Note: This is an entry in our Community Roll Call Series, a biweekly collection of our internal team’s personal experiences building and strengthening community in their own lives. If you’re inspired by something you see, connect with us here:

I didn’t think about community until I stopped drinking. And once I was sober, community was basically all I could think about. 

Your life shifts when you quit drinking, and there’s a reason why so many people extoll the values and virtues of programs like AA. Finding a group of like minded people who will support and understand you is absolutely critical no matter why you decide to step away from alcohol. But for a number of reasons, I quickly learned that AA wasn’t my jam. 

I had to build my own community. Which I did kind of by accident. 

About three months into my sobriety, I found the sober Instagram community and began interacting with fellow nondrinkers. I attended a bunch of different virtual and in-person meetups, but ultimately I struggled to find something that really fit my needs. 

When the pandemic hit eight months into my recovery, I panicked – I needed a community, and I needed it NOW. 

At that time, my sober account, which started as a small Instagram page meant to hold myself accountable, had grown to the point where I had connections all over the country. When I asked if anyone online would be interested in joining a sober book club, I got a resounding “yes” from dozens of people. 

I founded Boozeless Book Club in April 2020. Boozeless Book Club, or BBC, as we affectionately call it, is a virtual, alcohol-free book club where members vote on one book to read per month, and then meet at the end of the month over Zoom to discuss it. 

BBC members during the first in-person retreat

One thing that differentiated BBC from other groups that popped up at the beginning of quarantine was that we actually did NOT read books about sobriety (commonly referred to as Quit Lit). This allowed us to have a safe, alcohol-free space where we had other things to discuss besides the fact that we didn’t drink. 

Another distinction was that BBC was (and still is) welcome to everyone – there are no age, race, gender, or affiliation restrictions on members, which is something you tend to see in certain sober groups. Add to that a very intentional push to read diverse authors and stories and the community I had been searching for found me instead. 

I’ve found that building a community isn’t difficult if there is a sense of authenticity and ease already present. It wasn’t hard to get members to join a private GroupMe chat where we could vote on books and meeting times because people appreciated the democracy and simplicity of it. And I discovered that people would spin off other communities on their own – I watched members make friends in BBC and team up for side-projects, smaller book clubs, and exercise groups.

I created sweaters and other merch that people could wear; members began tagging BBC on Instagram in their book reviews; a list of FAQs and books we’d previously read had to be stood up because there was so much outside interest. We even had the author of one of our selected books (Silvia Vasquez-Lavado of In the Shadow of the Mountain) join us for a special virtual event to discuss her memoir. 

 Silvia Vasquez-Lavado joins BBC to discuss her memoir

These are all examples of a successful community – I lead the group, but Boozeless Book Club is now functioning as its own hub. If I were to step away, I’m confident that BBC would keep on going without me. Which is what you want in a community; something self-sufficient and loved enough that it’s not dependent on one person.

BBC Members celebrate Halloween during a virtual meeting

Today Boozless Book Club has over three thousand followers on Instagram, over 200 members in our exclusive BBC GroupChat, and we recently had our second annual in-person retreat in St. Louis. April 2023 marks our three year anniversary. 

Sometimes the community you want and need doesn’t exist. When that happens, you simply have to create it yourself. 

– Saratoga Schaefer

Want to connect with me? Find my LinkedIn profile here.

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