We’ve had an influx of new members lately, and new followers on our various social media channels, and new signups for our mailing list, and generally just a lot more interest in what we do, due to a steady series of BBC appearances from our co-founder Laura. We’ve kept up a steady rate of newbies to all of the above over the last year since the scene really started to take off, but the last couple of weeks have smashed the ball out of the park. On Monday we had a thousand new members sign up. Incredible, right?
We still sometimes get trolled on social media and in the comments of online news articles, though. There’s still some misinterpretation and confusion around what it is that we are, what it is that we do, what it is that we really think, and what the f**k is ‘mindful drinking’?!
SO – there’s no time like the present for us to talk about what we really are and what resources that we can offer you, as a new member or someone who is curious about us.
WHO WE ARE
We started Club Soda in January 2015. Our co-founder Laura Willoughby had been alcohol-free for a few years by this point and was fed up with the lack of alcohol free drink options in venues, and of the often challenging attitude from people about her choices. Our other co-founder Jussi Tolvi was moderating his drinking after taking a break from alcohol and was experiencing the same thing…and so Club Soda was born. Almost four years later and we’re now a team of nine people, with three successful festivals under our belt and a hashtag that’s actually used by people who aren’t us! #mindfuldrinking
The term ‘mindful drinking’ was our way of finding middle-ground terminology, which anyone can relate to that’s thinking about changing their drinking in some way, whether quitting, doing a sponsored month off, taking a break, cutting down, etc etc. The word ‘mindful’ means ‘to be conscious or aware of something’. Mindfulness is ‘the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.’
Meditation is the most common way to achieve this and there are a huge variety of methods including modern, non-spiritual practices which can really delve into specific training needs, such as increasing and maintaining focus or relieving anxiety. However, there are broader ways of using these methods of training in everyday situations. For someone who is changing their drinking, that everyday situation could be finding themselves in a pub and being asked what they want. The process of stopping to think about how they really feel, stopping to think about their goal and then making a decision based on that check-in, is a very real act of being mindful. It’s very easy in those situations to revert to habit, especially in the early days, and that’s the difference between reaching your behaviour-change goals and continually failing to do so – this is the same whether you’re going alcohol-free or moderating your intake.
WHAT WE WANT
We want people to feel comfortable, supported and accepted wherever they go when they’re choosing not to drink, whether it’s long-term or just for the night.
We don’t hate alcohol, we don’t disagree with people drinking, we just want the same level of societal acceptance for someone not drinking as there is for someone who is. There are so, so, many reasons that someone might not be drinking, which we’ll get into in more detail shortly, which means that no mate, or parent, or bar person, or long-lost pal from primary school on Facebook, should ever question it – and certainly not criticise that choice.
We want the choice in low alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks to continue to grow and to be huge and varied, in all venues, in all regions, everywhere, so that no one has to nurse a sugary soft drink or tepid tap water with a flaccid slice of lemon on their night out.
We want wholesalers to acknowledge this growing demand.
We want, no, we NEED people to be able to feel like they can speak up and get support when they feel they need it and that they’re not alone – even if they just want to know what the best booze-free beer is to replace a few nights of their weeknight beers.
WHAT WE DO
There are several elements to Club Soda, which all interlink with one common goal: To make things better for mindful drinkers.
1) Private Facebook support groups. We now have a combined membership of 14,274 people. We share heaps of other useful info in these groups – but the most priceless aspect is the other members. Whenever someone posts to say they’re experiencing a blip, or they’re on day one again or need a boost, or their mental health is below par, or they’re doing great and have a before and after photo to share – the other members are right there with them to encourage, inspire and advise, with no judgment. We have five private Facebook groups with the aim of giving people the most like-minded, tailored support network possible. These are:
- Club Soda Alcohol-Free. This is a space for everyone who is going alcohol-free, whether it’s long-term or for a short stint. With 3,560 members, it’s a good medium-sized group with a really great bunch of people.
- Club Soda Mindful Drinking. This is where those who are moderating their drinking can go – we have lots of advice, tips and tricks for successful moderation but you’ll find a wealth of knowledge and comradery between the 2,141 members here.
- Club Soda Flock. This group is for the 18 to 35 year-olds, giving a safe, much smaller space (248 members) for younger non-drinkers and moderate drinkers to talk about their journey.
- Club Soda Plus. This small invitation-only group of 125 members is for those who have been alcohol-free for over a year. You still need a little support now and then, even when you’ve successfully navigated your way through a year or more of no alcohol – and you’ll have the tools under your belt to swap stories and tips with other members for continued accountability.
- Club Soda Together. This is our big group with everyone of all ages, goals and achievements. With 8,200 members, there are a LOT of people to soak up advice from – and a lot of people you can inspire. This is where we host our live webinars and where you’ll find all of the files, videos, tools and info you need.
2) Weekly newsletters. We send out two weekly email newsletters, one on Monday and one on Thursday. Our Monday email includes a recording of our live Sunday webinar, with accompanying blog, as well as our ‘Book of the week’ and a quick check-in to see how you’re feeling. Thursday’s email includes our weekly blog, events updates, lunches and upcoming webinars. It’s a great way to receive useful information if you’d prefer not to be part of our groups or social media channels.
