Enough About You Professionally

“Enough about you professionally. I see from your resume that you write ‘SavoyStomp.com’. Tell me about the Aviation Cocktail. I’ve been trying to perfect it…”

One of the biggest challenges to stopping drinking, well, more accurately, continuing to not drink, is redefining your life without alcohol, and finding the acceptable parameters for interactions in your life, which might, in the past have included alcohol.

One method is to stop hanging out with drinkers when you stop drinking.

However, for most of us, after, say, 30 years of drinking socially with friends and family, it’s pretty impossible to completely isolate yourself from alcohol and drinkers.

I mean, unless you pick up and move yourself to a Muslim country and start a new life, you’re going to have to talk to your friends and family, and you’re probably going to have to talk about drinks and drinking. Not to mention deal with people drinking around you when you’re not.

I may have a particular problem here, as, for most of the last 10 or 15 years much of my identity, and many of my interactions with friends, have revolved around a singular obsession with cocktails, spirits, and drinking.

So, frankly, with a lot of people I know, we don’t have much else to talk about besides booze and cocktails.

And, also, I do still know A LOT about booze and cocktails.

I didn’t forget everything I know about alcoholic drinks because I stopped drinking, (though I did try a bit to forget and avoid those conversations for a while.)

I don’t have any real answers.

But it’s something I’m going to be thinking about, and writing about for this blog.

Imitation of Life

A lot of the available non-child, non-alcoholic beverages in the US are alcohol-free versions of boozy beverages.

Non-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic wine, and such.

I am ambivalent about most.

First, as a non-drinker, I don’t super want to be reminded of what I am missing in alcoholic beverages when I drink a non-alcoholic beverage.

With every non-alcoholic wine I’ve ever tried, about all I’ve ever thought is, “Wow, this is a suckier version of wine, without the alcohol. I’d rather drink grape juice.”

Likewise, with non-alcoholic beer, while some are actually pretty OK, the point of drinking non-alcoholic beer is sort of lost on me.

As my friend Camper English once said about the non-alcoholic beverages at a certain tiki bar, all the calories and none of the buzz.

I guess part of it is, imitations always fall short.

The best non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic beverages ever get is “OK”.

They’re never “great” beverages.

And to get back to my issues with a specific example, I like sparkling tonic water with a squeezed lime wedge, but mostly drinking them reminds me that I miss the Gin and Tonics I used to drink. And frankly, a tonic and lime is just a pale imitation of a Gin and Tonic.

So that’s not SUPER ideal. For a lot of reasons.

So, I propose some rules for non-alcoholic beverages:

First, and foremost, they must be tasty on their own merits. They should be great drinks without alcohol.

Second, please leave off reminding me of alcoholic beverages with pale imitations.

Third, they should not be over rich. My main rule for adult beverages is they should be “more-ish”.

You should get to the bottom of your drink and say, “That was tasty! Maybe I’ll have another!”

Not, “That was kind of tasty to start, but I could barely finish it by the time I got to the bottom, and now I don’t feel like drinking anything else. Or even eating my dinner.”

Tips for a Successful Detox-uary

A lot of people choose to not drink for a month a year, and a lot of those people choose January to do it.

Worn out by the holiday parties, drinking, and eating to excess, a Dry January seems almost like a relief.

When I was drinking, I also used to try to do this.

(Of course, nearly every year I would find some excuse to start drinking again after a couple weeks.)

As a now somewhat seasoned non-drinker, here is some advice for making it through January.

If you are a heavy drinker, and stop drinking, the first month is the worst. Maybe the worst part of the whole experience.

(If you are a really heavy drinker, be careful. Talk to your Doctor first. It may make more sense to taper off, or just reduce your intake for January, rather than to go cold turkey. Be honest with yourself.)

And the first few days of the first week will be awful, especially if you overdid it on New Years’ Eve.

(I can never decide where the apostrophe goes on New Years Eve. is it after or before the ‘S’?)

Eventually, after the really bad part, you’ll get to a sort of “up” place, after a week or two.

I believe AA calls this the “Rosy Glow” period.

Then afterwards, you will level off, things will start seem back to normal again.

This is when you will really start to crave drinking again.

That is just the way it works.

Some tips:

If you are committed to a successful alcohol “Detoxuary”, don’t be too hard on yourself about sugar/calories.

