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No God is no problem for LifeRing

"We just don't speak about our religious beliefs in meetings"

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When Eric Lopez talks about his road to recovery, he doesn't mention a higher power.

He talks about the support of his wife, Erin, of the comfort he found in music and art therapy, and of pulling himself out of alcohol addiction through his own self-will.

"It was self-reliance," he says. "I had to want it. It was self-help."

That self-help, he adds, was encouraged by a support group called LifeRing.

Lopez, 30, works at A Good Life Counseling on Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard, and was first introduced to LifeRing a year ago by his boss, Angie Bastille. At her suggestion, he attended a class in Denver. And, he says, "I loved every aspect of it."

LifeRing meetings are essentially group conversation, says Lopez. Participants talk about their week, their struggles, and how they prevented themselves from drinking. Or, he says, if they did drink, they talk about how to avoid putting themselves in that situation again.

Participants, he says, "focus on the self." Which brings up one of the fundamental differences between LifeRing and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous: "We just don't speak about our religious beliefs in meetings," he says.

Nor do they use some of the terms common to other programs. "I once was, and probably still am, an alcoholic," Lopez says. "But the thing about LifeRing is that you don't have to label yourself."

Inspired, Lopez decided to become a coach, or "convener," in LifeRing. He sent an e-mail to all the local probation officers he knew, asking them to send people to his Friday evening group sessions at A Good Life.

It hasn't worked.

That Lopez's sessions remain mostly empty doesn't surprise Kathleen Gargan, a Denver-based convener who sits on LifeRing's national board. "AA has been around for 75 years, and it's worked well for many people," she says. "The stakes are high in recovering from addiction, so some people might be a little leery of something new."

And LifeRing is relatively new — and small. Incorporated in 2001, the international nonprofit is run by one part-time employee in Oakland, Calif., and has an annual budget, Gargan says, of roughly $50,000.

Gargan, who has been sober for 31 years, retired from teaching in 2003 and began to work at expanding LifeRing in Colorado. Since then, the organization's presence in the state has grown from one group to 15. The Colorado Springs location is only the third outside of Denver.

"One of the ways we've grown is that we have done outreach to treatment centers, and drug courts," says Gargan. "The more you stay in touch with those folks, the more they remember you."

Ryan Mills, a supervisor in the 4th Judicial's Probation Department, says his officers actively encourage people to seek help outside court-ordered classes and therapy: "In general, when people need extra support, such as the 12 steps, AA, we encourage them to get involved with something like that," he says. But, he says, "I don't personally know about LifeRing. ... I'm not sure that the officers in the trenches know about LifeRing."

Lopez says he's trying to spread the word, and continues to send information to other agencies.

"This is a really valuable option that Colorado Springs needs," says Bastille. "There has to be some kind of choice."

chet@csindy.com

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