Serving Sober

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I spent alot of time with him, but not sure I would call him a friend.

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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26 Responses to Serving Sober

  1. Becky October 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    I’m really glad you made this post to your blog, David.

    As a bartender, I’ve seen scads of people who drink to excess, ones who stop drinking by choice and ones who do it by death. I’ve also seen many who stop drinking, some do the 12 steps and some don’t, but many go back to drinking again.

    Alcohol in our society (or maybe especially in KC) is a culture. Yes, it’s a social crutch, but also it is an identity. I’ve always enjoyed booze, but I found (and find) myself avoiding those who enjoy it to the point of singing the praises of being hammered. I never liked being drunk (and I’ve done it too many times in my life), and someone who wants to be that out of control scares me.

    I’m very good friends with a woman who stopped drinking (her brother didn’t and is a mess) and went to AA. There was a point at which she told me tearfully that I and one other person were the only people she once drank with who didn’t avoid her anymore. Her old drinking buddies, it seems, had become self-conscious and guilty about their consumption around her, as if her sobriety put their lack of it in the spotlight. They would apologetically come to her and confide that they should stop too, but they never did and eventually just stopped calling her. She’d walk into an old haunt and everyone would be happy to see her, but that was it – they’d all go back to their drinking friends and she’d be alone with her club soda. The bar pariah.

    People who drink too much know they do, but having others around who do the same makes it easy not to confront it. It’s denial. Having the sober one around is unpleasant. I watched as my friend came up out of that funk and I continued to go to movies and dinner and lunch with her and continued to have my glass of wine without her permission. It never bothered her that I drank in front of her and it never occurred to me that I should feel guilty for it.

    My husband once said something that resonates in my mind still: I love drinking enough that I never want to do it so much that I have to stop.

    I feel the same way about fried food sometimes. And both can kill you.

    As for your concern that this post is self-indulgent, hey – go ahead and pat yourself on the back, David! You have accomplished something mighty in your life that has allowed you to accomplish other mighty things. You deserve kudos for that from yourself and from those who like and respect you. In a city of thousands and thousands of restaurant servers, you were chosen as the BEST. I’m guessing, had you never stopped boozing, that would never have happened. Think about it this way: it’s a birthday – but it’s one that you worked hard to achieve, not one assigned to you.

    There’s a difference between being a zealot and being practical. You don’t drink, and any problems someone has with that will not be your fault. As a bartender, I applaud your resolve and your success. And as a bartender, I reserve the right to tell some beer-goggled bohunk that the guy he keeps saying “needs a shot” who insists he doesn’t want one, to lay off.

    Way to go, my friend. I admire you.

    • tipsfortips October 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

      Thanks Becky, I have been debating the topic for a while. I figured if there was ever a time to write about it, this was it.

      I can completely attest to what your friend said about how drinking buddies react. I’ve easily had 100 people come to me like this. Inevitably it causes them to eventually avoid you when drinking out of guilt. Which totally sucks because they came to me. No need to be embarrassed in front of me. This process has made me painfully aware of how judgmental some people can be in encouraging sobriety. I never want to be one of those people. To each their own and nobody can really change unless they want to. I was ready. When someone is ready, I try to help however I can.

      That award, this blog, the book, my job, I probably could not have kept most of it afloat back in those days.

  2. Becky October 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

    I’m really glad you made this post to your blog, David.

    As a bartender, I’ve seen scads of people who drink to excess, ones who stop drinking by choice and ones who do it by death. I’ve also seen many who stop drinking, some do the 12 steps and some don’t, but many go back to drinking again.

    Alcohol in our society (or maybe especially in KC) is a culture. Yes, it’s a social crutch, but also it is an identity. I’ve always enjoyed booze, but I found (and find) myself avoiding those who enjoy it to the point of singing the praises of being hammered. I never liked being drunk (and I’ve done it too many times in my life), and someone who wants to be that out of control scares me.

    I’m very good friends with a woman who stopped drinking (her brother didn’t and is a mess) and went to AA. There was a point at which she told me tearfully that I and one other person were the only people she once drank with who didn’t avoid her anymore. Her old drinking buddies, it seems, had become self-conscious and guilty about their consumption around her, as if her sobriety put their lack of it in the spotlight. They would apologetically come to her and confide that they should stop too, but they never did and eventually just stopped calling her. She’d walk into an old haunt and everyone would be happy to see her, but that was it – they’d all go back to their drinking friends and she’d be alone with her club soda. The bar pariah.

    People who drink too much know they do, but having others around who do the same makes it easy not to confront it. It’s denial. Having the sober one around is unpleasant. I watched as my friend came up out of that funk and I continued to go to movies and dinner and lunch with her and continued to have my glass of wine without her permission. It never bothered her that I drank in front of her and it never occurred to me that I should feel guilty for it.

