The TrAAvel Agent
A review of the seven-book Global Sober Series.
Peter T. has authored eight books, and very few folks know his full name. Such is a life and a lifestyle shaped by Alcoholics Anonymous.
In early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the brakes on most travel, Peter put the finishing touches on the seemingly oxymoronically named Liquid Sober. It was the seventh and final installment in a series of themed coffee table-style books showcasing how truly global an organization Alcoholics Anonymous has become – and how internationally binding its principles are for those living in recovery.
Upon obtaining Liquid Sober, the first thing I did was … weigh it. The ambitious effort is nearly 900 pages long, two inches wide and 12” x 16”. I simply had to know its heft. The scale read “14 pounds,” and I promptly misquoted a classic liquid-centric film, Jaws. “We’re gonna need a bigger pot of coffee.”
Fourteen pounds. Multiply that by seven (we’ll get to some of those soon) and you start to understand how incredibly comprehensive the Glober Sober Series truly is. And as I began perusing the collection, I realized Peter hadn’t sacrificed quality for quantity.
As a recovering alcoholic with progressive, incurable wanderlust, I’m about as close to Peter’s key demographic as it gets. But as a media pro who spent a decade promoting travel destinations around the world, I also know, photogenically, what works and what doesn’t.
Simply put, these work. Marrying recovery and a roaming romance, the books are big because the world is big – yet, somehow, made smaller by the shared experience of 12 Step sobriety.
I flipped, marveled, then paused. “He couldn’t have…” I muttered, reversing course to the table of contents.
Peter had found the English-speaking AA meeting in the tiny beach town of Tamarindo, Costa Rica. The one that, in 2012, I visited at less than a year sober while vacationing with my wife. I smiled broadly at the internationally recognizable meeting sign adjacent two upright surfboards. Great photo, great vacation.
Such are the travel-meets-recovery treasures that await across the nearly 100-pound collection From wide-angle vistas to the narrowest cobblestone European alley, the reassuring AA symbol welcomes us wherever we go. On a coffee table trip around the world, we visit vivid proof of lives lived in expansive freedom from an affliction capable of trapping us in cages.
The message is instant and inspiring: recovering literally broadens our horizons. We lead bigger lives in recovery. It is this bigness, this endearing enormity and diversity of our shared planet, that propels and empowers the Global Sober Series. Despite their individual themes – an eclectic mix that includes Northern Lights Sober, the meditation-minded Zen Sober and the all-American United Sober Anonymous (USA for short) – the collection simultaneously espouses the universality of AA’s effectiveness and the wide world waiting for those who break free of addiction’s constrictions.
And as they take in each new picture, readers in recovery are left with two intersecting, gratitude-infused thoughts: a “wow that’s gorgeous” layered with the understanding that the man behind the camera is only there because he’s not drunk, high, incarcerated or dead. At its heart, the Global Sober Series is both a labor of love and a love of labor; a man tirelessly traipsing around the world to capture the ties that bind those of us who, like him, found salvation in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.
By the time the series’ final book was put to rest, Peter had traveled to over 100 countries and over 30 U.S. states. But like recovery itself, the journey is as intriguing as the destination – or in this case, destinations.
After he put down the booze, it took Peter a while to pick up the pen. In fact, it took well over two decades.
Peter was 23 years sober when his sponsor, entertained by his exacting way of putting things (a precision driven by what Peter sees as a gift of his Higher Power: a photographic, tape-recorder-level memory), suggested he arrange the firmly embedded shares he’d heard over the years into a collection. The result was 101 Shares, which had enough of an impression on enough fellow alcoholics that Peter decided to have it translated to both Spanish and Russian. This, in turn, prompted him to travel to a variety of Spanish- and Russian-speaking destinations to distribute the book to local organizations and AA groups.
While traveling, Peter did what any interested tourist would do: he took pictures. Then he took some more. Eventually, he had a few years’ worth of pictures. And then it hit him: his protracted book tour had led to another book. The first of what would become a seven-book anthology, the series-self-titled Global Sober, was published. The coffee table book was intended to adorn anything from a well-appointed living room to a not-so-well-appointed sober living facility. And of course, any and all AA clubhouses in between.
That was five far-flung years after 101 Shares. Despite travel and production expenses far exceeding what he could ever hope to recoup in book sales, it would take just five more years for Peter to develop, design and publish six more full-length follow-ups.
In the process Peter traveled… well, pretty much everywhere. The second book, Zen Sober, espousestraditionally Asian motifs from “Kyoto to Reykjavik, and from San Francisco to Shanghai.” Along the way, Peter depicts recovery’s roots of inner peace, and the outsized role body-and-soul practices like yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi play in many peoples’ sobriety. One of the book’s most poignant pictures shows two monks at Starbucks; readers can almost hear Peter’s chuckling behind the camera at the caffeinated calmness.
