MINNEAPOLIS — These people are ready to welcome you to the sober side.
Things look different here than they did ten years ago. Seltzer gave way to great mocktails. Conversations are as likely to take place on Instagram as in a church basement. Not drinking is a choice worth toasting, celebrating, hashtagging.
The stories of these non-drinkers differ on several counts. Some are strictly sober and others just alcohol-free. Some quit after a low and traumatic moment. For others, it was more subtle. Some found the stop simple. Others describe it as a daily battle.
But all say that when they stopped drinking, their life improved. The lives around them too. Here, on this side, there are fewer fights and more dance parties.
Their stories have been edited for length and clarity.
43, owner of Honeycomb Salon
My dad owned a bar. I remember loving the taste of sips of beer and the smell of the basement. We were coming home from church and I was making a screwdriver for my parents. It was the way everyone came together. They were playing cards and drinking.
At 40, I really liked beautiful natural wines. I made my alcoholism sophisticated.
During COVID, I realized that drinking was my only hobby – besides working compulsively and trying to take care of my kids. We were under tremendous pressure with the business closing and the kids at home all the time. The mornings were stressful. Everyone was screaming in my kitchen.
We are much cooler in our house now. We have dance parties in the morning. There is much more tolerance, much less liveliness. I’m nicer to myself. It’s a corny word, but it’s a gift.
Quitting drinking started this lawsuit for all cold soft drinks. We used to give people a glass of wine or a can of Hamm’s when they came in to get their hair done. Now I offer them something non-alcoholic and amazing: “Omigosh, this thing has birch bark, salt and caramel; it’s so funky and fun to drink.
It became my next bottle shop: Shop Marigold at Honeycomb. I’m thrilled to put my passion for something that handicapped me to enable something new and exciting. I want it to be more socially acceptable not to drink or to take a break.
We kinda laughed about me being a salon. Like, a bottle store attached to a living room? I don’t know, it seems so natural to me. A place where people gathered for community was called a living room.
I love the vibe we have there. That’s always what I wanted: to have a place where you are instantly disarmed.
40 years old, chef/culinary consultant
Addiction levels in the restaurant industry – it’s a scary thing left unsaid. The stress of this career and the excesses. You leave work in the evening to go sit at the bar until closing time and start again the next day.
It took me a while to realize the seriousness of my problem. The consumption of alcohol did not seem to discourage anything. The truth is that it affects you in every possible way. But you don’t think that’s the case. You are a barge going down the river.
One of the biggest catalysts: my wife was pregnant and I was the victim of a DWI offense. I was like man, it’s crazy. I have to be there for my wife and my children. Everything in me is dad. It was then that I began to make the decision to change.
It was by no means an easy action.
My dad put me in touch with a friend of his who was 30 years clean. I started going to AA and got sponsors. As I reached certain milestones, I started giving back to the program, I started sponsoring people. It is, truth be told, a very important way to test your own sobriety – by being in some way responsible for helping someone else through theirs.
I started opening my own restaurants around this time and tried, for my own good, to build some sort of safe haven. I attracted young cooks who began to hear from the vineyard that it was a home for people in recovery.
A few years ago, I opened what I thought was my dream restaurant in my hometown. But the small town boss is super tough. I was more than stressed, I was never home. I’m a mile and a half from my kids’ school, and I miss everything. I was sober all the time, but I signed up for the Wayzata retreat and did 30 days of hospitalization.
I realized: My sobriety is more important than cooking.
Because I’m sober, I’m a better father, I’m a better friend, I’m a better son, I’m a better husband. Long-term sobriety is by no means just roses and cream. But you’ve been doing this job now for 14 years. You know where to find help, you know who to call.
37, founder of Minnesota CarePartner and Roots Recovery
I was born in Korea and went from an orphanage to a foster home before being adopted by a family in Minnesota. I was the only person of color, my name was changed to Katy Johnson, and I was raised on a hot plate.
Every time I said, “I think this lady treats me differently,” my loved ones would reject it. “No, it’s not because of that.” “We don’t think she’s racist.” “Move on.”
Despite all that, I’m quite close to them, but it was very lonely, very debilitating.
In 2017, I was dealing with unhealed aspects of racial trauma and political climate. And I felt completely overwhelmed, building a business from scratch as a woman of color with no funding, in addition to having two young children.
I started drinking wine in the evening after work to decompress. It became five, six nights a week.
I started to worry. My parents and my partner expressed their concern. I wanted to be healthy and whole. And I realized: I won’t have a million chances.
In treatment and in group therapy, I have experienced silences and microaggressions. So I decided to open Roots Recovery as a different approach to treatment. We try to deviate from the traditional approach by adding holistic elements, such as nutrition, trauma-informed yoga and community support. We would like to help transform the system to be more human, more customer-centric.
Cycles of oppression and historical trauma create these disparities in the child welfare system, which creates more stories like mine – where there is this loss of culture and cultural identity. Parental substance use is the number one reason children are removed from the home. It ruins attachments and tears families apart.
My life has unlimited potential as a result of my recovery journey. Rather than escape and undermine myself and those around me, I have been empowered to advocate for meaningful change.
41, CEO of Askov Finlayson, co-founder of the Great Northern Festival
My father [former Gov. Mark Dayton] has been recovering since 1987, since the age of 7. So I grew up with a greater awareness of the potential negative consequences of alcohol.
The drink became part of my professional world, being in the hospitality industry with Marvel Bar and the Bachelor Farmer [restaurant]. It never reached a point where I considered it a problem. It was more like, on a Tuesday night after work, I had maybe my last meeting of the day at the Marvel Bar and had a drink or two. I would go home, I wouldn’t think about it much. But I was a little tired on Wednesday morning.
Would that make me a little grumpy with a colleague or a little less patient with my son? This type of micro-impact has the potential to accumulate over time.
At the end of 2016, my wife was pregnant with my second son, so I knew life was going to get even more hectic. I had a lot of things I wanted to accomplish professionally. I thought, I have a big year ahead, and I wonder if I could be 10% more productive without drinking.
Now, looking back, it unlocked a lot more than I expected.
What struck me right away was losing quite a bit of weight. It just melted. It probably took a little longer to feel the benefits of better, more regular sleep and what it meant for my energy, productivity, mood stability.
By the end of the year, there were so many upsides – and so little sense of loss – that I kept going.
I immediately felt the need to put this on notice saying how humbled and grateful I feel that it was easy because I am so aware of the difficulty for so many people.
For me, it was obvious to transform a year into two years, into five years. Not drinking pushed me towards new hobbies. I really got into cycling. I took a ride with a friend last summer from Minneapolis to Grand Marais. I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to train for this if I had been drinking.
There is, for many of us, the notion of someone quitting drinking, their life has to be really bad to make that choice. Rocky bottom. This is the story we have all heard.
I would just say that in my own experience, life was pretty good in 2016. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t significantly better life possible.
Eric Dayton has been sober for over five years.
Katy Armendariz founded Roots Recovery to address what she sees as a lack of culturally appropriate recovery models.
Chef/owner Erick Harcey poses in the kitchen of his Upton 43.
Erin Flavin, the owner of the Honeycomb salon, has quit drinking during the pandemic and will soon be opening a non-alcoholic bottle shop/bar next to her salon.