Episode 5: LifeRing Secular Recovery

In this episode, Ben and I spoke with Robert Stump who has been the Executive Director of LifeRing Secular Recovery since 2012 when the founder, Marty Nicholas stepped down. In this episode Robert shares his personal story in recovery and how he found LifeRing to support him in his sobriety.

His journey began in 1997 when the only available option was Alcoholics Anonymous. This posed some difficulty for Robert because of his worldview. For him, AA seemed like a bizarre situation. He isn’t sure why he couldn’t connect in AA, but believes it came down to the fact that he simply doesn’t believe in a supernatural being to keep him sober.

Like most of us, recovery hasn’t been easy for Robert but it has helped to have LifeRing available in his area. He attended LifeRing in 2006 and made a commitment to sobriety. In addition to LifeRing meetings, Robert took Antabuse for two years and attended outpatient treatment. He was active with LifeRing and became a convener or meeting leader. From there, things progressed until he became the Executive Director.

LifeRing started in the San Francisco Bay area, where there are now some fifty meetings. The organization is growing slowly, but it is growing and it’s a great option for secular people seeking support in their recovery from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

PS I apologize for the problems with my video with the sun shining through my window. Lesson learned, get some heavy blinds next time. ?


LifeRing Secular Recovery: https://www.lifering.org/



00:05 John: And welcome to my Secular Sobriety and Addiction Recovery podcast, that gives voice to the secular person in recovery. My name is John, and I’m a person in long-term recovery. And we are joined today by Robert Stump, who is the Executive Director of The LifeRing Service Center. How are you doing Robert?

00:27 Robert Stump: Howdy. Doing well out here in the San Francisco Bay area.

00:31 John: How beautiful.

00:31 Ben: How nice.

00:32 John: One of my favorite cities.

00:34 Robert Stump: Great place to live if you own your house.

00:37 John: You’re right.


00:38 John: I bet so. And Robert, this is Ben. He is my co-host. How are you doing Ben?

00:46 Ben: Hi Robert.

00:46 Robert Stump: Howdy.

00:46 Ben: I’m doing pretty good today. It’s great to be here with you guys.

00:49 John: So Ben lives in Omaha and I’m in Kansas City.

00:53 Robert Stump: Yeah, isn’t this great, the Zoom and being able to converse across the country and internationally too?

01:00 John: Yeah.

01:01 Ben: Absolutely.

01:01 Robert Stump: For that matter.

01:01 John: Yeah. Well, Ben and I’ve been podcasting together for a while. I do another podcast that’s more oriented towards the atheist and agnostic in AA. And we started this one because I really wanted to get into topics that were kind of away from the 12-Steps and looking more at secular options that people have like LifeRing, and so, it’s great to have you here. And we were talking a little bit by email. Would you like to begin with, starting with your story, and we’ll let a conversation evolve from there?

01:34 Robert Stump: Yeah. Probably, as you pointed out, I am the Executive Director of LifeRing. I’ve been here is 2012, after the founder stepped down, Marty Nicolaus. He’s still alive and well, works. He lives in Berkeley, California, and he’s actually… Updates the books. We sell a series of books that he’s written, and he’ll periodically come in and update stuff as need be.

02:06 Robert Stump: So anyway, as I said, I’ve been here since 2012 in an official capacity. I actually was… I drank for about 35 years, alcohol was my choice of drug. And I went into recovery three times in 10 years. I started maybe when I was 55. I’m 67 now. But in ’97, 2003… I might have been younger than that, maybe the timeframe. But I know in 1997, 2003 and 2006 I went into a recovery program, Kaiser, out here in the Bay Area. It was a 90-day program. It was not in-house. It was an outpatient service. You had to go to two, three outside meetings a week. Initially, it was three, then they cut it down to two in the third month.

