Getting off the line, throwing one back and the subject we don’t talk about

November 17, 2011 in Favorites, Life

Bar at the El Mo by Kenneth Moyle (http://kenneth.moyle.ca)

Before I launch into this topic, I know that many of us are dealing with this subject RIGHT NOW, either you are new to this type of relationship and had no idea what was in store, or don’t know what to do about it now that you do.

You’re not alone, it is my hope that by even broaching this subject (that is NOT talked about much or at all), that it comforts so many of us that are faced with this but have NO idea who to turn to.

*And If this isn’t something you’ve dealt with before, consider yourself lucky.

We already know that most people, the ones on the outside of this type of relationship, have NO idea what it’s really like. They have no idea about the long hours, the sleeping and eating alone and the fact that we pretty much handle most (ahem,ALL) of the coordinating, shopping and care taking (of the children, the house, etc) by ourselves. They probably don’t even consider that there IS someone at home, waiting for them, after they’ve filled their bellies and are good and satisfied.

On the off chance that they do think about it, their thoughts probably revolve around how COOL it would be to be married to a chef/GM/bartender,etc…having an ‘all access pass’ to restaurants, this allure of a sexy lifestyle, because of what the media has made it out to be.

That’s probably about it.

The one thing that I know most people have NO idea about, not just because they are oblivious to it but it’s not something we (on the inside) talk about is how often those late nites are not because of them still being on the line, but at a bar. After work, grabbing a drink with fellow servers, managers, bartenders, and chefs, as a way of winding down and decompressing from being constantly ‘ON’, standing on their feet for 10-15 hours a day.

To tell you the truth, I have NO idea how they do it.

I KNOW I couldn’t do what they do. I KNOW after a few days of that kind of day, I’d have to find a way to unwind after work. As someone whose 9-5 is in front of a computer all day, I cannot even fathom the fast paced and pressure filled environment, day in and day out.

Now that I’m a bit seasoned as a significant other to someone in this industry, I’ve come to understand, that due to their nocturnal lifestyle, the temptations that come with this high stress, always moving, never stopping career choice, that there are those who might turn to alcohol or dare I say…drug use as a way of forcing them to unwind and slow down. Do I agree with it? NO. But as most things in life, this subject isn’t a black or white one.

After all this time I can say, I finally get it.

I remember, QUITE a few years back, catching some program on TV with Anthony Bourdain talking about those early years, as a rising chef in NYC… how after work (at like midnight or later), he would go to some private VIP back room of some bar or restaurant, and share a delicious meal with a few other chefs and GMs, they would catch up about how that nights service was over a few rounds of shots and drinks and would inevitably come stumbling home,  a few hours later. I remember thinking…

“Holy S^#T, so this isn’t just my chef and his friends doing this.”

I had NO idea that this was part of it. I wasn’t part of the industry, how was I supposed to know?

That’s the thing… unless your IN it or you have experienced it, you have NO IDEA what to expect.

Now that I look back on that time of our relationship when it affected me the most (he had just moved to the area to be with me and started working at a prestigious fine dining restaurant) I can say that maybe I was naive, for I’ve never been a big drinker AT ALL so it’s never been something that’s on my mind, but at the time, I thought that what I was experiencing was BAD.

*For the record, I’m NOT trying to rat my now chef husband out, but I’m sharing this in case you find yourself in a similar experience…in an attempt to help others not feel so alone. I’ve gotten his permission to share our experiences.

What seemed to ME to be on a regular basis, my then chef boyfriend would inevitably call me after he gets off the line (round 11:30ish) and say that he’s going over to one of a handful of bars that usually all of the chefs met at. At the time, we lived together, and when he called he would tell me not to wait up. Inevitably, hours later I would hear him come in and shortly after, get in bed with me, only to smell of whatever he drank that night.

I was angry, concerned for his well being, and if I was being honest, also worried that this is what my life would be like if I decided to stay. It absolutely made me feel like I had no control. I felt like I had NO say when he called to tell he he was going out. I was worried about him and his safety. I missed him in the evenings, going to bed alone, knowing he was going out to with his chef friends. I was resentful. I felt like he chose them over me.

I didn’t know.

In that moment of watching that show with Chef Bourdain, It was like a light went on for me.

It doesn’t mean that it’s BAD.. that something is wrong with him or us.

