From podcasts to boozeless outings, these Charlotte groups support sober lifestyles

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In 2019, drug overdoses across the U.S. hit a record high of 70,000, and alcohol use reached its highest levels in 30 years.

Staggering statistics before COVID-19 hit, but when stay-at-home orders were issued, overdoses jumped 17.59%, and alcohol sales skyrocketed 204% in just one week.

Using podcasts and yoga classes, Zoom meetings and sober outings, several Charlotte locals have found creative ways to reach the recovery community and those interested in living a more sober lifestyle.

The normalization of alcohol and its pervasiveness in society have been hot button issues for Charlotte native Robbie Shaw. More than 15 years in recovery Shaw grew up in a home that was “all buttoned up from the outside, but inside was suffering immensely.” His father was an alcoholic, and Shaw found himself following in a similar path.

After entering recovery Shaw earned his masters in clinical mental health counseling and began helping others on a similar path. After initially hoping to reach a broader audience by writing a book, he instead decided to launch the Champagne Problems Podcast in April.

“We tend to have these two extremes with alcohol, where you’re either a kid experimenting or in the throes of alcoholism, and everyone in that in-between group kind of gets lost,” Shaw said. “The whole idea behind Champagne Problems is not to judge, assume or persuade but to inform. It’s a learning experience — no shame or guilt, just education and well being around the world of alcohol.”

Launched with co-hosts Patrick Balsley and Sam Hampson, the podcast covers topics from grief and meditation to alcohol and masculinity, and how drinking affects womens’ bodies. It features experts and special guests, including former NBA star Chris Herren. The trio has also scheduled an upcoming interview with pro volleyball player, model and actress, Gabby Reece.

Charlotte natives Robbie Shaw, Patrick Balsley and Sam Hampson launched the Champagne Problems Podcast to discuss alcohol through a lens of health and wellness.
Charlotte natives Robbie Shaw, Patrick Balsley and Sam Hampson launched the Champagne Problems Podcast to discuss alcohol through a lens of health and wellness.

In recent years, there has been a transformation of the word sober from hitting rock bottom to a lifestyle change more akin to becoming a vegetarian or going Keto.

For Molly Ruggere, finding social activities around Charlotte that weren’t tied to drinking when she got sober was a struggle. So she took matters into her own hands and formed the Counterculture Club, an alcohol-free community established to help counter the mainstream idea that alcohol is needed to have fun, fulfilling lives.

“My first year sober, I found that I had a great network, but drinking was the default of nearly every activity,” Ruggere said. “It’s exhausting having to constantly explain why you aren’t drinking, so I wanted to create a space where alcohol wasn’t in the equation. The group is not recovery focused, it’s a social network that is alcohol-free, so even if you are someone who isn’t living a sober life but wants to drink less and still have fun, this group is open to you.”

The Counterculture Club hosts alcohol-free events in person and online.
The Counterculture Club hosts alcohol-free events in person and online.

What began as local alcohol-free events has expanded to become a global community with virtual events, online circles and group chats. “We have members all over the world — from New Zealand, Canada, Boston, New York. It’s not a group where we sit around and talk about how hard it is to live without alcohol, but it’s: ‘How did you navigate that wedding or that business dinner?’ Real-time life support,” Ruggere said.

Counterculture Club offers free events to the community, as well as a paid membership that connects members with people living an alcohol-free lifestyle around the world. Ruggere is also an alcohol-free lifestyle coach and offers one-on-one services.

Molly Ruggere is the founder of Counterculture Club, an alcohol-free community established to help counter the mainstream idea that alcohol is needed to have fun, fulfilling lives.
Molly Ruggere is the founder of Counterculture Club, an alcohol-free community established to help counter the mainstream idea that alcohol is needed to have fun, fulfilling lives.

Yoga, support groups

For Rebby Kern, their sobriety journey started in 2011 with a traditional 12-step program. But when COVID-19 hit, it was Yoga 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) that helped them navigate the pandemic. Y12SR is a holistic recovery support model designed to address the physical, mental and spiritual disease of addiction.

“Finding recovery in body and community has been such an important part of my journey,” Rebby said. “Six months into COVID, my dad was sick and I felt stuck and stagnant, but the Y12SR community allowed me to connect with people and gave me permission to hurt.”

Y12SR is a holistic recovery support model designed to address the physical, mental and spiritual disease of addiction.
Y12SR is a holistic recovery support model designed to address the physical, mental and spiritual disease of addiction.

Rebby is both a student and teacher of Y12SR. They offer group and personal yoga classes, including queer yoga, through NoDa Yoga and attend Y12SR Yoga at Khali Yoga.

Famed Charlotte chef Sam Diminich credits his recovery journey for helping him navigate losing his job when COVID hit. “Through recovery, I had the privilege of looking at things differently and framing problems as opportunities,” Diminich said. He was able to lean on his experiences with sobriety to ultimately start his food delivery business, Your Farms, Your Table.

At Your Farms, Your Table, Diminich seeks out employees who are newly sober so that he can help provide them with the financial, emotional and life skills needed to maintain recovery. His goal is to be there “when life shows up.”

Charlotte chef Sam Diminich is active in Ben’s Friends, a support group for food and beverage industry workers.
Charlotte chef Sam Diminich is active in Ben’s Friends, a support group for food and beverage industry workers.

In a recent article on restaurant wages, he told CharlotteFive, “My employees are the most important people I serve — beyond the customers, beyond the farmers. When COVID hit, for me and for many others it was boom, done. Hop in the unemployment queue, that’s it. So when I started Your Farms Your Table, I wanted to create a positive culture, where if you are my employee, you know I’m invested in you and in your long-term wellness, not just financially, but as a human.”

In addition to employing individuals on their recovery journeys, Diminich is also actively involved as a community leader in an organization called Ben’s Friends. Ben’s Friends is a support group for individuals in the food and beverage industry. It hosts online and in-person meetings, bringing together individuals from around the country and offering support at times that accommodate late restaurant hours.

“Isolation is your worst enemy in recovery, but Zoom allowed us to come together and prop each other up. We went from seven meetings a week to 17 during COVID out of need,” Diminich said.

Ben’s Friends meets in Charlotte at 11 a.m. on Mondays at OKU. Additionally, co-ed and men- and women-specific day and evening online meetings are also available.

“Recovery is an inside job,” Diminich said. “It all comes down to — it takes what it takes.”

Recovery resources

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, the following resources may be able to help. If it is an emergency, call 911.

National

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Refuge Recovery

Y12SR

Ben’s Friends

FreeRehabCenters.org

Local

Mecklenburg County Addiction Resources

Counterculture Club

Alcoholics Anonymous Metrolina Intergroup

Charlotte Area Narcotics Anonymous

Online

Tempest

Monument

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