03:10 Robert Stump: The first time I survived eight months. The second time I survived almost to the end of the program, I started drinking the last week of the program. And the third time in 2006, I had 14 years of recovery. Now, I kind of give you that history because initially in 1997, the only program that was available to me was the 12-Step Program. AA was… I tried my best. And I forced myself to go to meetings because it was the only game in town. It was for me, my world view, it was a bizarre situation. [chuckle] I just did not… And also, it is interesting, I went to a number of meetings. I didn’t go to any atheist or agnostic meetings.

04:11 Robert Stump: I know they exist in the Bay Area, but then I didn’t. I didn’t know what… Actually, I didn’t know what I was… Why I didn’t connect. The crowd, I couldn’t connect with. It wasn’t part of my tribe, etcetera. My religious upbringing, I had 13 years of Catholicism education, and I actually sang in the choir and participated in church every Sunday Mass, all the way to right before the first time I went into recovery. So I had a long time there participating in the Mass and being a Catholic individual. So anyway, it fundamentally came down to spirituality and the fact that I didn’t believe that something like that existed, that… I mean, that’s the main issue I had.

05:14 Robert Stump: The 12-Step itself, I had issues with, first of all, giving myself up to another entity, which didn’t make any sense to me. I got myself in this situation, I had best get myself out of this situation. At 3 o’clock in the morning when I’m by myself, there’s nothing going to come into the room or shine upon me, or my friends aren’t going to be there. I gotta figure out some way of dealing with this on my own. And it took a while. I mean, recovery is a slippery slope, they say. A vast majority of people don’t make it the first time or second time, or for some people, it’s a continual process. It’s a journey. Hopefully, in the end, you die sober and not under the influence, but those are decisions you have to make.

06:13 Robert Stump: So anyway, the third time… The second time actually LifeRing was available in 2003. LifeRing started in the Bay Area in Oakland, California by Marty Nicolaus. And it was slowly building up meetings. There were meetings out in the facility I was in. 2003, I started going to those meetings and AA, but as I said, I started drinking almost at the end of the 90-day program, the second time. So in 2006, I go back in there. They had five LifeRing meetings, almost one meeting a night.

06:56 Robert Stump: So I took that up. I finally committed myself to sobriety. I said I had to figure out something because I couldn’t continue what I was doing. It was getting pretty bad. So I did that, went to meetings. Kaiser was a great program. I finally got what they were doing. I went to aftercare for two additional years, one night a week. I took Antabuse for two years. I did what I could to make sure I stayed on the straight and narrow, but I didn’t go to AA meetings. That was good because that was a depressing situation.

07:43 Robert Stump: So LifeRing was available, I became a convenor. A convenor is a person that kind of leads a meeting. Second-year out, I became a convenor and I did that for a couple of years. I came into the… because the service center was located in Oakland, California. I got to know Marty. I went to monthly convenor meetings there. He asked for somebody to help out with the finance and I volunteered, and it progressed from there.

08:15 Ben: Excellent.

08:19 Robert Stump: That’s 2012, that’s when I took on the executive director.

08:24 John: Okay, and what do you do as the executive director?

08:28 Robert Stump: Answer all the emails, bookkeeping. We are a very, very small organization. We have 50 meetings in the Bay Area, and then it spreads out from there. We have international meetings, Canada, England, Ireland, and Sweden. We’ve started a couple of meetings in Sydney, Australia, here in the last couple of months. So it’s still, we are a very small organization. SMART Recovery is much bigger than us. So I’m pretty much the person involved. It’s kind of a part-time job for me, but I enjoy it immensely, in terms of the administrative portion. It’s a handyman-type job. I just do everything that needs to be done to promote the name. We do have a board of directors, nine members, and they do the long-term planning and fundraising, etcetera.

09:23 John: Well, I’ve been in AA for 31 years and I think it’s great now that there are options for people who walk into the rooms of AA and find, like you, it’s totally not for them. And that’s becoming, I think… [chuckle] That’s becoming more common now with people that are now in their 30s and 40s. They don’t relate. And I think part of the problem is just the ancient literature that is still used there. But anyway, I became…

09:51 Robert Stump: I think the ’30s, yes.


09:53 John: I just became interested in these other options like LifeRing, and I just think that we should give voice to organizations like this. I think 50 meetings a week sounds like a lot. And that’s in San Francisco?

