I have a large and wonderful group of friends Downtown, about half of whom are in the service industry and half of whom have traditional 8-to-5s. They’re like my family. They were there for me when my mom died. More recently, they were there for me when I got laid off. A common bonding experience among us is to do a round of shots. When I got laid off, many people bought me shots and I appreciated them. My friends were showing that they cared about me.
Unfortunately, it put me in a bad place.
In 2012, one of my best buddies got a job as a liquor brand ambassador. The main brand he represented was Fireball. He got to take trips all over the country, buying a round for the bar to introduce patrons to the cinnamon whiskey. He also toured the bars in Memphis doing the same thing. I got to go with him on some of the local trips and got many shots of Fireball. I developed a taste for it.
The trouble is, Fireball is not quality whiskey. The cinnamon covers up the fact that they cut a lot of corners to produce a liquor that can be sold so cheaply. As a result, it tends to produce bad behavior and bad hangovers. It’s really not much better than the rotgut liquor the bums buy at the store around the corner from me.
When my position was unexpectedly eliminated at work two weeks and two days ago, my HR manager suggested I take two weeks to myself before seriously job-hunting. So I did. Which meant I got to spend more time with my friends. Which meant more opportunities to shoot Fireball.
By the second week – last week – I was in a bad way. I woke up nervous and jittery and worrying about everything in my life. The smallest tasks became almost more than I could bear. Writing this blog was torture. Putting a resume together for my career coach to look over was torture. Even putting my socks on was torture.
I had to get out as soon as possible each day and get two PBRs and a shot of Fireball in me before I leveled off. I’m both blessed and cursed to have a bar around the corner from me that opens at 8 AM. Most of the week my mood was like, I have to get showered and dressed as quickly as possible and get to Bardog so I can feel right again.
After all, I reasoned, I gave myself permission to take two weeks to myself. And once I was out and I got started on the Fireballs, I was fine. And I do love daytime at Bardog. I got to see service industry friends and third shift friends who come in after work. I got to see lawyer friends who pop in. I got to sit at Hannah’s bar and Teryn’s bar and Bloom’s bar, all of whom I really enjoy. I got to play the jukebox. I got to watch hours of mindless TV. I got to see Aldo and catch up with him a bit. In that sense, I don’t regret it. I was in a good place, physically. It’s just that the good place had shots that put me in a bad state mentally.
Waking up every day full of jitters and worry got to me, though. “I’m barely able to function,” I thought as I woke up on Friday. “How is this going to be different on Monday? I’ll never get a job like this. Heck, I’ll never even have the energy to hunt for a job if I continue like this.”
That evening at Blind Bear, I broke down and confessed to one of my best friends – ironically, the very friend who was a former Fireball ambassador, who have introduced me to the cinnamon whiskey six years ago. “I have to get two PBRs and a Fireball in me before I can even function,” I told him. “That’s classic behavior of an alcoholic. There’s no doubt. I have to change. I feel like I’m not going to live to see my birthday in November if I don’t change.”
“Well, what’s your plan?” he asked.
“Let me continue living the life I’ve been living over the weekend,” I told him. “Then I’ll start to figure it out.”
“I’ll give you longer than that,” he said. “I’ll give you a week.”
Saturday I met my “DAWG” John D for brunch at Bloom’s bar at Bardog as usual. I was sitting there thinking, “When is she going to ask if I want a Fireball? When is she going to ask if I want a Fireball?” I was also thinking how unhealthy it was for me to be thinking that.
Sunday, having woken up feeling nervous and jittery for the 12th day in a row, craving that first Fireball, I knew I needed to do something. My biggest asset, an asset that is worth more to me than any amount of money, is my friends. I put up a Facebook post baring my soul, explaining that while I had legit reasons to be unhappy – my job being eliminated, the anniversary of my mom’s death, and some other things – I was dealing with them in the wrong way and had gotten myself into a vicious cycle. I had some trepidation about posting what I did. Everyone talks about “your personal brand” and I worried I would damage it by exposing my problems to the world. But I knew I would need the help of my friends to pull through this.
Then I went out to Sunday Fun Day with my friends at the Blind Bear. I still needed a Fireball to level off – after all, I had told my friend to give me the weekend – but I was determined it would be the only one I ordered that day. It looked to be, that would be the case. However, late in the day someone bought me one. That would turn out to be my last shot of Fireball ever.
