FIRST PERSON: From Prague to Vietnam, an expat’s sobriety journey

Prague-based culinary entrepreneur Mariko Amekodommo on giving up alcohol in the beer capital of the world. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 02.02.2024 16:56:00 (updated on 03.02.2024) Reading time: 6 minutes

People around me often express awe at achievements like creating culinary experiences for global celebrities, appearing on larger-than-life billboards in Los Angeles, and confidently relocating to different countries. Despite these notable accomplishments, my proudest achievement is celebrating six months completely free of alcohol, marking just the beginning of my sober journey.

Alcohol wasn’t initially a significant aspect of my life. Hailing from California, I was more inclined toward other legal substances to unwind. However, everything changed when my career took an unexpected turn. At the peak of my celebrity chef life, known as the “pink hair chef,” a freak accident with a famous hairdresser led to losing my iconic pink hair. 

At an event in LA. Photo: Author archive.
At an event in LA. Photo: Author archive.

Alcohol-fueled Asia

In response, I shaved my head, dyed it black, and swiftly relocated to Vietnam with just a single suitcase and a tennis bag. Overnight, my life shifted from the glitz of the red carpet to a corporate finance role in southeast Asia.

This move marked my first experience as an expat, a term unfamiliar to me until then. I made friends with fellow expats, believing it was crucial to settling in. These friendships, however, revolved around alcohol.

These were the friends I would meet for happy hour after work, enjoy boozy brunches on the weekends, and then sober up long enough to hit the nightclubs afterward. I discovered that the seemingly effective remedy for a hangover was simply another drink, and – before I knew it – drinking became a constant 24/7 affair. Even the office had a refrigerator stocked with local Saigon beer, making it routine to indulge in one (or three) before we clocked out for the day.

New hair and lifestyle in Vietnam. Photo: Author archive.
New hair and lifestyle in Vietnam. Photo: Author archive.

Throughout this two-year period of continuous drinking, it truly became a coping mechanism for everything. I never took the time to process the events that led to my relocation from Los Angeles to Vietnam. Consequently, I resorted to drinking more. Faced with a toxic work situation, I found solace in alcohol, exacerbating the issue. Every time a situation, be it positive or negative, arose, my response was to drink. Before I realized it, drinking had become the sole consistent habit in my life, a pattern shared by every other expat I knew.

Trying a new chapter in India

Despite loving my life in Vietnam, I recognized that residing there was fostering alcoholism. As a result, I decided to relocate to Mumbai, only to discover that life in India was more challenging than I could have anticipated. Both my mental and physical health were on a decline. 

Seeking a positive change, I connected with other expats for activities such as meditation and yoga. Unfortunately, these positive endeavors often culminated in lunches and cocktails, undermining the intended purpose.

Over the following years, I recognized the issue and attempted to quit. There were instances where I managed two or three weeks without alcohol, but only due to debilitating hangovers that made the thought of drinking traumatic. Despite these efforts, social situations invariably involved drinks, and I convinced myself that making friends took precedence over abstaining from alcohol. Even when I attempted to decline, people would dismiss my decision, laugh it off, and insist on buying me another round.

Resisting Prague

When my relocation to Prague was set in motion, part of me harbored optimism that a change in country and scenery would help curtail my drinking habits. However, given my limited knowledge of the Czech Republic, I soon realized that might not be true.

My perception was primarily shaped by the notion that beer was cheaper than water, and Prague was renowned as one of the drinking capitals of the world. My Instagram feed was dominated by images of Aperol Spritzs, proseccos, and exquisite meals complemented by perfectly paired wine tastings.

"Notably, in Prague, it seemed commonplace for individuals to proudly declare, 'I don’t drink much,' while consuming a bottle of wine four to five nights a week."

Upon moving here and making expat friends, I encountered a familiar pattern – the sole focus of our activities revolved around alcohol. Despite attempts to suggest alternative options, drinking remained the non-negotiable prerequisite for socializing.

At this point, I recognized my desire to reenter the world of producing culinary experiences. To succeed, I needed to acquire the ability to coexist with alcohol constantly present. I acknowledged that I fell into the category of drinkers who were either at zero or a hundred, with no in-between. My commitment required complete abstinence while honing the skills to host events and create cocktails without succumbing to temptation. Sadly, I came to the realization that I could never be the person who casually enjoyed a few glasses and called it a night.

Finally saying 'no'

After numerous unsuccessful attempts, I finally reached the one-month milestone. Then two months passed, and I achieved the six-month mark a few weeks ago. I can now confidently host events with alcohol; there’s even a fully stocked bar and prosecco fridge in my office that I face daily without succumbing to the urge for an afternoon tequila and tonic. I enjoy going to restaurants and concerts, even if I’m the only sober person in the group.

Over these six months, my life has undergone a remarkable transformation for the better. While reaching this point was undoubtedly a process, now that I have, there’s no turning back. I've come to terms with the reality that I simply can’t drink anymore.

It’s a bittersweet realization, but simultaneously exciting because it has inspired new friends around me also to limit their alcohol intake.

Mariko’s tips for the sober-curious

Whether you aim to temporarily cut alcohol out for a month, embrace a permanent alcohol-free lifestyle, or simply reduce consumption significantly, these steps have genuinely worked for me.

  • Written reminder: I wrote a letter to my future self about an alcohol-free life, and placed it where I see it daily for motivation.
  • Accountability team: I assembled a supportive team, including my partner, close friends, and a specialized therapist from the Better Help app, to keep me accountable and motivated.
  • Fun-beverage replacements: I explored enjoyable non-alcoholic options like prosecco, beers, and wine. Check menus beforehand when dining out to ensure satisfying choices beyond overpriced waters. Do not track calories for non-alcoholic drinks to focus on the goal of abstaining from alcohol, not watching calories.
  • Reward system: Established a reward system for milestones, initially indulging in shoes and handbags and opting for weekly massages, saving for an extended holiday (humorously considering Vietnam!).

A focus on food rather than drinking

My culinary focus has shifted back to emphasizing the food, moving away from being solely centered on wine and cocktails. In the past, clients tended to prioritize the drinking aspect of events. Now, the emphasis is on crafting food experiences that leverage the best ingredients and techniques, previously unavailable in the Czech Republic, resulting in unique and innovative creations.

Notably, clients and guests increasingly request non-alcoholic options to enhance their enjoyment of the food. Interestingly, my most sought-after and sold-out events are now themed as “zero-proof fine dining experiences.”

A Mariko-style drink
Zero-proof cocktail. Photo: Author archive.

Reflecting on the six-month milestone, I feel like a superwoman – focused, calm, productive, clear-headed, and genuinely happy. Successfully navigating this journey within the alcohol-centric environment of the Czech Republic is a testament to my ability to conquer any challenge. It’s a feeling of empowerment that I cherish, knowing I can succeed at anything I set my mind to.

Mariko Amekodommo is known for creating culinary experiences for the biggest celebrities in Hollywood and hosting unique events at her studio kitchen VIP Naplavka in Prague. Follow Mariko on her Instagram account for tips towards a successful dry February, including favorite places in Prague to shop non-alcoholic wines and spirits, restaurants with the best mocktails, and recipes for making her personal favorites at home. Learn more about Mariko on her official website.

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