Whether we like it or not, this is a PART of being in the industry.  The degree to which they partake is on an individual basis (I know that this can QUICKLY spiral out of control and become a SERIOUS problem for so many in the industry), but I’d guess that at one time or another, your restaurant man/woman have spent a bit of time burning the midnight oil at a bar, drinking with their fellow restaurant comrades.

They lead more of a nocturnal life than most of us do. How can we understand it when it’s not something we DO.

I know that my husband just doesn’t understand the concept of sitting at a desk ALL DAY LONG for my job.  He doesn’t understand. For him it’s a good day if he gets to sit down and enter invoices or to do his ordering for an hour.

Again, I’m NOT condoning drinking, drinking & driving or drug use of any kind. Please hear me when I say that. (To the contrary, I’m quite conservative on my drinking and drugs stance) I’m just saying that because I had never been in the restaurant industry, I didn’t know that this a is part of their ritual. Come to find out that most of the time he would go out, have one or two beers, talk about that nights service (probably laugh it up about the high maintenance table who brought back their ribeye three times), and then make his way home… (I say MOST of the time, there were also those nights when he came home in a cab or I got the 3am phone call to come get him. yea, good times. Thankfully that doesn’t happen much anymore.)

Back then, what I didn’t know was…

It wasn’t about the drinking, it was about having a way to decompress and unwind, but more importantly… to commune.

I don’t know when I heard it or from who, but I remember someone telling me…

“You go out to dinner with your girlfriends after work, right? You grab dinner, and maybe on a Friday, have a few drinks after work and catch up?” …well, they want to go out after work too.. unfortunately the only thing that is OPEN when they get off of work is a bar.”

Whoever said that was right. Part of how I maintain my friendships is with after work jaunts to local restaurants and catch up on what’s new and exciting. The latest gossip, etc…

Why would it be any different for these restaurant men and women?

To some degree, I feel like the bonds between those in the restaurant industry are stronger and tighter than that in the corporate world. It’s an intense world, always being “ON”, trying to make delicious food to satisfy your customers, make your numbers so you can make the owners happy for another quarter. Why wouldn’t that lend itself to really leaning on each other when the going gets tough, they find themselves ‘in the weeds’ and need to really push through a busy dinner service. It’s kinda like going into battle, or being a player on a football team headed for the Superbowl, I would think.  Bring your best, prepare for it ALL, and know you’re not going down without a fight. I think if I had to do that every night, I would feel connected to those in the trenches with me.

SO, How do I handle this?? 

Honestly, it’s really up to YOU about how you handle it. There are SO MANY FACTORS that consider, and NO ONE WAY is the right way. 

 - What is your experience with alcohol? How comfortable do YOU feel when drinking/ others are drinking? (Maybe you grew up that drinking too much/getting drunk was “bad”. Maybe it’s a way that you, too, unwind after a particularly stressful day. Maybe you don’t mind infrequent nocturnal jaunts with his buddies, then maybe you’ll feel differently)

 - What is your level in investment when dealing with the possiblity that he/she will eventually have too many drinks after work, at some point? Do you get pissed and give him the cold shoulder or do you see that as an “in” to find out how his day was/make you two closer? What happens if he/she calls and cannot drive home? How do you react to that situation? What if he/she DOES drive home?? How do you handle THAT? (There is NO right answer here, again, it’s personal preference)

 - How do you handle the possibility that YOU might think they are drinking too much, you’re worried about them but THEY are not doing anything about it? In other words, WHAT ARE YOUR LIMITATIONS? How far are you willing to go? How many times do you have to talk to them (argue) about it before you will no longer accept this?

I know there are so many of us whose other halfs evening festivities to quickly spin out of control and on a regular basis. I personally do not feel like I can speak about regular alcohol and drug abuse in general but to validate that it happens, and it’s usually a topic that noone feels comfortable talking about. If so, PLEASE KNOW you are not alone. TRUST YOURSELF. If you think there is a problem, if something feels off, IT PROBABLY IS.  

You HAVE a choice. You can choose to deal with this or not. Noone is going to fault you if you choose not to. As many people that are reading this right now are how many different situations there are surrounding drugs/alcohol. Let me repeat again – there is no ONE way to deal with this.

