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.

SOL: Four Months Later

Last week marked my fourth month in Spain, a milestone that three months ago I wasn’t sure I would make. I’ve been lazy in updating this blog and for that the only excuse I can offer is that I have been letting myself be consumed by life. I am learning how to simply exist and for that reason I have been negligent.

I can’t even begin to describe the events since my post in June. After the hectic week of my friend’s visit the last week of May, I decided to dive headfirst into working at the restaurant and focusing on improving interaction with my young charge. Many days I feel I am caught between two worlds; one of perpetually over-indulgent, snarky travelers and boozed up German tourists and the other of creative play with a four-year-old and testing out my maternal instincts. I wouldn’t have it any other way and both jobs provide a respite from the other. The restaurant has offered me exactly what I was looking for – cash in hand and a social life (arguably too much of a social life sometimes). The tourist season is drawing to a close and so is my contract, but I derive sweet happiness from the summer months spent as a bartender and server in Spain.

It’s hard to try and put into words the massive changes I’ve undergone while being here. I find it simultaneously rewarding and isolating to know that the people who have supported me for years will never truly be able to grasp what I have gone through. A phone call cannot describe every nuance, a picture will never encompass a night in Spain, and a message cannot use poetic words to explain each silly sentiment. I will keep these months nestled within my memory and revisit them often. In April, I thought myself foolishly in love with someone in Canada, to the point that my to-do lists were titled, “What To Accomplish While You’re Stuck in Spain.” Seriously. I promise I am not entitled, though perhaps I am a bit jaded. I am amazed at how rapidly my mindset has changed and how my priorities have rearranged themselves. While I never relish the concept of loving and losing, I have begun to see the upside of loss as a doorway to new experiences and new growth. I find myself perpetually in awe of each happy coincidence of the universe and I truly believe I am exactly where I belong.

Following that train of thought, in mid-July I emailed my boss in Canada and declined his offer to come back to work. I breathed a sigh of relief and allowed myself to melt into a European pool of possibilities. I floated on the cloud of realization that I could be here for as long as I wanted without a care in the world.

That lasted for all of twenty-three minutes until I received his response.

As it is, I do feel loyalty to the company that has fostered my growth and encouraged my travel since I was in third year of university. That said, I will be returning to Canada to complete my contract as agreed and then we will sever ties with mutual respect and understanding. Over the past few months I have realized that I am terrible at walking away from things (and people) even though I know in my gut it is time to move on. In this instance, while I am grateful for everything the company has offered me, I feel a calling elsewhere in the world and I know I would be foolish to try and ignore it. Ultimately there comes a time when you have to be honest with yourself and make choices that will potentially upset and offend. It is important to live as you want and be brave enough to pursue your dreams; life is far too short to contort yourself and try to meet someone else’s ideals. I do not for a second believe that I have my life figured out, but after years of feeling like I have been living in a cloud I finally feel free. I constantly find myself in awe of life – through good experiences or bad. I am caught between perpetually swinging forces of life and I am okay with it; I am slowly learning how to deal with each curveball and lesson thrown at me, difficult as it may be.

Case in point: two weeks ago I was in Paris eating a lunch of baguette and brie while sitting on a bench smack-dab between the Louvre and the Tuileries. I wanted to take a picture but instead I sat in awe and realized that no photo could ever do the moment justice. Fast forward to this week, where I had the sickening experience of watching a man run away with my purse, phone, keys and cash while I was helpless in the water. Not the best scenario, but amazingly I didn’t curl into a ball and sob like I would have done a few months ago. I dealt with it, learned the lesson of my own ignorant carelessness, bought a new phone and moved on. Life will never be smooth-sailing, but once you learn you possess the strength to handle each storm, it gets better.

I’m still learning something every day, both about the world and myself, and in many ways I feel I am gleaning more knowledge than I did in the past few years. It is not an exaggeration to say that my character has changed while here; I am doing, saying and wearing things that I would never dare to in Canada. It’s liberating, it’s exhausting – but every experience is wholeheartedly mine and for that reason I adore it with every fibre of my being.

