Après-Ski Serenity: 90s Memories, Sobriety, and a Sip of Something Different

Since the day I was born, beer has been an omnipresent staple in my life.

Before I tasted wine, which would become my drink of choice and also the nail in my coffin, so to speak, before mommy wine culture was an even thing, before my relationship with alcohol would be labeled as problematic, before my recovery, if you call it that, or my discovery, if you don’t, before my sober coach training or expertise in the alcohol free space, before I became the person I am today, before I knew anything about alcohol, there was beer. Beer was my first sip. Beer was tightly woven into the tapestry of my identity. It still is. In short, I love beer.

In some ways, falling in love with beer was my destiny.

My parents were both beer drinkers and beer lovers who met in a local beer tent. I was born in a small town that was home to more bars than churches. The local taverns had more worshippers than the parishes. My hometown is located in a state whose Major League Baseball team is named after the beermakers. If you’re thinking about Wisconsin, you’re absolutely right.

When you say Wisconsin, you’ve said it all! ”

I drank “Wisconsinbly” for 30 years. I started off young. 12 years old, to be specific. This might sound alarming, but it was pretty normal for my upbringing and environment. After my parents’ chance meeting in that beer tent on that hot summer night in the 70’s, their romance was a quick and short-lived holy matrimony. They were divorced before my third birthday. A few things they had in common were that they both loved my dad’s family, Paul Simon music, the name Benjamin, beer, and me. These things kept me connected to them. I kept them connected to each other, my little family of origin. “Broken home,” some might say, which doesn’t really feel fair. I would say the divorce was a big fix instead of a break for all of us. I am forever grateful that my parents didn’t stay together. Regardless, the ending came with loss and sadness on all sides. Divorce was my biggest tragedy as a young girl, and I used it to propel me into perpetual happiness. I had to prove I wasn’t broken at all. I was happy. I was perfect. I was not sad; I was having fun. My parents were fun people, and we were all okay. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

I drank beer all through high school. On rare occasions, someone would throw in a little root beer schnapps or maybe even peach (literal barf for my best friend but not me). I was not one to turn down any offer of alcohol. Bartles and James strawberry wine coolers made their way to me at times, sitting around a sand pit in the dog days of summer (also ew). But nothing really compares to beer. Cheap beer was my steady and reliable companion. Busch Lite was my first true love. I was fickle, though. I loved beer. All beer. Any kind of beer. My only preference was to get as much of it as I could. I was born for this.

I was proud that I was not one of those fussy girly girls that needed Malibu Rum or other sticky sweet drinks that required cups and mixers. That was reserved for total uptight divas, in my opinion. I could drink straight-up beer of any kind right along with the boys. I used to say that I could “drink them under the table.” That was my bragging statement. My siren song. My mating call. I really could, though; it was true. I thought this was one of my most redeeming and attractive qualities. I was a real drinker. Who doesn’t love a down-home, no-fuss, beer-drinking country girl? Yeehaw, let’s go! Giddy up, Cowboys!

In my early twenties, I could ditch the fake ID and drink like a grownup. I got into tasting craft beers. Sampling and beer flights, if you will. This felt like a way more sophisticated drinking experience. I could actually taste my drink. Then I would form an opinion about it. The goal wasn’t the same as my previous drinking goals, i.e., repeatedly heading to the keg to quickly get as drunk as possible before the cops came. I was consistently headed to the keg. The tap controlled by a cute and powerful frat guy. The plastic cup in my hand was always ready to be filled. Filling my cup and my heart, both empty vessels waiting with desire to be filled with boozy, woozy euphoria, was always the goal. I wasn’t alone; I was among the masses of students and cobwebs in the dark and random basements of off-campus housing looking for alcohol and love weekly from Thursday through Sunday.

To further refine my mature drinking palette and environment, I worked on the ski hill in Breckenridge, Colorado, during my college spring break. Never mind that my name tag says Amy. I was a temporary employee, and they would not give me a permanent name tag with my own name on it. Amy, it was. Other than that small detail, this was a dream job. I was terrified to go because I had no friends. No one even knew my name. Still, I loved the scene at the Bergenhof Restaurant and Lounge at the bottom of Peak 8. This gave me great bragging rights for the rest of my life. Even now as I write this, I just know I am impressing you.

The Summit Daily reported the Bergenhof closing in 2013. When it opened, the Bergenhof was the only restaurant on the mountain and was equipped with bathrooms, something former patrons say was a big deal at the time. Its grand stone fire place, bar, and wrap-around deck made it an instant success and gathering place for skiers at the end of the day.

