When it came to partnering up for a Sober (or Soberish) October, we couldn't think of anyone better than Derek Brown. Derek founded Positive Damage, Inc.—a merging of all things related to mindful drinking, wellness, and no-and-low drinks. As a two-time author, creator of community, and master mixologist, he embodies and advocates for the power of choice when it comes to alcohol.
In this conversation, we get a glimpse into Derek's creative and vulnerable relationship to the non-alcoholic world. As for Sober October, his approach is as real as it gets. Nothing is promised. Rather, he proposes a month for checking in with yourself, reflecting on your relationship with alcohol, removing what you don't need, and adding in what makes you feel your best—for starters, he'll be releasing 31 NA drinks this October.
Positive Damage is an evocative brand name. What's the story there?
My journey involved some of the other kind of damage along the way. The damage caused by drinking too much. I wanted to emphasize that we can have a positive impact, too. Though there actually is positive damage or stress, called eustress, that we cause when we exercise or move. So it's also evocative of wellness. But really I just like a name that has a punch. Let's do some Positive Damage!
Can you share a bit about your lineup for Sober October—what can we look forward to?
In my newsletter, I cover what is Sober October, the motivation behind it, and some ways to support people doing it. But, perhaps, my favorite part is the Sober October "31 Days of Non-alcoholic Drinks'' calendar. Think of it as an advent calendar for Sober October. In it, I choose some of my favorite NA beers, wines, and spirits. I also have recipes for simple and not-so-simple non-alcoholic cocktails. The point is not to drink 31 different drinks, though you're welcome to try. I want people to realize there's a lot out there and some really delicious stuff, too. If you're new to NA beers, wines, and spirits, this is a great starter list. If you have some experience, hopefully, this widens your repertoire. One catch: To get the calendar, you have to recommend my newsletter to at least 3 people. Small price to pay for this amazing content.
For someone who's never done—or feels intimidated by—a full month without alcohol, the idea of Sober October can feel overwhelming. What are your words of wisdom?
This one is easier than Dry January. A lot less people are doing it, which means you can shape it to your own needs. No one is going to judge you for it. Don't worry about doing all 31 days or being perfect. You can, of course, shoot for 31 days. But there's also Sober-ish October, which means reducing how much you drink. Or just take certain days off. And, if you waver, just start again. This is something that helps you. There's no need to make it about anyone else. Progress over perfection!
Everyone's journey with alcohol is so unique. As your community and reach has grown over the years, has there been a continuous thread that seems to push the mindful drinking movement forward?
Yes, choice. There are so many reasons to reduce or eliminate alcohol from your life. But there are some compelling reasons to keep it, too. Chief among them is being social. Being social is healthy for us. In fact, it's really hard to live happily without it. With mindful drinking, no one wants you to stop being social. These drinks are designed to share with friends and family and are often as complex and interesting as drinks with alcohol. But they're also there to offer a choice. We can live without alcohol, but we can't live without each other.
As a leader in the NA space whose career began in bartending and progressed to opening a cocktail bar, what's your hope for the future of non-alcoholic options in the world of restaurants, bars, and nightlife?
It's de rigueur to offer non-alcoholic drinks alongside drinks with alcohol. That's the goal. I want to offer people a choice. To me that's what hospitality is all about, being inclusive of everyone.
You've talked about the idea that "wellness is the idea that you matter." How does the work of the non-alcoholic industry reinforce this?
The non-alcoholic industry is wedging itself into places where only alcohol existed before. That means when someone wants to take care of themselves and feels strongly about their health and values, which include drinking less or not drinking at all, we're meeting them in the mainstream. Not every non-alcoholic drink is healthy but many are zero to .5% alcohol, less calories, even less sugar sometimes, and may even have functional ingredients (aka healthful ingredients). Again, it lets people choose. You know what's best for your health and here's one more option for you.
We're curious about the evolution of your relationship with alcohol. What has been the biggest gift of mindful drinking?
Getting to know myself. For me, alcohol was a cover. I used it as a way to quiet the low-idling engine of anxiety. When I quit drinking, it didn't get rid of the anxiety, but I now had the chance to face it in more productive ways. I slept worse in the beginning and gorged on sugary foods. But, eventually, I sought help, started sleeping better, eating better, and moving around more often. It didn't fix my life but it provided a gateway to enter my life on my own terms. I feel 100 times better now but, even when I feel terrible, it's better. I can try and pinpoint why instead of drinking it away (newsflash: drinking it away never really worked anyway).
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half Full. How does Sober October allow people to move into this mindset?
Taking things away isn't generally a good thing, even if we're taking away something potentially harmful. We need something to do instead, a reason to be social and enjoy our lives. This is a far more successful strategy. If we treat Sober October as a month to discover non-alcoholic drinks then it's not about giving up alcohol, per se, it's about trying something entirely new.
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