In connecting with a friend from university, they pointed out that my life as I portray it on social media looks like one giant beach trip with tourist sojourns sprinkled in. In truth, it is easy to create a false aura of grandeur online and I want to emphasize that this is not something I am trying to accomplish. I have shitty days here. There are some days when I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. There have been days – weeks even – where I felt I simply could not stay and wanted to pack up and fly back to Canada. I am preaching happiness while ensconced in Spain but it isn’t one constant high. Not every day is a beach day.

I am happy for the events that lead to bringing me here. I’m grateful for all my experiences thus far and for the people I have met. Let’s recap, shall we?

Celebrating Sant Joan and Trying Not To Shoot My Face Off

Spanish people love fire. Spanish people love being loud. Ergo – Spanish people love fireworks.

Enter the Festival of Sant Joan, a midsummer holiday celebrated with relish in Spain. On June 24 everyone in Spain turns out in hordes and floods the beaches to drink, sit around bonfires and set off fireworks. My friend warned me that I was not prepared for the rambunctious celebrations, and my god he was right.

People congeal in the streets, piling makeshift bonfires high with planks of wood, kitchen chairs, tables – anything flammable, really. Coca de Sant Joan, a pastry, is also sold and eaten this night. I’m sure there is a long religious and pagan background to this event, but I will explain it to you as a local Spaniard explained it to me, “We eat. We drink. We play with fire.”

On the night of, armed with a veritable treasure trove of fireworks, we marched to the Sagrada Familia where bangers were being shot off with zero regard for safety and the pops of each new sparkler were competing to overpower the acrid smell of smoke that hung in the air. At 11:30PM the Sagrada was lit up by lights and the remains of a massive bonfire burned in the centre of the square. It was, to put it mildly, sensory overload.

Sant Joan Arsenal

Fireworks @ Sagrada

We spent a solid half hour shooting all kinds of fireworks into the centre of the square and trying to dodge the flying sparks. My friend bought terrifying fireworks with names like “XXL Destruction” and “Rampage” so I was genuinely worried about shooting my finger off. After he set off one of the huge fireworks my hesitation evaporated and I was throwing exploding firecrackers into the street with wild abandon until he had to tell me to simmer down. We were kids in a candy shop and giggling while setting off firework after firework, much to the glee of the children around us. He explained that due to the crisis in Spain people do not spend as much as they used to on fireworks, but on big nights such as Sant Joan, they will still indulge. We exhausted ourselves at Sagrada, so we wandered down to the metro to reach Barceloneta where we were hit with a mass wave of 20-somethings drinking on their way to the beach parties. Everyone piled off and hit the beach, where people were dancing to live music, drinking, watching fireworks and enjoying the night. I have never seen a celebration like Sant Joan and every Canada Day parade has paled in comparison. Why does Canada even bother trying to celebrate national holidays? Spain truly has us beat. The Spanish culture has such huge joie de vivre that the enthusiasm and pride is contagious. The night ended with vodka, falling asleep on a beach, and finally leaving Barcelona at 8AM while the city tried to recover from the night.

Sant Joan at Barceloneta!

Paris, Je T’Aime (Even When You’re a Frigid Salope)

July was an incredibly demanding month. I started working extra hours with my kid because he finished school; I took on morning shifts and full weekends at the bar and I stumbled into a job as a camp counsellor for an English summer camp, because why not?

It should come as no surprise that I was incredibly burnt out and cranky by the end of the month.

Enter Paris! A quick three day visit was exactly what I needed to do to recharge; luckily I was able to rendezvous with a friend who had never been so I stepped into the role of an inept tour guide. We managed to hit all the main tourist stops in three days, so it was well worth our time there. I love the city and I am perpetually drawn to the Eiffel Tower, however I will always be a tourist in the city, never a resident. Paris is a lover, but Barcelona is a love affair. As always, the mini-vacation went by far too quickly but it was a welcome excursion.

My favourite.

My favourite.

Somewhere In Paris...

Somewhere In Paris…

Urban Love

Macarons are better, bigger.

Macarons are better, bigger.

Follow Me...

Follow Me…

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Candids in Paris

Candids in Paris

Tuileries Garden

“If we dressed up like Quasimodo and Esmeralda I bet we would make a lot of money.”

