MISSOULA- For those in active recovery, finding sober-friendly events can be difficult, but The Phoenix is dedicated to changing that.
The national non-profit The Phoenix organizes sober activities in communities across Montana and in Missoula, they've helped organize a weekly basketball game and boxing night with Crosswinds Recovery Center.
“I guess we just want to be like another tool in the toolbox for people,” Stevie Robinson, programs coordinator for The Phoenix says.
The Phoenix has staff members in Missoula, Livingston and Bozeman, but hosts virtual events across the state. All Montanans can volunteer to run an activity in their community.
Each event is free and open to any sober or sober-ally community member. The only requirement is that everyone has at least 48 hours of sobriety.
"If you know somebody who's struggling and you just kind of want to get around some other people to talk about what you might be going through dealing with them, come and join us," Seth Sparhawk, a volunteer with The Phoenix, says.
Sparhawk has been coaching boxing out of Crosswinds Recovery on Russell Street for six months. He decided to reach out to The Phoenix about volunteering because the sport has been crucial to his own recovery journey.
“Boxing was my kind of introduction into the recovery world,” Sparhawk says. “It's something I had to put in front of myself to get through some challenging times.”
He trained in boxing for for years in St. Louis and brought his skills to Missoula. Now, he hosts sober boxing every Friday night from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
“This is my way of getting out into the community without going, you know, out to clubs and bars and things like that anymore,” Sparhawk says. “You know, this is my Friday night. I really look forward to coming in and spending some time with these guys and seeing what their week has been like and if they need, you know, any support before boxing, during or after.”
Sparhawk’s support and encouragement is a big reason a lot of the participants keep coming back each week.
“The instructor Seth, he's a big part of this. He's actually a big part of my recovery,” Jesse Henderson says.
Henderson uses exercise to improve his mental and physical wellbeing and says it has been critical to gaining his self confidence back in recovery.
“It all comes down to your mental stability, for myself. Your physical and your mental all tie into one,” he says. “I love it. It's helped me with self discipline tremendously.”
Alex Key is another volunteer for The Phoenix who attended Sparhawk’s boxing night for the first time on Sept. 8. Key has volunteered for the past two years by hosting a Sunday night basketball game at 7 p.m. in City Life Gym.
Key stopped drinking right before the pandemic and says it was easy to stay sober during quarantine since social activities were out of the picture. But once the world opened up again, Key struggled to find things to do that were sober-friendly.
“I was like, Man, I just need a chance to do some social things where there's not drugs or alcohol involved, and so I started playing basketball,” Key says.
The physical exertion of exercise means Key is able to focus on other things, rather than the desire to drink. Today, he says he’s lost that desire completely.
“If you're in recovery, just having a thing to do that's healthy and positive is very important,” he says. “If you're struggling, you can go play basketball and forget about your problems or you can come punch and forget about that you want a drink or do meth or I don't know, whatever your thing is.”
Sparhawk says his boxing nights are for every fitness and skill level, so he encourages anyone to try it out. Demar Pugh has always wanted to try a self-defense sport, and he got into boxing during his recovery journey.
“This is new, all new to me,” he says. “I want to give a shout out to Seth. He's been a huge supporter. I didn't really know, like, anything about this and Seth has guided me.”
The community in The Phoenix and Crosswinds Recovery has taught Pugh to hold himself accountable and continue to self-improve.
“I want to give a shout out to myself also for sticking to it,” he says. “I mean it sounds really awkward to kind of shout myself out like this but this is something that I'm learning too, to grow.”
Pugh is looking to start a Sunday running group for any Missoulians that are interested.
More than the rush of endorphins, group events like Friday night boxing give attendees a social group of like-minded people.
Stephen Ferguson, executive director for Crosswinds Recovery, says the importance of a community and social circle is often underestimated during active recovery.
“We need community and especially as folks that are in active recovery, it's the number one important piece of our lives that a lot of times is overlooked, both by state funding, and by other programs,” Ferguson. “You know, even crosswinds itself. We're focused a lot on addiction. But what does community-driven recovery actually look like? That's the biggest question that we have to face.”
And for Sparhawk, a group fitness class is the perfect place to introduce a sober-friendly community.
“And it can be something that's hard to kind of reintroduce back into your life after you've been drinking for so many years,” Sparkawk says. “Your socializing is off a little bit so it is a great way to kind of get back into it. And I found if you're moving and talking and being active, it's a little easier to kind of, to open up and make connections with people.”
The Phoenix is looking for more volunteers to run sober activities in Missoula. Anyone with interest in starting a regular event can reach out to The Phoenix. They are also calling for any spaces willing to open up for a Phoenix-sponsored event.
Crosswinds Recovery and The Phoenix are both non-profit organizations, so they take donations from the public as well.
To sign up for The Phoenix classes in Missoula, or to see events in your area, download their app or visit their website.