Eventually, many people who quit drinking decide to be honest about their sobriety with friends, family, and coworkers.
When I was drinking, it touched every corner of my life. It bled into personal and professional affairs. But announcing my sobriety to friends and family was easier than figuring out how to share it in the workplace.
Navigating where sobriety falls in a professional atmosphere can be challenging. Not everyone has the luxury of standing up to, and speaking out against, the mental health stigmas often associated with alcohol use disorder. For some, it’s easier to keep their recovery out of the workplace altogether. For others, it may feel a huge part of their life is missing or unseen without it.
How do you know coming forward with your sobriety at work is the right decision?
There’s no “one size fits all”—everyone has their own path for discovering what works. As you’re figuring out this new territory, here are a few helpful tips and tricks from people who’ve been there to help ease you into this transition.
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1. Remember that negative feedback is usually a mirror.
After opening up about my quitting drinking professionally, it forced others to confront their own drinking behaviors. One time, an acquaintance questioned me about my recovery saying, “I think everyone drinks too much now and then. Don’t you think sobriety is an extreme response?” I’m glad I could pause and stand firm in my recovery. Some people are uncomfortable with their own situations. People tend to dislike what they do not understand, or what shines a light on parts of themselves they’ve been ignoring. Know that not everyone will be supportive of your decision—focus on the ones who are.
2. Do what’s best for your recovery.
While many businesses are more progressive, sometimes when we’re newly sober, involving the workplace can be counteractive to our long-term success. Clinically licensed social worker, Lisa Silverman, says she would “consider the length and strength of your sobriety” as well as your motivation for telling your workplace about your new sober status. For Lisa, her work is an extension of her life, so it made sense for her to open up about her recovery. “I enjoy work relationships, so being exactly who I am is part of that. For others, work is a small part of their life they view as separate and may not make as much sense to be ‘out.’”
3. Don’t force it.
Starting small and letting others know about your sobriety, as it comes up naturally, could benefit you in the long run. Molly Ruggere, a contributor to The Temper and CEO of Counterculture Club says, “I told my boss very early on that I was sober because it came up organically when we had after-work dinners or drinks to go to.” Putting less pressure on sharing about your recovery can help alleviate some of the stress and let go of what others are thinking. Molly adds, “I never go out of my way to tell someone I’m sober. I don’t think it’s usually as big of a deal to anyone else as it is to us, so it really only makes sense for me to share if it comes up in conversation or if I’m offered a drink.”
4. Improved work performance can speak for itself.
When drinking culture is part of the job, saying “no” to alcohol can feel like turning down a business opportunity. But you’re not; you’re opening up so much more. Kristin Fowler, recovery advocate and sober mom of two, explains, “Heavy after-hours drinking is extremely synonymous with the industry I work in, and since getting sober I’ve had copious amounts of booze offered to me.” But overall, she feels turning down alcohol hasn’t ruined any business opportunities. If anything, it’s opened new doors. The proof that getting sober was well received by her superiors came through improved work quality and the ability to successfully take on overwhelming projects. She has received several promotions since getting sober, so she didn’t feel the need to tell her boss directly about her recovery.
5. “I don’t drink anymore”.
Sometimes an outspoken approach works best. It’s no secret that people are drinking more during the pandemic. And all of those Zoom happy hours can really add up. Sending an email to your boss or HR and asking for other ways to connect with coworkers might be the right solution. Or even finding a moment to say you’re enjoying seltzer instead of taking shots DURING Zoom happy hour could be the best method. Simply say, “I don’t drink anymore.” The end. It can be so empowering to stand your ground with sobriety in an outward way.
6. Speak up if you need help.
That’s what Liam McKaharay, an HR manager out of Georgia, suggests. “If you are struggling with sobriety, I do encourage you to be honest if it’s impacting your work in a significant way.” Ignoring the problem without mentioning it could lead to termination. Liam continues, “getting in front of the conversation with your managers or HR about your addiction shows you recognize the seriousness of this, which in many cases means management is more likely to help.” And if you need it, there are support systems in place. McKaharay says, “These days many employers have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and employee health coverage offers treatment options to aid an employee who needs help with their addiction.” Coming forward with your situation could help clear the air if things feel out of hand or overwhelming while you’re trying to quit drinking.
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If your industry is directly related to going out or drinking or having easy access to alcohol, then all of the tips above may not be enough to get sober. For some, in order to quit drinking, they need to leave their current workplace and seek employment elsewhere. This can be an added challenge on top of quitting alcohol but there are things you can do to help yourself, such as take affordable job skills courses, lean on your support network, and embrace that recovery may help you find a new purpose in life. But you don’t need to make that choice right away, so give yourself time in your newfound sobriety—and perhaps your current workplace will surprise you by being more supportive than you imagined.
Ultimately, we can’t control how telling our workplace that we have quit drinking will be interpreted. But how we go about sharing, or not sharing, that information is something we *do* have control over. There’s not a one-off way that works for everyone. Whether you send an email saying you’re no longer attending happy hours, or you let your improved work performance speak for itself—you do you. These are just suggestions. Listen to your intuition, and remember, the more in touch you are with your truth, the easier it’ll be to know what’s best for your professional situation.