Beyond Dry January: Yukon's 'Clarity Club' connects people quitting or cutting back on booze

'For me, it was really a choice to stop drinking. It just wasn't serving me anymore,' says Karen Furlong of Whitehorse, who started the 'Clarity Club' as a way to connect with other people who want to quit or cut back on alcohol. (Submitted by Karen Furlong - image credit)
'For me, it was really a choice to stop drinking. It just wasn't serving me anymore,' says Karen Furlong of Whitehorse, who started the 'Clarity Club' as a way to connect with other people who want to quit or cut back on alcohol. (Submitted by Karen Furlong - image credit)

For Karen Furlong, it started with a common New Year's resolution — to start the year without alcohol. Then, she just never went back.

"I never do things kind of halfway. So I took 'dry January' all the way through the year," said Furlong.

Now the Whitehorse woman has started a club for other like-minded Yukoners who are looking to give up or cut back on drinking — without giving up a social life.

"Drinking is very prevalent in this culture," she said. "It was actually really hard to connect with people in an environment that didn't centre around alcohol."

Furlong started the "Clarity Club" — named for the mental clarity Furlong felt after giving up booze — a few months ago, using social media. It's kind of like a support group for people making change in their lives, though it's not Alcoholics Anonymous. It's where sober and sober-curious Yukoners share tips, mocktail recipes and their experiences with sobriety, or simply drinking less.

"When I did drink, I considered myself a grey-area drinker. So, you know, not really a great candidate for Alcoholics Anonymous — which is a great, great, great club — but it wasn't really for me," Furlong said.

"For me, it was really a choice to stop drinking. It just wasn't serving me anymore."

Furlong said her life began to change when she stopped drinking, because her social scene changed. She found herself leaving parties early or simply staying home more. She figured there must be other people in the same boat.

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The Clarity Club was a way to make connections, in a positive way. Furlong didn't need people to commiserate with; she wanted to celebrate what she saw as a positive lifestyle choice.

"It was a place to celebrate and support one another... it has been slow traction at first, but it seems to be picking up a little bit now and and it's been great so far."

'Kind of like questioning the norm'

For Sofia Ashley, joining the Clarity Club was also about breaking out of social patterns that have alcohol at the centre.

"For me, it was not so much about having a problematic relationship with alcohol, more so it was challenging the status quo of the consumption of this substance," she said.

"It's kind of like questioning the norm, I guess."

Ashley said she was never a big drinker, and she stopped altogether after her kids were born and she was breastfeeding.

Eventually, when the kids were a bit older, she was ready to have a social drink every so often. But that's when she started to ask herself what she was actually getting out of the experience.

She knew about the health risks associated with drinking, and also had been talking to other friends who were re-thinking their own relationships with alcohol. Ashley decided that since she barely drank much anyway, she may as well just quit.

As with Furlong, the trickier part for Ashley has been figuring out new ways to socialize.

"I've had many friends over the years who have quit alcohol and found it extremely challenging, in the judgment that they've received from friends — that they're not fun anymore, that they don't want to participate in certain activities anymore, that kind of thing," she said.

"There's pretty much zero options — except for maybe Starbucks if it's open late — to go in the evening to an adult space that does not have alcohol at all present."

She sees the Clarity Club evolving into something that actually creates events in "sober spaces" at people's homes, or maybe organizes evenings out at a restaurant or bar with a group that agrees to not order any alcohol.

Furlong also hopes to make it more than an online social group. She recently tried to organize an appy-and-mocktail event with a local business, but it fell through. Still, she's not giving up on the idea.

"It's going to be whatever people do when they're drinking, just not with alcohol. You know, whether it's sports or hikes or crafting or, you know, watching the football game — whatever," she said.

"You don't have to be a teetotaler to be part of it. If you just want to learn some methods of coping or you want some support or want to learn how to make beautiful mocktails, please feel free to join us. It's a very inclusive group."