10:05 Robert Stump: No, no, I said there are 50 meetings in the Bay Area.

10:08 John: In the Bay Area? Yeah.

10:09 Robert Stump: Yeah.

10:09 Ben: That’s pretty good.

10:10 Robert Stump: Yeah. In the nine counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay.

10:16 John: Yeah, yeah. So… Go ahead.

10:21 Robert Stump: That’s good. It’s nothing compared to the 12-Step phenomenon, which, on every other corner there’s a meeting that… Do you know? [chuckle]

10:29 John: Yeah.

10:30 Ben: Robert, how does one start a LifeRing meeting? Do they need to contact you, or is it… How does that work?

10:37 Robert Stump: Well, they would have to contact me if they want to get listed on the website. Six months of sobriety. And an email is sent out welcoming them. We have links on the website that they can go investigate. We have a starter kit for 50 bucks. They don’t have to… We’re willing to be flexible with the money. We’re not there to make money. We’re there to get the word out, and the starter kit has… I have some books over here. There are four books and pamphlets that they get.

11:16 Robert Stump: One book is, How Was Your Week? , which is actually how to fundamentally run a LifeRing meeting, and all the dos and don’ts, and things to watch out for, and how to get a location and what to do with the people once you have them, stuff like that.

11:34 Ben: Okay.

11:37 Robert Stump: Yeah.

11:38 Ben: How might a typical meeting operate? How would it open, and what are the types of things that people tend to talk about? And could you compare that with your experience in AA?

11:47 Robert Stump: Well, AA is not quite a flat organization. It is pure leadership, only they’re in the front and you’re in a row. Some meetings you go to they’re in a circle, stuff like that. But anyway, a traditional AA meeting, 12-Step meeting, is you’re in a row and you’re looking at these people that are supposed to be more knowledgeable than you, let’s put it that way. In a LifeRing meeting you sit in a circle, chairs are in a circle.

12:28 Robert Stump: You start by, I give an opening statement about what the concepts of LifeRing is about. LifeRing is about, in terms of the three S’, sobriety, secularity, and self-help, and explain a little bit about those three concepts. Then I ask that… We normally do the meeting by how was your week concept, because normally most people… Early recovery, they can’t think long-term, they can barely think about yesterday.

12:50 Ben: Right.

12:50 Robert Stump: So give an account of, if you wish to, how your week is this week, or what you think is going to happen next week. For me, conveners are given a lot of leeway in how they handle the group dynamics of the meeting. So I will also say, “If there’s something that’s bothering you, if there’s something that was wonderful that happened to you, you can also talk about that too.” Cross-talk’s allowed, so people can comment. They can say, “Yes, I agree with that,” or, “That concept didn’t work for me but here’s what I did.”

13:41 Robert Stump: So it’s a best-practice type of concept where you try… The group talks out what they think works best for each individual because it’s not going to work for the other individual, but they share these ideas and they kind of bond in the meeting. Now, I do a, ironically at the same facility that I went to for the three times in recovery, I do a meeting there at 12:30 on Fridays, where the people are in early recovery, from one day to four weeks, and then once they’re done with that program, they put them into the 90-day program.

14:25 Robert Stump: So I have these people only for four weeks, and it’s just phenomenal to see, for the most part, how they blossom, how people get better over week after week. And so in that meeting, Kaiser kind of says you have to go to it, but I tell the people, “No, you’re not required to come to this meeting.” It is an outside meeting so I can write, they can get credit for going to the meeting, just like they can for a 12-Step meeting.

15:03 John: Well, even alone even, that is great to have that choice.

15:07 Robert Stump: Choice in recovery is so important, that’s fundamentally what I go for. I don’t… I say LifeRing is an option and you might like that option, but check out for women, Women For Sobriety.

15:24 John: Right.

15:24 Robert Stump: Dharma, they used to be Refuge Recovery, now they’re Dharma Recovery, a Buddhist-based recovery system, check that out. And check out the 12-Step program. And take the best of all those concepts and melt them together so they are an internal part of you because you’re supposed to be, you would assume you gotta do this the rest of your life.

