Chris Marshall is starting a revolution. The founder of Sans Bar in Austin, he passionately believes we need to create more opportunities for people to have fun and socialize without alcohol. He would like to see an alcohol-free bar in every town and as part of a rehab’s treatment plan. Veronica chats to Chris about his work and the upcoming tour that she will be joining him on.
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I’ve gotten very used to not being catered for.
In over 2 decades of sobriety, I’ve taken for granted that my wants and needs are largely ignored at social gatherings and events.
“I’ll just have a diet coke or water.”
I never stopped to see how… boring that was.
To be fair, it’s not just about the boring factor. A big hurdle we overcome being newly sober is the feeling that we’ll be depriving ourselves of something, that our lives from this point forward will be a life of sacrifice. I accepted that whatever I drank will be something unremarkable, a part of that sacrifice.
But I went to a recovery gala in September 2021 and I found it strange to see that there, at a sober event, was a bartender.
And not just any bartender. He was making these wonderful alcohol-free cocktails and serving these non-alcoholic wines.
I tried them, and a light bulb turned on in my life.
We deserve to have these experiences.
We have that prolific bartender on the podcast this week. He is Chris Marshall, the founder of Sans Bar in Austin.
About Chris Marshall
Chris Marshall is mental health advocate, event producer, and founder of Sans Bar, an alcohol-free space and community-based in Austin, Texas. He has been alcohol-free since February 16, 2007. started working as a Substance Use counsellor in 2009 and witnessed his clients struggle to remain abstinent from alcohol after they exit treatment. He created Sans Bar in 2017 with the belief that everyone deserves a safe, sober, and inclusive environment where they can authentically connect with others. Currently, Chris is an outspoken advocate for accessible zero-proof social/work experiences across North America. Chris has been featured in Men’s Health magazine, The New York Times, and USA Today.
Chris started drinking at 16 and found it to be the key that unlocked so much joy for him. He always saw himself as the outsider, the one who never really fit in with the mostly-white affluent suburb crowd in Houston where he grew up.
But with drinking, he found he now had something that connected him with others in a way he wasn’t able to before.
The second time he drank he ended up in jail.
He flipped his mom’s car, ran off the road into someone’s backyard, and got a DUI.
But drinking was such a massive part of his life and his cure for loneliness that he kept going into college, meanwhile noticing that his relationship with drinking was way more intense than the ones his friends had.
Eventually, at 23, he found himself on the outside again. He was lonely and isolated – his friends couldn’t keep up with his drinking and moved on.
He lost his reason for drinking so he went into treatment.
New lease on life
A big part of his lasting sobriety was the circle of friends he met after going through treatment.
This circle of friends took him in and helped him to find connection outside of alcohol.
Going on road trips, bowling, late-night hangouts at coffee shops, they exposed him to a world of enjoyment and community that gave him peace of mind and ultimately saved his life.
After a year, Chris moved to Austin and went back to school to become a counselor and licensed clinician.
He worked up close and personal at all levels of care: outpatient, residential, detox, and aftercare. He got to see the treatment programs up close and there were some parts of it he detested.
After losing 3 clients back to back within 8 months, he had enough. He didn’t want to move on like the rest of his treatment team, accepting that these things happen. He wanted to change the recovery industry. He needed to find a solution.
That’s when he realized that the core problem is the exact problem he had when he first got introduced to alcohol: connection.
People find it hard to stop hanging out with the same people, or doing the same things they did when they were drinking because of the fear of losing the connection and being alone.
But what if there were non-alcoholic bars where people would be able to have immense amounts of fun and meet a circle of friends who will save their life as he had found?
So he immediately started on his journey to create a new concept for fun and social events specifically for sober people.
The Sans Bar Experience
I had my own concerns about someone new to sobriety being triggered by going to a sober bar and having a mocktail. In a way, it’s romanticizing their past life and maybe being in that environment and drinking something similar to what they used to would be a gateway back into that life.
But Chris already thought about that.
Being a wounded healer with years of experience in the treatment industry, he architected Sans Bar with full consciousness of the triggering nature of a familiar experience.
At Sans Bar, the goal is for people to connect with people and the drinks are the side characters to the fun and connection.
Everything is built to feel similar to but different from what people who used to drink already know.
Different enough that people walk in, feel the noticeable difference, and stick around to make Sans Bar their regular hangout. Some even started their sobriety journey there.
Sans Bar helps people realize they don’t need to drink to have fun and connect with special people.
The treatment system that exists is not perfect
People fall through the cracks. While working as a clinician, Chris would see the same patient come in for treatment 6, 7, 8 times and not find lasting sobriety. But the treatment never changed, and the patient was left on their own. The treatment needs to change because everyone is different. We need to do more to understand the root causes and contributing factors preventing recovery.
Soberful and Sans Bar are coming to a city near you!
For our American friends: Veronica will be with Chris’ popup tour in New Orleans, Austin, and St. Louis (there may be more cities, stay tuned). We’re going to connect, bring the Sans Bar experience, and party across the United States so keep an eye on Sans Bar’s socials for when we’ll be coming to your city in America.
- Connect with Chris Marshall
- Preorder my book | Soberful: Uncover a Sustainable, Fulfilling Life Free of Alcohol
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