Your body’s metabolism is going to be seriously missing the empty calories from alcohol and you are going to have all sorts of cravings. A little ice cream (probably) isn’t going to kill you. For the record, I have found it harder to deal with my body’s craving for the empty calories related to drinking, than my craving for alcohol itself. Metabolism is very powerful, once it has been trained.

Find something else to do instead of drinking. Go for hikes. Watch movies. Re-take up an instrument you enjoyed playing as a kid. Join an athletic league. Go to the gym. Exercise. In general, I cannot stress enough how important it is to find something, anything, else to occupy yourself and your mind instead of drinking.

Avoid situations which you previously associated with drinking. Go to the cafe instead of the bar. If you drink at home, change up your routine. Skip your serious drinking friends for a month, they will just rib you and give you a hard time. They’ll still be there at the bar after your “Drynuary”. I guarantee it. Though, they will probably still make fun of you for calling your exercise in abstinence “Drynuary”.

If you can’t avoid situations which you previously associated with drinking, be honest and forthright with people about not drinking. Don’t lie or try to sneak around the subject. It doesn’t work, people who drink are super aware of what other people are drinking. If you waffle about it, or try to lie, in my experience, you’ll just end up drinking one way or the other. If you’re honest, you’ll probably be surprised by how supportive your friends will be.

As I’ve mentioned before, find a substitute drink, which you enjoy enough to imbibe as frequently as you drank beer/wine/spirits/cocktails. I don’t know what works for you, but I currently like an equal parts mix of Lime LaCroix and Cloudy Apple Juice/Cider with a splash of Knudsen Just Cranberry. Have your drink on hand at all times. Bring it with you to parties. Take it to picnics.

If you are in a relationship, if it is at all possible, make not drinking a team effort. Make up charts. Cross of the calendar. Whatever you need to do, but you will have a much better chance at success if your partner isn’t next to you on the couch with a Mai Tai or Martini tempting you with a drink. If you can’t convince them to join you, tell them you would prefer if they didn’t drink around you for a month. But don’t shame them into closet drinking, or distance them from you. Keep the lines of communication open.

Also, just sort of FYI, it’s weird, but after not drinking for a bit, you may find you are hyper sensitive to the smells associated with drinks and drinkers. Things you never noticed while drinking. The breath and smell of people who have been drinking, that sort of thing. That is what I’ve found, anyway. It’s fun, and you too can start playing the “hand sanitizer user or vodka drunk” game on public transit.

Best of luck and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up a bit. You can always try again next year (or next month)!

Keep it positive!

New Years’ Eve, 12.31.2016

Pearls Before Swine cartoon for 12.31.2016 by Stephan Pastis.
Pearls Before Swine cartoon for 12.31.2016 by Stephan Pastis.

Getting over major events and holidays where you previously drank heavily are always a bit tough while sober, especially the first few times.

The anxieties leading up to these events or holidays are the worst part, at least for me.

Finding out whether or not you can get through a New Years’ Eve without drinking, for example, is a big one.

Sure, for every New Years’ Eve from, say, 1983-2013, I would either work, get plastered, or some combination thereof.

That doesn’t mean I can’t do something else today.

That’s all I have to say to myself.

That, and, not drink.

I recently came across this article on NPR, by Sarah Hepola, which was pretty good.

Eat, Don’t Drink And Still Be Merry: Staying Sober Through The Holidays

She takes a while to get there, but I like her closing sentiments a lot:

But in time, I got used to this new world, and more accepting of myself. I still go to holiday parties, although I tend to arrive early and leave when everyone starts talking really loudly, but I don’t struggle with that sense of radioactive weirdness anymore. I feel at home in my body, and in the world, in a way I did not for many years.

So if you’re struggling to stay sober, hang in there. Because that feeling of comfort — of no longer being wracked by shame for who you are or what you did — is a gift the bottle can never give you. But it is a gift you can give yourself.

With only two years of New Years’ Sober Eves under my belt, I’m still working on it, but I feel like I’m getting there.

But, back to today, 12.31.2016.

The best things about New Years’ Eve are surrounding yourself with good friends and family, hanging out, talking, eating, and agreeing to work together towards a better next year.

We just have to try.

An-Ti-Ci-Pa-A-Tion

The worst part of not drinking is anticipating events and circumstances where I would previously have drunk copiously.

The days, and moments, leading up to these events, often find me grumpy and anxious, as I wonder what I will do if I don’t drink.

