"Sober February" Is Hot New Trend

By Nina Puro 02/06/13

Founder Greg Rutter tells The Fix about the annual booze-free challenge that's taking off in Brooklyn.

Booze-free February is "in". via

Sober February was started six years ago by Brooklyn resident Greg Rutter and some pals, when 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,” Rutter, 30, tells The Fix. The challenge is not geared specifically towards those who identify as having a problem, but is for anyone who wants to try out sobriety for a fixed period of time. “Don’t get us wrong, alcohol is great. Super great. Maybe the greatest," says the website. "But it’s good every now and then to take a break.” 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".

One participant, Ben, tells us 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 tells us. “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.”

One of the benefits 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.”

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Nina Puro is a regular contributor to The Fix. Her poetry and essays have appeared in publications such as Third CoastPleiades and Harper Palate. You can find Nina on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.