3) Festivals. We’ve hosted three Mindful Drinking Festivals so far, and our fourth is coming up next month in Glasgow, on the 13th October at The Briggait. Our festivals allow us to bring together all of the elements of Club Soda – the social aspect, the support network, the evolution of trade and the celebration of the alcohol-free drinks sector which is so rapidly growing. You can try new drinks from craft beers to wines, you can have a one to one session with a drink coach, you can enjoy live music and you can meet other members in real life.
4) Events. As well as the festivals, we run regular social events across the UK such as lunches, pub crawls and alcohol-free bars. Our lunches are usually co-organised by members local to each region and we choose venues which have great alternative drink options as well as great food. Our pub crawls include a drinks tasting from one of the many wonderful drinks brands we work with and showcase some of the best pubs for mindful drinkers. Our alcohol-free bars have been hosted in many locations, from the Houses of Parliament to the Warner Bros offices for their wellbeing week.
5) Resources, workshops, and webinars. We host fortnightly webinars which occasionally include a guest-host sharing their expertise in their field – from authors to psychologist, we have something for everyone. We run regular workshops which give you real-life time with us to learn the best tools and techniques to help you achieve your goals around drinking. And we have an enormous resource pool of articles which include everything such as drinks suggestions, recipes, reviews, health information, go-to support documents and personal stories – all of which are on our website.
6) Pub Guide. This is an online guide of the best venues for mindful drinkers. So you search for the area you’re looking to go out in and it’ll show you which bars will have the best low and no alcohol options. We work closely with pubs and trade to both encourage and support the changes required for them to stay successful in this new age of health. When we find a place that’s great for someone who is changing their drinking, whether it’s their current drinks menu or their attitude and willingness to go above and beyond for someone, we like to shout about it. It can be nerve racking for someone to ask bar staff what alcohol-free options they have, so if we can let you know where’s good, it’ll really help you stick to your goals and feel comfortable on a night out. We’re currently in the middle of a huge re-launch to this site, which we’re looking to release to you at the end of the year… so watch this space!
WHO ARE THE MINDFUL DRINKERS
Our members, social media followers, mailing list recipients or the people out there who have already changed their drinking without us, sit on a huge spectrum of change. Whilst many people’s stories will draw similarities, everyone is different. If someone isn’t drinking alcohol at any point in time, there could be any number of reasons why. We’ve tried our best to categorise the people that might reach out to us at Club Soda here:
- Dependent drinkers. A person who is physically dependent on alcohol will require different methods to stop to those who are stopping for other reasons. Just stopping cold turkey, for example, can cause serious health implications. We always advise to visit a local health service for medical support, and our private groups are on hand to help with daily check-ins, accountability, encouragement and kindness. For anyone stopping successfully for any period of time in this situation, this is a huge and highly personal achievement.
- Grey area drinkers. Lots of people who decide to cut down or stop drinking don’t relate to the term “alcoholic” and they don’t have a physical dependency on alcohol. They’re the ‘grey area’ of drinkers. Those who can go quite happily from a Monday to Thursday without a drop of alcohol but will binge drink their way through the weekend, or those who need booze for confidence, or sneak secret drinks at home after work just to handle life, or those who say and do things on a night out that causes anxiety riddled flashbacks the next morning, and those who don’t do anything naughty or blackout, they’ve just realised that their go-to release button is to open a bottle of wine each night and they’d like to find different ways to wind down. Why wouldn’t someone want to make some changes to improve their overall well-being?
- Health. Some people may have been advised by a doctor to cut down or stop drinking because it is seriously damaging their health. Some may be on medication that doesn’t work properly in conjunction with alcohol – this is especially true of those on medication for mental health reasons. Some may find that their anxiety worsens with alcohol, others may be putting on weight, or not sleeping well, or find that their yoga and meditation practices are hindered by hangovers – the list is endless, but they all still need to learn new coping mechanisms, ways of navigating all of the events which usually involve booze and ways to wind down without it.
- The sober sprinters or temporary non-drinkers. This could be someone who is taking part in Sober October for charity, or it could be a pregnant woman or someone who is on a fitness regime, or has a big project and wants to take a break in order to focus and be as productive as possible.
- The already-non-drinkers. This would apply to anyone who simply doesn’t drink, whether it’s for religious reasons or because they’ve just never enjoyed it, or because they stopped long ago because it wasn’t for them – they’re happy that way and don’t particularly struggle, but they’d like to know where they can go with their friends that they won’t be treated differently, or what they can drink instead of standard soft drinks.
- The moderate drinkers. Many, many people have done this successfully all of their lives and it’s not a problem. But for anyone who’s always been more likely to take it too far, the dream is to be able to just have a couple and go home, or just have one glass of that open bottle of wine, with no regrets the next day. This can be possible, but it takes hard work and a willingness to look at current behaviour patterns and set rules and new habits in order to succeed long term.
- The occasional night off-ers. From designated drivers to high flyers, to gym goers, to those who are just starting to make some changes. Most people have had that one night, or that one wedding, or that one something-or-another when they can’t, or don’t want to, drink alcohol. But again, even just those one-off occasions can be overwhelming, and a little advice and support can go a long way.