Mardi Gras drifts on the calendar. Based on the dates of other nearby holidays, it's not as easy to remember as, say, Christmas, a date children master as quickly as their own birthday.
But Crawford Leavoy remembers that, five years ago, Mardi Gras arrived March 8. What he's blurry about is what happened in the hours, weeks, and even months that came before.
At the time, Leavoy, the current general manager of Durham's Piedmont restaurant, lived in New Orleans. For years, he was at the epicenter of the American Mardi Gras experience, the infamously booze-fueled, bacchanalian launch of Lent, during which the faithful give up something dear. In 2011, a week ahead of the party, Leavoy did what he'd been doing a lot of: he got blackout drunk.
When Leavoy finally opened his eyes around noon the next day, he was not entirely surprised to find himself in someone else's apartment. His head was pounding when he checked his phone to discover dozens of texts from concerned friends, including a few bartenders who had grown weary of watching the charming wine director from one of the city's most respected restaurants turn repeatedly into a foul-mouthed boor. There were messages from his longtime partner, too, a medical student who had spent hours trying to find him at the places he typically got wasted.
For Leavoy, this had become business as usual.
"I would get so annoyed when people told me I was drinking too much," Leavoy recalls over a stiff mug of coffee, one chilly morning at the Durham coffee shop Cocoa Cinnamon, stumbling distance from his office at Piedmont. "I thought, 'That's your problem, not mine.' I was so sick of hearing about it. But after that night, I couldn't ignore it anymore."
Terrified of losing so much that was dear to him—especially Clayton Alfonso, who he would marry in October 2014, and his hard-earned job at August, the flagship of acclaimed chef John Besh—Leavoy admitted something he had angrily denied for years: he was an alcoholic.
If he wanted to remain in his field as a wine director, not to mention grow old with his faithful partner, he needed to make some very severe changes.