15:56 John: Right. Have you had, would you say a lot of people that come to LifeRing are people who have tried AA and end up like, “I don’t like that.”?

16:04 Robert Stump: In the Bay Area and that’s the only vast portion of experience I have, most people go to AA and LifeRing. It’s a, we don’t… We’re a neutral organization. We don’t care where you get your support from, where you figure out a plan. The third part of the three assets is self-help, and in that it incorporates a concept of figuring out something that will work for you, hopefully for the rest of your life, to keep sober and have a quality of life. If you’re not happy, you’re probably not going to stay sober.

16:45 John: Absolutely.

16:45 Robert Stump: So you have to… It’s a multi-facet thing you have to figure out, to replace what you’ve been doing in the past. Now, it’s hard, I… You observe this, or at least I see it, people with mental illness who’ve been masking that, it’s much more difficult for them to figure out stuff, until… The longer they’re sober, the more stable they become and it seems to work better, but that’s a sub-group of people that sometimes have a difficult time, it would appear.

17:26 Ben: Yeah, for sure.

17:27 John: So LifeRing doesn’t have a set program like that you follow. It just allows people to find their own?

17:36 Robert Stump: Yeah, it’s a one-hour thing, so it doesn’t go on forever. And it’s like I said, you go in a circle, and I didn’t mention this before but normally, a person starts, they say their first name, they indicate their last drug of choice, and how long they’ve been clean. And then they say, “How was your week?”, or they go on a topic. And they’re done, then it goes, they pick a direction and it goes to the next person and it goes all the way around the room.

18:04 Robert Stump: Sometimes, usually, actually, most of the time, because of the way people share and stuff that takes up the hour. Sometimes it’s emotional, especially people early in the first couple days or weeks in recovery, it’s an emotional experience because it’s some of them have never experienced this before. Recovery, not the meeting itself. And they like the cross-talk, they really do like the fact that they’re able to discuss, and other people are able to comment, and that’s what they totally miss from the AA program.

18:39 John: Right.

18:41 Robert Stump: They’ve had 12-Steps and cross-talk.


18:43 Ben: Right, well, dependent on the meeting, you’ll get that too.

18:48 Robert Stump: Yeah, well, there’s some in the Bay Area, that I think do that.

18:51 Ben: Yeah.

18:51 John: Yeah.

18:52 John: And do you, do the people that go to the meetings, do they socialize afterward, is there kind of like a community outside the meeting?

18:58 Robert Stump: No.

18:58 John: No?

18:58 Robert Stump: See, that’s the problem. There are some fundamental differences, there’s also, in terms of people like this and some of these people continue on, but there seems to be a difference in the type of individual that likes LifeRing or likes the 12-Step program. And no, we’re not a social, we try to be, there are conveners that will go out to dinner afterward with people that are in the group, there are conveners that will organize an event, a bowling event or, but that is really on an individual basis what those conveners do, we don’t have any group-wide initiative to incorporate these people in a social group environment. Some day maybe.

19:54 Robert Stump: But these people are usually like me, especially the more long-term individuals who keep going back to meetings and meetings, and we’re not required, we’re not telling people they need to keep coming back some programs. Use the program as you need it, and go out and enjoy life if you don’t need it. So there’s no mandatory thing that you just gotta keep coming back. But some people do.

20:22 Ben: I think it’s that all or nothing thinking that often turned me off and turns me off from AA, like if you’re not here, you’re running a risk or you’re in trouble, or if you haven’t seen somebody in a while, they’re always seemed like they’re shocked to think that you haven’t drunk if you see him later, “Oh, you’re gone for so long. I’m sure I would have been sure you drank or something.”

20:40 Ben: But as you said earlier about the choice, the choice is important and I think sometimes that’s where the tone of AA meetings misses the boat, it’s like, if you don’t agree with most of what you hear, everything that you hear, well then you fit in this category of sliding down that slippery slope and you’re in trouble, and then it almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

21:02 Robert Stump: Yes, I think so, especially when they’re forced into the program.

