Translated by Lars Bergström
From the original by Malin Persson
LifeRing celebrated ten years in Sweden in 2018, and the occasion was celebrated with a tenth anniversary meeting on September 12.
Lars Bergström, who works as a psychologist at Skyddsvärnets open treatment center, started the first LifeRing meeting in Sweden.
"I wanted some kind of supplement to our outpatient care, which consists of CBT-focused relapse prevention,” said Lars, who has has been sober and drug free for over thirty years. ”With my background from 12-step groups, I saw LifeRing as an important alternative. I was told about LifeRing by a colleague and the idea stuck because the method is based on the fact that one’s own will determines success. You do not have to surrender your will to any strength stronger than yourself. It is your motivation and your strength that is crucial,” Lars said.
A regular LifeRing meeting goes on in a way that you gather around a table over a cup of coffee and maybe a snack. A convenor reads an introduction about LifeRing and explains how the meeting goes, which is usually with the question: "How was your week?" Attendees then talk about their week in recovery and what their plan is to maintain a the sober lifestyle. The meeting format is very open, and the meetings are open to all. Families are also welcome.
The only thing that is required to participate is to be curious and interested in self help. The whole concept of LifeRing is based on the fact that each participant decides what to do to keep sober and clean. Those who attend the meetings are both active addicts who want to stop and people who have been drug and alcohol free for many years. Attendance is usually four to eight people at each meeting.
Started in the United States as a secular alternative
Martin Nicolaus, who founded LifeRing in the United States, visited Sweden to attend the tenth anniversary meeting. Martin works as a lawyer and has been sober for 25 years. He said that it was the concept of ”the free will” that made him want to start and spread LifeRing.
Martin first encountered an alternative group at an SOS meeting.
"I liked that the meetings were so relaxing. Nobody knew it was my first time when I first came there. No one preached to me or told me what I had to do to keep me sober—not to feed my body with alcohol.”
Together with some other participants, Martin expanded SOS, which later became LifeRing, a secular self-help group free of instructions or religion. Meetings simply build on being in a social context where participants can support each other, be understood, accepted and encouraged.
"I'm not trying to convince anyone that LifeRing is the best option. I'm just trying to get healthcare to offer customers more options to choose from. There is a lot of research that supports the importance of choice. Let people choose from treatment alternatives and self-help options, which gives them an incentive to self-engage because they weren’t forced to go. Free will is a better motivation,” Martin said.
Pontus, who has attended the the Skyddsvärnets LifeRing meeting for about one-and-a-half years, said that early in his recovery he went to AA meetings, which he learned about when he sought help through his regular heathcare provider. Those meetings didn’t really help him, he said. He then contacted a private therapist and found LifeRing in Sweden through a Google search.
"I think LifeRing is very nice. Meetings give me an opportunity for reflection and support. I can talk to someone who is listening, who is supportive to me, and I can engage in conversation. It helps me keep myself sober. And it has been so good for my relationship with my wife, and she sees I take it seriously. She is an important factor in my recovery,” Pontus said.
The LifeRing meetings are held weekly at the treatment center. In addition, there are more meetings around Stockholm, allowing participants to attend several meetings a week if they want. Pontus said that to be able to talk about his recovery once a week is important to him.
"I think the meetings make a difference, above all, to keep the issue up to date and not to hide from my problem, but get support for it,” he said.