Being an alcoholic and a bartender

by Sean Kennedy

Firstly, let me start off by saying, “I am an alcoholic”. I’m not sure how long I have been one as the line is not quite so clear for us “nightwalkers” but I am one nonetheless.

But what dose that mean? What is an alcoholic?

A bartender can forget doing an online quiz or some random bollocks like that. You will FAIL every single one. We just drink, a lot! Its part of the job for sure, but where is the line? When is it too much? When is it not ok?

These questions are nearly impossible to give a one-stop answer to as I think it is different for everyone. One thing I will say, from my experience, is that it is not just about alcohol; there is always another reason. I have learnt from my own experience that once I removed alcohol from my life long enough I realized that ethanol as a chemical wasn’t my problem, alcohol was my crutch, my “medicine”, to avoid or escape addressing my own inner demons.

The thing to remember at this point is, that it is OK not to be OK. We spend our entire working lives (and quite often our personal lives) trying to please others, to be the “party starter” or whichever bartending mask you will be expected to wear that night (psychiatrist, philosopher, Casanova etc.). This makes it extremely hard to listen to oneself. To find out how YOU really feel.

How do you feel right now?

For some this is an easy question to answer but for others (like me) it is one of the hardest. In order to answer this, I first need to be in touch with myself… nearly impossible to do when drinking. I drink to “get away” from my self, to get out of my own mind, to relax the brain.

In my situation it turned out that I have mild borderline personality disorder, BPD. I never knew that my brain just thinks differently to most. And it took me even longer to realize that this is ok too. One of the symptoms of BPD is a feeling of emptiness. This is the feeling that alcohol could fix for me. But, as with all substances, the amounts needed to fill the emptiness became more and more and more. Alcohol unfortunately made it worse but I had no idea what was going on. I’m not going to go much more into my own personal recovery process; maybe, if people are interested, it’s a post for another time.

So what is my point?

Talking about alcoholism in the bar industry is taboo. We don’t talk about it.

Why is that?

In my opinion this is because it is a subject that is too close to many of our hearts. I know of numerous colleagues who have worried about how much alcohol they consume. Questioning if it had become a problem. As an industry we need to talk more about it. If you think you have a problem, talk about it with someone. And if you are that friendly ear, listen. Its ok not to have any answers but just having someone to talk to can be such a help.

Remember, its OK not to be OK. None of us are perfect; don’t leave addressing the issues for too long. The longer you leave it the harder it gets. Trust me!

The hardest thing for me was not feeling like I could talk to anyone about it. I always thought that I wasn’t handling life “like a man” or I was “being a pussy”. My own self-loathing prevented me from asking for help. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help. I did and it cost me my reputation in the industry, a relationship (or two!), but more importantly it almost cost me a semblance of a life.

At this point, I wish I had something philosophical to close with, something that would answer all your questions, but I don’t. I am not perfect, my recovery is like a roller coaster at times, I have had set backs and relapses but I’m trying and that’s ok too.

One thing I do know, however, we as an industry need to take care of each other. Not just at the latest after party or when it’s fun or easy. We need to be there for each other when it’s shit too. As bartenders we often talk of how people will never understand how difficult it is to work the stick. Without at doubt, it is brutal at times! But your bartending family knows, try talking about it… and if you don’t have a friendly ear to talk to, I’m always around. Just don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.


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