Once I get in the events, though, I find, they are pretty much the same, drinking or not.

I just have to let go of the compulsion to walk around with a beer, and the fear that I won’t be liked if I’m not imbibing.

It’s not a big deal.

I’m the same anti-social misanthrope, whether I drink or not.

We’ve Got 30 Years, That’s All We’ve Got

Back at the dawn of time, when I was young, the drinking age was 18.

Actually, it had changed to 21, but somehow, I ended up “grandfathered in” to the 18 Year Old Drinking Age.

To celebrate turning 18, I went out and bought myself a six pack of Augsburger Dark, hid it in the garage, and over the next several weeks, attempted to teach myself to like dark beer.

I turned 48 a few years ago.

I’d been cutting down on the drinking, sporadically, for the last few years.

At 48, I just thought, 30 years, that’s plenty. Maybe it is time to take a break.

I tried off and on, and probably did drink quite a bit less, but I still had the odd bout of binge drinking.

In fact, drinking less overall, nearly made the occasional binge drinking almost inevitable. Once you start surrendering your tolerance, (which was never really much of a tolerance to start out with,) then practically any drinking ends up being binge drinking.

Made it to 50 towards the end of 2014, still thinking, “enough drinking is enough drinking”.

But, the holidays are a hard time to stop drinking.

However, my wife and I usually take January off from drinking anyway, or at least try to. I don’t think, especially since I started bartending, that I’ve ever made it more than a couple weeks, without drinking at all.

So I thought, well, I at least need to prove it to myself that I CAN not drink.

I’m a grown up, I should be able to handle it, if I can handle it.

So, starting with January 1, 2015, I’ve been dry.

Be Always Drunken

“Be always drunken.
Nothing else matters:
that is the only question.
If you would not feel
the horrible burden of Time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken continually.

Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
But be drunken.

And if sometimes,
on the stairs of a palace,
or on the green side of a ditch,
or in the dreary solitude of your own room,
you should awaken
and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you,
ask of the wind,
or of the wave,
or of the star,
or of the bird,
or of the clock,
of whatever flies,
or sighs,
or rocks,
or sings,
or speaks,
ask what hour it is;
and the wind,
wave,
star,
bird,
clock will answer you:
“It is the hour to be drunken!”

Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, 1864

If Baudelaire’s “Be Always Drunken” is one of your favorite poems, basically, ever, what do you do when you quit drinking?

If you’ve spent the last 10 years as something of a cocktail & spirits expert and a bartender, what do you do, if you don’t drink?

I mean, for more than 5 years, the cocktails of the Savoy Cocktail Book were a fairly single minded obsession for me. Getting (or making) the ingredients, making the drinks, photographing the drinks, writing the SavoyStomp.com Blog, hosting Savoy Nights at Alembic, etc.

Daniel Hyatt was prescient, saying a long time ago, “If you ever finish this thing, you are going to have some serious post-partum depression.”

Seriously, even leaving aside the drinking part, that’s a lot of effort & time I was spending over Savoy Cocktails, that is now free.

Well, the obvious thing, is to find something else to do, other than drink & write about drinking.

I guess that is the whole plan of AA. You have to go to at least a meeting every day. You meet with your sponsor. You drink lots of coffee. You smoke. You hang out with your new AA buddies. You’ve got badges and buttons to earn. Pretty clearly, you’re replacing the time you spent drinking and hanging out with your drinking buddies and those rewards, with the time spent fulfilling your responsibilities to the AA organization.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe in a higher power, nor do I have any desire to hang out in church basements drinking coffee.

So, to set myself up for success, in this whole “not drinking” experiment, I’m going to have to find something to occupy my time.

Prior to my obsession with cocktails, my enthusiastic hobbies have included, in no particular order, Reading, Botany, Gardening, Computer Games, Music, Playing Music…

Oh, huh, I still have that clarinet I bought when I was just out of college.

Well, learning to play the clarinet is certainly something that can take up a lot of time and attention.

Performing music was really my first addiction and enthusiasm.

I started performing music in the children’s choir at church and continued to sing and perform in pretty much every possible way through high school: Band, Jazz Band, Choir, Musicals, and yes, even, horror of horrors, Madrigal.

Stopped performing when I went off to college and started drinking.

Is it possible that every other addiction, or enthusiasm, in my adult life has just been a substitute for the buzz of performing music?

Now that is something to think about.

