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The joy of sobriety: Sober dances offer fun without drugs, alcohol

  • Participants dance at the Grateful Cafe sober dance on Oct. 4 at Hope for New Hampshire in Franklin. The Grateful Cafe is a social group for those who want to participate in social life without drugs or alcohol. Leah Willingham—Monitor staff

  • Participants dance at the Grateful Cafe sober dance on Oct. 4 at Hope for New Hampshire in Franklin. The Grateful Cafe is a social group for those who want to participate in social life without drugs or alcohol. Leah Willingham—Monitor staff

  • Stephanie Henthorn, 39, of Pembroke and Katie Poison of Tilton take the floor sober dance Oct. 4. Leah Willingham / Monitor staff

  • Participants dance at the Grateful Cafe sober dance in Franklin on Oct. 4.

  • Participants dance at the Grateful Cafe sober dance on Oct. 4 at Hope for New Hampshire in Franklin. The Grateful Cafe is a social group for those who want to participate in social life without drugs or alcohol. Leah Willingham—Monitor staff

  • Stephen Foster, Carolee Longley of Northfield and Grateful Cafe and Sober Club organizer Mike Fitz-Patrick of Tilton dance at a sober dance a Hope for Recovery in Franklin last month.  Leah Willingham—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Saturday, November 18, 2017

You never forget the first time you dance sober.

For Stephanie Henthorn, 39 of Pembroke, it was at a substance-free dance at the Hope for New Hampshire Recovery center in Franklin.

Henthorn, who is recovering from a years-long substance misuse disorder, said taking the floor for the first time was scary.

“I had to be brave, because of course you’re always worried that people are going to judge you,” she said. “But once you get out there, dancing just becomes natural.”

Stepping out on the dance floor can feel like a risk for anyone, said event coordinator Mike Fitzpatrick. But for someone recovering from substance misuse, it can be even scarier.

Fitzpatrick said he noticed a need for social events for people not interested in drugs or alcohol, especially for vulnerable populations like recovering addicts who might lack confidence.

Fitzpatrick started an organization, the Grateful Cafe and Sober Club to hold events like dances, art classes and concerts for people who want to avoid social events where drugs or alcohol may be prevalent.

At sober dances, there is usually a potluck, a disc jockey and an open dance floor. Songs are mainly pop hits – but none with copious references to drugs or alcohol.

At one such dance on a recent Saturday, there were multi-colored lights shining over the crowd of 20 people dancing in a line to “Cotton Eyed-Joe.”

Donna Ryan, 59, of Plymouth said having sober dances is a fun way for recovering addicts to stay on track.

“When you enter into recovery, having fun is not what you think you’ll be doing,” she said. “People only see the hard work and the drudgery, but it can really be a joyful time in your life.”

A huge cause of relapse for those with substance misuse disorders is one’s social circle, said Shawn Sullivan, 31, of Concord. For many, the sober cafe events are the only place they feel safe.

“You’re more comfortable here than with your own family. Everyone understands you, you all have the same problems,” he said. “There’s nothing to apologize for.”

Heidi Ober of Tilton said she liked that the Grateful Cafe and Sober Club was a place where families could come. She had her daughter Sierra, who is elementary school-age, with her at a recent dance.

Ober said Franklin gets a bad rap for having high numbers of residents with substance misuse disorders, but that actually makes the city the ideal place to provide services like a sober club.

“Everyone thought this was going to be a bad place to try to do this, but it turns out that each dance, or each function we do, more people come,” Ober said. “It’s helped a lot of people get clean.”

Richard Hodgdon, 62, of Danbury said he’s been coming to sober cafe events for about a year after he found out about them at the Merrimack County jail, where he served a sentence for drug possession.

Hodgdon said he’d been using and selling drugs since he left the Marines at age 20.

He said it wasn’t until he started volunteering at Hope for Recovery that he saw a change in himself that made him think he could stay clean.

“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, you’re accepted here,” he said.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)