    My husband once said something that resonates in my mind still: I love drinking enough that I never want to do it so much that I have to stop.

    I feel the same way about fried food sometimes. And both can kill you.

    As for your concern that this post is self-indulgent, hey – go ahead and pat yourself on the back, David! You have accomplished something mighty in your life that has allowed you to accomplish other mighty things. You deserve kudos for that from yourself and from those who like and respect you. In a city of thousands and thousands of restaurant servers, you were chosen as the BEST. I’m guessing, had you never stopped boozing, that would never have happened. Think about it this way: it’s a birthday – but it’s one that you worked hard to achieve, not one assigned to you.

    There’s a difference between being a zealot and being practical. You don’t drink, and any problems someone has with that will not be your fault. As a bartender, I applaud your resolve and your success. And as a bartender, I reserve the right to tell some beer-goggled bohunk that the guy he keeps saying “needs a shot” who insists he doesn’t want one, to lay off.

    Way to go, my friend. I admire you.

    • tipsfortips October 14, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

      Thanks Becky, I have been debating the topic for a while. I figured if there was ever a time to write about it, this was it.

      I can completely attest to what your friend said about how drinking buddies react. I’ve easily had 100 people come to me like this. Inevitably it causes them to eventually avoid you when drinking out of guilt. Which totally sucks because they came to me. No need to be embarrassed in front of me. This process has made me painfully aware of how judgmental some people can be in encouraging sobriety. I never want to be one of those people. To each their own and nobody can really change unless they want to. I was ready. When someone is ready, I try to help however I can.

      That award, this blog, the book, my job, I probably could not have kept most of it afloat back in those days.

  3. Bobbie October 14, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    One of your best post, David. Thought provoking, as always.

  4. Bobbie October 14, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    One of your best post, David. Thought provoking, as always.

  5. Amber October 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Thank you for posting this. I served for nearly five years, most of that as a cocktail waitress. During those years, I was “That Girl”, the female version of what you described. I was the drunk dialer, the one who got mouthy and said mean things, the one who woke up the next afternoon and wondered if some one would no longer talk to me. And I hated it. But, I too felt that that was all KC had to offer, and that was how my circle of server and bartender friends socialized. I just could not control the alcohol like everyone else.

    I have not quit drinking completely, as you have, though I have managed to know when to saw when. For me, it was being sick of all those feelings of dread when I ran into the people I had gone out with the night before, the terrible hangovers, and the realization that I was laughing at these wasted, foolish girls in the bar, when I used to be that girl. I do not mean this to try to demean your post in anyway, rather, I want you to know that I can relate. I, myself, am glad to see some one else who has been there.

    I do not think at all that you were “patting yourself on the back” with this post, either, but I think that you should. It is an amazing thing to be able to look at yourself and know that you do not want to be that person, that it is not who you really are.

    • Becky October 15, 2010 at 10:55 am #

      Way to fire, Amber! Nicely said and you should pat yourself on the back as well for knowing you don’t want to be that person. It’s a hard choice to make and an even harder one to maintain, so congratulations to you too.

      I’ve watched many a person who says “when” then gets pressured into setting the bar a little lower. As many of us as there are who are supportive of the nondrinker, there are a whole host of those who not only aren’t supportive, they’re destructive about it.

  6. Amber October 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Thank you for posting this. I served for nearly five years, most of that as a cocktail waitress. During those years, I was “That Girl”, the female version of what you described. I was the drunk dialer, the one who got mouthy and said mean things, the one who woke up the next afternoon and wondered if some one would no longer talk to me. And I hated it. But, I too felt that that was all KC had to offer, and that was how my circle of server and bartender friends socialized. I just could not control the alcohol like everyone else.

    I have not quit drinking completely, as you have, though I have managed to know when to saw when. For me, it was being sick of all those feelings of dread when I ran into the people I had gone out with the night before, the terrible hangovers, and the realization that I was laughing at these wasted, foolish girls in the bar, when I used to be that girl. I do not mean this to try to demean your post in anyway, rather, I want you to know that I can relate. I, myself, am glad to see some one else who has been there.

    I do not think at all that you were “patting yourself on the back” with this post, either, but I think that you should. It is an amazing thing to be able to look at yourself and know that you do not want to be that person, that it is not who you really are.

    • Becky October 15, 2010 at 10:55 am #

      Way to fire, Amber! Nicely said and you should pat yourself on the back as well for knowing you don’t want to be that person. It’s a hard choice to make and an even harder one to maintain, so congratulations to you too.