This is where YOUR strength is… This is where you have to learn to TRUST YOURSELF. Only YOU KNOW where your limits are. 

So let me ask you… (to lighten the topic)

How many of you have been privy to having dinner with a group of chefs & restaurant people?

If you have, you’ll catch a glimpse into what I think happens in the early mornings. I’ve sat quiet while a group of chefs talked (at length) about the difference between white and black napkins. Debating the pros and cons of it. Do I have anything to contribute to this topic? NO.  Maybe that’s part of why the early morning gatherings are so important, I mean..

They work such odd hours, WHEN do they have time to talk about such topics? Yes, that one drink to decompress can absolutely be taken overboard. With this being such a high stress profession, it makes sense to me (whether I agree with it or not) that others would seek outside substances to help them SLOW DOWN.

THANKFULLY, in my case, it was just a phase. As soon as my now husband changed restaurants, became an Executive Chef (from a Sous) the fact that he had WAY more responsibility, that he had to be as ON his game as he was able, meant cutting down on the late night sessions and throwing back a few Crown on the rocks. (My husbands drink of choice) Does he still do it from time to time? YES. I try to understand, he needs this. Now that we’re married, I sometimes get the call at 10:30pm on a Friday or Saturday nite, wanting to see if I want to meet him at the little bar up the street, a few blocks away, to meet for a beer. Somehow I’ve become his drinking buddy. Secretly, I love that he’s calling me now. Even though I’m not a drinker, I’ll sit there and ask him how his day was… and I watch him unwind a bit as he throws a beer or two back.  *8 times out of 10, I usually meet him. It’s kinda makes me fall in love with him more.

I hope this helps you know that it’s something that MOST (not all) of us have faced at one point or another. Maybe it’s early in his career, maybe it’s when he gets that promotion… who knows. Again, there are MANY different scenerios here. All I do know is you HAVE to trust YOURSELF!

I’ve come to understand it’s a rite of passage, a building of their tribe, that tight knit circle that even years later, I still do not feel like I am entirely a part of. I have accepted it as a part of what I VALUE in my relationship. He never tells me I cannot go out with my girlfriends after work.

After all these years, I think I’d like to keep it that way.

PS: **For those of you who find yourself in a situation with your other half drinking more than you know how to handle, PLEASE know there is HELP. Please check out  the following resources for finding help:

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Getting off the line, throwing one back and the subject we don’t talk about

11 Comments

    1. annette kokubo says:

      i have several problems with this practice nowadays. in the beginning it was fine, but since he’s opened his own place i just can’t stand it. first, he won’t EVER call to tell me he’s going out after work – he just doesn’t come home till 3am and i’ll wake up in the middle of the night having no idea where he is. second, he is obviously drinking and driving which is stupid and dangerous. third, he constantly complains about how exhausted he is and he sleeps every free moment he has (including sunday morning when he could be spending time with his kids who he never sees during the rest of the week) but apparently he is not too tired to go out after work drinking. this bugs me to no end. and when i confront him about it he simply says “you just don’t want me to go out and relax” like i’m being ridiculously unreasonable. it’s a constant battle for us

      • Hey Annette – Thank you for writing. It absolutely makes sense that you are feeling OVER it! If I were to guess, you’ve done everything but throw in the towel, to get him to understand that this is 1. not healthy for HIM 2. not healthy for his family and 3. not healthy for your relationship, right? Absolutely understandable. I’m wondering, If you were to envision a mid-way point between where he is currently, and where you’d like him to be… what would that look like for you?

        • annette kokubo says:

          the going out is really just a symptom of the bigger issue that we are facing. in opening his own restaurant he has quite literally abandoned his family and friends, and made his restaurant his only focus, his sole concern and his main priority. no matter how i try to point this out to him, he can’t or won’t see it. we’ve been in therapy for almost 2 years dealing with this and other issues, but i’m afraid that nothing will really change until he can see what he is doing to his family, or until he loses it all. so while for me, calling before he went out would be a huge step in the right direction, there are really so many other things that would have to happen as well. but thanks so much for your interest and concern and for letting me vent!

