Sober: Ben Johnson — the Kicking Addiction interview


Sober: Ben Johnson

Ben is one of the owners of the legendary San Diego Casbah and bartends there when he’s not playing locally in one of his bands.

We did a video interview for Reviewer TV because it’s uncommon for someone who is totally immersed in the saloon lifestyle to be a complete non-drinker when his life is so economically tied to alcohol.

(The video version of this interview was uploaded July 30, 2017, and is posted at the bottom of the page. ~Editor)

Sober bar owner, bartender, band leader, novelist, movie producer, among other things, Ben Johnson at the Casbah where he's being interviewed for Reviewer TV.
Sober bar owner, bartender, punkrock band leader, self-published novelist, movie script writer and producer, among other things, Ben Johnson at the Casbah where he’s being interviewed for Reviewer TV.

Reviewer Rob

Rob: Yeah, so the idea is, um, basically it’s gonna be about, uh, recovery, and what I’d like to do is interview different people that were able to, uh, overcome addiction, in various ways, and, also —

Ben: Did you quit drinking also?

Rob: Not fully, not that… At least it’s not killing me now.

Ben: Why are you interested in it?

Rob: Um, I think there’s a big need for, ya know, especially like with the opiate addiction and stuff, pills and stuff, that is kind of wrecking middle America, and a lot of different cities in the country and stuff, and the pharmaceuticals. Because that might not have been your Jones, but —

Ben: Oh, I, like, my longest term girlfriend, before Monique, who I’m married to now, who I went out with for, five-plus years, but she got really heavy into first pills and then the logical progression…

Rob: How is she now?

Ben: She’s finally clean.

Rob: How’d she get out of it?
(A woman interrupts to talk with Ben, hands him tickets or a flier or something and he leans across the bar to speak with her and thank her, as a guitar plays the opening riffs of Day Tripper by The Beatles in the background from the band warming up with sound-check. The music abruptly stops as Ben and her finish and he returns to the interview.)

Rob: So, yeah, um, I’m interested in like interviewing individual people that are overcoming addiction, and also getting interviews with like, different organizations like everyone from Father Joe’s to Salvation Army that provide rehab services and you know, getting that angle too.

Ben: Right.

Rob: Maybe interviewing people that are currently struggling, or helping people that are currently struggling.

Ben: (nods) Mhm.

Rob: Things like that.

Ben: Yeah, cool, I’m into it. Yeah. Totally.

Rob: Okay, good good. Thanks.

Ben: Yeah I mean, yeah I was never part of a program, I just like removed all other options from my mind.

Rob: Really?

Ben: Yeah. Because that was kind of the way that worked for me. I didn’t really, I didn’t really want to take that whole chunk of time out of my life, that, not necessarily, like that, being in a program seems to, like, kind of go hand and hand with. Like, people do it everyday, working everyday, you can go how often you want, But I just, I didn’t want my not drinking to just be my social life all of the sudden. Like, I kind of wanted to have my same social life but just exorcise that one thing, which is the negative thing.

Rob: A lot of people seem to need to get out of their peer group and kind of remove themselves from that, uh, environment, but you didn’t seem to do that. You didn’t have to do that?

Ben: I liked my peer group.

Rob: But it wasn’t a detriment to you too?

Ben: I mean, uh, it didn’t, it didn’t in any way pose an obstacle to my successfully doing it. Because I just, like I said, I just absolutely removed the option from my mind. If like I… well a lot of it has to do with how much money I make here, and I can’t just — I dropped out of high school. I can’t go make this money somewhere, just whenever — ya know?

(A person walks up out-of-frame and Ben reaches his hand across the bar.)
Ben: (to customer) Hey Buddy, how are you? (shakes hand) Good to see you.

Ben: (returns to conversation) So, that was like, I can’t quit my job! So I’m gonna have to be around booze, so I’m gonna have to deal with it. I play music. I mean that’s like pretty much the one fringe benefit that’s free of playing in clubs all the time, is that you get free drinks. Ya know, you don’t get… You might not get paid, but you’re gonna get a couple free drinks, you know what I mean? So, yeah. I mean I’ve been playing long enough that I generally do get paid, or would get paid, but ya know (laughs) you know what I’m saying.

