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About Empowering Your Sober Self

LifeRing’s approach was the greatest gift I could ever give to my young family – if you are a parent who drinks, please give yourself a gift and read this book. -- Trish S., Pacifica CA, sober parent
\"Martin Nicolaus offers the reader a sensible and doable discipline for anyone serious about getting free of drugs and alcohol, regardless of personal beliefs.\" -- Doug Althauser, M.Ed., CSAC, MAC, author of You Can Free Yourself From Alcohol & Drugs
\"Martin Nicolaus\'s Empowering Your Sober Self: The LifeRing Approach to Addiction Recovery is a vital reading for anyone engaged in addiction treatment and recovery. I have no doubt that it will be celebrated as an important resource for professionals and individuals who truly wish to explore innovative self-management recovery options.\" -- Madalynn C. Rucker, Executive Director, ONTRACK Program Resources California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs Technical Assistance & Training Contractor
\"Martin Nicolaus, one of LifeRing’s founding members, has written a lucid explanation of its approach, philosophy and what it has meant to him and to others. I believe this book will be very helpful to both treating professionals and to many who continue to struggle with addictions. No one approach has all the answers, but this book certainly has many of them.\" -- George Ubogy M.D., Medical Director, Addiction Recovery Center, Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich, CT
\"Many people in recovery who are searching for an alternative to the disease model of addiction and the 12-Step program will find the LifeRing Approach to be an interesting path to follow.\" -- Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., Director, Addictive Behaviors Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle
\"Truly groundbreaking. A must read for addiction professionals, people suffering from addictions and their loved ones.\" -- Lorraine Robinson, LSW, Executive Director, Ka Hale Ho`ala Hou No Na Wahine (The Home of Reawakening for Women), a re-entry program for women exiting prison, Honolulu HI.
\"We badly need more roads to recovery. Nicolaus\' book details one such road: positive, empathetic, down to earth -- and a great read.\" -- Lonny Shavelson MD, Author of Hooked: Five Addicts Challenge our Misguided Drug Rehab System
\"True life recovery stories skillfully interwoven with theories about addiction and practical advice on how to overcome it.\" --CA Edington, Teacher, 10+ years sober through LifeRing, Sapporo, Japan
\"In the words of our president, \'it’s time for a change\' and nowhere is this more evident than in the field of addiction treatment. Nicolaus has written a wonderful book that presents LifeRing, a new model for self-help groups. A model based on empathy, scientific evidence, and giving people the power make their own choices about treatment options. Indeed, change has come.\" -- Joseph R. Volpicelli M.D., Ph.D., Executive Director of the Institute of Addiction Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and co-author of Recovery Options: The Complete Guide.
\"This book encapsulating the LifeRing program, is an excellent tool for Recovery, particularly for those put off by the concepts of ‘powerlessness’ and ‘higher power’.\" Ralph Cantor - Coordinator of Drug Prevention at the Alameda County Office of Education
\"Powerful, engaging, and scientific. Marty Nicolaus shows that the sober self emerges by focusing on a person’s strength, intelligence, supportive relationships, and the ability to ask, what works? I highly recommend this excellent book to all people dealing with addictions and compulsive behavior. -- Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D., author of Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps
\"Reducing the addict self by itself has no effect unless the sober self grows and fills the gap.\" Martin Nicolaus\' new book, a compilation of stories and principles to assist recovery, fills the gap for those who wish to avoid 12-step programs and the mythos of disempowerment\" David A. Kaiser, Ph.D., Editor, Journal of Neurotherapy
Using the best thinking and best science, Empowering Your Sober Self examines what works and what doesn\'t, and provides new hope and new solutions for anyone who craves a sober life, but can\'t make a go of it in the 12-step world. The book is well-written to boot, full of smart prose, great good humor, sparkling analogies, and fascinating nuggets of history and science. -- Matt Dean, software developer, web designer, LifeRing convenor, Charlotte, SC
\"Finally, a respectful approach to persons caught in addiction. Nicolaus has given us another option in the heroic battle people fight to regain the wholeness which addiction compromises.\" -- Linda Mercadante, Ph.D., Straker Professor of Historical Theology, The Methodist Theological School in Ohio; author of Victims & Sinners: Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery
