Individuals are amazed when they walk into a twelve-step meeting to “get the heat off” from their drinking and using, and in a blink of an eye they are standing in front of people getting their yearly chip. It doesn’t matter how you come to the conclusion that your drinking and drugging is becoming a problem, it’s staying away from it that most find difficult.
With no twelve-step affiliation or problem-seeking purpose intended, Sober February was started six years ago by Brooklyn resident Greg Rutter and some pals. According to those involved, they realized (over beers) that “the default suggestion was always to go to a bar for a drink." They decided to mix things up, by encouraging anyone who wants to participate to abstain from alcohol for the shortest month of the year. "On a whim, we decided that it would be a 'fun' challenge to maintain our social lives—really to ramp up and expand our social calendar—without having a drink,” says Rutter, 30. The purpose solely being to challenge yourself to try something new, possibly learn more about yourself and your behaviors. The website isn’t opposed to staying completely sober, and at the same time, allows for other mind and mood altering substances. Other "indulgences" (like pot) are approved, as long as they don't "replace" alcohol. Rutter, an ad executive, says the idea stemmed from his enjoyment of self-imposed challenges; he also does "Vegetarian January".
Whatever the reason for trying it, there also needs to be safety associated with this trial period. Those individuals that have come to rely on heavy drinking and drug use can often go through a detox stage that, if not monitored by a trained medical professional could be deadly or do bodily harm. One participant, Ben, tells The Fix he tried the challenge as a way of monitoring his own drinking habits, because he doesn't want to "get to the point where people are telling me to not drink" or to find himself thinking "I need a beer, not just want a beer." But people try it out for various reasons. “I’m positive that someone with a problem—though I understand that problems come in many shapes and sizes—could gain a lot from the SF experience,” Rutter says. “I’m hesitant to speculate why other people do it, but I have definitely heard health, money, and 'I want to prove to myself that I can do it' as the most common reasons.”
A major hurdle for anyone that wants to stop drinking, either for a whole month or permanently, is that they cannot picture life sober. This is particularly true for younger people. One of the benefits, says Rutter, is helping people realize they don't need booze to have fun. Participants are mostly young folks from Brooklyn who spend lots of time at bars or shows—but that doesn't need to change just because they're sober. "I find it interesting how often I hear people say that they 'I could NEVER do that,' but I think that we are particularly wired to be social and energetic without any social lubricant,” says Rutter. For himself, the challenge offers a "new perspective" and also helps him expand his social scene. "Sober February definitely makes you seek out and suggest other venues and options, and I attend far more art shows or openings, concerts, talks, and other random events than any other month of the year." Saving money and avoiding hangovers doesn't hurt either, he adds: "You can go out every night and spend very little money and still wake up fine for work.”
If you or someone you know have tried not drinking and drugging, and for whatever the reason, consequence, or pledge sobriety just doesn’t seem possible, there is help. Treatment options are available for those people that are truly sincere about getting sober, whether they learned they had a problem from a challenge or a judge.