      I’ve watched many a person who says “when” then gets pressured into setting the bar a little lower. As many of us as there are who are supportive of the nondrinker, there are a whole host of those who not only aren’t supportive, they’re destructive about it.

  7. the kid sister October 14, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Well done.

  8. the kid sister October 14, 2010 at 6:43 pm #

    Well done.

  9. Brenda October 14, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    So very proud of you. Excellent post, but more importantly, excellent choice to a better more fulfilling life

  10. Brenda October 14, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    So very proud of you. Excellent post, but more importantly, excellent choice to a better more fulfilling life

  11. Dad October 15, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Proud of you

  12. Dad October 15, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Proud of you

  13. happy with sobriety October 23, 2010 at 2:52 am #

    David,

    Thank you so much for your story. I was searching for information on sobriety and found your blog. Why am I out here researching sobriety? Because I want to know if I am truly the anomaly my research on alcohol addiction is leading me to believe. I quit drinking on my own some 8 years ago and never thought much of it. But today I have a loved one struggling with life wrecking alcohol abuse and relating and counseling him using my own experience hasn’t helped so far. This loved one is currently, voluntarily in a residential treatment program (one promoting 12 step). Most information being presented to us by the pros is depressing — poor prognosis for success without relapse, etc. But that so contradicts my own personal experience with alcohol I sat down tonight to find other stories similar to mine.

    I stopped drinking myself in 2002 after evolving into a nightly heavy drinker, which I maintained for about 6 years. Coming home and fixing my first cocktail had become the highlight of my day, eventually going to bed drunk every night, waking up hung over and full of remorse every morning, and swearing I wouldn’t do it again today, but at 5:00 p.m. doing it again anyway. My family & friends were – many still are – lovers of happy hour. I wanted to quit it for as long as I did it, but it was easy enough to forget when happy hour came.

    On the night I took the decision to quit drinking, I was standing in my back yard with drink number 2 or 3 in my hand, contemplating the fragileness of life. We had learned on this day that a friend of ours had been tragically killed when he valiantly stopped to help a woman he’d seen fall out of a moving car. Turns out she was fleeing from her deranged ex-husband. The madman shot and killed our friend, wounded his ex-wife as she ran away, and then shot and killed himself – yes, it was really, really bad. I had the best excuse I’d ever had to get drunk that night and I was proceeding to do so – but it suddenly struck me that I had become a drunk as my way of taking a daily vacation from the stresses of life. But the reality was that I was MISSING life, just as surely as my now dead friend was missing his. I realized with complete relief that what I needed more than anything was to be sober… sober for every minute of the rest of my life. I stood there and remembered myself before I’d started my alcohol vacations. I had not always needed alcohol to have fun or be relaxed. I faced the challenges of my life just fine as a sober person – faced them quite better than as a drunk. Drinking didn’t do one damn positive thing for my life. So I quit, that night. And, as apparently unusual as it is, I’ve never craved another drink. I didn’t announce my decision – not even to my husband, who still drinks. Of course he noticed, and we have talked about it many times since. Many of my family and friends drink alcohol and I still enjoy their company and they mine. I can go to events in bars and sit happily sipping my diet coke. Sometimes I’m with people who drink to excess and I don’t judge them (well most of the time I don’t – but with certain special people it’s more difficult not to). I’m just glad I won’t be the one to wake up hung over. No one has ever pressured me to have a drink – heck, I can’t be pressured to have a drink. I never want to feel alcohol numbing my senses again. No matter what is happening in my life, joyous, boring, or tragic, I am experiencing it all stone cold sober and so happy for it.

    We can only pray that our loved one will have a similar awakening (without the tragic loss of a friend, thank you very much) or experience what the “experts” call a “spontaneous remission,” or any kind of remission. I don’t care how he gets there, I just pray he gets there. I just read a really interesting treatise on the effectiveness (lack thereof) of AA and 12 step programs. Here if you are interested: http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-effectiveness.html. It’s a really long, critical perspective. The whole website seems to be dedicated to criticism of AA and similar recovery programs. I wonder what’s driving this person’s passion?

    Anyway, best of luck to you in your wonderful life journey. Thanks again for sharing your story, which prompted me to write mine. ;^)

    • tipsfortips October 23, 2010 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      I read quite a bit from the orange papers back in the day. I can relate to his hostility towards 12 step programs. The justice system has handed over it’s responsibility to 12 step folks in my state. It was frustrating to have these people tell me I couldn’t stop on my own as I was adding up months of sobriety. I don’t believe I am powerless to control my drinking unless I am being water-boarded with a bottle of vodka. I also am not a fan of the notion that relapse is part of recovery. There is a lot of good in 12 Step programs. I did several of the steps myself on my own. I am just another voice out here saying it is not the only way to stop.

