Sober is the New Cool


Break Free to Brilliance Ep. 56: Sober is the New Cool with Kim Bellas


The Power of One with Kim Bellas

Sober is the New Cool founder Kim Bellas joins us today for a wonderful episode of Break Free to Brilliance podcast. In today’s episode, we learn how simple personal missions have the possibility of turning into a global movement. Kim opens up about starting Sober is the New Cool as an attempt to help her son after he was diagnosed with epilepsy. She also shares her thoughts on the importance of destigmatizing conversations around mental health and addiction, and the power of uplifting others to uplift oneself.

My journey began in 2013, I decided to make the commitment to stop drinking for 3 months in order to
support my son who had been diagnosed with epilepsy sober is the new cool was created and I quickly realized the
social pressures surrounding not only myself but for my son.


Grounding meditation

To start the show, as always, Seema leads everyone on a guided grounding meditation. Kim shares the mixture of emotions she felt as she remembered a happy memory with her father, which ultimately brought her joy at the present.


It All Started with Motherhood

Kim talks about the origins of her global movement, Sober is the New Cool and how it simply started with her wanting to support her son, Matthew, when he was diagnosed with epilepsy. “As mothers, we want to fix everything. We want to make our children’s lives as perfect as possible.” The diagnosis hindered her son from drinking and feeling like he belonged in social interactions. When he was done with his medications, Kim encouraged him to hang out with his friends once more, but because his condition did not allow him to drink, he would always be sad about it. 

To make him feel better, she told him that he didn’t need alcohol to fit in, but as she was speaking, she herself was holding a glass of wine. She felt like a hypocrite. So at that moment, she decided that she was going to quit drinking for three months. Those three months flew by, and so Kim decided to take on another three months of sobriety. Now she’s on her 9th year, happier and healthier than ever. 


On Sober is the New Cool

The way the organisation started, Kim simply wanted to give Matthew some tools on how to deal with the social pressures of drinking and how to fit in. “But then we quickly realized that mental health and sobriety go very much hand in hand. A lot of people drink to cover up trauma or sadness.” 

So now, Sober is the New Cool’s mission to help people all over the world realize that they can live a “cool” life, even when sober. And that there’s no more shame in having mental health issues. “If we have any mental health troubles, we talk about them.’

Now, Sober is the New Cool is a global movement, helping not just young people, but parents and even grandparents too who have all said that since they stopped drinking, their mental health has gotten 10 times better.

To spread the word about the movement and raise funds for mental health organizations, Sober is the New Cool sells apparel like t-shirts and hoodies. Part of the proceeds go to the Douglas Foundation, a mental health organization in Montreal, Canada as well as other organizations to promote mental health, sobriety, and helping people conquer addiction. 

Kim’s son, Matthew, who inspired the whole movement, had a few seizure-free years before getting them again because he was put on the wrong medication. Now, he’s on his fourth seizure-free year, so Kim is hopeful that the light at the end of the tunnel is near. Matthew is active in running the movement with Kim, talking to kids about seizures, giving them peer-to-peer advice on how to have fun in social settings even when sober.

“That’s so amazing because when you are in a situation like that, when you have an illness, it does feel lonely, like no one understands,” Seema shares. “Now you and your son have created this amazing support group and an outlet for people to feel that they can still be cool. It’s just an illness that can be dealt with, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t live a totally happy and fulfilling life.”


The “I Am Exercise”

Kim shares one of the hallmarks of the Sober is the New Cool Movement: “The ‘I am’ exercise.”

“When people find us on social media, often I find their self-esteem is at a very low point. So I talk to them and find out a little bit about them. And every morning and every night, I ask them to place their hand on their heart and I send them a message via Instagram or Messenger. I write “I am” then one positive word,” she explains.

The exercise often starts with simple relatable words, just to ease the person into the exercise, because often they really don’t see or remember any of the qualities they have. She shares one particular example about a woman — a teacher who reached out to her and couldn’t come up with a single positive word when she started. Six months in, and she said. “When I first started with you I could not find one good thing to say about myself but now I can find 50.” Now she starts her grade 5 class with the same exercise.

‘I think it’s just rebuilding one person, one word at a time,” Kim says. “What we do with the ‘I am’ statements is to lift others up, for them to remember that everybody is unique, everybody is special, and everybody matters.”

“It sounds almost like a pledge, isn’t it, when you put your hand on your heart and say “I am dedicated, I am beautiful, I am strong.” What I find with most people is that we forget who we are, we forget the power that we have within,” Seema adds. She then talks about how we’re all born with resiliency, as we can see with children who are just learning to walk. They fall down countless times but they never give up, they simply take another step. “That’s what builds resilience — continuously taking the next step.’

Kim agrees and says, “And I think also knowing that someone cares, someone’s listening, somebody values them enough to take time to help them, is huge.”


The Power of One

When Kim first started the movement, people around her asked how many people she has in her team. And it was just her. Still, she felt it was important, so she pushed forward anyway. 

“The power of one is quite remarkable. Because what I have accomplished has surpassed my expectations so much; it’s incredible.The fact that we reach people all over the world,  and then they in turn help others. It creates a ripple effect,” she says.

The intimacy of the movement helped it grow, in a way, because it encouraged people to seek help, knowing that they wouldn’t be judged and that they have control over the situation. “Because I am not related to these people, they feel free to let me in on their secrets. I’m honored that they would trust me with their intimate secrets, their fears, their wants.”


On Destigmatizing Conversations About Mental Health 

Since starting the movement, Kim noticed that people are much more open to talking about mental health and that the openness improves everyday. She says, however, that what we need to work on is our word choice and how we frame the conversation

‘For example, the words “psychiatric ward” is so 1940s. People couldn’t talk about things in those days. For other diseases like cancer or epilepsy, you could ask anybody for help, but when it comes to mental health, people are much more careful about who they discuss it with. But everyone I encounter, it seems, knows someone who might benefit from the conversation,” she says.

One of her goals is to help destigmatize the conversation, by encouraging people to talk about it in a more positive light. Because only by talking about it can people feel open about receiving the help that they need. Especially now with COVID, depression, seclusion and loneliness have become rampant.  “It’s even more important that we make sure we take care of one another,” Kim says.

And Seema agrees, adding, “When you uplift someone else, you feel uplifted, too.”


A Vision for the Future

Sober is the New Cool is in the process of getting certified as a mental health charity. In the meantime, Kim funnels help toward the Douglas Foundation. People can simply reach out to Sober is the New Cool so they can get the information on how to directly donate to the foundation and other mental health organizations.

In addition to this, Kim hopes to start a movement for “I am” murals in as many hospitals and mental health recovery centers around the world. “Just to uplift people who are undergoing treatment, to remind them that they’re special, they’re loved, they’re worthy and that they should never miss another memory.”


Last Words of Wisdom

To end the episode, Kim shares her ultimate realization, that she hopes will inspire people: “I don’t want anyone to wait, like I did at 60, to say I am enough. Believe it, and believe it now. You are enough, you are worthy, and you are important.”

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