Hello Sunday Morning: A Different Kind of Online Recovery Community

By Juliet Elisabeth 12/18/15

The Fix talks to Chris Raine, founder of HSM, about his 50,000 members, creating a healthier drinking culture, and offering an alternative to AA.

Chris Raine - Hello Sunday Morning
photo of Chris Raine via Author

Hello Sunday Morning is an online community for those who want to cut back or quit drinking for certain lengths of time. Members set a series of ongoing small goals, post personal blogs and post photographs with large victorious smiles. This is a social media version of traditional, face-to-face meetings. It runs 24 hours a day. It’s free. And it’s based in Australia.

Founder Chris Raine’s Twitter caption reads: “Changing the world’s relationship with alcohol, one Sunday at a time.” In 2009, Raine’s personal blog following his 12 months of abstinence inspired 20 followers to take up the same challenge. Today, over 50,000 website members are choosing to abstain anywhere from three to 12 months. Raine’s vision is to develop a healthier drinking culture through a supportive online platform. In a short time, Raine’s brainchild has won much acclaim, including the 2011 Australian Government National Award for Services to Young People and the 2012 Australian Men’s Health Hero award.

Signing up is simple, with the option to stay anonymous, and upon registering three options appear: The popular three months of abstaining, three months of moderation, or 12 months of abstaining. (If you’re indecisive, you can also choose "I’m Not Ready Yet," and still participate online.)

The Fix interviewed Chris Raine about why people choose Hello Sunday Morning, why it works and what’s in store for the future.

HSM members can add additional goals to their abstinence and moderation goals, such as “stop drinking alone” or “get out of debt.” How big is the importance of focusing on positive outcomes in order to maintain drinking goals?

We believe that changing your relationship with alcohol is about more than whether you drink or not, and how much you consume when you do. Rather, it is about understanding why you are drinking in the first place and setting up healthier habits and ambitions to fill that time and energy you previously put into drinking.

I noticed when a person signs up for HSM, they’re informed that HSMers “will have a positive effect on the drinking culture of 10 people around them," can lose weight, and save up to $1,000. How was this information calculated?

We did a survey with the original 200 HSMers. We haven’t done it again since, but I imagine those stats would stand true given that alcohol has a measurable caloric count and cost, and the significantly less amount of it people end up consuming.

To me, the website is like a Facebook for people with drinking-related concerns. In the on-the-go society we live in, has establishing an online community available 24 hours a day been the biggest draw to HSM?

Yeah, that’s a pretty good parallel. Except it is more honest and vulnerable. Facebook is the highlight reel, HSM is more like the behind-the-scenes.

Another aspect of HSM is encouraging people to blog, or share their stories in writing. Is building mutual interest in others’ progress another reason why HSM works?

Definitely - there is an investment in other people’s stories, their successes and failures.

Recently, Hello Sunday Morning won $300,000 with the Macquarie’s 2015 Australian Social Innovation Award. Can you explain what Macquarie is and how their mission aligns with yours?

Macquarie is a global investment bank. Their foundation is aimed at investing in social innovation. Our project with them is around extending our technology into the health system - emergency rooms and general practice.

According to a BBC article, HSM helps people not to quit entirely, forever, but to look into their relationship with alcohol, particularly in social situations. In your opinion, does alcohol play too big of a role in adult social life?

We are a drug-taking society. Alcohol does and always will play a role in people’s lives. That role can, of course, sometimes become larger than what people want. I’m not one to judge someone for how much they do or don’t drink; I think people should have free choice. I think our job as an organization and as a sector is to make sure that when people want to change, they can access the best possible support to make that happen. I don’t think that is something that exists out there now.

How popular have creatively named sober months become in Australia, such as Oc-sober, FebFast and Dry July?

We are a pretty creative bunch of people.

In April 2015, Ceridwen Dovey wrote "Experiments in Sobriety," a New Yorker article which reports that you still drink but it plays a much smaller role in your life, and that you wanted to cut the number of hangovers people have in half. Was getting rid of hangovers a motivation to start Hello Sunday Morning?

Getting rid of my own hangovers was a big motivation for starting Hello Sunday Morning. Most people sign up on Sunday or Monday - so I imagine it is the motivating driver for a lot of people who join our community.

It has been reported you are an Oxford Skoll Scholar. What does that mean and how did that help you develop the HSM that exists today?

You can find out a little more about that here. [Author’s note: Entrepreneurs pursuing solutions for social and environmental causes can compete for The Skoll Scholarship.]

Doing my MBA at Oxford has helped the team align our goals globally as well as think of more financially sustainable business models to pursue to ensure our organization is around for the next decade and beyond.

Do you see a lot of people who did not find help in traditional 12-step programs and have found greater success with Hello Sunday Morning?

Yeah, it is a different model and it appeals to a different kind of person. I think the 12-step model hasn’t changed much in the past 80 years. The community has, but the model is the same. We take the view that we always need to be evolving and changing our steps and processes with the data we can gather on what does and doesn’t work.

Has the traditional abstinence model backfired on a lot of people who would find greater benefit with making short-term goals?

It does for a lot of people. Our research is actually showing that people who take the all-or-nothing approach in HSM can sometimes be hindered by the unfair expectations they place on themselves. We have some data being published around this early next year.

As a woman, and former 12-step participant, I have to ask if HSM has noticed more women participating on the website. I recall the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous being alarmingly sexist, outdated and overtly religious. Do you feel people in general, but especially women, are looking for a more inclusive, welcoming organization to help them cut back or quit drinking?

Seventy percent of HSMers are women. And we do everything we can to not make the same mistakes that AA has in that regard. I’ve heard some pretty terrible stories of misogyny.

We sometimes define harm reduction as the practice of developing better drinking habits or abstaining. Is it appropriate to include HSM in that category?

I’d rather call it the “life maximizing” category.

Will HSM ever include face-to-face meetings? What do you think the future of Hello Sunday Morning will look like?

We are launching our V2 of the HSM product early next year. It will be focused on mobile and have a deeper clinical support structure. I can’t say more than that, but we are very excited to launch it.

I hope one day to acquire some existing face-to-face treatment services or centers and give it the HSM touch.

Is there a Hello Sunday Morning book available to the public? Have you considered writing one?

One of our HSM ambassadors, Jill Stark, wrote a book called High Sobriety. I’d highly recommend it. As for me, I’m currently focused on how we get the technology right and scale globally, which takes up all my time.

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Juliet Elisabeth is a freelance writer and independent contractor as a research analyst focused on the healthcare field; also an artist and mother of two. Activist for choice in recovery treatment. Her blog is AarmedWithFacts.