In Philadelphia, a variety of programs, some organized by individuals, others by Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous members (but not the organizations), have sprung up in recent years. Helping to fuel the trend is a national return to a "healthy" way of living that eschews hard-core use of drugs and alcohol.
Some people in early recovery can socialize in places where alcohol is served without jeopardizing their sobriety. In many cases, as they accumulate more clean time, they begin returning to the weddings, picnics and nightclubs that earlier may have triggered the need to drink.
But many others learn they have to limit their social lives to recovery meetings for some time, said Joe Bonsera, 38, also of South Philadelphia. (Before heading home, though, they might stop off at a diner. The Oregon Diner at Oregon Avenue and 3rd Street, the Broad Street Diner at Broad and Ellsworth, or the Oak Lane at Broad Street and 66th Avenue are three popular after-meeting haunts.)
Frustrated by the lack of social outlets, Bonsera, who's been in recovery for 19 years, earlier this month helped open Creations, an alcohol-free South Philadelphia club.
"There are people that can't go to a Phillies game or they can't go to a restaurant because they serve liquor," Bonsera said. "And their whole life becomes going to meetings. And they don't pick up from there. That's why we did Creations."
Re-creating environments that usually include liquor is not the only concern of those in sobriety. There are "sober" clubs and events for those interested in activities like hiking, biking and even aerobics.
Mario - a 45-year-old aerobics instructor from South Philadelphia, who, like everyone else we spoke with asked that his last name not be used - swears by the Time Out fitness program at the YWHA.
"When first I came into recovery, instead of hanging out at bars and
clubs, we'd attend dependency meetings, and then I'd come home and eat and watch television," he said. "I gained 50 pounds and I had no self-esteem."
But Time Out, designed for people in all types of recovery programs, gave him "a place to go, to exercise and address the disease. Even during an exercise program, I felt a bond with the others. It would be pretty hard for me at another (health) facility to talk to somebody directly."
Most people in recovery often find themselves with too much spare time, said Dr. Robert Schiraldi, coordinator of drug and alcohol counseling program at Temple University.
"There are tons of different activities, it's just a question of whether people are willing to consider ways to get high naturally," Schiraldi said. ''It's a matter of using your creativity and taking the time to plan, but a lot of people want a quick fix. They don't want to have to plan. So they just pick up a beer."
Bob, a 28-year-old recovering alcoholic from the Main Line, found similar difficulties when he stopped drinking five years ago.
"In the beginning, the weekends were really boring," he recalled. "I had very few friends because I couldn't associate with the people I used to associate with. I sat around and watched TV a lot and I got very depressed with it."
Now the co-coordinator for a substance-abuse counseling program at a local university, Bob suggests alternatives to bars and drinking-related activities.
Like Bob, Schiraldi has compiled a list of activities for people looking for sober pastimes. They include biking, kite flying, frisbee tossing, fishing, nature walks, open-air concerts, and visits to local parks, arboretums and zoos.
"You need to have a well-balanced approach to life," Schiraldi said. "It shouldn't center on just going to meetings. You need to start branching out and taking some risks, going to other activities."
Below are some local programs and activities for people seeking sober alternatives:
* ADVENTURES IN SOBRIETY offers a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, caving and sailing - ultimate getaways from an alcohol-washed environment.
Dave Pastorok, a therapist who has worked at a rehabilitation center, an outpatient clinic and the Valley Forge Medical Center, informally started the program five years ago by taking teen-agers and young adults in recovery out to the country for assorted outdoorsy activities.
Today, he's the full-time director of the program, which is open to all ages.
"Basically, I ask that everybody respects the sobriety rule: not to come and drink, use drugs or even come with a hangover," he said. "But I don't preach at all."
Groups range in size from 8 to 20, and anyone can sign up for the day trips. Prices range from $25 for a cave expedition to $54 for a white-water rafting trip. Pastorok also contracts with schools, rehabilitation centers, hospitals and church groups.
For more information on the Chalfont, Bucks County, organization, call 997-9270.
* CREATIONS, operated by people in recovery, is the city's newest club for those looking for an alcohol-free environment.
"People are so afraid to step out again, and with that pressure on, they're afraid they might pick up a drink again," director Joe Bonsera said. ''We thought, why not have a clubhouse or a place where you can hang out, where you can dance or shoot pool?"
At its grand opening two weeks ago, patrons ate cold cuts and spaghetti on the first floor and danced in the second-floor disco, complete with smoke machine and light show.
The club, at 1522 S. 9th St. in South Philadelphia, also has a game room with pool tables and video games and an inexpensive yet extensive menu of appetizers, pasta and sandwiches.
Membership is $10; the club has a $5 cover charge on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Creations is open noon-3 p.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; noon-3 p.m. and 7 p.m.-1 a.m. Wednesdays; noon-3 p.m. and 7 p.m.- 2 am. Fridays; noon-2 a.m. and Saturdays; noon-11 p.m. Sundays.
For more information, call 463-2948.
* LE MASQUERADE shuts off the beer taps every Saturday night and becomes an alcohol-free nightspot catering to people in recovery from 9:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m.
The tradition started four years ago when Le Masquerade, at 3400 Tulip St. in Port Richmond, then without liquor license, encouraged people in recovery to come in. After the club secured its license, it continued its alcohol-free Saturdays.
Patrons are free to play shuffleball, pool, basketball or video games, hang out in the clubs patio or dedicate records to folks celebrating recovery anniversaries.
About 95 percent of the Saturday-night customers are in recovery, manager Donna Marianni said. Discounts on the $6 admission are available for people with proof they are in a rehabilitation center or halfway house.
For more information, call 533-7707.
* RECOVERY CLUBS - Although Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous don't run these clubs, they are designed for and by members of the organizations.
Club participants pay a fee to join and take part in activities ranging
from dances to picnics and softball games. These organizations also set up parties for such alcohol-affiliated holidays as New Year's Eve and St. Patrick's Day.
They include the Upper Darby Club, 7109 West Chester Pike, 352-9897; The Northeast Club, 4318 Frankford Ave., 535-9609; The Recovery Gay and Lesbian Club, 202 S. 12 St., Center City, 545-7006; 4021 Club, 4021 Walnut St., West Philadelphia, 386-7486.
* TIME OUT - The aerobic answer to alcohol and drugs, this physical- conditioning program for people in recovery is a spirited, health-oriented alternative.
Time Out operates three days a week out of the YMHA building at Broad and Pine streets. Open to people recovering from drug or alcohol dependency as well as most 12-step programs, Time Out provides a smoke-free, fitness- oriented environment.
"It was our view that there really wasn't a place where folks could be together in a social place wasn't a smoke-filled AA room where they could work out," said Time Out executive director Mark Wolgin. "It's hard for folks to believe that they can change, but if we can exact some immediate, measurable change in one's physical presence, whether it be doing one more push up or losing five pounds, then that would go a long way in helping a person believe that they can change."
The Time Out monthly fee is $30.
For more information, call 985-2928.