…and I doubt Mr Baudelaire would disagree that it is possible to be drunken with song…

Plus & Minus

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking a lot about what I did and did not enjoy about bartending.

I actually enjoy talking to strangers.

Medium level acquaintances aka “regulars” can be the tricky ones.

Best example I can think of was a regular couple I found amusing, even if they did drink a little too much, especially the guy.

They’d come in and ask for dealer’s choice vodka cocktails. They always pretty fun to hang out with, despite requesting vodka cocktail after vodka cocktail, and stipulating that I never repeat a cocktail. Hey, I like a challenge as much as the next guy.

Then they got pregnant.

They continued to come in, often with a friend or two.

The wife would not drink, rather grumpily, while the guy continued on his quest to get as plastered as possible on vodka cocktails. Eventually, the wife would retire up to their room, leaving him down there with the friend or friends. Eventually, you could tell, even the friend wanted to go home, but the guy would just plow on. “One more for the road!” after “Just one more!”.

I just wanted to shake him and say, “Dude, wake up! Your wife is mad at you and your friend here wants to go home. Give it up!”

Yep, that’s me, “Mr Spectacles Judgy Guy”.

To an extent, sometimes I see a certain sadism to being a bartender. Some bartenders seem to enjoy and encourage other people’s bad choices. And customers just LOVE that sort of bartender, but the wreckage left behind always bothers me.

Especially, since I was always the one who would end up cleaning up the vomit after Mr Startender took an early powder.

Bartending, Not Drinking

“I mean, there are some people who enjoy bartending and making drinks, and do it without drinking, right?”

It’s funny, the people I work with in Tech are far more puzzled over me retiring from bartending than the bartenders I know.

Anyway, there are different classes of not drinking bartenders.

First, there are bartenders who don’t drink while working.
Second, there are bartenders who don’t drink with customers.
Third, there are bartenders who don’t drink.

In the first and second case, sometimes it is easier to say you don’t drink, than to risk offending someone by telling them you don’t want to drink with them or try to explain that you are a professional doing an actual job and don’t want to get wasted while you are at that job. A lot of bartenders have fairly elaborate and complicated methods for appearing to drink that shot you really want to drink with them, while at the same time only taking the tiniest taste. Me, I’ve never been very good at turning down free drinks or resisting the social pressure to drink. We all have our faults.

In the third case, yes, there are some professional bartenders who do not drink at all. Though, to be fair, most of the non-drinking bartenders I know have moved on to be managers, consultants, or owners, and don’t do a lot of actual day-to-day bartending. But, there are a few unicorns among the herds of stallions, mares, and asses.

In fact, when I’ve managed to get away with it, I enjoy bartending without drinking far more than I do bartending while drinking. But, you still have to taste your drinks and the products you’re pouring. So, if you have weak will power, like myself, and enjoy drinking, it is a very slippery slope.

Finally, most of the “good stuff” the bartending life throws at you is pretty firmly in the “free drinks” or “party lifestyle” category of experiences.

As I’ve said before, as a happily married, middle-aged, fairly prudish, (hey, I grew up Lutheran,) now non-drinking male, there’s just not a lot that the drink industry comes up with that is targeted at my demographic.

Pretty much every educational seminar or sponsored event I’ve attended for the booze industry could be summed up as, “free drinks with snacks”. If you’re lucky, there might be entertainment. If you’re not lucky, you’ll have to listen to someone drone on about the intricacies of what supposedly makes the industrial process they use for creating their product unique. But, mostly it is the free drinks, and for most people, this is an excuse to imbibe copiously. Wouldn’t you, if you had to listen to a presentation on the nitty gritty details of industrial gin distillation while hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know very well?

I am lucky that I have had several different careers in different industries and, if I don’t bartend, I have other jobs I can fall back on.

On the other hand, nothing is certain. Perhaps in 5 years, when the tech industry bubble finally bursts for good, I’ll be back to bartending (or even cooking).

Psychic Anaesthetic

“What’s with the Water?”

“Booze tends to take the edge off. I want to stay angry.”

Best quote I’ve heard from “True Detective, Season 2”

“Psychic Anaesthetic” or “Emotional Prophylactic”.

Whichever you prefer, booze often gets a rap as emotional novacaine.

Somehow, drinking seems to make the emotional stress of dealing with others less.

I don’t really buy this one, at least in the long term.

I think it just puts off dealing with processing your feelings.

And if you just keep drinking, you can just keep putting it off.