George Hahn

‘My Sobriety is a Public Service, and You’re Welcome’

George Hahn is an urban raconteur, fashion maven, and all-round bon vivant who is a charismatic fixture on the New York social scene. He's also been alcohol-free for 20 years, and writes here about his relationship with sobriety.

Words by George Hahn

I had my last drink sometime in early March of 2002, claiming my sobriety date as March 15. My actual sobriety date is earlier in the month, but I honestly don’t know exactly when. So I picked the Ides of March for the obvious Shakespearian flourish.

Since then, when the subject of drinking or “What are you having?” is in the air, the idea that I don’t drink alcohol is met with a range of reactions rarely expressed without some blip or hiccup of incredulity, like we’ve just experienced a glitch in the Matrix.

The story of why I stopped drinking is a long, complicated one that I won’t get into now, but it can be summed up in one simple sentence: I am an alcoholic. When I drank, things tended to get weird… and progressed into even weirder and more dangerous territory over time. I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but whenever I got into trouble, alcohol was involved. On a good night, I could be funny, uninhibited, and mildly inappropriate. On bad nights, I found myself in strange apartments, in dangerous situations with people I didn’t know, or, on one occasion I truly don’t remember, in jail. (I blacked out often.)

The world is genuinely safer without me drinking. I’m one less shitfaced asshole being loud, obnoxious, inappropriate, belligerent, causing trouble, ruining someone’s night, making people worry, driving… I’m one less problem. You don’t need to worry about me. My sobriety is a public service, and you’re welcome.

When the topic of my not drinking comes up, one of the questions I get a lot is if I miss it. I might have missed it in the early days, like in the first few weeks or months of being sober. But my interest in drinking dissolved pretty quickly, which is a miracle in itself since I identified so proudly as a drinker. I was done and very ready for something different. Occasionally, when I’d see Daniel Craig sipping a vodka martini (my favorite) as James Bond or come across a post on Instagram that made a cocktail look really good, I could get caught up in the romance of it for a nanosecond. In those early days of sobriety, I had the gift of understanding that – as an active drinker — I was a pain in the ass, wreaking havoc on my life and the lives of people around me.

I was still bartending when I got sober, working every night in front of shelves of free liquor. But I somehow had the wherewithal to understand that I was no less tedious than the ones overindulging in front of me, getting louder, getting more obnoxious, repeating themselves… As I poured more drinks for them and watched them drink, I witnessed so many characteristics, tones, and behaviors that I exhibited when I was under the influence — traits I wanted no part in anymore. I knew that I was no different or any less annoying when I drank. Not everyone at the bar was like this, and I harbor no judgment of anyone but myself. In fact, most customers were a pleasure, really. To this day, I marvel at those who can casually enjoy their first cocktail and then lose interest halfway through the second one. I’m not wired like that. Once I start, I can’t stop. So, no, I really don’t miss it at all.

Another question people often ask when I’m out with them is whether or not I mind if they drink. Of course I don’t. Have a blast. Just remember the tricky part: don’t f*** up.

When I do go out to meet friends for dinner or to attend an event, I have my stock mocktail: a Shirley Temple. And not the Dirty Shirley with vodka. The O.G., with a good ginger ale and the right splash of grenadine. And that cherry? So bad for you and yet so delicious. I recently went to a restaurant that made its own grenadine, which made my “stocktail” extra special. Also, there’s the fun part of being a middle aged man in a tailored suit asking for a Shirley Temple: it invariably gets an “Are you serious?” double-take and a laugh.

My friend Michael sent me an article in Vice from September called “How Alcohol Lost Its Cool,” proposing that drinking has lost it’s cred in pop culture. I’m not sure I’d go that far. Perhaps its allure among the younger set has diminished, but I don’t think drinking is going anywhere in the short or long term. I have, however, noticed a spike in glamorously bottled non-alcoholic spirits lately, many of which look rather chic and taste quite good in a grown-up, sophisticated way. I’ve had a few and enjoyed them very much (but nothing will ever come between me and my Shirleys).

So that’s a little bit about the not drinking thing. If you’re questioning your own drinking, look into it. Maybe it’s just a rough patch, or maybe it’s a more serious problem. That’s for you to figure out. Just don’t bullshit yourself. Be rigorously honest. Being rigorously honest with myself, I know that I’ll never be able to drink safely, no matter how many sober years pass. While I’m not drinking, my alcoholism is out in the hallway doing pushups, waiting to be invited in. One day at a time, I choose not to chance it.

As a non-drinker navigating life in a world full of drinkers, I can say that it’s quite doable. It’s a life in Dolby 5.1 surround sound, glorious IMAX 3D, and Smell-O-Rama. It’s fabulous, even when life gets really hard. That means life is happening, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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