Soberchella Co-Founder Talks Recovery, Coachella & The Future

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Soberchella Co-Founder Talks Recovery, Coachella & The Future

By Victoria Kim 04/20/18

The Fix spoke with Joseph G about how Soberchella began, how it works and his hopes for the future of the event.

Image: 
a group of people enjoying themselves at a festival

It’s festival season. That might not inspire a whole lot of excitement in the sober community—but here's one reason that might change your mind.

The recovery community is growing on the festival circuit, making the jam-packed festivities a bit less daunting for people who don’t imbibe.

There’s Soberoo, a special camping zone at Bonnaroo for people who choose not to use drugs or alcohol. And then there’s Soberchella, the growing recovery community at Coachella, the two-weekend music and arts festival in Indio, California, that wraps up this Sunday.

This year the festival boasted major acts like Beyoncé, The Weeknd, and Eminem. 

But among the estimated 200,000-plus attendees at Coachella, there is a small but thriving group of people in recovery who meet amidst the roaring festivities to stay grounded in their recovery.

The Fix caught up with Joseph G, who joined forces with fellow festivalgoers in recovery—Kory P and Erica J—to create Soberchella.

What compelled you to create a recovery community at Coachella?

I had gone to Coachella in ‘08 at three years sober and practically relapsed. I was usually pretty strong in my sobriety—sponsees, meeting attendance, all of that—but that weekend in 2008 I was "restless, irritable, discontent," thinking about myself too much, and sick with the flu.

I went to the fest with three "normie" friends and was trying to keep up with their energy by taking over-the-counter meds for my flu and pounding energy drinks.

Trying to fix, manage and control my own body chemistry like that is a red flag for me, sobriety wise, and it was clear that I needed to hit a meeting in Indio the next time I went to Coachella. 

How did Soberchella come about?

I started Soberchella in 2009 along with Kory P and Erica J who I met through the Coachella message board.

I started asking people on the message board if they knew anything about AA meetings at the fest itself. No one did, so I started announcing that I’d be organizing a meeting in the food courts for anyone who wanted to participate. 

Kory and Erica were active on the message board at that time, found my posts and said that they were also trying to start a meeting. We all started spreading the word. We created a Google group, created a Gmail account (soberchella@gmail.com), and made a tumblr with instructions for contacting us.

You can find us at Soberchella.com, too. That makes it easy for people to mention Soberchella at their regular 12-step meetings and get the word out. 

How has Soberchella evolved from year to year? 

There have been ups and downs, but mostly ups! Our first real challenge, I'd say, came the first year that Coachella expanded to a two-weekend festival. Kory, Erica and I were at the first weekend, but people we had never met ran the second week of meetings. We were like worried parents dropping our kids off at school for the first time, but it worked out totally fine, of course! 

Over the years, we've developed a group of regular attendees, and they've taken on different informal roles. One year someone made t-shirts. I don't like wearing clothing that announces my sobriety, so I didn't wear mine at the fest, but I thought it was cool that people got so into Soberchella that they had shirts printed.

Other people took on the role of starting a GroupMe text messaging thread for the weekend of the fest so people can find each other via text without having to enter thirty phone numbers into their contacts. 

What is the mood/atmosphere of the meetings? 

It's pretty bare-bones, as far as 12-step meetings go. We usually just start with the serenity prayer, read "How it Works" out of the AA basic text, and give everyone a chance to share. Attendance varies from a small handful of people to 30-40 attendees. There's usually time for everyone to go around the circle, round-robin style. 

What is the typical meeting schedule?

We hold the meetings at noon because we don't want the meetings to conflict with a band performance. We all have different taste in music, and one of us might have flown halfway across the country to see a particular band, so holding the meetings early makes sure no one has to choose between hitting a meeting and seeing their favorite band. 

What is your experience at meetings?

Trying to make your share heard over a banging trap beat is a novel experience, to be sure! 

There's something really epic about looking around at a group of sober people, hanging tight together in the midst of the debauchery. The first year we ever had the meeting, someone was being arrested and grappled to the ground by cops as we wrapped up the meeting—no exaggeration!

How is Soberchella meaningful to you, personally? 

My last drunk, in 2005, was a relapse. A friend from the program was trying to talk me into checking into treatment, and I was arguing that treatment would ruin my job and my school career. He told me: whatever you put in front of your recovery, you're gonna lose anyway. I knew he was right, and I checked into treatment. 

I look at Soberchella the same way: if I don't stay sober, I don't get to go to fests like Coachella—or at least, go to them healthy, and come home with clear memories instead of a list of amends I have to make!

If I put Soberchella first, I enjoy Coachella that much more. Everything in my life is a potential service opportunity. I never want to be of service: it always seems like a pain in the ass compared to all the things that I want to do with my free time. But when I put service first, I'm guaranteed to have a better time. I've never regretted spending time doing service work via Soberchella. Not once. 

To learn more about the Coachella recovery community, visit Soberchella.com.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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