What am I going to say when they ask me to go to happy hour?
What will people think if I turn down a drink?
Am I going to be an outsider? Will they think I’m a square?
Should I tell my boss?
These are all things I worried about when I stopped drinking. I became obsessed with thoughts of not fitting in, being rejected, not being able to go on dates, not being able to go to parties anymore… or bars or restaurants or anywhere!
My whole life revolved around alcohol. My social life would be severely impacted of course, but I was most worried about the day-to-day at the office. Prior to becoming dry, I was the one organizing happy hours, office parties, pretty much any reason to attach alcohol into a work event. I had no clue how I was going to address the fact that I was not drinking anymore, other than to admit that I was getting sober. And saying that out loud to people was not something I was ready for or prepared to do. Saying I quit drinking was tantamount to saying that I was an alcoholic. No way.
I just dodged people at first. I made up excuses to explain why I couldn’t go to happy hour and why I had to miss this or that get-together. It’s obviously a good thing that I didn’t have hangovers at work or miss work all together because I was so sick the day after a late-night binge. But it seemed like just too much to become someone else overnight.
But here’s what I figured out over time…
Nobody really cares. People are not as obsessed with the drinks in your hand as you are with theirs. They aren’t counting how many drinks you had like you do with them. I would always try to keep pace with them (not to keep up, but to slow down so as not too appear like the big fat drunk that I was).
For the most part, people aren’t concerned with what you’re drinking. They’re worried about their own stuff. In a social situation, the only people who really care about whether you’re drinking booze are other alcoholics and heavy drinkers. Only people whose lives revolve around drinking give two shits about what you’re putting in your mouth. Everyone else is there to socialize.
But back to feeling like I don’t fit in at work….
What I came to understand is that the coworkers who are actually my friends totally understood why I had decided to dry out. I didn’t tell them I was an alcoholic right away. I waited until I felt more comfortable in my skin and had come up with a few phrases that could use in social situations. The crew I used to party with just went on without me and were not very concerned that I wasn’t doing it anymore. Only one person wanted me to start up again and she clearly did not have my best interests in mind. She lost a drinking buddy… but I knew she’d find one again in no time. I lost an acquaintance that I would surely lose when I switched jobs anyway. Outside the bar, she wasn’t really a friend.
Generally speaking, your job won’t be contingent upon hanging out with people after work. You might lose some social cred, but your supervisor would be a fool to pass you over for a promotion just because you don’t go out drinking anymore. If anything, drinking less/none would make you a more productive employee.
On the other hand, there are some jobs that require spending a lot of time around alcohol such as waiting tables, bartending, beer or liquor sales/distribution, etc. If this is the case, you would be wise to find a different field for your talents. If your goal is long-term sobriety it will mean you have to change your playmates and playpens, so to speak. It’s extremely difficult to get sober in an environment where people actually drink at work, while working. If you keep going to a barber shop, sooner or later you’re gonna get a haircut.
You can always come up with phrases to use at work that excuse you for not going to happy hour while not totally outing yourself as a sober alcoholic. Phrases like, “Thanks, but I’m just not feeling well”, “I’m not drinking right now. I need to dry out a little”, or “I’m gonna pass tonight. You guys have fun.” Later you could move on to telling people you don’t drink anymore, but only if it comes up. I wouldn’t advise advertising this fact. It can sometimes make people feel uncomfortable when they don’t understand what alcoholism or are uncomfortable with the idea. They might think, “oh no, she can’t even be around booze or she’s gonna drink” or maybe they’ll think that you’re a ticking time bomb. I find that it’s best not to share too much about it.
I think we’re living in a time where employers are pretty sensitive to people struggling with a monkey on their back and tend to be supportive when someone is making an effort to change. I don’t think there’s nearly as much of a stigma as there used to be about admitting to being an alcoholic or an addict.
As an alcoholic, the biggest challenge I faced in the beginning was internal; finding comfort in my own skin and rebuilding my social life and social skills. I needed to re-learn how to socialize when out and about without booze in my system… how to be at an event without a drink in my hand. I quit smoking about 2 years into sobriety which sparked a huge shift in how healthy I felt. I finally felt like I had no secrets and nothing to hide from civil society. There was nothing else that had a hold on me, dictating my choices and behavior.
It is possible to get past the hurdle of changing your work persona from that of a drinker to a non-drinker. Trust me – it will be a much bigger deal for you than for anyone else.