Poured Out on Paper
The Joint Health & Wellness Committee presents another perspective on how our choices to drink (or not to drink) can affect our health, our relationships, and our lives. Chris Cardone shares an intimate account on his path to choosing a life of sobriety.
I don’t quite remember the first time I got drunk, but I vividly remember the last time I did. It was my fourth time that alcohol had caused me to have a massive hallucination, and it would be my last.
Without going too deeply into WHY we start to drink (adolescent curiosity, peer pressure, boredom, self-medication), one way or another many of us drink, and while some of us drink in a healthy and social way, some of us massively lose control. An article published in 2011 in Business Insider listed bartending as one of 17 professions where you’re most likely to become an alcoholic, and 2.33 times more likely to die from alcoholism than average. (http://www.businessinsider.com/most-alcoholic-jobs-2011-10)
Over the past 32 months of sobriety, I’ve come to realize a lot about myself. For example, I drank because I liked the way it made me feel, or to put it even more honestly, it helped me hide how I was feeling about my life and myself. Booze made everything bad go away, and magnified a lot of good feelings that come along with intoxication. But it slowly took over my life, without me even noticing, and systematically became involved in many aspects of my daily life.
At first, like most, it was a social thing. Call it a “social lubricant,” “Dutch courage,” “blowing off steam,” alcohol was used during my adolescent years on the weekends in what I dubbed as “harmless fun.” But slowly, that harmless fun became more and more common. In college, my drinking schedule quickly included Wednesday and Thursday nights as well, sometimes during the day too. Drinking became part of the ritual to go out with friends or watch a sporting event. It almost became more important than what the actual planned activity was.
Then I started bartending and alcohol became my life. I wanted to know everything about it and I wanted to try all of it. It was more than just a hobby or “social lubricant.” I used alcohol to be more confident behind the bar, and then later to be more confident as a bartending competitor. As the years went on, I kept hearing a message: That in order to be “successful” I needed to be at every single tasting, at every single event, constantly out doing what is commonly referred to as “field research.” Social media bombards people in hospitality with events, new trends and causes major cases of “FOMO.” Being a New York City bartender, you don’t have to look too hard to find reasons to drink during the day as there is a constant flood of tastings, events, etc. At work, I was always present for the “staff meetings” (a moment during work where all bar staff will stop working in order to toast and have a quick shot together) and I always stayed after work for my “shift drink.” I always went out with my coworkers for post-shift libations. I felt like if I wasn’t out drinking, seeing new trends, shaking hands and kissing ass, I would become irrelevant. Sometimes, I think being irrelevant is worse than being bad at something.
So, being a hard-drinking party guy became my identity. I would often actually brag that I could “out drink anyone in the room.” It wasn’t about the quality of the alcohol anymore. It wasn’t about learning anymore. It was a major part of my everyday life. When I would travel for work or vacation, the first search would be about where to drink in that town. Every holiday had a cocktail or drink associated with it. Every sporting event had alcohol involved: a day at the beach, a picnic in the park, a late-night movie... all with a drink in hand.
I would often lie to myself to avoid the thought that I had a PROBLEM. I had a “no drinking on Sunday” policy (which I often broke due to some excuse that I would create). I would do “sober December” and use white knuckle sobriety as a way of tricking myself into believing I was actually in control. I would take the online AA test and find just one “no” answer, which, for my conscious, meant I was still in control.
I became a very high-functioning alcoholic. It’s like a tornado you can’t get out of. I would wake up most days hung over, fight through my day, go to work, start drinking again around mid-shift, finish work, have a few more drinks nearby, go home and go to sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes, I found that I wasn’t even drinking because I wanted to, but because it became such a part of the “ritual” at work.
Nobody wants to admit they are ADDICTED to anything. I used to think people with addictions were simply weak and lacked will power. I didn’t want to admit that my relationship with alcohol was destroying my marriage, that it was damaging my relationships with my children and close friends. That it was impairing my ability to do my BEST at work. That it was destroying my self-esteem and drive and overall work ethic. The craziest part for me to this day was that I never felt like I was physically addicted to alcohol. I never physically NEEDED a drink; my addiction was completely mental. Life just wasn’t fun anymore without alcohol involved.
My quitting alcohol wasn’t actually intentional. I decided to take a one-year break after my fourth hallucination (which included a four-hour long black out) while drinking on Memorial Day weekend in 2015… Mainly just to see if I could actually go an entire year without drinking. It was more of a test to see if I actually was in control or not. It wasn’t a storybook scenario either: I had my share of bad moments and experiences during the first few months of sobriety. I had a bartender yell at me for attempting to use my glass of water during a toast with a group of people I was with. I had bartenders scoff at me and roll their eyes when I ordered “just a coke.” I even had someone ask me if I had cancer once, simply because I didn’t have a drink in my hand.
What I find most fascinating about quitting drinking are the neurological factors that come with it. When I first quit, everything felt excruciatingly boring. At first, I thought I was just uncomfortable and self-conscious, but then I realized that the only thing that had changed was that I was not actually drinking. The bars hadn’t changed; same music, same people, same food, same bartenders. I did some research and found some startling information about how quitting any addiction can wreak havoc on your dopamine and serotonin levels, leaving you feeling extremely empty, even while quitting something that was so hazardous through so much of your life. It explained everything that I was personally feeling. (http://www.iflscience.com/brain/what-happens-alcoholics-brains-when-they-quit-drinking)
However, sobriety isn’t actually the point that I’m trying to make here. I’m not preaching that our industry goes dry in any way. “Sobriety is an extreme solution to an extreme problem,” says Joshua Gonzales (Owner of Thunderbird, Indianapolis and sober for over a year). What I’m suggesting is that our industry take a good hard look at ourselves and our behaviors. Each of us should take some time for self-reflection and decide whether we are “driving the bus” when it comes to our drinking habits. We should consider whether drinking behind the bar we are working at is sending the professional image and message to the general public that we are all so quick to verbally shout from the mountaintops, “Bartending is a career that should be taken as seriously as any other!” I no longer agree that partaking in such activities is conducive of that image.
We should consider the message we are sending all the new bartenders and servers and other industry members each year, who are brand new to the industry and highly impressionable. There are very few, if any other professions, that this is considered acceptable. Imagine if you saw your airline pilot doing shots in the cockpit before your fight, or your dentist drinking a cocktail before your root canal. We should take a long hard look and consider the message that social media is pushing via various channels that overindulgence is somehow considered cool and acceptable. Some people are very capable of going out for a drink every night of the week, have one, call it a night and go home. I was never that person. I lack the ability to walk away and “one more drink” always seemed like it couldn’t hurt.
Quitting drinking has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. It has vastly improved my career and my personal life. It is a long road to recovery and I’m still working on it every single day. It’s one of the best feelings that I’ve ever felt about myself. The positives that drinking gave me were heavily outweighed by the negatives it was bringing me on a daily basis. I was sucked into the whirlwind and couldn’t get out for a long time. I don’t aspire to be “Chris Cardone, Mr. Sober Bartender Guy” at all. I want my guests at my bar to drink and have a great time. My goal is to hopefully use my story as an opportunity for any and all who take the time to read this to simply take a few minutes to evaluate how much and how often they drink alcohol (or use drugs) and whether it is truly having a positive or negative effect on their lives.
Find me at: www.continuousbev.com
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