Lights Out Sober Bar: Changing the Culture of Recovery

by AddictionCenter |

Enjoying Life Without Substances

As many former addicts can attest, maintaining sobriety requires a great amount of work and dedication—as well as an entire lifestyle change. For all too many, this lifestyle change can leave them feeling secluded and cut off from the community. With bars and clubs dominating the late night scene, there aren’t many options for those who want to go out and be social in a drug- and alcohol-free environment.

Enter Kyle Kuehn, founder and CEO of Lights Out, a new sober bar concept in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Lights Out’s mission is to combat alcoholism and addiction on every front.”

- Kyle Kuehn, founder and CEO of Lights Out sober bar
Not only do we want to provide a place that aids those in recovery, we also want to provide a place that teaches the next generation you can enjoy life without substances,” Kuehn said. “Lights Out is as much about recovery as it is prevention. If one life is changed by our mission, then it will all have been worth it.”

From Addiction to Sobriety

Kuehn at the Unite to Face Addiction rally in Washington DC
Kuehn at the Unite to Face Addiction rally in Washington, D.C.

Kuehn is no stranger to addiction. His battle with substance abuse began as a teen and continued into his adult life. What began as a 15-year-old experimenting with marijuana and cigarettes quickly led to trying harder, more dangerous substances—and eventually, addiction.

“At the age of 16, I started dabbling with alcohol and cocaine. By the age of 17 or 18, I had added ecstasy to that list. I had seasons of addiction to drugs my whole young adult life. As I got older, the primary addictions that were daily for me became alcohol and cigarettes.”

After years of struggling with depression and extreme highs and lows fueled by his addictions, he decided enough was enough. On January 21, 2015, Kuehn “kicked” his habit.

“I was experiencing great difficulty maintaining healthy relationships and a good working reputation,” Kuehn explained. “I was entering a season of life where I really wanted to be able to think clearly and not be controlled by my flesh. So, I resolved to give up caffeine, alcohol and nicotine for 30 days — a challenge I have termed ‘Kicking The C.A.N.’ The prompting and power for this endeavor both came from God. I believe He gave me the idea to quit all three addictions, and also the strength.”

Focusing his attention on prayer and journaling, Kuehn made it through 30 days without his vices. On the 45th day, he began drinking caffeine again in moderation, but has no intention of allowing alcohol or drugs back into his life—a choice that is further solidified through his creation of Lights Out.

The Lights Out Concept

Kuehn’s idea for Lights Out actually came to him while he was still in active addiction during the fall of 2014. His original concept was to create a late-night boxing gym for those who wanted to replace their drug and alcohol habit with a healthy one.

“Around this time in my life, I was gaining weight rapidly and really wanted to be free from my addiction to alcohol,” Kuehn said. “While watching ‘The Fighter,’ I had what I thought to be an epiphany: a late night boxing gym! What a great way to get in shape, build community/relationships, and replace drinking. But it needed a name — that’s when I came up with Lights Out. The name represented getting your ‘lights knocked out’ and it represented the time at which this gym would be open—when the lights are out.”

“When all the other lights in the community have turned in or turned off, our lights will be on—giving hope, strength, and community to those who need it,” said Kuehn.

Eventually, Kuehn realized the recovery community needed so much more than a place to work out and embrace their inner Rocky.

“However cool of an activity, [boxing] would not fully satisfy the need that I saw so clearly in the community. The only thing that would satisfy the need in the community was community. A place of socialization. A place where one could come and be where the people are, free from the temptations that plague our society. It was clear that some might want to box or work out, but most wanted to just enjoy each other. That’s when Lights Out went from a late night boxing gym to a sober bar.”

“Let’s Change Culture”

Kuehn trying out a nitro-draft coffee he plans to have on Lights Out's menu
Kuehn in Boulder, CO, trying out a nitro-draft coffee he plans to have on Lights Out’s menu.

While not the first bar of its kind, Lights Out is one of few sober bar concepts in the United States—something Kuehn hopes to change.

“I absolutely plan on expanding out of Lancaster. My vision is that in every city where there is a Boys and Girls Club providing community and fun for kids, there will be a Lights Out providing the same for adults. I hope to expand Lights Out across the nation and have even entertained the idea of franchising in the future. ‘Open late, promoting sobriety and coming to a city near you!’”

Beyond his plans for expansion, Kuehn envisions an even greater future for Lights Out and other dry venues. He hopes sober bars will facilitate community and relationships for those in recovery, but he also hopes they’ll trigger changes on a cultural level.

“Humans were designed to be social, we need each other. And because of addiction, we sometimes find ourselves segregated from our own communities. My dream is to create a place that is fun enough for the drinker to put down their drink, and safe enough for the addict to come enjoy the nightlife free of temptation.”

This isn’t just a sober bar, it’s a sober bar movement! It is the beginning of a shift in culture. It is the beginning of the conversation. Let’s change the way we live together. Let’s change culture!

Lights Out will officially open in Lancaster in the fall of 2016. In the meantime, the bar plans to host weekly and monthly events to raise awareness and give their community a taste of what’s to come.

“The events are designed to appeal to as many people groups as possible. We really want people to realize that this isn’t just a place for addicts, it’s a place for people,” Kuehn said.

For any addict, recovering addict or anyone else out there who’s struggling to find a place in their community, Kuehn says to hang in there and never lose hope.

“Find a loving church or community to share your struggles with. If you fall down seven times, get up eight. Keep pressing forward…Let your light shine and hold on! Help is on the way!”

Photo credits: https://www.facebook.com/soberbars/

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