North Bergen resident Lynn Earley’s presence gives off a sort of “I’ve been there, done that, and you shouldn’t” vibe befitting her 68 years of life. And for good reason.
On May 22, 1987, she downed an alcoholic drink for the last time. It was champagne at a nightclub.
Her body made her pay for it the next day. “When I woke up, I was ice cold, and I couldn't breathe,” Earley remembered. “It was very, very scary. My body was rejecting the alcohol. It was awful.”
That capped off a 22-year “party girl (as Earley likes to call it) phase, which she claims was complete with endless champagne binges in the go-go NYC bars where she worked. She said she used recreational drugs in her Chelsea loft and and dalliances with “dangerous men”—one of whom almost beat her to death, she says.
Though she began drinking at 16, the Dumont native-turned-North Bergen resident wasn’t exposed to much alcohol growing up. Her parents were social drinkers—perhaps a whiskey sour at Christmas, or a few occasional beers. But negative outside influences steered Earley towards drink.
“I think it was at a keg party,” she recalls. “That's where I had my first beer. People don't realize that alcohol is a liquid drug—they don't see it that way. It's a liquid, legal drug.”
Months after her last drink, Earley began to notice how prevalent alcohol is in today's society.
“One of the first things I noticed when I stopped drinking—I took a really sobering look around and I said, that there are no venues where adults could go to listen to live music, to dance or socialize without the alcohol.”
Rather than just accept this social norm, though, Earley began planning. In 1991, she started the High and Dry Club, known today as Smart Party NYC. They're a collection of people from all manners of life, including musicians, actors, dancers, business owners, and corporate executives. They organize events in the New York City metropolitan area, such as after-work parties, dances, and salons without alcohol.
Earley is also working on some meetup groups for older people, and has a host of local artistic projects in mind.
Creative but sober
“I call the [High and Dry Club] 'Conscious Creatives,’ ‘cause that's what we are,” she shared. “I have a big issue with how the whole artistic, creative field gets intertwined with drugs and alcohol. An art gallery opening is usually free booze.”
“People don't realize that alcohol is a liquid drug—they don't see it that way.” –Lynn Earley
“Alcohol, I think, is by far one of the worst drugs that you could possibly take,” said Steven Peabody, Earley’s high-school classmate and a Smart Party member. “It’s very inflammatory in your body. Basically it ruins your relationships, it ruins your mind, too. It’s a very sad situation that we have in America.”
Peabody reconnected with Earley via mutual friend eight years ago. Having already given up alcohol, claiming hangovers impeded his work as a self-employed visual artist, he showed great interest in the Smart Party’s clean, artistic aesthetic.
“I don’t hang around a lot of alcoholics,” the 69-year-old said. “I don’t go to AA. I have my own friends that are pretty clear. Mostly I connect with mediators, rather than anybody who does any kind of substance.”
Earley is quick to say that Smart Party is not an Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program. She dismisses AA as “cliquish” and standoffish, though she admits quite a few Smart Party members and people in her family are in AA.
With the success Smart Party has had within the last 26 years, there is still one goal Earley wishes to achieve. She’d love to open a nightclub that features non-alcoholic beverages, such as a mix of drinks and sparkling water called a “Smartini.”
Earley launched a Go Fund Me page in June 2016 to begin raising money for the venue. Its initial $10,000 goal will go towards renting small spaces for pop-up events through Manhattan. The hope is that once more press begin covering these smaller parties, sources will fund the needed $100,000 to open the actual club, along with hiring a web designer for a Smart Party website.
In the meantime, she is busy planning another online meetup group, called “Baby Boomers Without The Booze.” Those social meetups will target the 55 and above. No matter what happens, though, she is determined to show others that partying can be just as frenetic without Tequila shots or drug lines in the bathroom.
“I don't pay attention to any of that,” the self-professed “Queen of the conscious club scene” said. “A visionary sees light in the dark. I believe that if you really want something, and you believe in it, it'll happen.”
You can donate to Earley's Go Fund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/2agja5c4. To learn more about Smart Party and join their meetups, visit https://www.meetup.com/nondrinker-72/. And to contact Earley, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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