Seeking An Antidote

Enduring 10 years behind the stick is not easy. Over time, I’ve developed ways to respond to the chaos and stress of bartending by imposing a very strict regularity and routine to my diurnal existence, including yoga, a rigid fruitarian diet consisting mainly of organic avocados and bananas (which I recently abandoned in favor of the more well-rounded alkaline one), meditation, and rigorous daily workouts. Through all of this I sought to normalize the outlandish mayhem that I battle with each night serving drinks at breakneck speed to highly demanding crowds.

Just as I am currently trying to balance the pH level in my body to treat my chronic acid reflux, as a professional bartender I constantly crave respite from the nightly grind of taking shot after shot of Fernet and whiskey, working ‘til 3 am, going to bed at dawn, the same birds chirping and the sound of the fountain trickling outside soothing me as I throw my weary body onto the bed.

Before I committed to the alkaline regimen, my body screamed for mercy, and yet I could never give it a rest or say no to a shift. For it is not in my nature to turn down easy, fast cash, especially when I can earn it doing something I’ve done for the past eight years, coast to coast. I’ve reached a level of proficiency that enables me to go through the motions without thinking, and the green is irresistible.

Granted, as a bartender, I work on a set schedule – Wednesday, Friday, Saturday – and yet, qualitatively, the lifestyle and the routine itself is anything but run-of-the-mill or consistent – each night brings a unique set of challenges, characters, and threats, all with their own idiosyncrasies: a belligerent kid from Virginia who wants to fight me over a spilled shot of vodka; a guy who gets huffy about the ten dollar minimum that my bar strictly enforces for credit card transactions; a twenty-three-year-old girl from Arkansas who calls me a dick because, she insists, I’m holding on to her ID, when, in reality, l carefully placed it in her hand as I handed over her check for her to sign.

These episodes are as integral to my job as serving drinks in a fast and friendly manner. Many pros behind the stick will say that to tend bar well, it helps greatly to be a “people person”, as we deal with humanity in its most raw, unapologetic, and often aggressive state. It’s enough to drive a bartender to drink.

Yet when you suffer from chronic, excruciating esophageal pain, taking a shot of Jameson is like pouring gasoline onto the fire. What is the solution? I often asked myself. I’m still searching for that happy medium I touched on in “Acid, Begone!” One day I hope to find it – to execute my work with passion and commitment and yet disconnect myself enough emotionally so that I don’t have to rely on alcohol to get through the night.

Of course, one or two shots is different than six, or, as used to be my norm during a prolonged shift, ten, eleven, or more. Regardless of the quantity, I think many professionals, bartenders and civilians alike, would agree that a job that constantly drives one to drink can’t be the healthiest. On the other hand, I think it safe to venture that many of us, on both sides of the bar, want nothing more, at the end of the day, than to hash it out over a cold one with a friend, or with the bartender. We want to vent, and if we can indulge in some medicine during the session to dull the suffering, even better. The difference between bartenders and most people, however, is that many bartenders drink on the job, as well as after it’s done.

Where, then, is the relief? Ultimately, it is a personal choice. I’ve encountered many a drink slinger that slings but never imbibes. Earlier this year I abstained for eight weeks in a row, and not a drop has passed my lips for the past two as I detox my insides of pepsin and acid. When the pain became too great to ignore, it outweighed the need to escape the stress of tending bar. Better to save my esophagus and stomach than revel in momentary intoxication that could lead to no good end and might, years from now, cause serious medical problems.

And yet, even now, in these late stages of my induction reflux diet, I yearn for a glass of vino or a hoppy IPA. In due time, and in moderation, I promise myself, I’ll have it.

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