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Doug Clark: Recovering alcoholic helps others find ‘pure life’

Shawn Kingsbury, left, and Rich Kraiker stand in the living room of a Pura Vida Recovery house in the South Perry District and talk about the next step in the program Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. Kingsbury started Pura Vida Recovery, a program that blends physical fitness, yoga and other tools to help addicts progress with their recovery. The house will eventually hold several young men who will live and work in the program. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

During his career as a professional drunk, Shawn Kingsbury didn’t mess around. He attacked the bottle like a heavyweight battling for a championship belt.

All that effort paid off, too.

Like with visits to detox, for example, and daylong blackouts. There was an assault charge from a bar fight and tickets for driving under the influence.

All the broken relationships – brutal!

Eventually, thank God, Kingsbury found help. He sobered up. And something truly amazing happened.

Kingsbury didn’t lose any of his hard-charging ways, that’s just the way he’s wired.

He just started expending all that energy and passion in a positive direction: helping others as mired in addiction as he once was.

“This is my life’s work,” the 38-year-old declared while we stood squinting in the Friday morning sunshine outside 527 S. Cannon St.

The beige stucco building that bears this address is the brand-new headquarters of Pura Vida Recovery. A haven for alcoholics and drug addicts, Pura Vida opened two years ago this month. (Check out for details.)

I met Kingsbury on a cold January day in 2015.

Column bells went off when I heard that Pura Vida’s recovering alcoholic creator earned a paycheck by tending bar at a fine downtown restaurant.

That struck me as more than a bit, um, ironic.

But “drinking destroyed everything I ever cared about,” Kingsbury told me, adding that it was “no punch line. I am a bartender.”

Pura Vida was then located in a semi-shabby building on Monroe Street. Today, so much has changed, including Kingsbury’s line of work.

For starters, he’s not a bartender anymore. Kingsbury is a project manager and carpenter who is helping build the exciting new restaurant and whiskey bar inside Spokane’s historic downtown Cracker Building.

The success of Pura Vida Recovery allowed for an upgrade in locations, and more.

It’s been “a crazy time of growth,” said Kingsbury, adding that in a week 45 volunteers will show up to teach classes or help with various projects.

“We’ll have a month where we’ll see 500 people.”

The big brainstorm came after Kingsbury ran from the chaos his drinking had caused in Spokane.

His travels took him to Portland, Maine, where he woke up one day on a park bench following a blackout. Kingsbury found that he had soiled his pants.

If that’s not hitting bottom, it has to be close.

A “super dark place,” Kingsbury said of that time.

Things got brighter. While living in a Portland group home with 16 other men, the former football star for Shadle Park High School began to play with an idea.

He dreamed of one day building a program beyond meetings.

Experience told him that a pathway to a clean and better life could be found through a holistic approach that included physical activities like hiking and working out, learning to eat better, practicing yoga and meditation, reading good books and developing camaraderie with others.

Kingsbury called this Pura Vida, which literally means “pure life” or “full of life.”

The “power of positivity, I believe, can lead to sober living,” he said. “Once people find hope they can see what life can be like for them.”

Or as one supporter said on the PVR Facebook page: “Pura Vida is about living life to its fullest potential and I love it.”

Another stated, “This non-profit is changing the lives of many residents of Spokane.”

The new facility is a major step up. Pura Vida Recovery occupies half of a 5,600-square-foot building. There is room for meetings, classes, a kitchen area and a serious “Warrior Room” for workouts.

In December, Kingsbury said, PVR will be able to assume the lease for the building’s other half.

The space may be used for a conference room, a place to make T-shirts and a healthy cafe. Kingsbury also intends to turn the parking lot into an urban garden.

But wait, there’s more. On Thursday, Kingsbury and PVR member Rich Kraiker met me at an orange brick rancher on the South Hill.

Kraiker and Joel Rabe, another member, recently bought the home with the idea to turn it into Pura Vida’s first Optimal Recovery House.

The plan is to have six or seven Pura Vida members living and working there by October.

“This isn’t going to be just a place to keep people from not drinking,” Kraiker said. “This is a place to build future leaders in the community.”

The home’s spacious backyard will be used for another vegetable garden. The garage is big enough for a modest carpentry shop. The place even comes with a sparkling swimming pool.

Pura Vida’s success and growth doesn’t come as any surprise to Randy Melcher, a retired businessman.

After reading my original column on Pura Vida, Melcher said he called Kingsbury and set up an appointment.

To say that he liked what he saw would be a gross understatement.

“Shawn’s heart is exactly where he says it is,” Melcher said. “He’s committed 100 percent to helping in the recovery process for people.”

Melcher became one of Pura Vida’s founding donors and a real fan.

“I’ve never run into a guy who thinks as broadly as Shawn does,” added Melcher. “And, believe me, nothing stands in his way.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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