Should I Talk About Being Sober at Work?

Should I Talk About Being Sober at Work?

POV: You’re invited to the office Christmas party. Before you head out, you adjust your tacky sweater, look in the mirror, and shake your head. Here we go, you think. I hope I don’t make an idiot of myself tonight. But you’re not concerned about looking stupid because you’re using or drinking. You’re concerned about how lame you’ll sound explaining why you’re not using or drinking. “Come on, just one!” they’ll say. But they don’t know that one always means ten for you. And that ten at the actual party. At the after-party you’d lose that count along with your dignity. That’s why you’re sober. They don’t know the truth. And you think it might be high-time to tell them.


For those of us who have “come out” as sober, this conversation may feel redundant. Why wouldn’t you want everyone to know that you’re overcoming an addiction every single minute of every single day? You deserve a little recognition, right? You also feel like a freaking lottery winner—you’ve dodged the bullet of a lifetime of despair. Not share that you’re sober? You’d like to climb on a mountain top `a-la-Maria and the Von Trapp children and sing how the hills are alive with the sound of your sobriety.


But not everyone has this same experience coming into recovery. For many, it’s a deeply shameful, deeply emotional, deeply private and personal decision. It may not even feel like a decision yet. It may feel like something that’s been thrust upon them like a sentence. Also, it may actually be part of a legal sentence.


Fair or not, there are still disadvantageous social stigmas attached to those battling substance-abuse disorders. You can’t necessarily walk into the office breakroom and say, “I’m an alcoholic, but I don’t want you to view me any differently,” and have that request met. Our sobriety reframes us. Sometimes in a softer light, but always a light more curious.


The name of our community is Openly Sober. It’s no secret that we’re proponents of being transparent about our sobriety. While we’re not taking the position that you can’t be healthy and sober without being “out,” we will argue that making your colleagues aware of your sobriety can only help you in the long-run—even if it’s uncomfortable in the short.


Here’s a few reasons why:


1. Secrets keep us sick. If you’ve been in recovery for longer than fifteen minutes, you’ve heard this saying. Sayings are typically sayings because they represent a microcosm of truth. That standard applies here. If you’re hiding behind a curtain, even a sober curtain, you’re still hiding. Owning your choices protects your sobriety, which is a requirement for long-term recovery.

2. Sharing is a guardrail. If people are aware of your sobriety going into cocktail hours, travel through bar-ridden airports, and work-related events serving alcohol, you’re far less likely to be offered a drink. And if you are, you’ve already shared your sobriety, so a simple, “No thanks,” will suffice to decline.

3. Your transparency could save a life. According to Harvard Health Blog, 29 percent of Americans will meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder at some point in their adult life. That’s nearly one third of the people you’re at the office cooler with every day. Your transparency in sobriety could be the catalyst for someone else’s recovery. I’m sure we’d all share if we had that guarantee. So let’s all share like we do.

4. Sobriety is a privilege. It may take you some time in recovery to see how truly lucky we are to live life with our eyes wide open and our minds sharp and clear. In an interview she did for The Fix, Mary Karr describes sobriety this way: “When I got sober, I thought giving up [alcohol] was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite. That’s when the sparkle started for me.” Maybe sobriety is still a little sticky for you. But hang in there long enough, and you’ll begin to see this same sparkle. Once you realize what a gift your sobriety is, chances are you’ll happily share that gift with others.


Even non-addicts have to deal with impression-management. We all want to control (or edit, at the very least) how we’re perceived—especially in the workplace. Radical acceptance calls us to let go of this compulsion and to embrace the reality that your character alone will speak far louder than your past. 


Be honest. Make the next right choice. And let go of the rest. Good character over time overcomes most pasts—a past of addiction chief among those.