    2. Gabrielle says:

      I met my husband in a bar! He was out after work with his coworkers and I was just out as usual at my favorite restaurant bar. 5 years later, I am completely bored that lifestyle and rarely drink. (As far as I know) he no longer drinks after work. But, we did have issues last year. He came home twice around 4 am and had been drinking heavily and it was extremely upsetting. Like Annette, the worst part is waking up and not knowing where he is. Now, if he is going to be home after midnight, he sends me a message (but doesn’t call in case I am sleeping) which helps.

      • Hey Gabrielle – Thanks for sharing your story! So you know all about the late nite shin digs after they get off the line, eh? Amazing how many of our other halves are not checking in when they decide to go out. I’m curious, what made him shift from that behavior last year?

    3. Sara Bloomer says:

      Since I also have worked on the line, I have a great understanding of this culture; the pros and the cons of it. Before we had a child, it was never an issue, as I was usually there with him, decompressing from my own crazy evening. However, becoming parents has changed so many things, and his bar habit quickly became a source of turmoil. I really pushed him to find other, more healthful ways to unwind…now,m he bikes home from work in order to burn off some steam. Sometimes he still has a beer when he gets home…but our compromise has been great for both of us. If he wants to go out, I don’t hassle him, since he has found some sort of balance. Chefs take such little time to take care of themselves, so I encourage anyone dealing with this problem to try and think of ways that your chef can unwind ( at least a few times a week) in more healthful ways….

      • Hiya Sara – Oh yea.. you’re seasoned alright! You’ve been right in the middle of it all! It sounds like you both are doing the work to make compromises so that neither of you feel like you’re changing situation (being parents) have left you feeling like your lacking something. That is AWESOME! I think that’s a great recommendation… Ask your other half what other ways they would be able to fill that need of unwinding. Brava! Life is about change, if you can adapt TO the change.. things won’t obviously seem like something is missing/off/wrong.

    4. Kat says:

      Thanks Kerilyn…once again I think you are secretly reading my journals:)

      When you said feeling like he chose them over you and became resentful; I’ve felt that way so many times, and it is a constant struggle to remember that I am his best friend, and if it was a perfect world we would be decompressing together every night. But I believe we all married chefs because we are strong enough to handle it. We may need a little support sometimes (wink, wink) but we need to believe in our relationships and trust that we are the ones they want to lie next to when its time to come home. It’s hard, but I’m going to keep working on it forever.

      • Howdy Kat! Yes… it is SO easy to become resentful. SO SO easy. TOTALLY agree with your statement about why we married our restaurant man/woman. We are strong. Probably we have balance in our relationships because they are SO different from us. What they are strong at, we are not and vice versa. It ABOLUTELY makes sense TO ME that resentment settles in easily because we are NOT sitting on the same side of the see saw. Opposite sides means we send different messages. Finding out the message underneath the resentment is crucial to translating what is REALLY going on. Sometimes that little support can help us to remember how STRONG we are.(wink, wink) LOVE what you said… You are his best friend. I think we all could stand to remember that more too. Thank YOU.

    5. [...] doing things by myself … the semi-occasional drunk evening (on his part, see more about that here) [...]

    6. I swear you are reading my mind. I love your blog. It makes me feel so less alone in this journey. My husband drinks at home now. He’s much less social with his current staff and as he gets older, he tends to hold a much stronger line between boss and employee. He doesn’t go “out” with his staff so he just comes straight home and cracks a beer. He also doesn’t drink hard alcohol so that makes it easier. Occasionally, he will hang out with his fellow managers but it is usually during the nicer months and they are out on the golf course. Thanks again Kerilynn!! Stay strong everyone!!!

      • Hey there Jessica! I’m so glad you resonated with what I said! I have found my husband does the SAME thing – Once we got married, he prefers to go out drinking WITH me… that way, I can be the DD (I do not drink often or a lot). I enjoy that time, he unwinds and I get to spend time with him (even if it is 10:30 on a Saturday nite) He no longer goes out with his staff (same reason you mentioned) but also comes home and will have a beer at home from time to time. Oh my husband LOVES a Crown on the rocks when we go out to dinner. ALL this will change when/if we have children… so I’m just enjoying where we are now… knowing it’s no longer like it once was. (Thankfully.)

    7. [...] same way some restaurant men and women turn to alcohol and drugs, others unconsciously turn to the food their creating as a way of numbing out and because they are [...]

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Getting off the line, throwing one back and the subject we don’t talk about

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