In This Life

By Kim Welsh and Janet A. Hopkins

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

It’s a warm and sunny day in March

A block away, the massive cranes are lined up like soldiers as they move containers on and off the huge cargo ships at the San Pedro pier. Inside the Crown Plaza Hotel, under massive crystal chandeliers, the lobby is a beehive of activity.

Bob K., the owner-operator of In This Life Travel, is manning a busy hospitality booth while answering a constantly ringing phone. It is check-in time for the roughly 280 passengers scheduled for his Mexican Riviera Twelve Step conference cruise. As his guests arrive, Bob steps out from behind the tables to greet each person with a hearty hug, making each feel like the most important person on the cruise.

*****

Bob Kocher

Bob Kocher

After a brief introduction to a Twelve Step program in 1977, Bob K. continued to struggle with his addiction for ten more years. He lost an opportunity for a professional football career as a kicker. In his addiction, his world went from large and full of promise to small and imprisoning.

Because he was tired of being fired for absences related to his alcohol and drug use, Bob opened an orange juice processing business in 1983. Five years later, he was broke and in trouble. Suppliers were knocking on his door looking for their money. Drugs and alcohol were no longer easing his pain and tension.

A car/pedestrian accident added pressure to his already chaotic life and led to a psychotic break. During this time Bob began to hear voices. Finally after a failed suicide attempt he decided to seek help.

Bob sobered up in February of 1988. O.J. Bob, as he was known in the program, enrolled in a local community college to study the travel business. Always an energetic entrepreneur, Bob busied himself with his recovery community, organizing sober adult softball and basketball teams, golf tournaments and short trips to sporting events.

Since Bob was a young boy of seven, he was a natural born planner and host. He quickly saw an opportunity to combine his passions for sobriety and travel. His company, In This Life Travel, was organized in September 1988 in Palo Alto, CA. During that first year in business, he started doing houseboat group excursions. “One of the reasons sobriety scared me was that I thought there would never be any more fun; so after I got sober, I created a way to be sure there would [be fun].”

“I saw how newcomers felt safe with other recovering people,” Bob continued. “On early trips, I noticed people were opening up and sharing about themselves. Because of the safe environment our trips provided, some people’s barriers to share [their] experiences were broken down. As a result, lifelong friendships often developed. Many, like me, shared the fear they wouldn’t have any fun in sobriety.”

The first group excursion was a house boat trip for twelve passengers. Bob organized meetings, fishing, water skiing and dancing for each day. The following year, In This Life Travel expanded to three houseboat trips on multiple boats. The concept was catching on.

At the recommendation of his sponsor, Bob took on some service work, serving as the “speaker seeker” for a large Twelve Step meeting in San Jose, CA. It was during one of those meetings that he met Dr. Earl Marsh, a close friend of the co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson. Bob and Earl made an immediate connection.

Bob’s orange juice business was floundering, needing more capital to move forward. He was in Greece on a personal vacation when he received the news his business partner had closed the doors of their orange juice business.

“Not knowing what to do, I suffered an identity crisis.” Bob said, “I was involved in that business from the beginning and wondered how I would start from scratch again.” Despite his great fear, he had a spiritual awakening. “A feeling of peace came over me … I knew I could stay sober, no matter what.”

It was Earl who suggested Bob organize sober cruises instead of houseboat trips. Earl offered to be the keynote speaker for Bob’s first voyage. Overnight, 150 people booked the trip. It looked too good to be true. Bob was elated. But then the news came that the cruise company he had booked for this first trip had sold the ship.

Bob was forced to choose a different cruise line on a not-so-desirable ship. After hearing the news, many who had signed on dropped out. More people cancelled when word spread about a massive case of salmonella which had broken out on the ship during the previous cruise. At the last minute, all but 15 passengers cancelled. “I went into fear, second-guessing myself,” Bob remembered.

Naysayers came out of the woodwork. Feeling defeated, Bob went to his spiritual advisor, Earl. Earl reminded him, “Keep your promises to your speaker and guests, no matter what.” Later Bob concluded, “I’m glad I followed my sponsor’s advise.”

Sixteen more passengers signed up within a few days, which made the trip a go. “Steps Three, Six and Seven reminded me that there was really nothing to worry about.” Bob learned a valuable lesson. “It’s not about money. Do what you love and the money will follow.”

