“I hate calling a movement. That’s not really the word I’m looking for,” muses Xandra Cunningham.
“I want to start a sort of thing. To give people more options on Bowen Island, to hang out and have fun without drinking and using being involved.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a really long time.”
At 26, too old for the teen centre or other youth initiatives and younger than the average islander, Cunningham says that there aren’t a lot of places for her and her peers to socialize in the evenings that aren’t liquor establishments or parties.
“Your options are either go hang out at a bar or go to somebody else’s house, and usually that’s after parties because transportation is difficult, where there’s not only alcohol but drugs involved as well.”
Cunningham says that Cove-proximity is a factor in event accessibility as not all young people have a reliable car.
“If you’re under 30 on this island and you are here trying to support yourself, you probably don’t have a lot of money. You probably don’t have a lot of resources because it’s very expensive to live here,” she says.
“We don’t have the means, the resources or the space to be able to choose the way that we socialize with each other –in a way that’s best for us, or in a way that’s healthy for us.
“I think we sort of need to band together in a grassroots, community kind of way to create opportunities and alternatives.”
To that end, Cunningham has teamed up with another local, James Michael Barker, 26, to create a weekly Friday night substance-free event.
Held at Barker’s house on Cates Hill, the casual evening’s activities range from pizza-making (with dough donated from Tuscany), to board games, to movies, to yoga, to painting.
“We wanted to start something new, something different,” says Barker. “Whether you want to be sober or just want something to do other than the pub, it’s just something else to do.”
Barker’s been hosting the event since the beginning of January, though figuring out who to include has been a process – should it just be people who are sober? Should it include people who want to be sober? Should it be open to everyone?
It has also been part of Barker’s sobriety journey as he quit both alcohol and marijuana over the fall.
“One of the hardest things for me is sifting through the plethora of information,” Barker said. Many people he spoke with had opinions, needs and suggestions.
But in the end, Barker and Cunningham decided that the event needed to be inclusive and a legitimate alternative for people who don’t want to go to the pub.
“We’re not turning anybody away as long as they’re not contributing negatively to the energy,” says Barker.
They both hope it will grow into something bigger.
Barker would ultimately like to found a non-profit and host at a location that isn’t as limiting as his house. Cunningham would like to, person by person, build a support network of people willing to host sober events and just hang out without controlled substances.
But Cunningham says that she finds it very important that this “thing” be inclusive.
“I’m not here to preach sobriety or to wag my finger at anybody,” she says. “Because I’ve got no business judging how somebody else chooses to cope.
“There’s so many reasons that are underlying alcohol and drug use in everybody’s life. Everybody habits and vices are personal to them and I have no idea what their life looks like.
“The only sort of rule, if there is a rule, is just maybe leave the booze at home this time. Like, maybe just try it out. Because you know, a lot of us are dying,” says Cunningham.
Cunningham lost her partner of five years to a drug overdose last year.
“And I’ve had countless friends die,” she says. “I think that right now is actually a really good time for Bowen as a community to have this conversation. Because I think we’re all feeling the impact of drugs and alcohol.”
The one thing that Barker and Cunningham are sure this is not is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There’s no twelve step.
“Just come have some good, old fashioned sober fun,” says Barker.
If you’re interested in joining the weekly event, Barker says that you can contact him on Facebook (James Michael Barker).