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JASON DAVIS: Fighting addiction, working out, and inspiring others
Chicago Pride pics, work-out Instagrams and a meme that says “no matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch” led to an odd silence on Jason Davis’ Facebook last summer.
Usually busy with cheeky updates and promos for the nights he tends bar at Mary’s in East Atlanta, his feed went mysteriously dark for three months starting last August before he returned quietly with more of the same. Until Nov. 19. “If anyone was curious why I really disappeared for a minute, it’s because I was drinking and doing drugs again,” Davis posted. “Everyone says ‘relapse is a part of recovery,’ but I didn’t think it had to be part of mine, nor did I think it would last four months…
“I just hope that someone can learn something from me, without having to go through all the bullshit I have,” he said.
‘It’s hard to do that drug casually’
Davis’s story seems unlikely if you spend a night across his bar. He’s the 35-year-old drink-slinging, karaoke-singing bear laughing above the crowds every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night at Mary’s — a gay bar he’s helped make famous over the past eight years.
But how much do we really know about our favorite bartenders?
“I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and my parents were very strict,” Davis recalled. “My dad had a way of making me feel shameful for doing anything I wasn’t supposed to do and when I was an adult, I decided to get out of the religion and do everything I couldn’t do before.” And did it he did. Davis started drinking at 20, and hard drugs came just two years later. He’d left home in St. Louis, Mo., for South Florida where a boyfriend with a latent proclivity toward violence introduced him to meth. Just a year later, he found himself hallucinating in strangers’ homes for days at the time.
“I lost all my friends, lost touch with family, lost my job, lost my house.” he said. “It’s hard to do that drug casually.”
At the end of 2003, at rock bottom with nothing to lose, Davis was rescued by a familiar face. The boyfriend who’d introduced him to meth was attempting sobriety in Texas and asked Davis to join him. The two quickly fell back into old habits and the relationship ended after an altercation where Davis reports having his scalp bitten and shin kicked in.
“The very next day I got on a plane to Atlanta,” he said.
Shame and perfection
Several years of on-and-off meth and cocaine use grew tiresome as Davis built a new life with old friends in Georgia.
Depressed and still addicted in 2008, Davis started seeing a therapist once a week, reluctantly tracing his struggles with drugs back to two things that haunted him: the guilt, shame and self-loathing attitude he attributes to an extremely religious upbringing, and his tendency to be a perfectionist, even at the cost of his health.
“I thought that if I couldn’t set out to do something perfectly, then I probably wouldn’t give it an effort... Realizing that I would have to make some mistakes going into to it, I was able to commit myself to an idea to change myself for the better,” he said.
There was an attempt at a not-so-complete sobriety in 2009, when Davis quit drugs, but continued drinking, hoping for the best with help from his therapist and his support group of friends and family. It didn’t stick.
“It was hard for me because I work in a bar, but I don’t see myself as a textbook alcoholic, but then I would realize that I would drink, get drunk and make bad decisions,” he said.
In October 2010, Davis quit drinking and began his longest period of sobriety in eight years. A couple months later, he joined a gym and committed to a “Biggest Loser” contest with a fellow bartender who happened to be studying diet and exercise.
A sweets and fried-food lover boasting 299 pounds at his heaviest, Davis knew it would be an uphill battle. He photographed himself to track his results.
Davis combined elements of the “Body for Life” program he’d tried when he was younger with tips from his challenger and trainers at the gym. He watched portions, ate balanced meals and dropped weight almost immediately: 40 pounds in three months.
“It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was accomplishing something I set out to do and people would come up to me and start complimenting me on things and god I love that,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a total attention whore and when people say those things to me, I just eat it up.” Better that than the sweets and fried food. In March 2011, Davis bravely Facebooked a photo of his 2010, 299-pound shirtless self with a current after photo: 249 pounds. Then in July 2011, 219 pounds. February 2012, 199 pounds.
Sober for 20 months and 100 hundred pounds lighter, by spring 2012, he was running out of things to talk about in therapy.
‘The end of it’
Physically remade and surrounded by good friends, Davis leaned on the idea that he’d never truly been that “textbook alcoholic” and allowed himself to drink at Chicago Pride.
“But once I allowed myself to make an exception, I started making all kinds of exceptions,” he said.
Davis ran into meth again during a July 2012 hook-up that ultimately lead to the moment he calls “the end of it.”
“Of course when it was there and when it was in front of my face, I couldn’t say no,” he said. “I found myself completely weak again and taken over.”
Swallowed whole by the familiar combination of guilt, shame and addiction, Davis continued to use. By the end of October 2012, he’d disappeared from Facebook and “everywhere,” he said.
A black out scared him into trying again for sobriety.
“When I came to and started to remember, I thought, ‘This is out of control. This cannot happen anymore. I care about my life too much, and I care about the things I’ve accomplished and I don’t want to throw it all way.’” he said.
By Nov. 19, Davis had again committed himself to sobriety and boldly took his confession to Facebook.
Davis, now more than 60 days sober, says he likes the idea of being held accountable by the 800 or so people connected to him online.
“Some of my friends think I’m crazy for not keeping myself more private, but I don’t really have a reason not to. I’m not going to be president some day,” Davis said, laughing again.
More than anything, he hopes his honesty and humor can help others escape the isolation he felt in his darkest days.
“When you’re going through something like this, addiction or trying to recover, it’s very easy to feel very alone,” he said. “I’ve had friends open up to me and tell me things they’ve gone through and I would have had no idea.
“I know a couple of instances where I’ve inspired people to get clean or lose weight,” he continued, “and even if it’s only a couple, that makes me feel good about putting myself out there.”
Dec. 2010: 299 pounds
Feb. 2012: 199 pounds
Jason Davis chronicled his weight loss in these photos on Facebook, and eventually came clean about his struggles with addiction last November. (Courtesy photos)