Everybody has to work.
Work is challenging for most people. For those new in recovery, it can be especially challenging to maintain sobriety in the work place.
Part of the challenge is that at work relationships are formed. It is almost inevitable that at some point one of your colleagues will ask you to go out for a drink. What do you do?
You know you can’t drink, but you don’t want to offend anyone. Should you tell your job that you’re sober? Do you keep it a secret? Will your colleagues think I don’t like them if I decline the offer to go out?
AAAHHHHH!!!! What to do?
Arguably the biggest challenge is dealing with drinking in the workplace is learning to be social AND maintaining your sobriety. This may seem like a tall order, but with the right mindset and a solid plan in place, you can thrive in your workplace, rock your sobriety and rise above the whispers and hearsay.
The following are five tips on how to deal with drinking in the workplace and preserving your sobriety and peace of mind.
1 – Perform Regular Personal Inventories
When inventory is mentioned at work, many people quickly think of taking stock. You have to get rid of old product, and replace it with the new. The same can be said in regards to the personal inventories that people in recovery need to perform on a daily basis.
For anyone who is recovery—and especially those in their first year of recovery—anger and resentment are major obstacles that can lead to relapse if they aren’t addressed. Staying sober in the workplace may require you to address these emotions.
For example, you may be angry in having to answer a million questions regarding why you have been gone from work or having to think about how to tell you job that you’re sober. You also may resent that people can talk so openly about social drinking in the workplace and are doing so in front of you.
Take some time, grab a paper and pen, and truly think about the underlying causes of your anger, resentments and your fears. Being able to talk through these issues with your sponsor or counselor in an aftercare program can be extremely beneficial in keeping you on an even keel and moving forward in your recovery.
2 – Choose Your Words Carefully
When someone who is new in recovery goes back to work, a question that can weigh heavily on their mind is ‘should I tell my co–workers that I am sober?’
The question of telling people at your job that you are sober can be tricky and you have to approach this with caution and tact. The fact is that you don’t have to tell anyone that you got clean and sober… that is your business. Inevitably, questions will get asked and avoiding answering these questions will only make your co-workers more curious.
If and when you need to answer those questions, keep your responses short, to the point, and you can even inject a little humor in your reply. Some examples of what you can say can include:
- “I needed to get help in order to get healthy. I am feeling so much better, thanks for asking.”
- “I have reached my quota”
- “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired”
You probably will be asked many questions regarding your decision to go to treatment and become sober; replying to those questions in a concise, confident and friendly manner will help the majority of people understand your situation.
Remember, it’s up to you. If you don’t want to tell your co workers about your sobriety, than you don’t have to. If you don’t want to keep it a secret, than just be open about it. Try not to stress about it too much.
3 – Be Prepared
Once you get back into the swing of things at work, the invitations to work parties, happy hours, and dinners with drinks may start flooding your inbox. Don’t let the pressure of work gatherings lead you to relapse. You simply have to be prepared.
It is normal to feel uneasy if co-workers ask you to join them in some cocktails after work or dinner, and if you truly don’t feel comfortable in those situations, you can politely decline. You have every right to create healthy boundaries.
If you do decide to go, be prepared of a few things!
- First and foremost, you always want to order AND get your own drinks from the bar. You never want someone who isn’t in recovery getting your drinks for you.
- Have a club soda, soda, sparkling water or other favorite non-alcoholic drink in your hand. It may help you feel more comfortable.
- If there are fellow non-drinkers at a social event or work function, make it a point to introduce yourself, make conversation and hang. Don’t be shy, social gatherings can still be fun as long as you keep your priorities in order.
- At the first sign that you feel uncomfortable, leave the function immediately—you can always touch base with the host or friends afterward. You don’t have to tell anyone, or feel guilty. Just get the hell out of there.
4 – Get Support
It was always important to continue working a program of recovery, whatever your program may be. If there is no one in your workplace who knows, make it a point to step outside and call someone. Don’t bottle it up inside, there’s no reason to.
Finding similar support in the workplace may be more challenging, but it can be done if you know where to look. Within your workplace, you can turn to those work friends who are already supportive of your decision to pursue recovery or you may be introduced to others in the workplace who are clean and sober.
Additionally, if your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), make an appointment to meet with them to see what recovery-related programs and resources they have to offer.
5 – Know Your Rights
Probably one of the most distressing questions that weighs on the minds of those new in recovery when they go to work is ‘will I get fired because I went to treatment?’ or ‘will I get fired for going to AA?”
The answer depends on your employer and the particular situation you face. In all cases, active drug use can often be a valid reason for firing an employee, but many employers have policies that are favorable to those who undergo treatment.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers great resources regarding federal laws that protect you from being discriminated against in the workplace, as well as in job training, housing, health care and educational opportunities.
Become familiar with these laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Workforce Investment Act.
Having a working knowledge of these laws will give you peace of mind upon returning to work, and provide you with options to pursue in the event you face discrimination.
You Got This!
There’s no need to cushion the truth, sobriety is challenging. Adding in other factors like work and social events makes it a little more complicated. However, staying sober in the workplace shouldn’t be a burden or an extra challenge.
Always remember why you are doing this. What is your reason to get and stay sober in the first place? Keep your recovery first, and you will be just fine.
We believe in you!!
If you have any more tips or suggestions for staying sober at work events, please leave them in the comments section below. 🙂