Hiding My Sobriety
self-portrait by author
For many years, I hid my sobriety from a lot of people, particularly those that I worked with in the theatre world.
I didn’t realize it, but it was hurting me to do so.
Now, I can talk about it openly, for the most part. I try to be neutral about it, as it’s my story and my life and it’s no comment or provocation or anything at all regarding other people and their relationship with alcohol.
My sobriety is about my relationship with alcohol, period. If that somehow challenges someone, that’s their business, not mine.
I worked at a lot of regional theatres, which in the U.S. means a 6-10 week gig in a city outside of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.
Typically, there may be one or two local actors in the show, but most of the cast will be from NYC or somewhere else out of town.
Let’s say, Baltimore. The theatre from there will come to New York to cast the show, and hire actors.
A day or two before rehearsals start, the actors converge on the city and move into the actor housing.
No matter how nice the housing is - or how lame - it doesn’t feel like home.
A production of a play will become a temporary community. Typically, the out-of-towners will bond with some local crew and the center of the newly forged community will be in two places, the theatre, and a bar.
Various relationships will form from there…some affairs, some professional relationships, some drunken bonding, friendships, et al.
It can get lonely for actors working away from home. Rehearsal time is challenging with a good bit of stress. Then, when the show opens, there is suddenly a lot of free time.
Bars and alcohol and an out-of-town gig = Communion. Camaraderie. Hi-jinks. The possibility of sexcapades. Professional relationships that may further careers.
For some of us, bars and alcohol = self-destruction. Loss of professional standing. Isolation. Loneliness. Despair. Hangovers. Lack of ability to function.
One theatre I worked in had a separate bar right off of the lobby. It was the gathering spot for that show. One had to walk right by the open entrance of the bar to leave the theatre. Every night, as I did so, I was called to and waved at to come into the bar to join the cast and others who were settling in.
I would say something like “not tonight,” and head on past, but it always felt like I was rejecting an invitation, and that I was missing out on being part of the community. Occasionally, I would succumb and go on in. Someone would offer to buy me a drink and I’d tell them I wanted a ginger ale.
This would be met with raised eyebrows, disapproving comments, and disappointed looks. I felt awkward and like a fish out of water.
Getting out of the bar was awkward, as well. “Where ya going?” “C’mon, stick around…want to get to know you…why don’t you hang out with us?”
I never wanted to say that I’m sober and I don’t drink and please don’t invite me to the bar it’s nothing personal it’s that it’s not a good place for me but you go ahead and have a great time.
During a run of an off-Broadway production of which I was very proud, a similar dynamic prevailed. Although all of us were living in NYC, the cast and crew bonded in the theatre, and in a bar. I was invited to the bar every day. And, of course, we had an opening party and a closing party. I attended those and immediately picked up on some of the relationships that had formed in the bar during those nights I wasn’t there. The most obvious was the drinking ringleaders. The ones that are all about drinking, and cheerleading others to drink with them.
Alcohol was a huge part of the culture and the society of those shows. Again, many professional relationships were forged in the drinking establishments. I didn’t want to be left out of that possible career advancement, but I was. Because of the feeling that I wanted to somehow belong to the society without participating in it, I kept my sobriety to myself.
That did not serve me, as I continuously fended off invitations, and I wasn’t clear about who I am and what’s important to me.
It’s been a number of years since I’ve done a show and been in that type of situation.
I’ve largely left the theatre world and have been making films and writing and I’ve gotten married and leaving town for stretches of a couple of months isn’t very appealing.
However, the next time I’m in a situation with a temporary community, I’m going to be upfront and clear about the fact that I’m sober. There’s no reason to hide it, awkward as it may feel at times.
I do know that many relationships that were created in those bars led to professional advancement and that I was missing out. Nothing I can do about that.
When one is involved in a project or community where drinking culture is dominant, it’s overbearing. The expectation that everyone should and will join in is built into it. There’s a lot of talk about alcohol, what happened last night, where are we going tonight, shots of Jagermeister, blah blah blah. Honestly, to a non-drinker, it’s fucking boring, and shallow.
It can be an extreme challenge to go against the grain, to make a statement that I’m not into that.
Drinkers who feel defensive about their drinking take a statement of sobriety as a challenge to them. It makes them wonder if there is a problem with the way they drink. And they don’t like that.
It seems easier to deflect and to evade, rather than to be straightforward. “I don’t drink. I used to, but I had my fill. Not drinking today. Thanks, though. You have a good time.”
That’s not too hard to say. I’ve become more and more open about being sober over the years. I don’t tout it, or lead with it, but If it comes up, I’m ready to talk about it.
Without knowing it, when people ask me to come to drink with them, they’re essentially offering me to partake in poison. That’s how my body reacts to alcohol.
For me, it’s a matter of life and death.