IT WAS A LOT OF FUN IN THOSE DAYS,” FORMER BERGIE MANAGER MICHAEL COLPITTS, WHO RAN THE RESTAURANT FROM 1974 UNTIL 1990, TOLD THE SUMMIT DAILY IN AN EMAIL. “PEOPLE DRANK A LOT AND SKIED A LOT. THERE WERE TOWN RACES. PEOPLE COMPETED HARD IN THE RACES, BUT THEY DRANK HARDER. AND THEY DRANK IN THE BERGIE BAR. He remembered pouring plenty of Coors, for $1 a beer, and peppermint schnapps, also $1 each, and seeing some locals every afternoon, even when they weren’t skiing. The restaurant served “Bergie balls,” which were burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, or whatever other food didn’t sell during the day, deep-fried and served as fritters. Happy hour brought a free taco and appetizer bar, sustenance that the “ski bums” told Colpitts got them through the winter.

It was the happening place,” he said.

I can echo that it was a happening place with hard-core skiers, hard-core drinkers, and me (a wannabe of both). Sun streamed through the wrap-around patio into the A-frame windows, framing a spectacular view of Spring Breakers coming down Peak 8 in t-shirts. They were carving fresh tracks in last night’s new fallen snow. The luring smell of the grill, serving up cheeseburgers, wafts over the lift, and the crowd every afternoon is an invitation to sit down and enjoy apres’ ski. Heavy pour on the apres.

For me, I had an eye for one thing and one thing only. Boys. There are so many beautiful, fit, adventurous, and outdoorsy college-aged boys. I was in a pure heaven of my own making. As a cocktail waitress, I delivered beer after beer to these windburnt and fresh-weathered faces with big smiles and wide eyes.” The “Bergie,” as it was called, was full of young men. They were pumped up on their egos and adrenaline. They were all looking for a good time, and so was I, err, Amy, I should say.

They would sit there being beautiful with goggles on top of their darling bedhead hair, bibbed snow pants zipped down to the waist, and fluorescent jackets sitting next to them on the picnic tables. Rows and rows of gnarly guys. Take your pick. I wanted to be sitting at the table with them instead of standing over them taking their orders. To be in their vicinity was the closest I ever came to being ultra cool. I was often so caught up in my own fantasy that I missed the calls and requests for refills. Rather, Amy did. She never came when called. She was a terrible cocktail waitress. She was always meant to be consuming the drinks, not giving them away. I’m not sure how my bartending dad ever did it. He took his work home with him; I know that part.

When my shift at The Bergie ended, there were festivals and events in this darling ski town for me to partake in. What I recall most from those events was the beer tasting. I would take my special employee tin cup to the tents filled with twinkly lights and fill it up with tasty microbrews. This tin camper mug was a special badge of honor for employees only. Without a name on it, both Amy and Heather had an endless supply of beer and male attention. Getting buzzed in the chilly air felt so wholesome and outdoorsy. Healthy even. Wandering around in my cute hat and chasing the hottest of ski bums was me living my ultimate dream come true. I was worlds away from Wisconsin, where I drank cheap beer in stinky cow barns and basement laundry rooms. This was exactly who I wanted to be. Drinking craft brews in healthy elegance, I continued to enjoy beer, particularly microbrews, for years. Give me an old-fashioned malt beer, a Pilsner, wheat, pale ale, or amber. I loved them all. I always knew I loved beer more than most. I secretly suspected (and hoped) I would give it up someday. I wanted to be free from my desire to always want more and my overwhelming fear of never wanting to miss out. My biggest upset was always closing time. I would definitely try to hide from my ride because I never wanted to leave. I never wanted the party to end. I was always seeking an afterparty. Alcohol gave me anxiety, which would increase in the decades to come, but I didn’t know that yet. I hadn’t turned that corner.

I thought I was at my best when I was socializing in a bar with friends, on a few beers, dancing to my favorite songs. I was the quintessential party girl. I was often truly having the time of my life. Alcohol never did me any favors, but it gave me something to do with my nervous energy. It diluted my overactive, anxious mind. It threw my caution to the wind, replacing it with uninhibited courage. I thought I was my truest self when I was drunk. For a long time, this seemed to work for me. At the time, it was all I knew.

Beer was my drink before drinking became such an obvious problem for me. Beer was a drink I drank with friends and never alone on the couch. Beer was my youth, my social life, my family heritage, and my celebration. It was not the wine that became self-medicinating for my grief when the dark days came. Wine ended up overshadowing everything; it became the center of my drinking story. I forgot how much I loved beer.

Last night, my husband and I went to Go Brewing, an alcohol-free bar in Chicago, to listen to live music by Tres Mustache, a lively band playing all my favorites. As I sipped my second alcohol-free Burn It Down IPA, that happy buzz started to come over me.

The women sitting next to me brought their own soup. Is there anything more precious, wholesome, and potentially sober than that? The family with adult children in front of me was playing Euchre. Euchre is my favorite hometown card game. I started my own Euchre club after getting sober. Tres mustache belted out the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and Billy Joel. These are the expected and typical classics. It was when they played Barenaked Ladies that I really started to appreciate them. I love BNL more than most. I trekked out to the renowned Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado to see them with my parents, my brother, and my kids in tow.