Monday morning I looked over the huge amount of comments I got on my post, as well as private messages, texts, and a couple of missed calls Sunday that I just couldn’t handle answering and let go to voicemail. There was tremendous love and support from my friends, and advice from those who had been something similar. Many people said “I’m here if you need me.”
Still, I had almost zero energy on Monday. I needed to go out and start the car, which had not been started for 6 freezing days. It was almost more than I could bear to get dressed and walk out there. Glad I did though, because I ran into my landlord Henry, who had seen my post and gave me much-needed words of encouragement.
The good news was, having had only two Fireballs the day before, I didn’t feel the craving for one to level off. At that point, I realized what the problem was. I got on Facebook and my blog and announced that I was giving up Fireball. It had to be done. The good thing about announcing it that way is that many of the Downtown bartenders are friends with me on Facebook or read my blog, or both. Although they would lose out on inflated tabs and therefore inflated tips, I knew they love me and would support my decision and not ask if I wanted shots anymore. Even my most hardcore of Fireball pushers told me they were proud of me.
I wasn’t productive at all Monday. I didn’t work on my resume or look for job opportunities. I didn’t go through my mom’s stuff, something I’ve been meaning to do since I have unexpected time off. I didn’t clean my apartment, something I have been meaning to do. Mostly I paced nervously around the apartment, going over a BS situation in my head that I should have let go years ago. I did go out later in the day – a day without my friends is a day not lived – but I held true to myself and did not order a Fireball.
Tuesday I was still nervous and jittery and had little energy. Again I paced around my apartment for hours without doing much productive. However, there was a breakthrough. Instead of spending those hours ruminating over a pointless situation, I imagined what I would talk about with my career coach at our appointment on Wednesday. I imagined what I would say in job interviews.
By 2 Tuesday I got cabin fever and went out to the Silly Goose. They were having problems with the heating system and there was a lot of smoke inside. They opened the doors and let 45-degree air in. I put my jacket on and moved to another seat. The owner and the bartender, both friends of mine, offered to buy me a shot for being a good sport about the smoke. I said no both times. I didn’t crave or want Fireball in the least. (And I don’t hold it against them that they offered. Not everyone sees my Facebook posts. Even if they did, people have other things on their minds and forget.)
In the past I would order “one of each,” which meant a PBR and a Fireball. Tuesday I redefined “one of each” to mean a PBR and a water.
Wednesday I woke up and things were different. I was still extremely nervous, worrying about anything and everything – but I had energy. Nervous energy, but the first energy I had in two weeks. By 6 AM I was up. I spent the next two hours giving my apartment a badly-needed cleaning. By 8 I had the majority of my blog post for the day written. I made some last additions to my resume in advance of my 2:30 appointment with my career coach out in East Memphis. Again I paced around my apartment, but this time it wasn’t nervous pacing. I was just getting the blood flowing. I practiced interview questions some more as I paced.
I also had a revelation. As much as the Fireball, the reason I went to Bardog in the weekday mornings was I’m a social person. I enjoy interacting with my fellow Downtowners. It hit me yesterday, I have an awesome cafe with Wi-Fi right in the ground floor of my building. Cafe Keough. I’m not a coffee drinker but they have bottled non-alcoholic drinks. I can take my laptop there and work on my resume and LinkedIn and look for jobs. I thought, since I’m so nervous that I wake up at 4 and can’t get back to sleep, I’ll get up at 6 tomorrow (which would be today by the time of this post) and go to Cafe Keough when it opens at 7, and make the place my office for the day. Surely people I know will come in for coffee or lunch (they have great food BTW) and I will get social interaction equivalent to what I had at Bardog, but in an environment that’s productive rather than self-destructive.
I still had the nerves when I left for my appointment about 1:40. I hadn’t driven the car (other than moving it to a different spot in the garage) in 15 days. I HATED driving to and from Horn Lake every day. People tailgating on the freeways, mad that I’m not doing 25 over as they feel I should be. And Riverside. Oh my God, Riverside. Southbound Riverside from Beale to I-55, the speed limit is 35. I tended to do 40-42 so if a cop was out (there never was) I wouldn’t get a ticket. I was the slowest one on the road. Everyone passed me. I would estimate the average speed on that stretch of Riverside to be 50 in the mornings. If the city wants an environment that is safe for joggers and pedestrians, that sure as hell isn’t it.