Rob: Was there like a moment, like an epiphany moment for you, where you realized that you had to change?

Ben: That was when I, well yeah I told you in a text, I was working at Lancers for about a year, and I would just go in and start doing shots at like 9 in the morning and drinking, fuckin’ drinkin, drink drink drink drink! I mean I drank SO much, it was actually very difficult to keep up drinking as much as I needed to drink because I did not want to sober up because then I would have the mother of all hangovers. I couldn’t do that. So I just had to keep drinking, and drinking, and drinking, it was like even if I would go out I would have to go by the liquor store and grab a beer and huff it in the parking lot, and then go out. You know? I’d be constantly drinking, absolutely constantly drinking.

Rob: When was this? How long ago?

Ben: This was for… I lived like that for about ten years.

Rob: Uh huh.

Ben: Yeah.

Rob: And you were working here too?

Ben: Up until I turned 35. That’s when I quit drinking. I’m 47 now. And I was working here too. Oh yeah, I drank so much when I worked here, just fuckin’ absolutely polluted all the time. But so was everyone else when I was working here at the time. Now it’s not like that, but it sure was back then. It was full on wild west, so…

Rob: Where there a rough period, when you had to transition from drinking to not drinking?

Ben: Oh yeah! I mean, oh, there was a super rough period, I actually tried to quit one time but I made it about four months , and I thought.. like “Oh fuck it, I can have a beer with dinner or something.” And then just — (explosive gesture). That didn’t work out. So then, about a year later, when I started that first four-month period, one year later then I, uh, I did it again and that’s when.. I was working at Lancers for about a year, and used to drink all the time, and kinda closeted. But ya know, kinda not, and then I passed out drunk for like the second time, where people were coming in and like trying to poke me and going and like, leaving money by the till, and I would wake up and be like, “What’s this money?” Ya know? And so, the second time I got woken up by the girl who was supposed to come in later, about four hours later, but she had to come in early and then uh, and I was drunk. I went and passed out. Called my boss later and said, “Do I still have my job?”, and he said, “FUCK NO!” And I said, “Okay, fair enough.” And then I talked to my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and I was like, “Well, ya know, I kind of have to quit drinking now.” And she said, “Well, okay, can you just slow down?” And I said, “No, I absolutely have to quit drinking. “It’s the only thing I can do, and you know this bad thing happened and it’s about to ruin our relationship.” And I said you know, all this and that and the other. It would ruin my playing music and my job I like, which is the job here. And then I was just like, ya know, it’s time. The one wheel that fell of is the extraneous piece of shit wheel I didn’t care about. I actually did not like that job.

Rob: Oh, okay..

Ben: It was a daytime bartending job, ya know, you could get the same joke, same stories everyday from the same five guys. It just sucked.

Rob: That was the one wheel off, Lancers?

Ben: Lancers, yeah. So then I said, “Well?” and she asked me, “How are you gonna quit drinking?” and I said “Well, I’m gonna go.” We were actually going through a rough patch, because I was drinking so much, she was living over with, well, behind her sister where we both were living for a while but I was living with a friend of mine where we used to practice music, and so I said, well, I’m just going to get a shit load of beer, and I’m going to drink from now, Friday night, until Monday morning just, I’m gonna drink. That’s all I’m gonna do is drink. And then I’m gonna wake up Monday morning and I’m never gonna drink again as long as I live. And that’s what I did. That was 12 years ago.

Rob: Was anybody else in your life, like your girlfriend, or your brother, or any family members telling you, “You need to stop drinking”?

Ben: Uh, yeah. But not any intervention thing, they were just like, “Jesus Christ, dude? What are you fucking doing?” Ya know? “You’re 35 years old, and you’re like, what the fuck are you fucking doing?” Ya know.. “Get it together.” And I’m all like, “Fuck you! You fucking assholes!” And I was just like, ya know, no one could tell me shit. And uh, so, until then, I just did it. And I just removed that thing from life that was holding me back. And I’ve been on a humongously productive tear ever since then. Because I threw my energy into all the, I, I, looked into it as a fork in the road where I can continue to have my hopes and dreams and the creative things that I wanted to do since I was a kid like write books and make movies, and be in, like, playing music, and all that stuff, or I can shelve all that and just continue drinking the way I’m drinking and probably, ya know, drink myself out of a girlfriend, and bands, and job, and house, probably…

Rob: You’d be washed up by 40.