21:06 John: Yeah, yeah. And we do get better. You do get to a point where your sober life becomes the normal life and the risk of drinking is much much reduced to where I think a person could go on with their lives and enjoy their life and they don’t necessarily have to attend meetings forever. I’m just kind of realizing that now, it’s taken me a long time but I’m almost ready to retire from being in recovery, and I don’t know.


21:35 John: But on the other hand, I enjoy it too. I enjoy watching people get better, I enjoy seeing people get their lives together, and the whole recovery community and especially what’s happening now with the more options becoming available, is interesting to me too, so I kind of like being part of it for that reason as well. But yeah, we do get better. There’s no reason that we have to think, in my opinion, that we’re somehow diseased forever.

22:07 Robert Stump: Yeah, if you believe in that concept, yes. [chuckle]

22:09 John: Yeah, I guess you could, yeah.

22:12 Robert Stump: But you kind of, you do… When you reflect, the 12-Step program is a social program. I think that’s part of the strength.

22:20 John: Yeah, I do too.

22:22 Robert Stump: And a lot of people, probably not me, but a lot of people feel the comradeship supports them, and that’s why they go. The 12-Steps, yeah, they might eventually get to that, they might get a sponsor. It’s kind of pushed on you evidently. But I know there are people that go to these meetings, but they don’t have sponsors or they’re not doing the 12-Steps. But it’s the social thing and because they’re in a tribe like them, they’re surrounded by people that… And it’s not…

22:56 John: Yeah, Ben and I were talking about that last week, we both think that that’s the great strength of I think really almost any support system, is that connection that you have with other people that are like you, that have had the same problem.

23:13 Robert Stump: That’s quite true. In essence, people will disagree with me, of course, but in essence, the 12-Step program is a religion.

23:21 John: It is, it was my religion for a long time.

23:22 Ben: I agree.

23:23 Robert Stump: And it offers all the good benefits of religion. Religion is not bad per se. It offers a lot of social interactions, and you get sick, people come and visit you, stuff like that.

23:45 Ben: I think that… Go ahead, Robert, I’m sorry.

23:49 Robert Stump: No, no, I’m done.

23:51 Ben: That’s because I think, along the lines of what we’ve been talking about, I think where my concern falls, with AA as well as religion, it’s like If you ever express anything or even remotely would challenge anything like bring up a question, it seems like there starts to be that subtle shunning, or that pushing away, that it’s almost like it feels like a punishment of taking away your community if you dare speak out.

24:14 Ben: So then it’s… The counselor in me says that somewhere each individual person has to dig in emotionally and figure out what is their truth, what is true for them, and to have a safe place to express things like that, that tend to be more secular, like SMART or LifeRing, I’m loving what I hear about that. And just be able to express that and have a place where you’re accepted, where you’re asked, which hasn’t always been my experience, either with religion or in most AA rooms, too.

24:43 John: Well, I’ll tell you one of the strengths I see from LifeRing as compared to even the secular AA meetings, is that LifeRing takes it all off, it takes that subject, whether you’re an atheist, agnostic or religious person, it’s not even material. And whereas with the secular AA meeting, there’s that thing that says, “We’re secular, we’re not… “, and there’s that dynamic involved with it, where I think it would be ideal just to have where, “Yeah, if you’re religious, if you go to church, that’s great, but that’s not what this is about.”

25:14 Robert Stump: Yeah.

25:15 Ben: Absolutely.

25:16 Robert Stump: What you use for your personal strength, and I say this in the meeting so that people don’t think we’re an atheist group or whatever. You gotta use what tools you have to keep you sober, and you use the whole bag of tools. And if you’re a religious person, a spiritual person, definitely use that to keep you sane and sober.

