Staying Sober in Bushwick: A Virtue or Complete Insanity?

In a land where a handshake comes with a pint of beer, the decision to stay sober might come as a surprising one.

I chose a booze-free life almost six months ago, and the six months prior to that were a more or less successful period of “trying to drink much less.” After giving up on an omnipresent Bushwick substance and having a sober outlook on things, I started exploring my  big life change. And I began to wonder, “Why do so many young people in the neighborhood choose to pick up a drink in the first place?”

The supply of 100 bars meets demand

The bar industry pretty much runs Bushwick’s petite economy, and watering holes are the most common new business. According to Yelp, the Bushwick and East Williamsburg area contains approximately 100 bars, which means alcohol is a very accessible commodity in this part of town.

This large supply is certainly met with demand and a number of Bushwick-based young people I talked to report that they drink nearly every day. Without judgment, I asked my drinker as well as (very few) non-drinker friends and Bushwick Daily readers why they choose their current lifestyle.

New York hustle takes its toll

Drinking in Bushwick is generally considered cool and people do it to feel happy. “It’s pure happiness. I’m a goofy drunk,” Graham F. responded to my question about his reasons to pick up a drink.

But by far the most commonly quoted reason to drink was to release the stress and anxiety brought on by life in New York City. “New York is an inherently wound up city. The extent to which one has to hustle here takes its toll,” Kristina H. told me.

Nekoro G. concurred and added, “New York is a really trying place sometimes and a lot of life here is work/home, work/home, work/home.” A bar with its intoxicating seductions seems to be that place between time where the cycle stops and the patrons have a chance to escape for a couple of hours. 

Both Candace B. and Jen S. are freelancers who work from home, and a drink at 6 or 7 pm is their “liquid commute home.” It separates their work day from their down time in the evening.

And we can’t discount that we naturally drink to get rid of the social awkwardness, “Particularly in dating situations,” Sam K. and Jen S. agreed, “I drink to pick up ladies.”

I drink because all my friends are already drunk

We often drink just because all our friends are already drunk. Peer pressure has indeed been quoted time and time again as a frequent reason to get tipsy.

Then there is the endless New York City winter/burning New York City summer, both of which seem to pass more smoothly with a drink in a hand.

Sometimes we go to bars because we have nowhere else to go. “It’s stupid but when the New School library is open and I can go there to work on projects, read, etc. through about midnight to 2 am. I find myself not drinking. But when it’s closed and I don’t have anywhere to go, and I usually end up at a bar,” said Nekoro G.

It is true that if you want to meet up with a friend a bar is usually your only option, especially in the evening hours. 

Craft beer/wine/whiskey connoisseurship become a part of some of us, just like a haircut or favorite color. “When actually mixed well, it tastes very good! It’s a little voyage of bitters and flavors with a little kick in the end,” Yaz R. explained.

Staying sober for 7 weeks? NEVAH? Or perhaps?

Being a Bushwick resident, it’s easy to forget that people in other neighborhoods don’t drink every day. It can be so hard and it is so ingrained in our routine that when my friend, a holistic nutritionist Lucy Chen, suggested I not touch alcohol for seven weeks during a fitness program Liberation a year ago…well, I thought she was straight-up crazy.

“How would I function in Bushwick for Christ sake? How could I even…” The panicked thoughts churned but eventually, in the name of fitness and a lean healthy body, I decided to stay away from beer and have only a vodka or wine drink once per week.

You’re hungover? You get punched in the face.

I enjoyed my fitness program and the new drinking arrangement so much, I signed up for yet another 7-week fitness challenge. And after that, I did it again. After Liberation wasn’t available to me anymore, I took the opportunity to join a boxing team at Green Fitness Studio in Bushwick. Boxing is probably the hardest and most demanding workout I got myself into, and the punishment for not being fully committed – due to, say, a hangover – is getting punched in the face. Literally.

I also realized that while I used to seek, like many others, an easy refuge from the legendary stress caused by the New York City hustle at the bottom of an empty glass, a good workout, preferably with a sense of purpose and direction in a group setting, actually works far better. And the bonus is a healthy and sexy body.

To love my body more I gotta detox

In January of 2014, I had only one resolution. After spending my teenage years struggling with eating disorder and my twenties being obsessed with my body image, my resolution was to finally love my body and myself more. To connect with my true self.

This intention has been guiding my year to detox and to take care of my finances.

Author Doreen Virtue strongly suggests that in order to actually hear one’s inner guidance, that inner GPS of intuition we all have that never goes wrong, alcohol is a no-go.

Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., author of the famous Blood Sugar Solution Detox, says that alcohol stimulates insulin production when consumed, which just like consumption of any grains and other sugars, and can lead to increased fat storage. Additionally after Hyman’s 10-day detox, I felt so good, healthy and strong, I decided to stay on the sugarless, booze less track indefinitely.

And a cherry on top? My burning desire to manage the ongoing horror of my own finances led me to make a spreadsheet where I recorded everything I spent. The realization that the booze column probably shouldn’t be marked as fixed cost caused nothing short of an upheaval in my world.

But at that moment I knew it: I was not going back to my boozy life.

No bar-going without a purpose

A bar simply stopped being a place where I would go without a purpose. I now go to bars to meet up with a friend or to have actual work meetings, and I just order a club soda with a slice of lemon.

Similarly, Brittany N., who has never been an alcohol drinker due to her father’s alcoholism and drug abuse while growing up, never goes to bars unless she’s feeling social: “I usually end up at bars only if there is another motive to go – a band is performing, meeting up to talk to a friend and it is too late to go to a cafe.”

Olive O. quit drinking after she experienced a really hard time while hungover at a job she particularly liked. “I remember thinking: ‘I wish I could feel refreshed and prepared for my job…’ she said. Olive, who plays keyboard in a Brooklyn band Late Cambrian, also spends a lot of time at music venues around people and their drinks. “I generously give away my drink tickets to friends who come to see us play (first come, first serve) because I won’t be using them anyway!”

Drunk and sloppy are no longer attractive

Sous chef Daryl knows that drinking and food industry go hand in hand. However, he no longer finds drunk and sloppy attractive. “One day after a night out and the usual feeling of regret and remorse I said to myself I’m too old for this shit,” he recounted. “I want great memories that have substance and not just sitting at a bar talking about drunken nonsense for hours. At one time that was cool, as you get older you realize it’s counterproductive.” Despite being sober, Daryl doesn’t have a problem with meeting up with friends at bars “for a little bit but I’m not spending a dime and leaving after it gets boring.”

“I’m enjoying other things like exploring parts of my city, reading and having dinner with friends. Giving up drinking has given me inspiration on new dishes to cook and ways to improve my career,” Daryl concluded. 

Most non-drinkers, including myself, agree that their social didn’t suffer, their health improved and the mental clarity that became apparent after the exclusion of ethanol from their systems was just too good to give up.

Our social lives are a lot different than they used to be. I personally spend a lot more time with my boxing friends in the gym. We talk headgear and bleeding noses, but I enjoy that they are a completely different bunch than my former drinking buddies. Acceptance of my new life has been a gradual process of realization that this quieter yet more rewarding and healthy life might just be what I have been searching for all that time spent in bars.

I don’t like to say “never” or “forever,” but I don’t see myself picking up a drink today, and I am pretty sure I will feel the same way tomorrow, and the day after that. Booze-free I “survived” two weddings, a Christmas, and a New Year’s Eve (seriously) and my life simply couldn’t be better that way.

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