article and 'Michael's' personal story here