One Club Soda member shares her story of going from office party girl to coming out as a non-drinker at work.
I went to a work function dinner on Tuesday and like many of these occasions they centre around wine choice, often that being the only choice of drink apart from tap water. In my drinking life I would have always taken advantage of these opportunities to guzzle as much free booze and would always be the drunken idiot at the table. My behaviour was normalised by my colleagues as they all got drunk too; the drunken madness was almost worn as a badge of pride. The industry I work in is meant to be liberal and with that comes excessive drinking, drunken debates, meetings in the pub, all seen as a treat for hard work; alcohol runs through everything.
When I started working in my current role one of the bosses used to pour wine into a teapot and at the end of the day he would come round and ask us all if we wanted a ‘cuppa’, we all thought it was funny and joined in. We would always go to the pub at lunch time for a few glasses of wine, or champagne on a Tuesday night, just because. Incidents of colleagues breaking bones from drunken falls, vomiting into handbags, being chucked out of local pubs for being too raucous were standard. I once fell into a Christmas tree in a restaurant and everyone thought it was hilarious; my bosses would bring it up as a legendary moment in my career…
Hangovers and issues
Our hangovers were tolerated and coming in late was often okay. I used to use the stationery cupboard as a place to sleep when I was hungover. I would lock it from the inside and just lay down on the cold floor and sleep. Everyone knew and named it my bedroom.
This was all seen as a harmless joke but on a serious side I’d say that out of ten people in my office, at least three of them have alcohol issues, in terms of dependency. We all stuck together though and made each others’ excess seem normal.
When I decided to change my life in December 2014 I knew that the drinking in work situation would be my hardest challenge, simply because my reputation was ingrained as the ‘fun party girl to drink with’. I was scared about this life change due to the amount of times I had tried to give up and then failed at the first moment I went to the pub with work. I was nervous to even announce I was giving up so the first few occasions I used excuses like I was on antibiotics, or having a sober month, health kick. People would still even say to me ‘oh you can drink on antibiotics, don’t worry about it’. The pressure to drink sometimes was enormous, especially as I used to be part of the drinking circle, always up for drink no matter what day, or what I had to do the next day.
One of the shining lights in the work drinking situation was that a young man in my office doesn’t drink at all and is very open about it; he was very sweet to me and always stuck by my side at the functions, so together we tackled the comments about us being ‘dull’ because we were drinking orange. It felt nice to have that support. One of our bosses found it hard that we didn’t drink and said to us that not-drinking must be terrible because ‘when we woke up that morning it is the best we would feel all day’. This statement from a supposedly intelligent person just blew me away. And it is the statement I use in my mind all the time, because my overall goal is to feel great every day; since I have stopped drinking, I do feel mostly great, so I don’t need anything to enhance that. I started to be more honest to my colleagues about why I had stopped drinking and that I was very firm about my decision. I explained that I felt my drinking was holding me back in life and that I had also decided to make a change as I was approaching my fortieth birthday. By being honest I could see people engage with me and they became more understanding. However, I still think I made some people feel uncomfortable as my honesty highlighted their issues with alcohol.
After a few months of not drinking, I started to feel my self-esteem come back. Drinking for years and doing shameful things when drunk had eroded my self-esteem and I also think held me back at work. How could I ever be taken seriously if all I was known for was being a ‘funny drunk party girl’?
I decided to move roles in my workplace which enabled me to start again. When I told my boss I was leaving he said he would take me out for dinner, but only if I drank because the food is served with selected wines. I told him quite blankly that I no longer drank and he said ‘well forget about dinner then, there’s no point’. So we left it like that. Stopping drinking is also a way of seeing who the good and bad people are around you. Good people will always support you; you need to lose the people who try and take you back to a place you don’t want to go.
Joy of being alcohol-free
My old Self, I realise, was so eager to please people that I often gave in to drinking with colleagues because I wanted to be liked or feel part of the group. This is where I need to thank Club Soda because it is a space to feel part of a collective of people who are mindful. The support from Club Soda helped to make me feel stronger to say that I am a non-drinker and to not be swayed by silly pressure. Now I have the confidence to talk to people about my journey; so people have opened up to me that they would like to drink less or stop. One of my colleagues has decided to give up drinking wine and be a bit more moderate; she stated that my positive outlook and the change in me is written all over my face and that she wants a bit of it. And that is the real joy of being alcohol-free, realising your potential and capability to enjoy life as authentically as possible. I do wake up every day now knowing it is the best I will feel because that is life; I know that everything I do is my choice and I am in control, that feeling is priceless and will never be replaced by a bottle of booze.