When Hiding My Alcoholism Became a Full-Time Job

I held a full-time job throughout my alcoholism which spanned nearly two decades. At least, I thought I did. I remember being so hungover on a near daily basis that I had to make up elaborate lies about why I was off my game and making so many mistakes. While initially that was easy, as my disease progressed, hiding my alcoholism became increasingly difficult.

After all, alcohol was most likely seeping out of my pores.

 

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When the Workplace Culture Expects Daily Drinking

When I graduated, I took a job at a recruitment agency. These guys actually played the film Boiler Room as part of the induction program. I thought I’d struck gold. (For those of you who don’t know, the film is centered around a brokerage firm of hyper-aggressive, young stock brokers who love the thrill of peddling unsuspecting buyers and partying hard.) That was the image my prospective employer wanted to harness: work hard, but party harder. 

I took that as a golden ticket to partying 24/7. 

I cared less about the employment part, but I did put in a lot of hours of hard work each week and many weekends. My worth at this company was directly tied to how many people I could peddle to different organizations. And I was rewarded by beers at my desk on a friday afternoon and cocaine if I’d hit the higher echelons of the sales chart. 

I was 21 years old and, within a year, I’d gone from binge drinking in college to drinking every night after work and snorting cocaine with these party boys until the early hours in the morning. There was no hiding addiction in this workplace. That’s because addiction and high levels of drug consumption was an expected part of the workplace norm.

Needless to say, that lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, and my mounting sick days led to me having to leave. I think being fired probably saved my life. 

I wish this story was unique to me, but I know it isn’t. I’ve heard of lots of organizations that promote this kind of lifestyle. Some sound like the set of Mad Men where day drinking in the office is encouraged, or the story I heard of an ad firm suggesting their staff take LSD to brainstorm a proposal more creatively. 

It’s horrifying to look back, but it is a reality in many industries, particularly the creative/art and service industries. 

Hiding My Alcoholism Was a Hard Job

Even though my addiction continued long after leaving this recruitment firm, I started working for reputable companies that certainly did not approve of being intoxicated at any point during the working day. In fact, that was the kind of conduct that’d get you fired in a second.

In some ways, I was grateful for this new (to me) culture. It was a bit of a wake up call that my behavior wasn’t normal. But instead of cutting down, I instead just started hiding my daily habit of drinking.

Throughout the rest of my career, many of my colleagues didn’t know I had a problem with alcohol. By that point, I’d managed to ditch the cocaine use, but that was more a matter of supply than desire. Alcohol was a much easier to obtain and much more socially acceptable means of escaping my reality. 

My life was like groundhog day: I’d punctuate the end of each day by picking up a bottle of wine on the way home. And that would almost always lead me back to the store in the evening to pick up another bottle (or two). 

Weekends were much worse. I’d go to the bar after work and drink until the early hours in the morning. I pretty much spent the rest of the weekend drinking and passing out and drinking and passing out. But when Monday morning came around, I showed up to the office like everything was normal, even though I felt terrible.

The only indication of a problem was on the days I just couldn’t make it in. Those were days when I’d wake up with such a horrific hangover that it caused a migraine that felt like I had a dagger wedged through my eye. But my employers were sympathetic and the country I lived in had what is called a “protected condition.” That meant, under the law, you could not fire someone for being sick with a migraine. I leveraged that to my advantage. I knew that my employer couldn’t fire me for being sick with a migraine – it would’ve been like firing someone for a disability.

While that human rights law is intended to protect the rights of people with disabilities, I used it to mask my addition. In many ways, it prevented me from seeking the help that I so desperately needed. It provided the protection of keeping my job – a job that fueled my addiction and kept a roof over my head…barely. 

One might also argue that substance use disorder is a medical condition that should be a protected condition. After all, it is a real disorder that overrides rational thought and behavior. I didn’t simply wake up one day and decided to be addicted to alcohol. I had a disease that progressed to the point I could no longer hide my addiction. I was increasingly depressed, had a migraine several days a week, and could not function normally. 

I realized this and decided to leave my job. At the time, I didn’t really have a firm plan for recovery. But I knew I needed to take the pressure of work away so it wasn’t something else I felt I needed to escape from. 

Retrospectively, you could argue this was a risky move. Because without the structure of a job, I no longer had parameters to my drinking – now I could now drink all day, everyday. But I didn’t. After one more no-holds-barred drinking event, I finally surrendered to the recovery I so desperately needed.

 

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Looking back, I see that it must have been obvious to my coworkers and employers that I was drinking too much. I can smell a glass of wine from the next table in a restaurant, so I’m pretty sure I could have smelled stale alcohol on the breath of a coworker. The signs were there, I just thought I was hiding it. 

If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, don’t spend another day working to hide it from your loved ones. Help is available. Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? today to speak with a specialist about getting the quality treatment you deserve.

 

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