I am back from vacation and sitting down at my desk again. It feels nice to get back into my writing routine. It was an incredible trip. I was able to hang out with some great old friends, see an incredible show, and revisit my roots. I was also able to share a celebration of the fifth anniversary of my last drink.
It is no secret that alcoholism and binge drinking are common in the restaurant business. What passes for going out for a couple drinks after a shift for some is a recognizable problem for others. I doubt any restaurant in America is without at least one person currently struggling with alcohol. I’ve never written about this topic because of an intense desire not to be a hypocrite. Two thirds of my serving career was spent looking forward to a Dewars and water or Sam Adams when I got off work.
I’m not writing this to claim any sort of superiority or to judge anyone else. I have never told anyone they need to quit drinking. That is not my call to make. Instead, I have decided to offer my experience. I do this in hopes that my story might help someone else who is struggling or give confidence to someone who has just quit.
I am not a 12 stepper. I have never been to a meeting. In fact, I violated any number of their guidelines. When I quit, I was the opposite of anonymous. I made an announcement and told anyone who would listen. I was met with a large number of doubters. This was fine because those people were around to keep me honest. For me it was about creating a huge pool of people to keep me accountable. If I slipped, I wanted to fear constantly that I was going to be caught. Those that doubted me challenged my stubbornness. This is not something you want to do to a Missouri boy. Our state animal is a mule for a reason.
That first month might have been the most boring of my life. I was never one to drink alone. I was a social drinker and anytime boredom struck, there were a number of bars full of familiar faces to visit. This part actually made me angry. The notion that the only form of entertainment I had was going to bars disturbed me. My life was boring because I had become a boring person who used alcohol as a social crutch. I also avoided most of my friends to avoid temptation. This compounded the boredom.
After about a month I reached a conclusion. I was quitting drinking, but not quitting being social. I could either go out with friend and not drink or not go out with friends and not drink. Either way drinking was not an option. If I could control my temptation, I could still do the things I did before. People would still offer me drinks, but I wouldn’t accept. I looked at alcohol much like I look at jalapeño peppers. I can accept that other people like them, but for me eating them is a terrible idea. This was only an issue when people avoided drinking in front of me. This was oddly the most powerful form of peer pressure. It is in my nature to help people have a good time. I felt guilty (and still occasionally do) for imposing on their good time. I watch people drink for a living. It has no effect on me.
About three months in I started noticing something different. I no longer worried when I saw people if I had said something to offend them last time I saw them at the bar. There was far less regrets in my life. I began to develop a sense of pride in not drinking. As weeks turned into months, it was something that I felt successful at. The biggest change was that as I met new friends they didn’t see me the way that people had in the past. They didn’t know the guy that would drunk dial them at two in the morning and try to get them to come out. They never had to try to talk me out of driving home or deal with me passing out on their couch. Soon I was being judged purely on the merits of the sober me and not my drunken transgressions.
After five years there are very few people who I see regularly who have ever seen me drink. That is why I took my vacation. I tried to spend the day with people who could remember that part of me. I have made some great friends in the meantime. I do sometimes think about having a drink. Certain things trigger the thoughts. Serving a good glass of scotch, golfing, and going to a ball game all make a drink sound good. It is not a temptation as much noting the thought crossing my mind. I know that I am only one bad choice away from losing all of the things I have worked to achieve.
There is a fear in the back of my mind that this will come across as self indulgently patting myself on the back. I assure you it is not intended as such. In real life I am actually a fairly humble person. My goal is not to make myself look good. This post is to give encouragement to anyone out there who feels like they might have a problem. It is possible to change. The benefits are greater and more far-reaching than you can see in the beginning. It starts with a decision. I can tell you from first hand experience that I have never regretted making that decision.
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