Windsor

'Sober bar' closes permanently after giving 'a lot of hope' to those in recovery

A safe, sober space in Windsor for those battling addiction has closed for good over financial pressures to keep the coffee shop afloat. The Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound first opened as a safe haven for anyone seeking help with drugs and alcohol or those trying to stay clean after rehab.

The coffee shop filled a void for those living life after rehab

Mike Brown, co-owner of the Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound, said he's humbled to have heard from people all over Canada and the U.S. about the 'sober bar' in Windsor, Ont. (Jason Viau/CBC)

A safe, sober space in Windsor, Ont. for those battling addiction has closed for good over financial pressures to keep the coffee shop afloat.

The Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound first opened in mid-2018 as a public cafe, but more specifically a safe haven for anyone seeking help with drugs and alcohol or those trying to stay clean after rehab. Co-founder Mike Brown, and everyone who worked at the Erie Street shop, had their own struggles to share about living with substance addiction.

"I think it gave a lot of hope to a lot of people," said Brown. "We had some social events here that really, really broke some boundaries for people and gave them that social outlet to show them that you don't need a life with booze and drugs."

Over the last nearly two years, Brown estimates the coffee shop has helped hundreds of people. Not to mention the hundreds more who have contacted him from across Canada, the U.S. and even overseas after learning about the "sober bar" concept.

VIDEO: Debra Altland explains why drove from Pennsylvania to see the 'sober bar' first-hand:

Distraught by watching her son nearly die of a drug overdose, Debra Altland from Pennsylvania drove seven hours to Windsor, Ont. to meet the recovered addicts who now run a "sober bar." 1:03

The coffee shop aimed to fill a void for those seeking a life after rehabilitation, which is one gap Brown said exists in our region.

"There's not a very strong after-care program that's solidified for people," said Brown. "They go to a 30-day treatment centre, then what?"

James Lucier, left, Jay Arruda, centre, and Mike Brown, right, stand in the Spiritual Soldier Coffee Compound on Erie Street E., a shop designed to be a safe haven for anyone battling addiction. (Jason Viau/CBC)

His dependence to alcohol and cocaine began when he was just 18. That eventually led to a suicide attempt and an overdose, which prompted him to seek help and get clean.

Recent relapse brings feelings of shame, guilt

Addiction is something that doesn't disappear after time has passed. Late last year, Brown relapsed and instantly felt the "guilt and shame, the self doubt, the fear of what will others think of me." 

Although it wasn't a deciding factor in the coffee shop's closure, it did play a role.

"You come to a point where you're just giving, giving, giving and it's amazing. But I personally forgot to take care of myself," said Brown. "I fell into a lot of personal, emotional demons."

"Nothing is worth my sobriety today," he said.

Watch Jay Arruda explain how this coffee shop played a critical role in helping him stay sober:

Jay Arruda says the Spiritual Soldiers Coffee Compound is critical as he tries to stay sober. 1:52

Brown said he received a lot of support from the community to "pick myself back up." Today, he said he's doing much better, and he's proud that he came back from the relapse.

Even during that time, he held onto the coffee shop for as long as he could, but financially it quickly became unsustainable.

"I'm 40 years old and I was balling my eyes out in here when I had to hand in that notice to the landlord. It was excruciating," said Brown. "It was my baby."

The shop had planned to have its final day later this week, and some weekend events in April. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, the shop closed last week, likely for good.

Spiritual Soldiers to continue

Now, Brown is looking to begin the next chapter of his life, which isn't exactly clear right now.

But one thing that is certain, Brown said Spiritual Soldiers will continue. A board of directors is in place to carry the movement forward in the community, with the purpose of raising awareness and helping those struggling with addiction.

Brown hopes to be involved, and said he'll continue to share his story with the hope of helping others.

"I think the best is yet to come," he said.

About the Author

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

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