\"This book reinforces the view that the brain\'s reward systems are usurped by drug addiction and is a strong argument for linking mechanisms of recovery with the concept that addiction is a disease of the brain.\" George F. Koob, Ph.D., The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California
\"In Empowering your Sober Self, Martin Nicolaus introduces a new, rational approach to addiction recovery, grounded in secularity, and informed by modern science. The LifeRing program mobilizes the power of caring and connection to liberate the sober self that lives inside everyone who struggles with addiction.\" -- Tom Moon, MFT; columnist, S.F. Bay Times
\"Provides a compelling analysis of the philosophy of Life Ring, and how it compares to Alcoholics Anonymous. Readers will learn a great deal about the implications of the disease concept of alcoholism (to the alcohol industry, to coverage for treatment, and to the social stigma of addiction), of powerlessness (versus a healthy respect for addiction), and of the genetics of addiction.\" Lee Ann Kaskutas, Ph.D., senior scientist, Alcohol Research Group, Emeryville, CA
“Finally an author understands that an individuals success in recovery starts with the option of choice. There is no wrong way to sobriety, just one that is wrong for me.” -- Garry Mehlhorn, Ontario, Canada (sober 3+ years)
\"Issues a long overdue challenge to the accepted wisdom surrounding recovery from addiction, and illuminates a viable, alternative perspective on recovery.\" -- Sarah E. Zemore Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Alcohol Research Group, Emeryville CA
I could not put it down. The book is engaging, touching, and at the same time quite informative -- a must read for the addict and non-addict alike. -- Asma Asyyed MD, Berkeley CA
“In a field where most treatment is driven by myth, politics, and ideological dogma, Nicolaus’ book is a breath of fresh air. It is well written, contemporary, research based and client centered; it will without a doubt help people find recovery who would otherwise become lost.” Dr. B J Davis, Clinical Director, Strategies for Change, Sacramento CA
\"I got the book \"Empower Your Sober Self\" as a gift, and while reading that\'s like EVERYTHING just came together. And, even though I\'ve always been one to smile, I\'m smiling bigger than ever because I feel like this great burden has been lifted off of my shoulders. I\'m not wrong, I\'m not insane, I\'m not powerless...I\'m just \"me\"....and it\'s the best feeling I\'ve felt in a long time.\" -- Rick A., sober person
This is an eloquently written, audience-friendly piece of work that truly engages the reader from the first page to the last. The book chronicles the emergence of LifeRing—a promising alternative to AA but without powerlessness, insanity, the supernatural, and other elements of AA that have deterred millions from participating in self-help groups. Through a medley of inspiring accounts of personal triumph, revelations of the peculiar historical evolution of AA, along with the results of empirical studies, Nicolaus reveals the remarkable power of the human spirit over the pharmacological properties of alcohol and other drugs. Masterfully done. -- William Cloud, PhD, MSW, Professor, Graduate School of Social Work, University of Denver
\"With impressive analytical clarity and therapeutic generosity, Nicolaus presents a well--argued brief for understanding the complexities of addiction treatment and accepting the full range of diverse paths to recovery. The data on recovery and the biological, social and genetic interactions in addiction are well presented in this brief well-written text. Professionals in the field and laymen wanting insight and balance on a vitally important public health issue will appreciate the author\'s lively and respectful presentation.\" -- Judith Herman MD, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Harvard University Medical School
Drawing from his own experiences and highlighting the experiences of many others who have found LifeRing support groups and approaches useful on their journey, Nicolaus offers hope and challenges some central tenets about addictions that he believes can interfere with leaving the addicted self and finding the sober self. He offers a sane and secular approach to seeking sobriety and a sophisticated, insightful, and well documented view of the philosophy and practice that are at the heart of this LifeRing approach. This book offers a perspective on recovery that can motivate change in clinicians and researchers as well as among individuals struggling to find their sober selves.\" Carlo DiClemente, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland


