When I first saw the website and photos of the job I just applied to, it held a lot of appeal. There were bright colors, trendy white desks, and snacks for all. There was even a game room with bean bag chairs and video game systems. It looked like a place I would enjoy showing up to every day. It looked fun and enjoyable.
When I went into the office for my interview it confirmed my views. Everyone was young, hip, and nice, and the environment screamed, “Work hard, party harder!” There was a coffee maker with unlimited pods of coffee so I knew I would fit right in. My new co-workers knew that I was sober because they immediately spoke about my blog. It was nice that I didn’t need to explain my sobriety to them; it was already known.
As I started my new job at this marketing agency, the open floor plan allowed us to work closely together, to share stories and laughs, and to enjoy the bean bag chairs, snacks, and games. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long because I noticed a large bottle of Captain Morgan on top of the refrigerator and other alcohol in the fridge. It wasn’t surprising to me, but slightly disappointing that there was alcohol kept out in the open in my new workplace. As the weeks went on, it became apparent that on Friday afternoons several of my co-workers indulged in the alcohol by grabbing themselves a beer or pouring themselves a tall mixed drink around 3 or 4pm. Sometimes it happened on Wednesday or Thursday.
As a sober person, I felt a bit uncomfortable when this happened. I knew this work environment prided itself on being hip and trendy, but I never thought I would have to witness or be around people drinking at their desks at work, in an acceptable manner. Although this situation wasn’t altogether surprising, I still wasn’t sure how to handle it.
When the Captain Morgan started flowing just a few desks away, the smell overwhelmed me and I wasn’t silent about it. I made a comment about the strong rum smell and I suggested that they drink their drinks in the kitchen or the break room, not at the desks. I also spoke with a co-worker who, although she wasn’t sober, didn’t drink much and didn’t approve of drinking at work. We were able to talk about the discomfort we both felt and let each other know that we weren’t alone in our thoughts. We didn’t normalize drinking alcohol at work.
Seeing others drink hasn’t been something that has bothered me much in sobriety unless I see someone visibly and dangerously intoxicated. But seeing someone drinking at work? At their desk? In front of me? I wrongly assumed work was a safe space where alcohol wouldn’t be a factor I had to think about.
I knew I needed to take action. There are 3 things I did to protect myself and my boundaries and take action during these difficult moments are as follows.
1. I made sure I was out of the office by 5pm.
Every Friday when the weekend was looming, I knew the drinks would start flowing soon. I made sure it was out of the office by 5pm at the latest, and left early, when I could. By removing myself from the situation I didn’t have to worry about feeling uncomfortable or out of place.
2. I worked from another room in the office.
Because we had an open floor plan everyone worked closely together and it was easier to see what everyone was doing or drinking. Fortunately, we had other rooms in the office where I could go, take my laptop, shut the door, and work in private. This worked anytime I wanted a quiet atmosphere to get some work done.
3. I kept my own non-alcoholic drinks and headphones nearby.
This is an important tip in most situations for a sober person, but especially in a workplace where alcohol is served. I kept coffee, soda, sparkling water, and other non-alcoholic drinks at the ready to keep me occupied and my headphones ready to put on to drown out my co-workers with music.
I learned that this was one of those things in life I couldn’t control, but I could control my own boundaries. I could express how I felt, then take action to make myself feel comfortable and safe.
Employees can’t always control their work environment, but there are things sober employees can do to make themselves more comfortable in the “Work hard, play hard,” type environment that has become so popular today. And employers can also take note: not everyone drinks, and a culture of letting loose with booze isn’t suitable for all your employees.
Kelly Fitzgerald is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.