Intriguingly, Europe occupies a surprisingly sizable chunk of Zen Sober. From Paris to Palermo, we’re reminded of a lower-case zen defined by the eyes of the beholder. Elegant buildings, placid waterside settings, outdoor cafes in a millennia-old plaza… all evoking the inner peace striven for in the program and showcased by Peter.
God Bless AAmerica
Equally impressive is United Sober Anonymous, which sees Peter road-tripping around the USA, including several spots referenced in the Big Book and other AA materials such as Akron, Ohio, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and Stepping Stones in New York state. In the process, he draws a direct line between our “We the people” United States and the “we” program that unites recovering alcoholics.
For the domestically dedicated effort, Peter kept the pedal to the metal and his fingers on the flash. The book’s 600-plus pages of content were chronicled in just three weeks – a whirlwind, 18-state photogenic adventure from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. Peter catches a sober biker rally in Illinois, cracks a joke about “Custer’s Last Drink” near Montana’s Little Bighorn battlefield, and discovers the sober side of New Orleans in a journey leg captioned “The Big Easy Does It.”
The remaining Global Sober Series titles are similarly captivating, inspiring and altogether charming. Northern Lights takes us around the top of the world, from Alaska and Canada to Scandinavia and Siberia. Generation Sober and Future Sober are as much about the art of the possible as the art of photography. The former captures the energy behind the Gen Z-ers and Millennials gradually becoming the AA group leaders of tomorrow.
The latter, Future Sober, is more free-flowing, an effort that at first glance seems hodgepodge until the reader realizes that this randomness – these limitless potential experiences made possible by achieving and maintaining sobriety – is entirely the point. Without sobriety Peter, and us, are obscured lenses; the pages’ vivid colors and vibrant scenes run countercurrent to, and ultimately filter out, addiction’s darkness. Whether he intends to or not, Peter is at once respecting and mocking our incurable yet eminently arrestable shared ailment. If the pages could speak, they’d say something like “This is how good life can get. Turn the page for yet another reason to never, ever pick up a drink again.”
So who, pray tell, is Peter?
Other than the assurance that he does, indeed, exist – that one man traveled to each of these disparate yet program-linked destinations, and snapped each of these images – we are not at liberty to say. Peter views these experiences as more than about him. He sincerely sees himself as a mere vessel of a Higher Power, and the message as more important than the messenger.
He has, however, accrued some truly fascinating travel experiences over his 35 years in recovery. Speaking with Peter is an exercise in saying “Wait… what?”, then kindly beseeching him to reiterate and elaborate upon yet another fascinating factoid. Welcome to anecdotes anonymous.
For starters, Russia has an AA convention in Siberia. In January. Talk about trudging the happy road of destiny. Meanwhile, across much of Central and South America, AA meeting locations are frequently adorned with prominent, often neon signs – a custom that arguably eschews adequate anonymity in favor of attracting as many newcomers as possible. So maybe stumbling upon that meeting in Costa Rica was more good signage than good fortune.
Peter has visited the thatched-roof AA clubhouse in Tulum, Mexico, as well as the AA convention of New Zealand, featuring a welcome chorus of aboriginal Māori people who see striking parallels between the 12 Steps and many of their millennia-old customs and concepts.
In short, Peter’s been everywhere, man. He’s like the Johnny Cash song minus the liquor. But again: as Peter well knows and his attribution-free books exemplify, this isn’t about him.
This is about … well, us. The “we” in the we program – here, there and everywhere. Peter showcases Alcoholics Anonymous as alcoholics ubiquitous. Any recovering alcoholic even casually perusing these voluminous books realizes this as easily and as instinctively as they understand their own malady-driven distinction. From North Pole to South Pole, Peter’s pages are the polar opposite of trapped, suffocating active addiction.
The books are simply bursting with a love of life, shown through the grateful, appreciative lens of someone recovering from a uniquely world-narrowing affliction… and now, this. This fire in his belly that sent him to all corners of the globe and seemingly everywhere in between. This homage to a program that saved his life, demonstrated by documenting its ability to save the lives of countless others of all ethnicities, races, religions.
As we emerge from lockdown and get to traveling again, recovering alcoholics and addicts could do far worse than taking a page out of Peter’s books. His Global Sober Seriesshowcases a sizable slice of the wide, sober world out there, ready to be explored and embraced all the more for our previously isolated, imprisoned existence. The collection, like its anonymous author, is teeming with an energy as infectious as his dormant demons, and more intoxicating than any drink or drug.
The bottom line: Originally, each Global Sober Series book retailed for about $100. However, now reduced to $40 per title, the books make an attractive and affordable gift for an alcoholic near and dear to you. To peruse or purchase the Global Sober Series collection, visit www.global-sober-series.com.