And of Course You Will, Too. Right??
Photo by the Author
Years ago, I jumped into a short gig as a last-minute replacement. A flight was booked, and I went from New York to Dallas.
During the work and the downtime, there was much talk of alcohol, and where we would have our dinner at the conclusion of the job. We would be in town for a few days, working hard.
I was the newbie. I wanted to fit in. But, for sure, I was not going to drink no matter anyone’s expectations or anticipation.
The work we did was to present scenes for employee training regarding diversity.
It was my first gig with this small company that was comprised of a close-knit band of actors and facilitators. They all had a ton of experience doing this, and they were very good at it.
Also, it was excellent and necessary work. I had a lot of respect for the abilities and goals of this little company, and I was very much in tune with the lessons that were put across in the training.
I wanted to do a good job, but it wasn’t an easy gig by any stretch of the imagination. I had to learn a lot of dialogue very quickly, get up to speed on performing it, and then be able to stay in character for improvised discussion with the participants. Having never done work of this nature before, I was nervous going into it.
The team couldn’t have been nicer or more supportive than they were. They were a group of work-hard, play-hard people. The focus on the work was strong and professional, but the focus on the upcoming party time was too much for my taste.
I did fine. We all did. As I subsequently discovered when I did more of these jobs, some situations were much better than others. I came to understand that there were some real challenges to pulling this one off successfully.
We were in a hotel and conference center a bit north of Dallas. I’d never been there, and I had hopes to see the city. As it turned out, I didn’t see anything other than the hotel, conference center, and one restaurant.
I remember the vibe going into the restaurant that had been agreed upon. It was an upscale TexMex place. My co-workers all turned out just a bit dressed up, looking stylish. There was a lot of laughter and teasing..and talk of alcohol.
I’ve written about how I hid my sobriety for a long time, and that I’ve stopped doing that. Well, I was still hiding back then.
Looking back, it’s crazy how expected and accepted drinking alcohol was for this group. I noted the familiar dynamic of the ring-leaders who get the menu of house cocktails and try to get the crew to get on the same page of imbibing some special drink.
“Join in! It’s fun. This is what we do!” This is the message put across. I know from my drinking days that I did this as a way of attempting to make normal my completely abnormal drinking. Hey, if I can get others to drink like I want to, I won’t stand out. Then, I won’t have to wonder if what I do is problematic.
There was a nice woman there, someone I’d sat with in the hotel lobby at one point and had a good conversation over some tea. She sat across from me at dinner. When I ordered ginger ale, she really put the high beams on me. The questions she asked about why I wasn’t drinking were kind of innocuous, but the subtext screamed loud and clear..."WHAT are you doing not taking advantage of FREE BOOZE?!? We worked hard and this is our reward. And you jumped in from nowhere - you deserve this!”
It was hard to get her to let it go. She kept the focus on my decision to not have alcohol for an uncomfortably long time.
I muddled through. I didn’t really care because I know I can’t drink safely, no matter what. I enjoyed a hell of a good meal and got a kick out of being in this kind of restaurant in Texas. Not really my thing, but an interesting experience.
If I felt like I was in danger of drinking, I would have skipped the dinner. Or, if I felt it coming on while I was there, I would have made an excuse and gotten up and left. As much as I wanted to make a good impression so that I could continue to get gigs with this company, nothing comes before staying sober.
Here’s a take on this scenario. Somehow, it seems to be socially acceptable for a drinker to question a non-drinker about why they’re not drinking, but the reverse isn’t true. Imagine if I’d said something to the effect that “I am an alcoholic and I nearly died many times over and I’m incredibly fortunate to be alive and I don’t drink one day at a time. That’s why I’m not drinking, but since you brought it up, may I ask you why you are drinking? Also, I’m curious as to why there’s been so much talk and emphasis on getting to the moment when the job is over and then it will be time to drink?”
I don’t imagine that would have gone over too well. But if people are willing to trample on my choice about alcohol, can I trample on their choice?
I don’t want to do that.
What I have learned, however, is to make clear statements that are not meant to challenge but to draw a firm and clear boundary. If I’m comfortable saying that I don’t like alcohol, or that I'm sober, I will say that. Otherwise, I’ll make something up, such as “I’m taking antibiotics and I can’t drink today.” I don’t like doing that, but I also don’t like being quizzed.
I’ve learned to do whatever it takes to stay away from a drink. It would be good if society saw the freedom of choice regarding whether to imbibe alcohol or not as a personal choice that doesn’t need to be commented on. Until we get there, I’ll take care of myself whether it feels awkward or not. I know what I need to do.