Stigma – Selling Beer Sober (Guest Editorial)

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This article is written by Kyle Van Deventer, sales for Griffin Claw Brewing Company.

The beer industry is an industry filled with thoughts of endless streams of alcohol, beer dinners galore, festivals every weekend (sometimes multiple) and just pure gluttonous behavior. As someone who has been in the industry for over twelve years and knowing nothing but this behavior, the illustrious vision of others was becoming a stigma for me.  As a 33 year old father now, my health isn’t the greatest. My goals aren’t the same as they were when I was 21, and staying out at a bar isn’t what I would call a good time anymore. There needed to be a change, but I caught myself wondering how I could make that change. It started with plenty of fears both professionally and personally.  Having the fear of missing out, the fear of peer and customer opinions, and the fear of perception in general kept me from making any change. That is, until I went to get a check-up.

My wife’s insurance had informed us to keep discounts on our payments. We needed to get a checkout up with a doctor. I had gone in there fully worried due to the amounts of beer, eating on the road, and stress of being in a competitive sales market giving me the obvious warnings with my weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure.  None of that, however, was talked about.  The doctor wanted to talk about my liver.

Within the industry, Alcoholism and overindulging is very prevalent, and to be honest, how can it not be? When faced with the issue from my doctor, my response was always “I don’t drink at home, I only drink for work.” He then asked the question that we don’t like to think about.  “How many beers do you have a week?”  It wasn’t that I wasn’t drinking at home, but that I spent 40+ hours of work at drinkings, and tastings, festivals, and dinners.  I have seen so many of my peers battle with it, and many others have serious issues. I had to ask myself if it was already an issue for me currently, or something around the near future.

It was obvious that a change needed to be made, but I just couldn’t figure out how.  I was still having issues trying to figure out why I needed to rationalize my quitting habits.  Going back to being worried about what restaurants, beer stores, festival-goers, and my peers would think about not drinking, I finally decided I had my out.  Three days after deciding to do this, I was given my first test.  A beer festival filled with friends, co-workers, and fans wanting to drink the amazing liquid that I sell.  Less than an hour in I was feeling desperate for a drink.  Not the need to feel drunk but the need to participate in the event I’m selling.  I tried to stimulate and keep my hands busy by holding a water bottle instead of a beer cup, but I have to admit, I was getting bored.  I found myself begging for mindful conversation instead of drinking my own product, and it made me feel a bit disappointed in myself.  I had to tell myself I am better than this, and that I did not need alcohol.

I went two months without a full beer. I say that because I still sampled beers for work but nothing more than an ounce or two at a time.  I could regurgitate the information off of the sales card but I felt I did need to have a personal experience with the beer to help the customer gauge their decision.  Here comes the shocker to me though, which was that none of my peers pressured me. In fact, many celebrated what I was doing and confessed to me their problems, their struggles, their issues.  I believe that many of us in the industry keep this information to ourselves because of the same fears I have had, which is why when asked to write this article I jumped right into it.

I was able to make through Michigan Guild Festivals and beer dinners.  It became easier to hang out with friends and peers at bars without losing credibility or opportunities.  What also helped was that there was no peer pressure.  That belief and struggle are real, but I think a lot of the ‘what will everyone think of me’ is just in our heads. I began to feel better about myself and feel better in general. When it was time to have a drink again, I didn’t feel bad about it. I didn’t feel pressured, and I felt it was my decision and not the necessity of the industry.

In the end, while I may not consider myself sober anymore, I do consider myself a changed person. I let the stigma of my industry alter how I felt, and the perceptions and expectations of others determine my decisions and I let it ruin me.  Not everyone has this opportunity to see their doctor, but it may be time to start looking at a cultural change of life choices for us within the industry.  It’s time to eliminate the stigma, stop worrying about it, and start focusing on yourself.

1 COMMENT

  1. Way to go, Kyle! A long time ago someone said to me that when you stop caring about what your peers think, you transform from a follower into a leader. Congrats on the transformation!

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