“At this point in our industry, with all the work happening around diversity, inclusiveness, and equity—this one seems like an easy one. We can move beyond stigma and be a National leader when it comes to welcoming in those who don’t always reach for a cold frosty beverage right?”
Being sober in the outdoor industry can be very hard. Staying sober at Outdoor Retailer can be even harder. Depending on where you are in your personal recovery journey, when it hits 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon each day the trade show can turn into a labyrinth. You dance and dodge around trying to avoid a gauntlet of free and/or cheap drinks (my favorite kind of drinks when I was I a drunk). During my first show, I told everyone I had to leave early because I was training for a triathlon. Nobody blinked. I knew the community understood sacrifice for a greater goal, but would they understand sobriety?
I’m physically big enough that once I felt comfortable being sober (around my third Outdoor Retailer show), I wasn’t going to be ostracized for turning down alcohol at Outdoor Retailer or anywhere else. The old saying, “It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at the man who is crying,” applies here. With few people physically bigger than me in the woods, I could abide without a cold frosty in my hand. I can’t, however, ignore what I’m seeing and hearing from my friends and colleagues about drinking, depression, and drug use in the mountains and in the aisles.
It’s incredibly easy in our outdoor lives to mask these serious, dangerous issues or explain them away: “It’s opening day.” “It’s closing day.” “It’s the trade show.” “It’s a summit.” “It’s a memorial service.” “It’s a fundraiser.” “The snow is never this bad.” “The surf is never this good.”
Every time I read about the rising number of mountain town suicides, I wonder how many were tied to a potential substance abuse issue? Is there a link between human error in the mountains and hangovers?
There is a real and justified fear in our community that too many people might find out you are sober, you don’t drink, or you are in recovery—especially if you didn’t have to go on the hero’s journey to get there. Stories of athletes and ambassador managers who equate your ability to go big in the bar with your ability to go big in the mountains are commonplace. Sales reps worry that their jobs are inextricably tied to their tolerance for engaging in late night shenanigans and bar shots. For the record, I’m all in for shenanigans, but if you wouldn’t be willing to light my head on fire while you’re sober, what makes it all right when you’re drunk?
A couple of years ago, one of my good friends and favorite trouble makers, Shannon Walton, and I began to talk about the concept of a sober happy hour at Outdoor Retailer. Shannon introduced me to the phrase “sober-supportive.” That was eye-opener for the both of us. Next came the idea of choosing “wellbriety,” and then the term “sober-curious.” We had lots of conversations about clarity, about discovering one’s potential, and about one’s capacity to live a full life and being able to handle all the twists and turns. We began to realize that a celebration and a gathering of people who are on a path that includes sobriety is much needed in the outdoor industry. It’s a big step towards acknowledging that just because someone is sober doesn’t mean they have a problem. At this point in the evolution of our industry, alongside all the work happening around so many social issues—this concept seems like an easy one. We can move beyond stigma and be a national leader when it comes to welcoming in those who don’t always reach for a cold frosty beverage, right?
After the show last winter, I transitioned into a new role as the National Director of Programs at The Phoenix, a sober, multi-sport community headquartered in Denver. With my team’s blessing and Shannon’s hard work, we’re debuting the Massive Impact Healthy Happy Hour, presented by Farm to Feet, fueled by Brew Dr. Kombucha, and hosted at the Aloft Hotel across the street from the Convention Center on Day Two of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. We hope you’ll join us for a couple of hours of clear-headed shenanigans and conversations.
This event could not have happened without the plethora of people, brands, and of course the team at Outdoor Retailer, who heard some of the same whisperings we heard. It’s rooted in the belief that even if you have a healthy relationship with alcohol, it’s ok to create a space for those who want to take a break, never did drink, are sober, sober-supportive, or sober-curious but who still want to laugh, hang with old friends, and meet new ones at the show. We hope this event becomes a staple of the Outdoor Retailer calendar and something that begins to find its way into other outdoor industry and recreation events.
I can’t wait to see you at the show, whether you have a drink or not!
Stacy Bare is a longtime fixture in the outdoor industry and the National Director of Programs at The Phoenix (thephonix.org). Talk to him in person at the Massive Impact Healthy Happy Hour on July 24, Day Two of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Aloft Hotel in Denver.