25:41 John: And I was reading on the website, LifeRing website, that probably about 40% of the people that go to LifeRing meetings probably are just like the rest of the population, about 40% of them do go to church, are religious, and then the rest aren’t. But it’s not even an issue, it’s not something that ever even comes up. Just like in a normal society, it’s not like we talk about our religion at work or any other part of our life, it’s just, it’s something that should be private, I think, not part of our recovery. But I’m finding more and more people that that is really important. They don’t want their belief to be involved with a serious problem like addiction and overcoming addiction. It just doesn’t make sense to have that be the answer, so it’s great to have these options.

26:30 Robert Stump: It’s also, it’s because we are of a Christian background, Judeo-Christian background, Muslims, how do they deal with this whole situation?

26:42 Ben: Right.

26:42 Robert Stump: You know we get a lot of them in our group. They’re very religious, but they’re not forced to acknowledge a Christian God in order to be in recovery.

26:57 Ben: Yeah, I’ve brought that up many times when I was more active in my home group in Lincoln instead of up here in Omaha, and people would be kind of flabbergasted they never really thought about that. And we have certainly a decent enough population of minority religions in all these areas, and it’s, no one considers that part it seems like.

27:20 John: I would like to see LifeRing, I’d like to see it grow more in this area too. I don’t know if we have any meetings in Kansas City or this vicinity.

27:29 Robert Stump: No. No, you don’t.

27:31 John: Yeah.

27:32 Robert Stump: It’s so hard. It’s a matter of luck. SMART got a, over $100,000 donation when they were starting out.

27:43 John: Oh?

27:44 Robert Stump: From a benefactor. And they obviously run a different model than LifeRing does. We have no professional people in our organization, in the leadership portion of it. Nobody has. And I’m not sure what we’d do if somebody did. We’d probably accept them, but we would say, “You gotta put the therapist hat here because you are a person in recovery and that’s how you approach convening.”

28:14 John: Yeah, it’s more real peer to peer. I’m learning more about SMART. I’m taking the SMART training just to learn about it. And yeah, it does seem like it’s got that component that I’m a little concerned about, where it’s like the person who facilitates the meeting has some sort of expertise or something, and it just puts, it puts a lot of pressure I think on the person who’s running the meeting and it’s just kind of a different dynamic. But I don’t want to judge it yet because I’m still learning about it. But that is different. That is different from what I’m used to, and I think it sounds like it’s different from LifeRing too.

28:50 Robert Stump: Yeah, it’s more of a top-down, because there’s an instructor and there are people that listen. They do talk.

28:56 John: They do.

28:56 Robert Stump: There is cross-talk in the meeting and stuff like that, but it’s a completely different model. And there are benefits to that model, that’s why they have a lot more meetings.

29:08 Ben: I think something you said, Robert, made me think about this too. Like in early recovery it could be so tough and it’s emotional for a lot of people when you’re first contemplating getting sober or actually doing something about it. And I don’t know if I’m making too big of a blanket statement, but it’s like sometimes the 12-Step groups provide this perfect, not perfect, but this structured format that says, “This is the answer,” and that appeals to some people whether I think it’s true or not.

29:34 John: It does, yeah.

29:34 Ben: But it’s also like my father-in-law who is always constantly looking for the perfect diet that is going to make everything click. And his workout schedule and how many miles he rides on his bike, there’s like some perfect number to reach that it’s going to result in some optimal result. And as somebody who used to be a counselor, I think sometimes that’s the mindset that we have to get over on some level, like that LifeRing proposes.

30:02 Ben: If you go to AA, great, if you go to SMART, great if you heard a podcast where you heard this great saying, great, take from everywhere around you that you can get the truth. And it’s more of an internally motivated, emotionally-based therapeutic process I think, rather than, “You’re doing it right, you tell me how to do it, and this person’s doing it right, well now let me try that.” Instead of it’s like grab all that stuff and form your own thing here about what’s working for you because sure as heck I know what works for John or what works for you is at least a little bit different than what works for…

30:35 John: And I think more people are doing that, Ben. I think that I think the vast majority of people who are getting sober today are not getting sober in the rooms of AA or maybe even any other program, but I’m seeing a lot of people just connecting online. The YouTube community, for example, the people that are helping each other there through social media.

