I’m a Bartender, But Here’s Why I Quit Drinking Alcohol 2 Years Ago

Before Josh Gandee made the decision to stop drinking, he was always worried about the bartender version of ‘never trust a skinny chef.’ “You know, never trust a bartender who doesn’t drink,” he explained. A beverage director in Ohio, Josh did decide to stop drinking more than two years ago and that started a domino effect in his life. “I just started doing healthier things.” I spoke to Josh about how his version of healthy means being more in control of his life and being more mindful about all his decisions, including the choices he makes at work. He’s now part of a movement in his industry to put a pause on partying.  

20 people, 20 stories of what healthy means for them in 2020.

My Healthy: Not Drinking Alcohol

What does “healthy” mean to you?
Making time to think about my choices. Healthy means breaking the pattern of work and social life in the restaurant industry. I started in the restaurant industry at a young age and rarely took the time to step back to look at my life as a whole. So I decided to step back and put myself in control. I decided to not just go out every night and party. For me, healthy means absolutely taking control and being able to decide where I fit in the restaurant industry, rather than being enveloped by it. 

So health for you is defined in relation to being in control of yourself and, it sounds like, more mindful. What happened when you were less mindful?
In a way, I was just sort of coasting. Every day was on repeat. A lot of my meals were eaten standing up over a trash can with no time to chew. And, in those moments when you do get time for a meal, you don’t think about what you’re eating. You’re physically exhausted and a burger is heaven-sent. But I decided that I wanted to finally guide myself.

How did you decide to stop drinking?
I had some friends who were doing sober October. I took that month off from drinking with them when I was 29. At the end of it, everyone was back to partying and I thought, “I feel great. I feel better than I’ve ever felt. I wonder what another month would look like?” Slowly but surely, I wasn’t drinking at parties or holidays any longer. And a month before my 30th birthday, I thought that to stop drinking for good would be an exceptional gift to myself. 

What eating (or drinking) style helps you feel your healthiest?
A sober person behind the bar is perplexing to most but I do not drink alcohol. I’ll have the occasional bitters but I’m usually drinking bubbly water. 

I also love eating vegan but I’m not really a vegan person. I eat vegan throughout the week and have animal protein on the weekends. But I feel my healthiest when I’m completely plant-based. 

What were your goals when you made the change to not drinking?
I just wanted to feel more whole and be 100% myself. When you drink and party, you may not be fully aware that you’re suppressing portions of yourself, you’re keeping parts of yourself at a distance from others. You’re not feeling your full self at all times. It wasn’t until alcohol was completely removed from my body that my real feelings would come to me, not dampened by alcohol. I wouldn’t grab a drink to repress that feeling. When I was happy, I was truly happy. When I was sad, I was okay with being sad. As I dealt with those feelings, I was able to feel more whole. It’s a process of finding those moments and feelings in order to patch up and rediscover myself. 

How did you stop drinking alcohol and also do your job well? 
To be honest, not drinking has opened a lot of doors for me. I feel like I’m able to look at my bar program differently. Before I would taste spirits with people and start the cocktail with a spirit base. But if you take the gin out of the gimlet, how balanced is your limeade? What’s your sugar to lime ratio? I started thinking more deeply about cocktails without alcohol. I was playing more with flavor, not thinking about alcohol. I was able to help lead the entire team to create better balanced cocktails.

What are you most proud of?
Well, I’ve lost 40 pounds. I stopped eating burgers, started running longer and faster, started working out at the gym, and eating healthier meals. I’ve also served as an inspiration to others in my industry. I’ve even found bitter, non-alcoholic sodas which was the flavor profile I missed most.

But I would say I’m most proud of my mental growth. I never thought an elimination of something would produce so much return. Working in the beverage industry, I feel like maybe I looked at the change a while longer than some — rationalizing, internalizing and wondering if it was going to be a smart move, if I’d continue to be looked at in the same way professionally. It now feels like a gift. I was granted emotional growth, stability, and presence of mind. Not drinking has allowed me to invest more in myself, others, and to become a better spouse, friend, and co-worker. I’m proud of my ability to grow, to look into the future, and to focus on my present. 

So what does keep you going? Lifestyle and habit changes are famously hard to make and keep. Do you have a secret?
I keep a record of everything. I started running as a way of entering my own headspace and I use the Strava app to log my running. It’s great to look back at runs from months ago compared to recent runs to see what I’m capable of. My social media secret is to post gym and run selfies, which on the surface seems like I want attention, but they are more for me. They keep me accountable, and remind me, “Wow, I took five selfies this week. That’s five times you were active!”

What’s the one food you love the most?
Cacio e pepe.

If you were to recommend not drinking to someone else, what is the most important piece of advice you would give them?
Make sure you are ready for it. Mine started as a dry month. Instead of celebrating my abstinence by partying when it was all done, I took stock of the way I felt and the way I looked and that made the decision for me. If it isn’t your time, you’ll know. But, your body and mind will always want to take the easy route, which is following the track you’ve always been on, and it will do that until you’re ready to change course.

Some Resources if You’re Going Dry This Month (or Longer)

My Healthy 2020: 20 People, 20 Healthy Choices

Every January people make changes to improve their health. But which ones actually make a difference? We’re sharing the stories of 20 people who changed their lives for the better and stuck — thanks to choices that are individual, diverse, and sometimes wildly different from each other. Read their stories here throughout January. We hope they inspire your own journey to finding your own, unique, individual healthiest 2020.

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