DENVER — A bright neon sign with the words “Together We Wake Up” is the literal and figurative message behind the brand at Denver’s first full service, non-alcoholic bar, Awake, in the Jefferson Park neighborhood.
“It’s really about moving into a different kind of connectedness with people. It’s waking up and moving into a higher consciousness as opposed to numbing out and then trying to connect when we’re all numbed out,” Awake owner Christy Wynne said.
For many, “Dry January”—a global public health campaign encouraging people to avoid alcohol for the first month of the year—is the perfect time to explore life without drinking. For Debbie Scheer, what started as a 30-day, alcohol-free challenge turned into one lasting more than three years. The Denver local said avoiding alcohol has been life-changing, both mentally and physically.
AWAKE: Dry January
“My sleep improved immediately. I had IBS [irritable bowl syndrome] for years and that went away immediately,” Scheer explained.
Scheer also said she is now a better parent to her two children. “There were moments when I’d drink during dinner and then fall asleep while reading to them afterwards. That’s not the kind of parent I wanted to be even then and it’s certainly not the parent I am now.”
Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and is one of the most addictive substances known. Two years into a stressful pandemic, many Americans are drinking more than ever.
Wynne said most people don’t realize that alcohol can be addictive for anyone.
“We’re using it as a coping mechanism and we’re over-using it. Right now, we’re living in a world that feels like the sky is falling and many people are using this highly addictive substance as a coping mechanism,” she said.
Wynne said for years, her intuition told her to stop drinking but she had no idea what an alcohol-free life looked like outside of having to declare herself an alcoholic.
“You don’t have to label yourself as an alcoholic. You don’t have to say, ‘I have a drinking problem’ for alcohol to be a problem in your life and it’s okay to decide not to drink anymore,” she explained.
Wynne feels using labels like “alcoholic” can keep people stuck in unhealthy habits: “It allows us to say, ‘well I’m not like that so I don’t have a problem,’ even though deep down you know something isn’t right.”
Wynne and her husband decided to open Awake after they both quit drinking, but still wanted to find way to engage with people without alcohol.
“We have a lot of great offerings,” Wynne said. “We do drag shows every month with the LGBTQ community. We have a social justice component. We’ve had people come in in tears saying, ‘I haven’t been able to go to a bar in eight years.’ We’ve had high school prom kids come in. We’ve had baby showers. The response has been really awesome in the community.”
The idea behind Awake is to normalize not drinking and make alcohol-free people like Debbie Scheer feel a sense of belonging.
“I love to be able to come to a place and not feel like an afterthought,” Scheer said. “Oftentimes I’d go out and ask for something without alcohol and it’s always soda water with lime, so coming here, it’s beautiful, what a selection they have and it just feels like we’re respected.”
Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at email@example.com.
Brian Willie is the content production manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why more millennials are choosing an alcohol-free lifestyle
Family, sobriety: an indigenous woman tells her story