Content Categories

Tenant Law


In the tenant law area, I represent tenant plaintiffs in cases involving serious habitability, discrimination, harassment or injury issues. I generally defend evictions only in connection with affirmative suits for damages. I don’t represent landlords in tenant/landlord cases.

Good landlords never hear from me. If they charge fair rents, take care of their property, and treat their tenants square, it’s very unlikely that they’ll ever go crossways with a tenant lawyer. Virtually all tenant lawsuits are brought against a small minority of bad landlords.

Most of the phone calls that come into my office from tenants involve evictions. Many of the callers have heartbreaking stories of lost jobs, callous landlords, stonefaced banks, innocent children, and no place to go. It hurts to say “no” to them, but in most cases there is nothing I can do. I do too much pro bono work already, including cases that weren’t meant to be pro bono, but end up that way. I have bills to pay and I need to get paid for the hours I put in. Most tenants get into eviction trouble because they can’t pay the rent, and if they can’t pay the rent, they can’t pay an attorney.

Quite a few tenants — I just finished speaking with one — call an attorney for the first time on the night before their trial date. They’re surprised and disappointed that an attorney can’t be there at their side the next morning. The reality is this. Alameda County is blessed with one of the largest contingents of tenant lawyers in the country. But every one of these lawyers is swamped with work and booked up weeks or months ahead of time.

Fortunately, there are a few nonprofit agencies that may be able to help the poverty-stricken tenant facing eviction. A short list of these agencies is below.

If I take a residential eviction case, it’s generally because one or more of the following conditions is true:

  • The tenant has the rent money but is deliberately withholding it to force the landlord to make repairs
  • The tenant is paying the rent but the landlord is trying to evict the tenant because the tenant asked for repairs or contacted a city inspector
  • The tenant is paying the rent but the landlord is sending eviction notices or commencing eviction to harass the tenant on racial, national, religious, or sexual grounds
  • The tenant is paying the rent but the landlord wants the tenant out in order to sell the property vacant
  • A lawsuit has already been filed against the landlord on grounds of habitability, harassment, discrimination or injury, and the landlord is retaliating

If one or more of these conditions applies, it means that the tenant may have grounds for an affirmative suit against the landlord for monetary damages. In that event, if I represent the client in the affirmative suit, I will generally also represent the client in the eviction. I will keep track of my hours spent on the eviction and charge them against the client’s recovery in the affirmative suit. I will usually take the affirmative suit on a contingency basis, like a personal injury lawsuit.

If the landlord has failed to make the payments and the bank is foreclosing:

  • In Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, and some other cities that have just-cause for eviction laws, the bank cannot evict you when it forecloses.
  • If a new owner buys the property at a foreclosure sale as an investment, he or she still cannot evict you.
  • The new owner can evict you only if he or she (or a close family member) genuinely intends to make the property his/her primary residence.
  • In cities that have no just-cause protection, you may be able to negotiate a modest amount of cash-for-keys to save the bank the trouble of bringing an eviction proceeding.
  • If the bank cuts off the utilities with the intent of getting you out, you may have a lawsuit under the “anti-lockout” laws.

Here are some pointers if you think you have a habitability lawsuit:

  • The conditions need to be serious. For example, faded paint alone won’t do it, but paint that’s peeling and falling where children could eat it, or paint that’s bubbling and cracking from water leaks, or paint that’s covered with persistent black mold, might make a case. Broken heaters are serious. Infestations of roaches, spiders, fleas, mice, rats are serious. Shoddy electrical work that poses a danger of fire or electrocution is serious. I’ll try to post a picture gallery of serious conditions when I get time.
  • The conditions need to be documented. Clear, sharp photographs with dates are essential. Most local cities have housing inspectors who will come, look, and write up a report on conditions they see. There are private inspectors, such as Claudio Bluer, who are experts at reporting and evaluating code violations. The conditions need to be documented before you leave the premises.
  • The conditions need to be not your fault.
  • You need to have evidence that you notified the landlord of the conditions, or that the landlord or his hired people saw them, and failed to act on them.
  • You need to be at least an average housekeeper. I’ve seen apartments where conditions under the landlord’s control were horrible, but conditions under the tenant’s control were just as bad. If the landlord can answer your photographs of rats and roaches with his photographs of your garbage strewn across the floor, you will lose the case.
  • You can make your case stronger by joining together with other tenants in the building. In a multi-unit building, defective conditions are rarely confined to a single unit. Your case will be much more powerful and your reward will be greater if you can bring the suit as a group. If you have enough people in a large building, we may be able to bring it as a class action.

Here are some pointers if you think you have a discrimination lawsuit:

  • It’s next to impossible to win a discrimination case today based on inference. You need a smoking gun, such as the landlord’s use of the n-word or other insult against you because of who you are, or who the landlord thinks you are. And you need at least one unbiased witness who will testify under penalty of perjury to hearing the insult. For example, in the 1200 Lakeshore class action, the building manager testified under oath in his deposition that the building owner had instructed him to “get rid of the black people, get rid of the old people.”
  • You need to show that the landlord’s discriminatory action damaged you in some way. For example, you suffered severe emotional distress, you were exposed to dust and noise, you lost sleep, you were forced to move, or you lost your job. In an employment case, my client’s emotional pain from a racial insult caused her to have a heart attack and to become permanently disabled from work. That’s an extremely serious consequence, and it made for a major settlement. But if the landlord’s words or actions didn’t ruffle your feathers, your case may not be worth bringing.

