SOL: Bartending & The Rise of “Sober Curious”

I was 13 years old the first time I drank alcohol. The entirety of the event is a blur but I remember vomiting in camaraderie behind the bushes with my friend and gargling mouthwash before my mom came to pick me up from the party. I didn’t altogether enjoy the experience, so it was several years before I picked up another bottle.

By the time I was 17 I started drinking again in earnest and it immediately became evident that I had a pattern of problem drinking. I was often blacking out before we left the pre-drink yet carrying on throughout the night only to have a friend inform me of my antics the next day. Over the next decade I dreaded the mornings where I woke up after a night out and couldn’t remember how I got to bed. At times there would be serious repercussions and I knew I had to reign myself in: nearly drowning in Cuba after double-fisting too many G&T’s, a blacked out break-up I could never recover from, waking up with a cut-up eye and lost wallet or landing myself in the emerg after a night out for Halloween. In the North American narrative of drinking culture, these are all seen as part of the trade-off of drinking “too much” but in hindsight, I had a lot of the red flags of alcoholism. No one, aside from my parents, ever voiced concern about my drinking habits.

Statistically speaking, more than four drinks in the span of two hours is considered binge drinking – I called that a Friday night pre-drink. I am sure there exists, somewhere in the infamy of video, a drunken 20 year-old me loudly screeching this into a friend’s camera as he was making a video essay on student drinking. It seems he was more self-aware than I was at that point.

I wasn’t completely unaware of the issues my drinking presented. More than once I said the phrase we all revert to in the throes of regret or just a terrific hangover: “I don’t ever want to drink again.”

Needless to say, I got right back on that horse throughout high school, uni, and my subsequent trips to Europe. It was only once I started bartending that I started to see alcohol through a different lens.

It wasn’t my intention, but life is strange, so as of now I manage and run a successful bar in the Mediterranean. When I first started, part of my training was a taste-test of each and every bottle we stock so that I could better understand what I was serving and the nuances in each alcohol. I used to down Smirnoff Watermelon like it was a joke, yet here I am explaining to people the subtleties in botanicals and what makes a gin “herbal” versus “aromatic.” The irony is not lost on me.

It was commonplace for staff to split a few drinks during a shift, or do a chupito when the crowd started to pick up to allow us to keep momentum and not get stressed. It felt like it was simply a part of bartending culture to imbibe in what you serve. Would you buy weed from someone who doesn’t smoke? Same concept, or, as Kanye infamously said: “Never trust a bartender that don’t drink.”

After a few months of watching people get utterly destroyed on the other side of the bar, I started to feel uncomfortable about drinking. Just a twinge, but enough to make me start questioning and reflecting on my own drinking past. I witnessed a close friend in complete blackout and I watched in pain as parts of their personality completely shut-down. I knew I had been in their position more times than I could count and I resolved to try and avoid the slippery slope drinking presented. The problem I found was that once I hit a certain point of drunk I could no longer stop myself from drinking and I would spiral down the rabbit hole of intoxication. Shortly after my partner and I took over control of the bar, we nixed the two drinks per night at work and stopped going out for drinks on our days off “just because”: I noticed within a couple of weeks that my mood had started to improve, along with my skin, weight, digestion and sleeping patterns.

Almost a year down the road of imbibing rarely and in smaller quantities, I see a massive change in my entire being after consuming alcohol in any form. After one or two drinks, I wake up the next day feeling run-down. Not necessarily hungover, but I can tell that I do not have the full potential of my capabilities. I find alcohol’s effect on the mind and body unsettling, even more so because it has become such a socially acceptable poison.

There is a huge rise now in what British journalist Ruby Warrington has dubbed as “sober curious.” In the era of meditation, self-awareness and the general push towards aging healthier, more millennials are now viewing alcohol as harmful as cigarettes; according to a report by Bon Appetît, the market for low/non-alcoholic beverages is expected to expand 32% by 2022. The boost in sales demand for non-alcoholic drinks cannot be attributed solely to recovering alcoholics; I believe the shift is driven by those who want to be able to socialize, but feel their mental clarity stay at 100% rather than wither over the course of the night.

Overall, abstaining from alcohol while surrounded by alcohol has proven to be an easier task than expected. Every now and again, the urge to drink will crop up out of nowhere, but it is almost always easily identifiable as a trigger from another cause, whether it be stress, anxiety or boredom. It has become easier to turn to drinking water or a tonic water with lime, which I have found delivers the same initial jolt of satisfaction from alcohol. Being a sober bartender is never discussed with clients as it is easy to simply excuse yourself from proffered drinks by simply saying, “I don’t drink at work.” It doesn’t help the atmosphere to have a teetotaler waxing poetic about all the damage drinking causes. Instead, I simply do my job and help people choose their drinks and enjoy their experience. Cutting out alcohol doesn’t have to be as socially devastating as you expect and more often than not, people will respect your decision to cut back or stop altogether.

Are you interested in the sober curious movement? Please leave any thoughts below!

Please note: if you feel that you need help to manage your drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous has locations around the world and are always available to lend help.

2 thoughts on “SOL: Bartending & The Rise of “Sober Curious”

  1. It’s been a tumultuous journey to this epiphany-yet it’s a noble awakening and I’m proud of you for getting to where you are and sharing your insights.

  2. Can’t tell you how much I respect and appreciate you sharing this. I’m confident you’ve shared the experience so many others have also had. I’m glad your risky drinking experiences didn’t end in total tragedy-though it sounds that many times they might have done. I hope that your post allows others to feel empowered to also be sober curious. In this era of health consciousness it’s a good time for a new lease on life! Love to you!

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