Do Startups Have a Drinking Problem?
Sarah Jane Coffey

I’m an alcoholic, not recovering. I am a servant in restaurants. I am 34. In June, I will have been doing this for 17 years. It will officially be half of my life.

To be fair to myself without making excuses, I am the paragon of high-functioning. I’m never late for work. I’m exceptional at what I do. My finances are in order. I never turn into an asshole. I never start fights. I never vomit. I never require babysitting, though sometimes babysitting is received anyway via the concern of good friends.

Yet here I am, educated well above average but of less than noteworthy accomplishment. I account my lackluster resume to alcohol.

I’ve told my girlfriend that I’m quitting several times. It lasted a week one time, three days another, and once it was less than 24 hours. I’ve told myself I’m quitting hundreds of times for every one I’ve said it to her. I mean it every time.

Restaurants have the same work hard, play hard mentality that you describe with start ups. The thing is, it works. “Winding down” from a shift is almost necessary. When you finish up at midnight or later, you’re wired. Your head is buzzing. You can still recall every order, every refill, every moment. The only hope for sleep is sedation. I was on my feet for fourteen hours today with no break, hungover for most of it. Suffering. The only thing that got me through was a little hair of the dog that bit me. My manager gave it to me. This is a fully sanctioned, commiserated, and accepted method of survival in the restaurant industry.

I am a genius. This is a literal truth according to standard IQ testing, but not a subjective one according to my performance. I have tested higher than the presumptive IQ of Einstein, not that I could hold a candle in comparative assessment. I am a genius, technically, but I have only shame in admitting it. Whatever that label might otherwise amount to is irrelevant. It is thoroughly and demonstrably squandered.

I would blame alcohol if I didn’t blame myself first and foremost. Really though, the lure of the work-hard-play-hard mentality, the seduction of the immediate gratification of cash tips and the direct effort/reward ratio inherent in the industry, makes alcohol so endemic my daily routine and survival that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a way out.

Here I am, 34 and feeling trapped, helpless, without prospects. Do I start at the bottom of some other career, competing with people 12 years younger for half the money I’m making now? Should I do it just to get away from this lifestyle? Should I do it to have a hellbound snowball’s chance of feeling fulfillment and purpose in life? Or should I just crack another beer?

Immediate gratification might be the actual drug, here. I certainly know the easy route. I know where it leads. I keep choosing it, every day.