Ben: Yeah, I mean like, exactly. Like washed up before 40 years old. Just hit the gutter kid, you’re done. So rather than doing that, I wanted to keep doing all the shit! (laughs) And keep my relationships intact, and all that stuff. So, um…

Rob: And no turning back, you’ve never had any temptation to slide back, huh?

Ben: Not since then, really. No, not at all. I mean you’ve gotta understand, detoxing after you’ve been drinking that long is so incredibly painful. The night sweats, and I got fuckin’ staph infections all over my body, like peppered with fucking infections, all over my lower area —

Rob: Really?

Ben: — I have a big fuckin’ crater in my ass because of it.. And I just, I just.. and I constantly just felt sick, just so sick, ya know? And just can’t get over this awful, sickness. It just starts right in your fucking little pitted area (holds fingers of both hands at his abdomen) and just spreads throughout your bodym and just this gross fucking sickness. So, first of all, I never wanna go through that again! Second of all, I mean I don’t even really regret drinking, in even the amount I drank, because I did have a lot of fucking fun, ya know? But when it was time to fucking quit it… It’s like you have finite amount of drinks in your life. (holds arms apart, out wide) I mean, maybe you can drink until your 90, if you start when your 21, and this kind of shit — OR, you’re gonna drink like I drink and have 15 years of intensive drinking, and then not really. And I feel like I did that so much to death, that my reality was this, this ya know quagmire, kind of, and I just like… Okay I have that, and now I’m in this place where my thinking is clear, my focus is laser like, I know what I want to do…
(loud electric organ type music or something starts up in background)

Rob: So, working in a bar, being you know behind the bar and you’re part-owner of the Casbah, you see a lot of people probably that are kind of in a bad way, I mean, do you ever feel like telling them like, “Hey, why don’t you cut back a little bit? Why, don’t you like…?” Do you ever feel…?

Ben: Well first of all, fewer then you would think, who I see here at this job, it’s not like a neighborhood bar, you have to pay a cover to get in and stuff, so if you’re a ‘drinker drinker’ you’re not gonna fuckin’, like, you’re not going to very many clubs, unless their free, ya know what I mean? Everything was free for me when I was drinking that much. Like I usually don’t see huge problem drinkers when I’m here, and when I do — I mean not that I don’t — and no, I don’t, because it’s not my job to intervene. If someone wants to come to me and say, “Hey man, I need help. I need your suggestions for how I can help myself.” I’ll say, “Fuck yeah!” But it’s not my place to tell people that they should not be doing what they’re doing because if anybody told me, that kinda shit, when I was just some Joe-Blow fuckin’ bartender I’d say, “Suck my fuckin’ dick!” And they would deserve to hear that shit. So fuck that! I don’t go giving my opinion to motherfuckers that I don’t even hardly know. At all. That is not the way that I’m gonna do things ever. But if somebody wants help, fuck yeah. I will take some time to help that person.

Rob: What are the best organizations in town that you’ve heard about, but maybe don’t have personal experience with, that maybe are offering adult rehab services that people? Like, have you…?

Ben: My knowledge of those is almost nonexistent.

Rob: Really, nothing? Oh, okay.

Ben: Nah.

Rob: You don’t know anyone who’s ever had any success with those?

Ben: The only thing that I know that people do is AA, I mean, and NA.

Rob: Did you ever go to AA, or NA?

Ben: Only because I got a DUI in 1999 and it was court-mandated. When I quit drinking. No.

Rob: Okay.

Ben: I did court-mandated things until, I couldn’t. I did like two and then I just forged signatures after that. I couldn’t hang with the meetings. (laughs)

Rob: Right on.

Ben: (laughs) So there ya go, there’s my complicity.

Rob: Thanks Ben.

Ben: Right on, dude.

Sober – Ben Johnson from Reviewer on Vimeo.

Leave a Reply