When I heard the beginning notes of Santeria by Sublime, I knew Tres Mustache and I were jiving. By now, I was having the best time, taking in the food energy around me. The music and the beer were taking me right back to the late 90’s. By the time they played Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise, I had nearly lost my mind. We were really tapping into something now, and it wasn’t the desperation of years past.

They played “Piano Man,” and my husband and I smiled with our memory. It was the last song at our wedding reception over 20 years ago. A tight circle of those still standing after midnight swayed and sang along. We drank our lakefront venue out of tequila. The staff was surprised, and we were impressed. Still, I remember the moment, a new bride and groom surrounded in love, friendship, and debauchery. I am locking this into my core memory to never forget. We hold hands now. The quiet comfort of a lifetime together. We sing along in between fielding text messages, triaging Netflix password issues, and other urgent care matters with our teenage daughters.

There was a real moment of magic when they played Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” I was reminded of my bridesmaid era, many moons ago. At one great wedding, the live band, including all the horns, came out onto the dance floor while playing this song. The trumpeter and I were in the middle of the circle, absolutely crushing it together with his music and my moves. Our friends are screaming in admiration. I am smiling at the memory as I sing along in the back of the bar on this cold January night. I’m thinking of my parents. When my dad passed away over a decade ago, my mom comforted me by sending Simon’s Father and Daughter song. A little something we all loved: Paul Simon’s music.

Since my first introduction to Go Brewing and owner Joe Chura, I have felt immense gratitude for the space, ideas, events, beers, and mostly the creation of a community for like-minded people. I was also struck with a vision of wishing my dad could have had the opportunity to serve alcohol-free drinks behind a bar. I can see him thriving using his outgoing personality and charm as an alcohol-free bartender. He stopped drinking while I was still young, but he never stopped going to bars. He was always able to find his people bellied up on barstools. He was comfortable in a bar, and like me, it was often where he shined. He was the one to serve beer at the head table at my wedding. He saw I was frantic. We had arrived and had no drinks. He read my mind and immediately took care of it. He got pitchers of beer and started filling the glasses of my wedding party.

On this night, in this alcohol-free gathering space, I was feeling the energy and singing, “Mr. Beerbelly, Beerbelly. Get these mutts away from me. You know, I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore. If you’ll be my bodyguard, I can be your long-lost pal.” thinking about my dad.I hope he heard me from his resting spot high on that bluff just outside our small hometown.

I was feeling absolute nostalgia and magic with the taste of good beer, my husband’s company, and the entertaining music. Happiness was flowing from the inside out. A cute couple was dancing in front of me. I was inspired to get up out of my chair too.

It was getting late by my conservative 9 p.m. standards. I was ready to go, but I couldn’t pull my husband away. He was having too much fun, to my surprise, on our little sober date. He was just beaming at me all night with love and pride. I know he is happy that I have found my way to be myself, the person he has always loved but hasn’t always known, without alcohol. We met in a bar after all. He has been my biggest support through ditching the drink. It’s been a journey to let him love me that much and receive his love too.

The night ended with the sing-along song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. The entire bar was singing so loudly that you’d think we were drunk. And we were. Drunk on atmosphere. On music. On connection. On sobriety, when everyone stopped singing, my dear husband was also absolutely high on good times and was the only voice to belt out with a smile: Da-da da da (Da-da da da), Da-da da da (Da-da da da), Da-da dum diddy dum diddy dum diddy da da da.

I just fell even more in love with him than ever before. We’ve been together for over 25 years. We have been to stadium concerts and private shows. We have been in the front row, backstage with the band, and in the nosebleeds together.

Last night we were holding hands and singing our tapestry of songs together. I realized then that it was never the alcohol. It was always me. It was always us. It was always our own energy that we brought to the table. I was never drinking under the table. It was always the fire and the light that I had burning inside, bursting to get out. Love and energy. Ideas and connections Magic and stardust. I can align with so much clarity now. I can let myself be who I am without the mask of alcohol. I have learned how to be who I have always been. I never needed alcohol. Alcohol never helped. It was always an illusion.

I am nostalgic for beer from the late 90’s, but not in a way that makes me want to go back. I am happy to be right where my feet are. I want to be tapping and dancing on the ground beneath me. I am thrilled to have reinvented this elevated, healthier version of myself.

Da-da da da (Da-da da da), Da-da da da (Da-da da da), Da-da dum diddy dum diddy dum diddy da da da.

Damn, this alcohol-free beer tastes good. Hubs and I just booked a ski day. Now I’m living my actual ultimate dream come true. In a pure heaven of my own making once again. Sober.


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