“I got out of rehab a couple weeks before Thanksgiving in 2017,” recalls Paul Cressend, sous chef at RosaBees and co-leader of the Asheville chapter of Ben’s Friends, the nationwide support group for food and beverage industry workers struggling with substance abuse and addiction.
Cressend’s family visited from Louisiana that year, he remembers, and they all celebrated together. “There was alcohol, but I occupied myself with all the cooking and spent most of my time in the kitchen, and it went well,” he says.
Fellow Asheville Ben’s Friends co-leader Andrew McLeod, executive chef at Avenue M, is also three years sober and committed to abstaining. McLeod laughs as he admits he’s always loved Thanksgiving for the sheer gluttony of it, but he and Cressend both acknowledge the need for those in recovery to remain cognizant of heightened stressors during the holidays and have a plan in place to manage them.
“Being the only nondrinker at parties naturally sets you apart,” says McLeod. “Anytime you feel alone and like someone on the outside looking in is tough. That’s the time to reach out to others to remind yourself you’re not alone.”
Weekly, in-person Ben’s Friends meetings at the organization’s chapters in more than a dozen cities were replaced in March with daily nationwide Zoom meetings, which Cressend says were a life and sobriety saver. The Asheville chapter has now resumed in-person meetings and, although no special gatherings are planned for the holidays, Ben’s Friends has added many new online opportunities. In addition to women-only and men-only offerings, there are three new meetings a week scheduled at 11 p.m., when many food and beverage folks are getting off work and going home to single-occupancy living.
Ben’s Friends Asheville meets Tuesdays at 11 a.m. at District 42 in the Hotel Arras. For information on virtual meetings, visit avl.mx/8ps.