About a dozen people are gathered inside Recovery Cafe Clark County in Vancouver, eating sandwiches and chips and playing darts.
There’s a small putting green rolled out on the floor. Conversation flows, and then William O’Connor, 51, steps to the microphone. He looks to his friend Charles Hanset, who’s playing darts.
“Hey Charles, this is your song, OK buddy,” O’Connor jokes.
O’Connor is not shy of the spotlight, so he takes another second to make sure people know he’s about to sing.
“Can everybody hear me in the back? Can you guys hear me in the balcony?” he asks the small group congregating in the small room without a balcony.
With a few eyes settled on him, O’Connor unleashes an energetic cover of Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”
“Shake it for the birds. Shake it for the bees,” O’Connor sings on a Tuesday night in May.
He’s met with applause at the song’s conclusion. Recovery Cafe Clark County Executive Director Larry Worthington lets out a “yeehaw” and says, “Now, there’s some singing.”
If you look around the room, you’ll see something unusual for a karaoke night. There’s water and soda, but no beer, liquor or wine. No alcohol of any kind. The Recovery Cafe hosts a karaoke night every month for those in addiction and trauma recovery. As O’Connor said, “I don’t have to go to a bar to karaoke anymore. It’s a huge thing for an alcoholic. Some of us like to karaoke.”
O’Connor acknowledges that having fun can sometimes be lost in the shuffle of trying to recover from drug and alcohol addiction. O’Connor reached one year of sobriety in October.
“It can’t always be recovery circles and support groups,” he said.
Worthington agrees with O’Connor’s assessment. It’s why the monthly karaoke night exists at the cafe.
“People need to know you can have fun doing stuff without substances. You can have fun with people just being who you are,” Worthington said.
Singing songs in front of strangers, or friends, while sober can be intimidating. Doing karaoke without drugs and alcohol is an important sign of progress, especially if that was a part of your life before recovery.
“It’s the little victories,” Worthington said. “Those are the ones that matter. It’s all you get anyway.”
Having fun is also an emphasis at Recovery Resource Center off Highway 99 in Vancouver. They host family fun nights each month, where those in recovery can bring their kids. There’s food and dessert available, and kids can run around and play with each other.
“It’s a great break for the parents,” Keith Wells, the Recovery Resource Center manager, said in August. “You can bring your kids, and no one’s going to freak out because you brought kids. I am a parent, so I know what it’s like to feel like, ‘Can I just go to a place where there’s other kids, and I can still talk to adults?’ ”
Savannah Mendez brings some of her five kids to the family night when she can. Mendez said she’s made friendships through attending the events.
“No one judges you,” she said. “I like how everyone is so friendly and nice.”
Wells said that in addition to the fun, family night is a space where parents can share resources and perspectives with their recovery peers.
“If people are just getting out of treatment they are starting their lives from scratch,” Wells said, “so they need a place to go that is a social outlet to start rebuilding connections with people who are sober.”