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Columbia Inspired

It's A Journey, Not A Destination

Apr 15, 2021 12:00AM ● By Katrina Hall

The National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) began a national public health awareness campaign in April 1987 called Alcohol Awareness Month. Since then, one of its major aims has been educating the general public about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption and the causes for drug and alcohol dependence. The way we view diseases of addiction is changing. The classical notion that alcoholism boils down to willpower is one that leads to stigma in both seeking support and recovering.  

Beth Harbinson, Founder of Sobar
Photography Credit: Poemtography

Beth Harbinson is the owner and founder of Sobar. Sobar’s mission is to encourage choice in how people celebrate by providing a variety of sophisticated non-alcoholic beverages. Harbinson has battled alcohol addiction first hand and is living proof that it can affect anyone. She describes her childhood as a happy one. Her parents John and Nancy Sandblower, hardworking and dedicated, lived near the Westgate neighborhood in Baltimore. “I had a wonderful childhood. My parents got married right out of college, having me right after my father finished law school at The University of Maryland.” She recalls finding out later that he worked a full-time job during the day and completed his law degree in the evening. Her late mother was a teacher and artist before taking time off to raise the family, returning in her 40’s for her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Antioch College.

When Harbinson was 13, she had her first encounter with drinking while on vacation with her parents. “My parents always had a gin and tonic. I thought tonic was the alcohol and sneaked half a glass. I hated the taste,” she said. In middle school, a friend snuck in a bottle of Sloe Gin Fizz to school, and they drank it in the locker room after P.E. class. Despite liking the initial feeling, Harbinson felt too sick and sleepy to finish the school day and avoided alcohol until college.

“College was like letting someone who didn’t know they were addicted to sugar into the candy store, there was no limit.” She remembers planning out the weekends as her time to drink, and eventually, she began drinking her way through college. Harbinson graduated with honors; she was functioning at a level that allowed her to deny the potential problem before it grew into an unavoidable one. 

The college environment gave Harbinson open access to alcohol and the catering business where she worked helped to escalate her drinking, leading to a  DUI. “During a New Year’s Eve event, I actually had very little of what I normally drink, maybe a few glasses of champagne. I drove home with a headlight out and was pulled over. My breathalyzer came back .01 over the legal limit.”  Her following arrest and receiving probation before judgment was a humiliating moment in her life, but still failed to drive home her dependency with alcohol. The mandatory alcohol courses didn’t feel like a good fit for her ‘minor’ issue, telling herself “ I just happened to get caught.” 

Harbinson had quit drinking for two years following her DUI until ordering a cocktail on a business trip. She drank heavily from that point on, building safeguards around her impairment to keep up the façade of functionality. In the last six months before truly starting her recovery, she made the troubling realization that she couldn’t stop.

“I would look in the mirror and tell myself I wouldn't drink, and every night I drank.” In 2004, during a Super Bowl party, Harbinson lost control of her drinking, embarrassing herself in front of her guests and children. The next morning, her husband sat her down and had an honest talk, leading her back to a business card she’d held onto for a month. Her next call was to the addiction treatment professional named on that card. “I like celebrating Super Bowl Monday now because that was my turning point,” she says. 

Harbinson is active in several 12-step programs and additional supports since becoming sober, reminding herself that recovery is an active verb. She acknowledges recovery is not a destination but a journey.  “The notion of having too much to drink is glorified because that person becomes the ‘life of the party’. But we don’t see them throwing up or getting a DUI.” 

Harbinson states that there is no one way to get sober. There are medications, doctors, therapists, and a proliferation of treatment programs and outreach centers available that can help. Addiction is a complex combination of psychological, physical, and genetic factors that has been identified as a disease instead of a social taboo. Over the years she has built what she calls her “tool bag”. This tool bag is a group of activities that helps reaffirm recovery goals for herself and those she supports. These tools include exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, and investing in new activities with friends that don’t center around alcohol. “In those first few months to a year after starting sobriety, so many things can trigger you into relapsing. Settling for a subpar beverage or trying to order and create a mock-tail on the spot is a stressor socially. That’s when I started thinking specifically of having a non-alcoholic bar.” Thus the inspiration for Sobar!

Realizing how many social gatherings and celebrations are alcohol-centric, Harbison works hard to build normalcy around sobriety at these functions by providing creative non-alcoholic beverages for the home consumer and hosts alcohol-free bars and events. She believes it is important to provide a fun, exciting, and safe space. Sobar is for everyone, those who are in recovery, and for those who simply choose to abstain from drinking. If you or someone you love are in need of support there are several local organizations that can help.  Please don't hesitate to contact Sobar at www.drinksobar.org or call 410-913-3970 to help find your way. 

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