The cost of being a tourist in Paris is much higher than Barcelona. The train from the airport to city centre is 10E, more than double the cost of metro within BCN. Luckily my travel buddy is as low maintenance as I am and was perfectly content scouring the supermarkets for cheap couscous, baguettes and brie. The only downside to our trip was the weather – we left Barcelona on July 27 while the weather was 60% humidity and about 32 degrees. We landed in Paris in our tees and shorts and did a double-take at each other – it was about 15 degrees. The entire time we were there it hovered the low-teens so I was constantly buying sweaters, but we agreed it was better to be a bit cold than sweating our buns off.

I booked my flight through eDreams.es and ended up flying with EasyJet on the way there and AirFrance on the way back. Online check-in is a godsend so I was able to slide through security and boarding without any problems. The trip back, between transport to and from the airport, boarding and flight time took about six hours, so I was exhausted and sweaty by the time I arrived in Spain, but also happy to be “home.”

Pièce de Résistance: Sex, Men, Nudity, Love & Spain

Quiero Un Amante…

I pointed out in one of my first travel posts about this trip that Spanish people are incredibly sexually liberated creatures. At my French hippie resort last year I thought I had seen it all, really, I did. I witnessed a bit of liberation and politely declined, curled up with my book entitled Healthy North American Shame and left it at that.

Enter Spain.

In a country where people are more attractive than the norm; where the language itself fellates your ears; where the liquor is cheap, the cigarettes are heavy, the beer is light and the local bars stay open late and play sensual music all night long, I suppose it should come as no surprise that everyone walks around perpetually erotically charged.

North American men (all men, really) need to take lessons from these Spanish Lotharios. With faces like damn deities and a purring language that could melt chocolate, these guys know exactly how to woo women. They are near experts at maintaining the proper balance of flirtation, compliments, confidence and eye contact. I dare any woman to come here and not perpetually swoon. A downside to this incredible seduction technique is that they simply do not know when to turn it off, and as such, it is imperative to ask mid-seduction whether or not they have a significant other. On the plus side, they are always honest, but a slight downside is that most of them already have a girlfriend and they simply don’t care. Tread carefully.

Boob Burn & #FreeTheNipple

Let’s revisit my book shall we, the one I held on to like a life preserver in France that focused on the benefits of shame and how it has been drilled into all North Americans with Puritan rigidity. I understand the logic behind decency; I know that private parts are private and the general omnipresent insistence that we keep women’s bodies sexualized only when it’s convenient for the male gaze. As such, I have become a happy deserter of N.A. shame and a firm believer in European nudity.

It doesn’t hurt that every beach along the Maresme coast has a nude beach and even the “clothed” beaches are more often than not spotted with naked people. To be honest, I’ve become desensitized to seeing nudity, an event that has likely spurred on this laissez-faire attitude. I believe we should treat our bodies less like commodities and more like our own property. Free the nipple ladies (but only if and when you want to).

That’s Amore

I truly thought I would fall in love while here. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t given the calibre of men around me, but instead I find myself in love with life and drowning in lust with everything else. I’m happier, to be honest, that I have not tethered myself to another person and as such I have been able to retain absolute freedom and independence. For all my poetic musings, I find myself a little bit in love with a lot of people, a situation I have grown to simply accept. There are too many wonderful people in the world that I have yet to meet.

Coworker Lovin'

Coworker Lovin’

I try to be suave, but at the end of the day I am still a Canadian trying to adopt European culture and as such there are a few hiccups. For instance, would a born and bred Spaniard start a romance with a Frenchman she met at work, invite him to stay with her, realize once he is at her place for three days that she loathes him, allow him to fall in love with her and then physically shove him on a plane back to his homeland?

Probably not

She would also likely be indifferent when he shows up at her work a month later, professing his intentions and offering to start a life together. A homegrown Spanish girl would handle it with an air of unaffected cool – I handled it with alcohol and anxiety, but to each their own.

Looking back, the past few months read like a menagerie of mierda, and to some extent, they have been. I wouldn’t change them for anything and I’m looking forward to what life will throw at me in the next few months.

The Motto

The Motto

Safe travels,
AS