If you are not yourself afflicted, it is easy to feel cheated, angry, confused when someone suffers from a private battle with addiction. Why don't they talk to you? How long has there been a problem? If you are an addict in recovery, the same questions are basically amplified: They know you are an addict, too, so why don't they just ask you for help? Worst case scenario: Why didn't they try the things you suggested? I don't have answers to these questions. The seminal book on alcohol recovery describes alcohol as "cunning, baffling, powerful" and I think that description works for all kinds of substances and the addicts themselves. I was talking to one of my best friends and they said something very moving that I think is worth sharing:
"People are going to be gone. People are going to fail. And those events hit like a ton of fucking bricks, but it's only because every day free of addiction isn't a valhalla victory. Every day is a small little pebble towards building a wall against the forces that really do win when it comes to addiction. Apathy mostly. Because it's an exhausting battle and it doesn't end. You just keep doing it. And fuck maybe no one is saying holy shit you're amazing! Or even maybe they are, and it doesn't seem real or whatever. It all just comes down to those losses are real, tangible, permanent losses. And that's fucking difficult. And the gains all seem so insignificant, but they're not. They are gains. They are yours. No one gave them to you. No one can take them away. I miss your friend. I miss a lot of dead people. But hey, you know what they would want. And it isn't for you to feel bad."
Let's forge onwards, to the questions:
1) Are you "out" about your sobriety? Do you tell people at work? Is it okay if friends tell other people so they don't offer you alcohol?
This varies WILDLY among people in recovery. Some people I know have jobs that would absolutely not allow them to be out about their recovery - for example, people who work in medical fields. Even if they are many years sober, the knowledge that there was formerly a substance abuse problem can be damaging to someone's reputation and livelihood. Keep this in mind when you are talking with someone about their past, or even yours, in public, for risk of implicating them. It seems like common courtesy not to talk about such a sensitive subject in public, but there is a reason why such groups have the - Anonymous part on the end.
I generally don't mind anyone knowing that I am in recovery, as I've been very public about it. That said, I was a bit embarrassed, for example, when a fellow sober person outed me as being a part of a specific Step 12 group to a group of people we didn't know - and at a bar, at that. Even though in my personal life, I don't mind talking about it, being outed to strangers made me feel vulnerable.
Now, as to whether you should tell your friends, peers or colleagues if someone ELSE doesn't drink/smoke? I'd say that is case-by-case, as well. Since most of my work colleagues know that I am not only a sober person but a big-time Recovering Alcoholic, I honestly don't mind if they tell other people. This may not be the case for someone else.
People may not to disclose their recovery status for a variety of reasons - most often, because their personal life is personal. If you really want to make sure that someone's needs are met, for example, for party-planning purposes at work, you could just tell the party planning committee that "I know that some guests don't drink at all" and not out anyone in particular.
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma about drug and alcohol addiction that can negatively affect people in their day to day lives, without you even realizing the implications. Often, people lead relatively "normal" lives while being in intensive outpatient programs and their recovery simply isn't relevant to their work.
If you know a co-worker is sober but want to invite them to an event where there will be drinking, talk to them privately first. If a work colleague is having problems with their recovery in public, do not talk about sensitive, recovery-related matters via work email, don't gossip at the water cooler, etc. Be respectful, as you have no idea what they are going through. As the saying goes, "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
2) What do you do on really bad days? How do you unwind? How do you celebrate?
LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU FIGURE IT OUT. Just kidding. Sort of. Unwinding without alcohol is still something I'm figuring out. It used to be my go-to, both in situations of minor annoyance and extreme distress. Then drinking turned into something that I did regardless of my mood. Then I realized I was an alcoholic. Whoops! What I've found is that having a knee-jerk emotional reaction to things was only made worse by consuming substances. Whiskey can escalate"kind of pissy" to "you've ruined Christmas again" real fast.