However, I drove through the city to get to my appointment and actually enjoyed it. I took Union/Walnut Grove out there and Summer/North Parkway back home. There were plenty of traffic lights but no idiots. I made a mental list of several restaurants I saw that I want to try while I have this free time.
My appointment with my career coach was empowering. She said my resume was already in pretty good shape but she gave me a lot of tips on improving it – little things I could do to make myself stand out. She also looked at my LinkedIn page (which I haven’t updated since 2009) and gave me a lot of ideas on how to make myself stand out more. She said she’d like to see me again in early February and gave me “homework” and a copy of her book.
Back Downtown, I texted my friend the former liquor rep, the first person I confessed my problems to, and asked, “You out?” Eventually we all ended up at the Blind Bear. It was the usual crowd – a couple of guys in the service industry, a couple of logistics people, a couple of IT people including me.
“Let’s do a round of shots!” said one of the gang.
Stacey, the bartender and one of my very good friends, started picking up glasses. She went down the line at the bar and asked “Are you in? Are you in? Are you in?” Then she got to me. She paused and started to say something, then turned to the next person and said, “Are you in?”
I appreciate that so much. If she had asked if I was in, I would have said no. And ordered a water.
This morning, Thursday, I woke up and had a different feeling, a feeling I haven’t had in a long time. It was a feeling of peace. There was no nervousness, no jitters at all. Knowing everything was OK and I had the gift of a day in front of me to do whatever I wanted to do. If I wanted to work on my resume, I could do that. If I wanted to go through my mom’s things, I could do that. If I wanted to drive out to Midtown and have lunch out there, I could do that. If I wanted to get stupid BS necessities like renewing my car tags out of the way, I could do that. If I wanted to go to Bardog, I could do that, although I didn’t seriously consider it.
I looked over at the alarm clock. It read 5:52, which means it was actually 5:34. I set my alarm clock 18 minutes ahead for the illusion of extra sleep. I had slept past 4 AM for the first time in two weeks, discounting the nights I stayed out until 3. And I totally knew I could roll over and get back to sleep if I wanted. I canceled my plans to go to Cafe Keough at 7 in favor of getting the best-quality sleep I’ve had in a while.
People told me “You got this” after my Sunday post on Facebook about what a bad way I was in. I appreciated their belief in me but I was not sure I believed it myself.
I got this.
My friend who I first confessed to last Friday told me at the time, “I know the old Paul, the one we knew from 7, 10 years ago, is still in there. I know we can get him back.” I didn’t believe it was possible.
The old Paul is back.
Now, here’s the point I want to make to my readers: It took me FOUR DAYS after my last shot before all the effects of Fireball were out of my system. Four days! I’m not judging anyone, but for all my friends who still do Fireball, I want to put this out there – how much better could you feel if you gave it up?
All the shots I took to bond with friends, all the shots I took to cope with my mom’s death, with people being crazy, with losing my job, all the shots I took because, well, it’s Sunday Fun Day and that’s what you do – I was slowly killing myself. I was denying my friends and the world the very best I had to offer.
I probably have spent a month’s worth of rent money on Fireball over the years. I would probably weigh 15 pounds less if I hadn’t acquired that habit.
Mama, I hope you’re proud of me. I wish you were alive to read this post. When I felt you visit me Wednesday night last week as I lay in bed, I wonder if you set the wheels in motion for me to make this change. I love you.
Here’s one last fact I want you to consider: A friend told me this week that Fireball has 11 grams of sugar per one-ounce serving. A can of Coke has 60 grams of sugar. That means Fireball has twice the sugar per ounce as a Coke does, and you know how bad for you Cokes are (not that it stops me from having one now and then). Think about that. That’s what you’re putting in your body.
I could make a promise to all my friends that I’ll never do Fireball again, but I’m not going to. I could make a promise to myself that I’ll never do Fireball again, but I’m not going to. I don’t need to. The thought of ever putting a drop of that nasty garbage in my body again absolutely revulses me. I’d sooner drink Drano.
If anyone out there reads this and thinks about giving up Fireball too, feel free to hit me up for a conversation.
I got this.
The old Paul is back.