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New Sober Bowling Event Is A Welcome Addition To Toronto’s Gay Scene

Anyone up for a little bowling…
Finding sober social spaces in Toronto can be challenging, especially for gay men. It’s a problem that’s particularly important for men dealing with substance use issues, because the recovery process, which can already be isolating, is made worse when it feels like alcohol is a requirement for fun. One new project in town, “Sober Bowling For Boisterous Beauties” (“SBBB”), is looking to change that. The project, which takes place across four Sunday afternoons, aims to remind the community that, yes, you can be sober without compromising on fun. The project is funded by ACT through the Community ACTivators program and hosted at The Ballroom, a downtown venue known for modernizing bowling for millennial tastes.
SBBB is designed for male-identified and non-binary people, and, while it prioritizes those dealing with substance use, all are welcome. Everything is free, including food. The project’s organizer, Adam Zivo, who also founded the LoveisLoveisLove campaign, says, “We want to support those who need sober spaces the most. Within the world of gay men’s health, it’s a truism that support needs to be holistic, that people’s social lives are integral to their mental and general health. For gay men who want to manage their substance use, the social supports just aren’t there yet.” Zivo had previously organized sober events for OurSpace, a local community group, and found that there was a serious appetite for them. “At one of our events, we reached capacity and had to turn people away at the doors. I think this suggests that large swathes of the community want these kinds of events, but are either undeserviced or can’t typically find them,” he says.
Organizing sober bowling hasn’t been without its challenges though. According to Zivo, while it may be relatively easy to organize sober events aimed at the general public, prioritizing community members dealing with substance use brings a new set of challenges. He adds, “Conventional promotional techniques don’t work when you’re working with stigmatized populations. A simple Facebook event becomes complicated when people worry that clicking ‘attend’ might out them to their friends as having substance use issues.” The project has shifted gears and started reaching out to the community through local queer organizations and mental health professionals. Zivo worries that this approach may have its own shortfalls. Many community members already seek professional support for their substance use issues, but those who don’t are often off the radar. “The irony is that those this program could benefit the most are hardest to reach,” he says.
While sobreity is becoming increasingly popular around the world, Toronto has very few programs that build social spaces for queer and trans who enjoy or are curious about it, let along those dealing with substance use. SBB is ultimately a pilot project, and so there’s room for mistakes and learning. Zivo concludes, “We’re confident that people will have a great time. Bowling is straight-up awesome and the venue is phenomenal. Whether we mostly bring out community members with substance use issues, or people who aren’t typically sober but just want a respite from substances, what matters is that we’re learning lessons that we hope can be used to support similar programs in the future, both in Toronto and nation-wide.”



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