Alcoholism In Hospitality & How I Went From Bartender To Personal Trainer

19th May, 2021 in Mental Health

Alcoholism in hospitality & how I went from bartender to personal trainer

My name is Stuart and I’m a Personal Trainer up here in Aberdeen, Scotland, but that’s only been my job for the past year. The 12 years before that I worked in the hospitality trade from bar back to bar manager.

12 years ago, I started work in a local hotel bar. I didn’t think my time in the trade would last as long as it did, as I was studying at college, but I started to really enjoy it - even more so when I moved into Aberdeen itself. It was one of the biggest and busiest bars in Aberdeen at the time, Oil & Gas was booming up here and no one was afraid to splash their cash.

Throughout my time in the trade, I always loved fitness. I’d try to get to the gym, out running or hillwalking, and I also added in two big mountaineering trips to Nepal. I knew it was something I loved but I always had another issue forming, one that only recently I managed to kick, and that was my drinking.

For the first 6 years of my time working behind the bars, it was amazing. I was young and there was such a good sense of community between a lot of bars and bartenders.

Stuart Ritchie making cocktails while working as a bartender in Aberdeen.

The latter 6 years is where my drinking started to take a turn for the worst. There were a few things that all seemed to align at the same time.

Due to the type of bars I worked in, I found it difficult not to drink. One was a craft beer bar, where there were always new beers coming out every week, so it felt like you had to drink them. The other one was a late-night cocktail bar, where drinking on shift and on breaks was normalised. That, and adding in the late hours, really drove my drinking to a low point where I needed to go to the Doctors, where I was put on anti-depressants. I knew it was my drinking that was causing these lows, not anything else.

My working environments, coupled with a relationship break-up, caused my drinking to get out of control.

Back then, I knew it was bad but because everyone else was drinking around me, and there were always people keen for a night out, I didn’t see it as a massive problem. This dance between drinking and my mental health went on for a long time. Sometimes it would get really bad and other times it would ease itself off.

Just a few years ago I decided to change my career path a little bit and move into brewing, where I was offered a role at a local brewery as an assistant. In my head this would take me away from that bar environment and maybe help my drinking out, but it just condensed all my drinking into the weekends where I had days off. Luckily there was a gym right next door, so I signed up as I’d been putting on weight over the past year. That gym made me fall back in love with fitness and made me realise that I was more interested in things like weight loss and exercise technique, than I was about different hops and brewing styles.

It was then I decided to bite the bullet and sign up online for a Personal Trainer Qualification.

Stuart Ritchie running in a wooden forest wearing sports gear

Last year during the first lockdown, and whilst being a fully qualified PT, I was on furlough from a hotel gym I was working at. I was doing some work behind the scene trying to set up my own business but wasn’t making huge progress. The same issue that started to form 6 years ago was still there, holding me back.

Leaving hospitality work didn’t stop my bad drinking habits that had formed over the years and lockdown made them worse. It got to the point where I was drinking most nights in a self-destructive way, like I wanted to do real damage to myself. I’d sit and drink in my parent’s kitchen, my mind plagued with suicidal thoughts and then blackout.

Then one day in early October, after trying to drink enough alcohol so I wouldn’t wake up the next day, I knew deep down this had to stop. I was a wreck of emotions and finally reached out for help as I knew I couldn't do this alone. From that day I'm now over 7 months sober and I couldn’t be happier. I knew moderation wasn’t an option for me so decided to give up alcohol for good.

Stuart Ritchie looking at the sky while trekking on snowy mountains in Scotland

Despite my choices, I’m not here to preach about sobriety. If I could safely have a drink without falling down that hole again I would. My relationship with alcohol just isn’t healthy and doesn’t sit well with how I want to move forward with my life. Early morning clients and hangovers would not go down well at all.

As a personal trainer, I’m here to help people get fitter and healthier but I want to do more than just that - given my experience with drinking and my time in the hospitality trade. I’d love to create a safe space for local bartenders to speak freely with me when things are getting too much. I have the expertise of helping people become fitter and healthier, and while also having my experience with alcohol, I’d love to combine the two in a way that helps people who are maybe going through a similar situation to mine.

I decided opened up on my social media platforms to everyone about my drinking issue and lift that weight off my chest as I hadn't really told anyone about what had been going on. I got a lot of great feedback and response from my posts, leading to a local TV interview and a friend putting me in touch with Tim (founder of Healthy Hospo).

Stuart Ritchie smiles at camera whilst making cocktails in a bar

The point of me opening up about my drinking problem was to get people to think about their own drinking habits before it got to that stage – it can be very easy to fall down that hole. If you’ve started to feel your drinking is getting out of control, perhaps my story may be enough to help you take a step back – or to reach out to someone you trust for support.

It can be tough in the hospitality trade to find the time to really focus on your wellbeing. So here are a few words of wisdom to help you shift your mentality from working the longest hours and drinking the most, to living a healthier lifestyle.

1. Find time in the day for yourself

Whether that's waking up earlier to go for a walk, having a stretch, or having a gym session, try and do one thing every day that is good for you physically or mentally - and try not to spend your days off back in your work or local bar for a full day!

2. Realign your balance between good and bad habits

If you want to make a positive change and become healthier, the balance between bad and good habits needs to change. If for example you drink a lot of alcohol, going to the gym a few times a week isn't going to help that problem out in the long run. Slowly start to increase your weekly exercise, swapping out times where you might have spent it drinking.

3. Make use of 24-hour gyms

There are lots of 24-hour gyms out there now which make it great for working late hours in the hospitality trade. Try ditching the post shift pint a few times a week for a session in the gym. Most gyms have a variety of different classes like cycling, rowing and yoga – so there’s much to explore if the gym isn’t usually ‘your thing’. A lot of times post shift I'd still feel awake for an hour, so try hitting up the gym on the way home, shower and get a good sleep. You’ll feel a lot better for it the next day.

4. If you don’t like the gym, try online workouts at home

If going to a gym sounds a bit too daunting there's plenty of workouts and exercises that can be done at home - with very minimal equipment, even just body weight. Having a weekly stretching routine will also do wonders for your body. In the hospitality trade, we spend a lot of time standing on our feet. Waking up and spending 10 mins on some stretching can loosen up your body before a long shift - and maybe keep some body pains at bay for a little longer. Same goes for after a shift if you feel sore.

5. Get in touch with a personal trainer to help youout

Most PT’s will have a wide range of services which start off at a lower price and work upwards depending on the individual. Having a PT there once a week, or even once a month, can keep you accountable to put in the work to help you live fitter and healthier. Even cutting one/two night(s) out a month would give you enough money to invest in your health.

I hope that through my experiences within the hospitality trade over the past 12 years, the highs and the lows, people who relate to my story may find comfort and hope in knowing where I am now.

If you’re interest in my journey and the work that I do, feel free to follow my socials:

Personal Instagram: @stuartritchie11

Business Instagram: @trekclimbfitness

Business Facebook: facebook.com/trekandclimbfitness