If you’ve been injured as a result of defective conditions on the premises — the rotten stairs broke under you, the ceiling fell in on your head — see the Personal Injury section of this website.

If you think you have a mold case, please note:

  • It isn’t enough to photograph the mold. Not only the mold itself but preferably also the air inside the apartment needs to be tested by a mold lab that will identify the exact micro-organisms involved. Some molds are more dangerous than others.
  • If you think you have suffered lung damage, headaches, or other illness as a result of the mold, you absolutely must get a physician to say so in writing, in your medical chart. Your personal conviction that the mold made you ill, without a doctor’s written diagnosis, will get you no place in court.
  • I no longer take asbestos cases. You need to consult attorneys who specialize in that material.

Tenants also may have other rights that can be addressed in a lawsuit. I’ve represented a number of tenants in lockout cases — cases where the landlord does a self-help eviction, or shuts off utilities, without going through the legal process.

Some landlords repeatedly gouge tenants out of their security deposits. While individual security deposit cases usually belong in Small Claims Court, landlords who have a pattern and practice of deposit fraud can be sued in Superior Court.

Some landlords knowingly permit drug dealing and prostitution in their rental properties — the suspicion is that they take a percentage of the business — and this can sometimes be stopped through a lawsuit.

Occasionally, landlords permit a favored tenant to make constant noise that ruins your sleep; courts have sometimes given relief in such cases.

Some landlords don’t respect a tenant’s disability and make no reasonable accommodation for it; that can be a case.

If the landlord knows that the locks are defective, or the lighting is broken, or there is a homicidal tenant, or there are other unaddressed security issues, and as a direct result someone robs you or injures you, you probably have a case.

Even if you haven’t personally been injured, you may have a case. Two young women once came to me, saying that when they rented the apartment, the landlord told them the building was safe and there had been no problems. They had noticed a large faded brown stain on the rug but gave it no thought. Then they learned from a neighbor that the previous tenant, a young woman, had been raped and stabbed to death in the apartment, and the brown stain was her blood. That case settled very quickly.

Here are some red flags that usually lead me to decline a case:

  • One roommate is upset with and wants to sue another roommate.
  • Landlord and tenant are family members, or are BF/GF, or exes.
  • Another attorney originally had the case but wants out.
  • Tenant is not interested in money damages but just wants to ‘get even.’
  • Tenant is habitually drunk, uses drugs, or is involved in illegal activity.
  • Tenant has paid rent in cash and got no receipts or lost the receipts.
  • Tenant has a good story but the facts occurred months ago.
  • Tenant has no paperwork or photographs, but relies entirely on “he said, she said.”
  • Landlord has no insurance, is bankrupt, or cannot be found.

All the tenant cases I’ve been involved in are in the East Bay, mostly Oakland, Berkeley, Walnut Creek and Concord. If your case is farther away, I probably won’t be able to help you, unless it’s a major multi-tenant case with serious damages. Most of my cases have been residential; if you have a commercial case, we can talk.

I see my tenant work basically as urban dentistry. Tenant lawyers get called when the urban smile develops a rotten pocket. We drill and scrape, and when we’re done, a bad building generally gets repaired, and sometimes a bad owner gets extracted. If there were no decaying buildings and rotten owners, tenant lawyers would be out of business. I’ll celebrate the day when that happens, but I’m not holding my breath.

Nonprofit Agencies in the East Bay that may be able to help the tenant who has no funds to hire a lawyer:

Eviction Defense Center
1611 Telegraph Avenue Ste. 726
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 452-4541


Housing Rights, Inc.
1966 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA
(510) 548-5805

Housing Rights has satellite offices in Antioch and Concord


East Bay Community Law Center
2921 Adeline Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 548-4040
Project Sentinel
39155 Liberty St.
Ste D440
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 574-2270

Project Sentinel also has offices in Modesto, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Gilroy, and San Jose


Bay Area Legal Aid
1735 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 250-5270

BayLegal also has offices or advocacy sites in Richmond, Antioch, Concord, and Pittsburg, as well as in neighboring counties



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