I am your colleague who doesn’t drink

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Image for post
By Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I may have been sober for double-digit years. Or I may have quit this morning, desperately hoping yesterday was my last drunk.

Drinking may be against my religion. Or it may have led me to a higher power through AA.

Whether I work with you in a boardroom or emergency room or situation room or courtroom, someday you may walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting room in a church or community center looking for help with your drinking, and find me there. I will help you.

I may have been one of the 102,000 U.S. adults who seek treatment for alcoholism this year. That may have saved me from being one of the 3 million people around the world who die this year from alcohol-related causes.

I may have been sexually harassed, which happens much more often at a hard-drinking workplace. Or I may be one of the 11% of workers who have embarrassed themselves while drunk at an office party.

It may threaten my sobriety, serenity, and life when the office emphasizes drinking in work-related social activities. Or it may not faze me a bit. I may in fact enjoy being the designated driver.

My past drinking, abuse of expense accounts, and lost productivity may have cost the company dearly, part of the $249 billion annual cost of drinking in the United States. If I am in recovery, that experience may help save a coworker from going through the same costly pattern.

I may relapse, as 40%-60% of alcoholics and drug addicts do. Or I may be among the 13% of American adults who have never had a drink or a craving in my life.

I may have begun abusing drugs by taking Adderall as a “study drug” in college. Or I may have gotten hooked on crystal meth so I could hold down two blue-collar jobs in the recession. Or I may be struggling to free myself from the deadly undertow of opioid addiction.

When you casually lament a hangover or recount binge drinking it may unnerve me. Or I may get a kick out of it and tell you that you are an amateur.

Substance abuse by US industry

When I run out for an hour at lunch and return relaxed, I may have gone to my AA home group at the church down the street. Or I may think AA is creepy.

I may have run out at lunch to a temple or mosque to observe my faith. Or I may not be religious.

I may need an ally at work when booze comes up. Or I may be so comfortable that I can happily pour others drinks, like Sam Malone on “Cheers.”

I may be one of the 19% of hotel and restaurant workers who abuse drugs and alcohol. Or I may be one of the 5% of teachers who do.

I may be an alcoholic writer, like William Faulkner, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others. Or I may have feared I couldn’t writer sober, only to document my struggle in a bestseller.

Our employer may be a large, woke tech company with an employee assistance program that can arrange in-patient residential treatment for 28 days. Or a hard-drinking brogrammer startup with no HR support. (See excellent Medium post by Sarah Jane Coffey here).

The whole office may know I don’t drink. Or no one might.

When shouts ring out on a Thursday or Friday that everyone at our workplace needs to or has to, or really should drink alcohol, I may or may not speak up to tell you that alcohol landed me in the hospital or jail.

I may or may not speak up to tell you that I feel awkward and unsafe when peer pressure to do something that would endanger me is yelled at me in front of others while I work.

But whatever else I may or may not do, I don’t drink and I do work here. If those two facts need to be reconciled, we have some heavy lifting to do.

I drank the first quarter-century of my working life, beginning with my first job at 17. I had my last drink on March 13, 2006.

Former WSJ reporter and syndicated columnist working in the blogosphere. Once sold books to Johnny Cash. My Medium post about that was praised by Paris Review.

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