  14. happy with sobriety October 23, 2010 at 2:52 am #

    David,

    Thank you so much for your story. I was searching for information on sobriety and found your blog. Why am I out here researching sobriety? Because I want to know if I am truly the anomaly my research on alcohol addiction is leading me to believe. I quit drinking on my own some 8 years ago and never thought much of it. But today I have a loved one struggling with life wrecking alcohol abuse and relating and counseling him using my own experience hasn’t helped so far. This loved one is currently, voluntarily in a residential treatment program (one promoting 12 step). Most information being presented to us by the pros is depressing — poor prognosis for success without relapse, etc. But that so contradicts my own personal experience with alcohol I sat down tonight to find other stories similar to mine.

    I stopped drinking myself in 2002 after evolving into a nightly heavy drinker, which I maintained for about 6 years. Coming home and fixing my first cocktail had become the highlight of my day, eventually going to bed drunk every night, waking up hung over and full of remorse every morning, and swearing I wouldn’t do it again today, but at 5:00 p.m. doing it again anyway. My family & friends were – many still are – lovers of happy hour. I wanted to quit it for as long as I did it, but it was easy enough to forget when happy hour came.

    On the night I took the decision to quit drinking, I was standing in my back yard with drink number 2 or 3 in my hand, contemplating the fragileness of life. We had learned on this day that a friend of ours had been tragically killed when he valiantly stopped to help a woman he’d seen fall out of a moving car. Turns out she was fleeing from her deranged ex-husband. The madman shot and killed our friend, wounded his ex-wife as she ran away, and then shot and killed himself – yes, it was really, really bad. I had the best excuse I’d ever had to get drunk that night and I was proceeding to do so – but it suddenly struck me that I had become a drunk as my way of taking a daily vacation from the stresses of life. But the reality was that I was MISSING life, just as surely as my now dead friend was missing his. I realized with complete relief that what I needed more than anything was to be sober… sober for every minute of the rest of my life. I stood there and remembered myself before I’d started my alcohol vacations. I had not always needed alcohol to have fun or be relaxed. I faced the challenges of my life just fine as a sober person – faced them quite better than as a drunk. Drinking didn’t do one damn positive thing for my life. So I quit, that night. And, as apparently unusual as it is, I’ve never craved another drink. I didn’t announce my decision – not even to my husband, who still drinks. Of course he noticed, and we have talked about it many times since. Many of my family and friends drink alcohol and I still enjoy their company and they mine. I can go to events in bars and sit happily sipping my diet coke. Sometimes I’m with people who drink to excess and I don’t judge them (well most of the time I don’t – but with certain special people it’s more difficult not to). I’m just glad I won’t be the one to wake up hung over. No one has ever pressured me to have a drink – heck, I can’t be pressured to have a drink. I never want to feel alcohol numbing my senses again. No matter what is happening in my life, joyous, boring, or tragic, I am experiencing it all stone cold sober and so happy for it.

    We can only pray that our loved one will have a similar awakening (without the tragic loss of a friend, thank you very much) or experience what the “experts” call a “spontaneous remission,” or any kind of remission. I don’t care how he gets there, I just pray he gets there. I just read a really interesting treatise on the effectiveness (lack thereof) of AA and 12 step programs. Here if you are interested: http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-effectiveness.html. It’s a really long, critical perspective. The whole website seems to be dedicated to criticism of AA and similar recovery programs. I wonder what’s driving this person’s passion?

    Anyway, best of luck to you in your wonderful life journey. Thanks again for sharing your story, which prompted me to write mine. ;^)

    • tipsfortips October 23, 2010 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      I read quite a bit from the orange papers back in the day. I can relate to his hostility towards 12 step programs. The justice system has handed over it’s responsibility to 12 step folks in my state. It was frustrating to have these people tell me I couldn’t stop on my own as I was adding up months of sobriety. I don’t believe I am powerless to control my drinking unless I am being water-boarded with a bottle of vodka. I also am not a fan of the notion that relapse is part of recovery. There is a lot of good in 12 Step programs. I did several of the steps myself on my own. I am just another voice out here saying it is not the only way to stop.

  15. yellowcat October 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    Congrats on 5 years sober!

    I’m not much of a drinker, but I understand what a struggle it is to avoid alcohol in the restaurant industry. I’ve had to stop being friends with coworkers because of their drinking and the problems it causes.

  16. yellowcat October 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    Congrats on 5 years sober!

    I’m not much of a drinker, but I understand what a struggle it is to avoid alcohol in the restaurant industry. I’ve had to stop being friends with coworkers because of their drinking and the problems it causes.

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