Dealing with emotions in sobriety is something that the newly sober person is just going to have to deal with. If you drank to avoid The Feelings and now you're freaking out, that kind of makes sense, doesn't it? All the annoying things that people tell you - exercise, a better diet, going to sleep on time will go a long way in making you less insane. If I'm having a miserable day, I go home, take a shower, light a candle and read some good-ass books. Reading about sobriety drives home the fact that other people have gotten through worse.
As for party-parties, I threw myself a sober anniversary party and several kind friends came along. We got pizza, ate cake and went to a movie. (Ironically, Harvey was playing that day at the Music Box. Elwood P. Dowd is maybe the most adorable alcoholic in all of cinema history.) That day was great, but truthfully, parties can be a drag when you aren't drinking. It took several months of extreme FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to realize that I wasn't missing anything by going home before the party ended. Or before the bar closed.
A famous comedy person (with twenty plus years of sobriety) once told me "there's nothing happening at 2 a.m. that's worth your while." My dad, a former bartender/bar owner, had told me this years before, but I was too drunk to listen. Do you, the sober person, think you will miss out on valuable networking opportunities with people who are blackout drunk? Single and ready to mingle person - do you think you'll be swept off your feet by somebody slurring their words and spilling their beer!? Excuse your sober friends if they peace out early - there's nothing there for 'em at your party.
3) How can you tell when someone is struggling? How can you check in with someone who is struggling? How do you help friends who you know need to get sober? What should I do when I know someone who is relapsing?
Alcoholism and drug addiction is different for every one. I'll say that again and again in this blog to make it clear that what I'm going through may not have any relevance to another alcoholic or addict. However, people struggling with substance abuse do have some commonalities. These are shared from the American Addiction Centers website:
An interference with work, school, family, and/or other responsibilities as a result of alcohol consumption
Continuing to consume alcohol despite the negative impact it is having on one’s relationships
Engaging in risky behavior after drinking, such as fighting, driving, swimming, having unprotected sex, or operating machinery
Over time, requiring more alcohol to achieve the desired intoxicating effect.
So how can you talk with someone who is struggling? Mid-party won't work, nor will having a deep discussion over drinks. The idea of the intervention is complicated. Personally, I think embarrassing someone - in a group setting - about their drinking is never the way to go. Fighting, yelling, brutal ultimatums may not work one bit, either. You can also be so fed up with someone who is making a mess of their life that you don't want to intervene anymore.
People with drug and alcohol problems can do unforgivable things - drunk driving, theft, bodily harm. It is so difficult to see someone struggling and think that their problems can be mostly eliminated by getting sober.
However, as much as you love someone, it is their responsibility to get sober. And unfortunately, a person who is in the throes of addiction will not likely change their behavior until they are ready to quit. They will have to be knocked down several more times until the realization comes to them on their own terms - serious injury, loss of a long-term relationship or family connection, incarceration, mandatory rehab are some things that cause people to quit for good.
When you know someone is struggling, regardless of whether it's a new problem or a long-time struggle to stay sober, the best thing you can do as a friend is reach out at the appropriate time. Don't confront someone at a party or in a bar. Don't send a testy Facebook message or email, late at night. I'd recommend doing a very scary and old-fashioned thing: call someone on the telephone. Leave a voicemail if you must. What I wish someone would have said to me was, "Hey, I see that you are struggling right now. I just wanted to check in and say that you can talk with me about it if you want to. I won't judge you. I'm your friend."
If you think they would benefit from a friend in an immediate sense, send a text message even if you're at the same party and say "hey, you okay? just checking in." Now, if you're out in public and see them in a dangerous situation, that's another matter entirely. If you know a friend is blacking out in public, do what you can to make sure they're safe - take their keys, call a rideshare service so they have a direct way home, alert their room mate or partner if you know someone else is in the apartment, look into emergency detox options, etc. Something I was taught as a peer health educator is that it's better to make a scene and come off like an asshole than it is to assume someone that is okay who is really in grave danger.
That's it for this round of questions. If you have some, please continue to send them my way. If you're struggling, remember that there's options for you. As an old sober fellow once told me, "Just do the next right thing." If you're struggling and in need of immediate resources, start here.