30:53 Ben: Absolutely, people on Twitter even, you know.

30:55 John: Twitter, all kinds of things, it’s amazing. And what’s happening, and it’s really kind of it’s under the radar, but people are meeting online and oftentimes that will turn into real face-to-face relationships, but and it’s more of a mix and a match type of approach, which is smart really.

31:16 Ben: Right. Well I even say this, in the secular community amongst AA, and I know we’re not trying to just talk about that, it feels like there’s more of that going on than when my experience more in traditional AA. It’s more about people getting to know each other. And I know AA is a social thing too, but it seems like it’s more beholden to this hallowed 12-Steps. And that’s what I really like from what I’m hearing about Robert about LifeRing, is that it’s, no, it’s about us humans right here who are sitting, meeting right now in this room and talking.

31:45 Robert Stump: Yeah, you know you were talking about social stuff and YouTube, stuff like that. I think people are being exposed to the concept that you have permission to do it your own way. That you don’t have to do it this way or that way. And some of the braver people, not everyone, obviously, but some of the braver people are saying, “Yeah, that’s right, I can do it my way.”

32:12 John: I also like the growing movement I see of people who are coming out openly as being in recovery, and not hiding in their anonymity. That I think is really important, that I’m getting to be more that way, that it’s not like I wear it on my sleeve or anything, but I don’t necessarily want to hide from the world that I’m in recovery, because there’s nothing wrong with that. And it’s good for people to know that, yeah, this is a problem that human beings have and it’s possible to overcome it.

32:46 Robert Stump: Yeah, I mean I’ve never been anonymous and I didn’t have a high stake job when I was working. It doesn’t bother me to say what, I, my roots, where I came from. In fact, it is a source of strength. It’s not shaming for me.

33:07 John: Yeah.

33:09 Robert Stump: I got 14 years now. Soon, I will have more years with me, counting my youth, more years on Earth than, as sober than under the influence.

33:19 John: That’s nice.

33:20 Ben: Yeah, awesome.

33:20 John: Yeah, that’s great.

33:22 Ben: I’m finding it more accepted, too, just like we’ve got two young kids, and so I’m interacting with more other people’s, other kids’ parents, and so I don’t just immediately say, “Hey, I don’t drink”, but if some another parent is talking to me about going on a golf trip and they talk about all the crazy stuff they do and party and stuff, and I’ll say like, “Oh yeah, I used to do that, man, but I kind of lost my right to do that.”


33:42 Ben: And I get a lot more people nodding and grinning and laughing and being more accepting of that than I used to. Whereas maybe it was the way I phrased it in the past too, it was too much AA lingo when I would talk about it. But it does seem… And I think for a while there it got kind of trendy to be sober, even amongst Hollywood and stuff like that. People were wearing it on their sleeves a little bit more, and some people think that’s bad but I think it’s great any time anybody talks about it, just like you guys are saying.

34:13 Robert Stump: Yeah, guilt is one of those things that’s not talked about much but is so such a heavy burden. And I’m going to say it, in the… What I was exposed to in the 12-Step Program, and still what I’m exposed to, there are people that will argue with you and say, “Oh no, this is this and that.” I find because of the religious component, and Adam and Eve and original sin, and you have to be washed clean and you gotta keep going back, and I just… But it’s that burden that if you don’t do the 12 steps, you’re not clean, you still have guilt. It just, it can… I guess some people could handle it, it would just, I would think it would destroy other people.

35:05 John: I find it interesting too that like, well, for SMART, that whole idea of looking at your past, your, all the resentments, and all the problems that you had in the past is less important than figuring out what’s going on today in the here and now. It’s like, “Okay, so, I’m behaving this way now, why am I behaving this way now, what is it that’s going on with me today that’s affecting me?”, rather than looking back in the past, that’s kind of interesting. I found some of that stuff kind of helpful, I guess, but maybe it really wasn’t necessary to do all of that.

