One of the biggest issues we tend to face as recovering addicts and alcoholics is knowing when and how to explain our sobriety to others. Most of us have been faced with this dread-inspiring question at one point or another: “Want to go get a drink?” Perhaps we are asked by our coworkers to join them for happy hour, or maybe a new romantic prospect asks if we would like to meet up at a local brewery for some craft beer and conversation. It is entirely impossible to dodge the issue forever, though most of us would certainly like to. Despite how much progress our society has made in the realm of addiction over the past several decades, a stigma surrounding recovering addicts and alcoholics certainly still persists. Though the brain disease model of addiction is strongly backed by a wide range of scientific evidence, many still view addictive disorders as matters of weak moral conviction, or a general lack of interest in productivity and selflessness. Due to these widespread misunderstandings, it can be quite intimidating to open up about personal struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction. Fortunately, we do not need to walk around wearing brightly colored signs that read, “I am in recovery,” nor do we need to introduce ourselves as ‘alcoholic’ anywhere other than in AA meetings.
Explaining Sobriety to Others
The way in which we explain our sobriety to others (if we do at all) will vary greatly depending on the circumstance.
- Your date asks you to meet up at a bar for drinks, or come over for movies and wine.
If I am meeting up with a new romantic prospect for the first or second time and they invite me to participate in something that directly involves drinking, I will usually say, “No thanks, I don’t drink,” or, “Thank you, but I’m not a big drinker.” Sometimes, that is as much as I need to divulge – at least for the time being. Sometimes, the prospect will follow up with, “Wait, you don’t drink at all?” If someone asks me directly whether or not I drink or why I do not, I always choose to answer honestly – especially when it comes to dating. If the person I am dating cannot accept my recovery as a vital part of my comprehensive self, is he or she really someone I want to be romantically involved with? It can be a difficult thing to admit, seeing as most of us fear rejection and judgment more than we fear… well, anything else. Of course, being honest about your situation does not necessarily entail divulging every morbid detail of your drinking and using days. “Oh yeah, I had to quit drinking because every time I did I found myself selling my body for crack and scrounging through dumpsters for half-eaten burgers.” That is called over-sharing. While you may choose to go into more detail further along in the relationship, it is easiest to stick with a neutral explanation early on, such as, “I like myself much more when I don’t drink – I tend to be a lot more productive and fun to be around.”
- Your coworkers ask you to join them for happy hour.
If you are relatively far along in your recovery, and you feel as if you can safely go anywhere and do anything without being tempted to drink, you may want to go spend time with your coworkers and order a few appetizers as they enjoy their half-priced martinis and dish dirt on the boss. If that sounds absolutely miserable, stick with the tried and true, “I don’t drink, but thanks for the invite!” It is very likely that you will be approached at one point or another by an especially nosy coworker, who will ask something like, “So… why don’t you drink?” When answering, keep in mind the fact that no one cares as much as you think they do. Also consider the fact that withholding information could potentially hinder your ability to carry the message to someone who needs to hear it. Your coworker might just be nosy… or, perhaps, he has been desperately struggling to manage his own drinking patterns, and is looking for some type of solution. Attraction, not promotion. If someone is attracted to you and seems especially curious about your ability to consistently refuse happy hour, perhaps there is something more behind his piqued interest than a desire to spread gossip.
Facebook and Recovery
- You kind of want to share a milestone on Facebook.
There are many differing viewpoints when it comes to outing your recovery via social media sites such as Facebook. Some stand firmly by the 12 traditions, which suggest that personal anonymity always be maintained at the level of press, radio, film, and social networking sites. Some believe that Step 12 is more important than Tradition 11, and that being publicly vocal about recovery will potentially benefit others.
The following excerpt is taken from the official A.A. Guidelines:
“Facebook and other social networking websites are public in nature. Though users create accounts and utilize usernames and passwords, once on the site, it is a public medium where A.A. members and non-A.A.’s mingle. As long as individuals do not identify themselves as A.A. members, there is no conflict of interest. However, someone identifying themselves as an A.A. member using their full name and/or a likeness, such as a full-face photograph, would be contrary to the spirit of the Eleventh Tradition, which states in the Long Form that, “…our [last] names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed or publicly printed.” Experience suggests that it is in keeping with the Eleventh Tradition not to disclose A.A. membership on social networking sites as well as on any other website, blog, electronic bulletin board, etc., that is not composed solely of A.A. members and not password protected, or is accessible to the public.”
According to these guidelines, there is nothing wrong with posting a Facebook status that reads something like, “Today I celebrate 2 years without a drink or a drug.” However, posting a status that reads, “Thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous and my AA friends Jim Smith, Bob Brown, and Billy Jones, I am one year clean and sober,” would be frowned upon.
- Your boss continuously schedules you to work during your homegroup.
Situations like this will crop up from time to time. Perhaps you tell your boss that you have a mandatory commitment every Monday night at 5, but he still puts you on the schedule every week. Maybe he even makes a snide remark when you bring this scheduling conflict to his attention. “What could possibly be more important than helping us out on Monday night? You know how busy we get.” If you feel comfortable doing so, perhaps pull him aside and say something like, “I have a very important meeting that I attend every Monday – it helps to keep me sober, and believe me… when I am not sober, I am certainly not nearly as accountable or reliable as I am currently! I would really appreciate the time off.” If he still gives you a hard time, maybe it is time to send out some resumes. Prioritizing your recovery is key – and so is mutual respect.
Embrace Your Authentic Self
Of course, some individuals will find that they are far more comfortable outing themselves than others. It all boils down to a matter of personal opinion and comfort level. Of course, being open and thoroughly honest is crucial to maintained sobriety, and letting your friends and family members know that you are in recovery will only work to benefit you, making you feel more safe, protected, and accountable. You worked hard to become the person that you are today! Be proud of who you are, and try not to let fear or judgment prevent you from being your authentic self.