Almost 40 marriages have resulted from SVI vacations. “We hook up, laugh, make friends,” said founder Steve Abrams.
Sober Vacations International (SVI) will celebrate its 30th year in 2017. Its founder, Steve Abrams, has been sober for 36 years. After years of getting sloshed, Abrams found himself suddenly nervous about vacationing. Wanting to avoid any temptation of drinking again, he asked a few friends to accompany him on a sober trip. The response was overwhelming. The first trip took them to Ixtapa, Mexico. By the next year, SVI had enough travelers to take over a Club Med on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas; they christened it “Sober Village.”
Since the inaugural trip to Ixtapa, SVI has hosted over 30,000 vacationers and organized over 150 trips, making it the largest company specializing in alcohol- and drug-free vacations. Over 85% of its clients are repeat travelers; many have journeyed with SVI since its inception and the company now averages six trips a year.
Wanting to learn more about the man who created all of this, we caught up with Abrams, who told us his first drink was at age 14. He grew up in the ‘60s and indulged in psychedelics, pot, amphetamines and Quaaludes, but alcohol was always his mainstay.
“I had anxiety and fear,” said Abrams. “Alcohol took away the voices, the committee.” He said he always felt different and “less than.” Abrams drank his way through high school and hid his drinking. “My stepfather was a moderate drinker but my father was an alcoholic so I knew I shouldn’t drink that much.” Abrams said there were signs of a problem during his teenage years including alcohol poisoning at 16.
His family moved to Beverly Hills when Abrams began 9th grade. “Everybody there had gone to grammar school together. They were all friends and I was the outsider.” That would become a common theme. “No matter what situation, I painted myself separate,” he said. “Other people turned to work or food, but alcohol was magic for me. When I drank the first time, that feeling of not belonging went away.”
“I had bad grades but went to college. That’s where I discovered I didn’t have to wait for the weekends to drink. The first phase was fun. It took a scared kid and made the world friendlier. The party was on. I love alcoholism being described in three phases: fun, fun with problems, then just problems.”
Abrams went through four years of college. “I added amphetamines to improve my grades and it worked. Then I applied to one law school and they took me. Feelings of ‘I’m not smart enough’ surfaced. I got through two years, then went to Chicago. A family friend had a big car dealership there and said, ‘I have no one to turn this business over to. It’ll make you a million by the time you’re 30.’” So Abrams left law school, went to Chicago, and entered phase two of alcoholism: fun plus problems.
“Sometimes it was fun and sometimes I crashed a car, or got arrested for drunk driving. I didn’t always show up for work. It was hit and miss. They sent me to Boston to study a car dealership. I was alone in a hotel for a month and drank.”
He left the car dealership and returned to finish law school but flunked out with only two classes left. That’s when the problem phase started. “When you’re in law school,” he said, “people think you’re going to be a lawyer. When you flunk out with only a couple classes left, you’re an idiot. My stepfather dropped dead around that time, and left us money, and my mom started drinking. I said, ‘I’m not going to drink anymore.’ But every day I drank around the clock. I went to AA but didn’t identify and thought it was all bullshit.”
Alcohol was still his solution. More drunk driving. More car accidents. “I finally got into recovery when my buddy hooked me up on a blind date. I went out with this girl. She was pretty and smart and I didn’t drink because by that point, whenever I drank I’d slur my words and stumble around. I couldn’t metabolize liquor anymore. I didn’t ask her out again but called her in a blackout two weeks later.” He confessed his drinking problem and told her, “I feel like I have a hole in my soul. I don’t care if I live or die.” She told him, “I’m in another 12-step program. If you like, I’ll take you to a meeting.” So he went with her on August 10, 1980. “I never drank again,” said Abrams, “and we’re still friends. Because of her one act of kindness, this ripple developed like a stone in the water. She and I had no idea that I would stay and end up with an extraordinarily big life and become comfortable in my own skin.” Read more “the fix”…