It’s 2023 and as an industry we’ve seen enough of our most recognised faces announce their sobriety to understand it doesn’t signify a career-ending move. But how do you navigate the world of booze as a professional who doesn’t drink? It’s a lot of work, says Davide Segat, who works at the Nomad Hotel in London and has 500 days sober under his belt, but ultimately, for him, doable.
“It’s a happy story for me,” says Davide. “It’s not a sad thing, there are for sure a lot of sad moments, I’m not going to lie, but becoming sober and continuing to work is a happy ending, or a happy ongoing for me.”
We often think of people who face challenges with alcohol as those who are physically addicted, who wake up with their bodies craving booze and who lose everything to this addiction. Of course, it doesn’t always look like this.
“I have always been a big drinker and especially in the bar industry, we are prone to drink more because we work with alcohol in whatever we do, whether it’s trying new drink ideas all the way to serving our friends. They’re partying and you’re working but the line is blurred because it’s your friends so they come to the bar and say let’s have a shot together, a drink together,” says Davide. It was a side to the industry he used to love - none of us are in an office 9-5, we’re socialising and every day is always different.
“Abstinence hasn’t changed my passion for the industry,” Davide clarifies, “it’s not like I hate it, or it’s a bad thing, or it’s alcohol's fault this happened to me. It’s just that it has changed for me. It’s my personal experience, but a cold beer outside on a warm day or a glass of champagne to celebrate, a glass of red wine with a steak, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s actually a pleasure of life. But alcohol is definitely dangerous and it needs to be handled in a certain way. For some people nothing happens, they enjoy all their life in exactly the same way and that’s a great story.”
Davide’s relationship with alcohol changed with a new high-pressure role. At the time he didn’t see or notice the shift, but looking back there was a clear moment where drinks stopped being a social part of his life and started to become a mood regulator, or medicinal.
“I became the global bar director for Edition Hotels and I was traveling three weeks of every month, meeting people, trying new bars - which was all great, but I started to feel the pressure. If I became tired, I thought I should have a drink. If I had a stressful meeting, I should have a drink. It became too much of the norm, and my excuse to have a drink was super quick, anything required a drink.”
That amount of drinking became unsustainable very quickly, and for Davide the consequences became very clear. There were missed deadlines, calling in sick to work and finally people started to tell him - you’re drinking too much. Rather than stop the issue, he found himself ashamed to be seen with a drink and ultimately drinking in secret.
Thanks to those who had trod the path before, Davide knew who to reach out to when he started to look into how to get out. He spoke to old friends who had experienced the exact shift in consumption that Davide was now in the grips of, and they passed on their own stories - ways of thinking that had helped them, new rituals and healthy habits.
“I tried pretty much everything, including AA meetings which are an incredible community who check in on you. The reason I’m still in the bar industry is because at one meeting I said to someone, ‘I work in a bar, and I am prone to drinking more alcohol because I work in a bar,’ and he said something that stayed with me and it’s very, very important for me. He said ‘it doesn’t matter where you work, you have to be able to deal with your relationship with alcohol regardless of what’s around you.’”
Thinking about all the other industries out there, Davide realised he was right. Whether it’s finance, construction or fashion, alcohol is a huge part of culture and it’s everywhere. “It doesn’t matter where you work, because unless you live in a desert, you will go to work and you will walk past a bottle shop, if you can stop yourself going in and buying the bottle of booze you’re going to consume then you can stop yourself touching the stuff you have behind the bar. That stayed with me.”
After that chat he started to think whatever strength was needed comes from within, and that he could stay working in hospitality. “So I tried. Some trial and error, I took six months to be away from everyone, came back to work at the Nomad Hotel and for the last 500 days I haven’t drunk.”
Davide works both in the bar and on the floor, four nights a week.
“I have this mindset of ‘I don’t drink but I don’t have to change my career’ and it’s worked for me. The beginning is the hardest. Not a lot of people know so they come and say ‘ohh let’s have a drink, let’s have a shot’. Slowly you have to build the knowledge with everyone that you don’t drink. Now they come and they respect that.”
Involved in menu development and staff education and training, Davide managed to keep an active hand in all the elements of the bar world he loves. The simple rule is he tastes and spits.
“I never drink it. There are certain drinks, especially if they’re spicy, that you feel at the back which I don’t experience but I have full knowledge of what’s on the menu and I know what the drinks taste like but I don’t drink. For a person with a physical addiction having alcohol in their mouth, I don’t know if that’s a good idea, but for me this works.”
Beyond the functions of work there are some mental exercises Davide employs when on shift, especially in the early days when he experienced a lot of emotions around missing out. To work through this he would think of what would happen after, instead of thinking of the reward alcohol would give him that night out. “I’ll think about the repercussions. If I have this drink I may enjoy tonight, I may enjoy tomorrow, I may enjoy it for a week, eventually at some point I will go back to the dark place and slowly, slowly you know it’s not worth it and then it becomes a habit.”
There’s also shots of OJ with the team instead of spirits - and now a lot of the staff at Nomad opt to have the juice with Davide, because as he points out, it’s not the shot but the coming together and taking a moment as a team on a busy night that is important - and non-alc beers after work. You don’t have to go straight home just because you don’t drink, and unwinding with everyone is still a ritual you can take part in.
“If you don’t feel like you’re part of the group you just need to do that action with them, just with a non-alc drink. Young people might be scared because a lot of connections in the bar industry are based on partying and going out. I can say though, maybe you make fewer connections but they are a lot more meaningful, they are based on something more tangible, they are based on something you can grow, rather than just going out partying and meeting a lot of people that means nothing.”
The final piece in Davide’s journey to sobriety was finding habits outside of work that supported him and kept his busy brain active. That came in the form of running and chess. “Therapy helped a lot, if I knew it worked that much I would have started therapy when I felt ok, years ago, regardless of a problem or not. Then I have to replace my hyper-addictive personality with something - one is my passion for chess and then there is the activity part of it and that’s running. I tried different sports, it doesn’t have to be running, but for me it was the best, because in a very dark place what you need is little rewards. I couldn’t run 2km, but every time I went I could run a little bit longer and that immediate reward was great.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, you can find a list of support services here at Drinkwise.org.au