It was on this cruise that Bob first witnessed what he calls the “safe container”. Earl was supposed to do Father Martin’s Chalk Talk on the progression of alcoholism. However, during one of his discussions, Earl asked the group to write questions on a piece of paper and drop them in a hat which he passed around the room. His method gave virtual strangers the anonymity to discuss things they might otherwise have been too embarrassed to talk about openly or share about in a meeting.

A guest named Bill had a sensitive question. When Earl responded, the group witnessed a bonding between Bill and his wife – a closeness experienced by the entire group. “We discovered it was safe to be open,” Bill shared.

Passionate, compassionate and with a huge heart for recovery, Bob brings these traits and an infectious enthusiasm to everything he does. Most of all, he’s not afraid to discuss his own alcoholism and recovery. Over the intervening years, he has become a producer and operator of world tours. He takes addicts, alcoholics, their husbands, wives and siblings to places such as Russia, Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the Far East, including Thailand, China and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. He calls his trips “Recovery Conferences at Sea”. Bob’s company also provides a travel venue for Sober Safaris and the AA International Convention, as well as trips for groups outside recovery, such as the Lions Club.

Today, In This Life Travel offers six to eight trips a year, including Sisters in Serenity, a trip designed exclusively for women. This year they are traveling to St. Kit’s, St. Martin and St. Thomas. In addition, there are two Alaskan trips scheduled for July and August, Tahiti in mid-November and three Caribbean cruises in November and December, departing from either Houston or Miami.

Bob’s better half, Beth Denham, organizes and hosts the Sisters in Serenity. Beth, an LVN, assists with special needs passengers on all of the trips. Bob and Beth met on an In This Life cruise a few years ago. While recovering from surgery, Beth stayed in Bob’s bed and breakfast in Cambria, CA, appropriately named Serenity Corner. They have been partners ever since.

On the In This Life cruises, a variety of meetings are scheduled every day. There’s always a chance to attend at least one meeting per day, even if you are sightseeing at the many ports along the way, swimming in the pool or just taking a sunset stroll along the bow.

In addition to the nearly nonstop meetings, there is a special guest or keynote speaker daily. Bob carefully chooses the conference speakers. “I simply get them on the phone and ask them where they want to go. I call people who inspire me.”

Bob explains, “The great thing about a cruise like this for the alcoholic and/or addict is that you get the best of both worlds. You will enjoy the sights, sounds and activities of the typical cruise, but within the ‘safe container’ of like-minded individuals who speak the same language as you, the international language of recovery.”

*****

Back to the Crown Plaza Hotel

Passengers continue to crowd the lobby. The ship departs the following day, and travelers arrive from all over the country for one last night on land before the seven-day cruise begins. Bob greets nearly every new arrival and seems to know everyone by name. He has a team with him; some staff, some volunteers, but all working together like a well-oiled machine. Bags are checked, and folders, badges and smiles are handed out to each and every guest.

Between hugs, Bob is on the phone helping guests find their way from the airport and checking on luggage. Tonight meetings are scheduled in the hotel, and a brunch is arranged in the morning before shuttles begin transporting everyone to the ship, the Norwegian Star.

On this cruise, Anne L., a bestselling author, will share humor, faith and her personal life experiences. She is joined by Fr. Tom W., an inspiring speaker who has led retreats throughout the world for over 30 years. Additional speakers are Dr. Joy Miller, an internationally-known licensed psychotherapist, author and motivational speaker; and Rokelle Lerner, an international speaker and trainer on relationships, women’s issues and family systems. Cynthia Moreno-Tuohy of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Counselors (NAADAC) will be giving a special reading from her not-yet-released book, Reign in the Brain. A comedy night will feature Mary Carouba, a popular speaker, writer and performer who infuses even the most serious subject matter with her hallmark humor.

A Sober Social Networking hour will provide any and all the opportunity to talk about whatever they want, from business to ballgames and from hobbies to more personal topics. Passengers can’t help but have a wonderful experience.

Bon voyage all, have a safe trip!

Cruise conferences are In This Life’s specialty. Together their staff has logged nearly 800 cruises. They also have tour escort experience in Russia, the UK, Ireland, Alaska, the Caribbean and in the Mediterranean – especially Greece and Italy. In addition, they organize Sober Safaris and International Convention travel to foreign countries. Other areas of expertise include fundraising cruises, individual vacation planning, as well as family and alumni trips. You can contact Bob K. at the In This Life Travel website, http://travelsober.com or http://inthislife.com, on Facebook at In This Life Travel, LLC, by phone 800.531.7578 or 805.927.6910 or email trips@inthislife.com.

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