35:41 Robert Stump: Yeah. I drank because I loved the taste of alcohol, I loved the way that it did to me. And when you talk about it, you have these reflections and you create stories in your mind as to how things progressed, and whether it actually happened or not, nobody knows, but it seems to… I do remember the first time I drank, and it was the greatest experience in the world, and it really helped with social lubrication.

36:15 Robert Stump: I was able to mingle with people, and it was wonderful. And I found that I was able to, over time, I was able to consume a lot more and, than other people and still function what apparent… Until later in life, I was able to function alright. So I had a higher tolerance for it, which was my downfall. But it seems to me that when I continued to drink, I was trying to recapture that first experience, because it was just, it was a… [chuckle]

37:00 Robert Stump: I just wonder if that’s what people are trying to do, not people that are mentally ill or have emotional issues that are masking or somehow, I don’t have emotional, I’ve never been under the care of anything or taken any stuff for mental illness, so, and abuse and stuff, I don’t think I ever had that, at least I don’t remember it. I think I drank because I just enjoyed it.

37:27 John: Yeah, yeah, yup. Yeah.


37:29 Ben: Yeah.

37:32 John: And to a certain point, I guess it doesn’t really matter. And I also think that I think the same way, I had all kinds of things going on in my upbringing, but the bottom line was, I somehow became addicted to alcohol. And I think it’s because of what was going on in my brain. That’s just what I think, but it doesn’t really matter when it comes down to how I stay sober really, which is to not drink. That’s the thing about LifeRing, LifeRing is abstinence-based. And so is SMART. But we were talking to someone…

38:06 Robert Stump: But, but. [chuckle]

38:06 John: Yeah, that’s right, “but”, we were talking with Sally last week about harm reduction, and it’s not necessarily everybody in SMART is expected to have abstinence as their goal.

38:19 Robert Stump: And that’s fine.

38:20 John: That’s fine, isn’t it? Yeah, but it is different.

38:23 Robert Stump: Yeah, I just did people, in the opening statement, I’ll say, “LifeRing is soberly based, we’re abstinent, we’re abstinent. We don’t drink or use. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t moderate, and most of you in the room have tried to moderate.” It always comes back that they’ve tried to… It’s just natural for somebody that abuses something to moderate it and try to control it. But there’s plenty of people, you get myopic because you think alcohol and drugs are so bad. 70% of the population, 80%, have no problems with using it. It’s just that 20 or 30%, the people here in this room, you can’t do it.

38:54 John: Yeah, does LifeRing also welcome people that have eating disorders and other addictions?

38:54 Robert Stump: No. The board made a decision, not that we cannot financially support it, or we, or list it on the website at this point, but we certainly, when I talk to people, I tell them, “Go ahead, use the concepts if it works for you,” because I do get calls for sex addiction, gambling, etcetera. The other thing is Al-Anon, I get calls from people who want to know if LifeRing has a partners or loved one’s program, which we don’t. We’re just too small.

38:54 John: No, no, there’s actually a need for that. There’s a big need for the secular family organizations, there’s not a lot of it, there’s a couple of secular Al-Anon meetings that are coming, that are starting up, but that’s just now a new thing. Well, Robert, I really appreciate you doing this. It was very, very nice of you. And I would really love to speak with more people from LifeRing, so if you would let anyone know that if they would like to come on just to share their story, I would love to have that.

40:19 John: I think, I really want this to be a platform for secular options other than the 12-Steps to be given voice to. And so, that’s what this is all about, so thank you for participating, I really appreciate that.

40:34 Robert Stump: Okay. I can share your email address with maybe other board members, or I’m not going to publish it and put it out in the world, but some select people.

40:44 John: Okay, that’d be great.

40:45 Robert Stump: And see if they want to participate.

40:48 John: Well, that’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much, I appreciate it.

40:50 Robert Stump: Okay.

40:50 John: So I’m going to sign us out, with our…

40:51 Ben: Yeah, thank you, Robert.


40:53 John: And there we go, and that was another episode. This is always so much fun. [chuckle] My Secular Sobriety. And thank you for listening.


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