While I’ve typically shared stories from women, I received an email from George* who wrote a piece about his exposure to alcohol problems hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) within an industry that provides alcohol. I’ve written previously about my connection to a similar industry and my support of friends who have built booming businesses and others who proudly work at those establishments. While certainly not everyone in that scene is running around with an alcohol problem, this piece raises a similar subject that I’ve discussed with some now sober friends who previously worked in an alcohol-related industry. Some have spoken of how they found that environment to be the perfect excuse to feed a problem that already existed, while others look to that industry for fostering a problem that they believe may not have otherwise come to fruition. At the end of the day, these particular individuals took a hard look at the blurred lines between being someone who has an alcohol addiction and someone who just likes to have a good time. They chose to make a change. Not everyone will make that choice, and not everyone will give any of it a second thought. Thank you to George for sharing an enlightening post.
When Alcohol is the Job, Addiction Hides in Plain Sight
The suspicion started the day that my coworker Andrew* spent the morning sleeping on the taproom floor, wrapped in a brewery banner. It was almost too perfect as symbolism.
He over imbibed last night.
Addendum: He over imbibed last night, at a client.
Addendum: He over imbibed last night, at a client, outside of his control.
Addendum: He over imbibed last night, at a client, outside of his control, on the company dime.
Addendum: He over imbibed last night, at a client, outside of his control, on the company dime, and no one cares. At pretty much any other company a debilitating Tuesday morning hangover would trigger at least a very firm chat with HR, if not walking papers.
Addendum: He over imbibed last night, at a client, outside of his control, on the company dime, and no one cares, and people are high fiving him.
Andrew is a good salesman. He’s cool. He’s single. He used a vinyl banner to get warm from the shakes so he could sleep on the floor of our taproom, which is closed Tuesdays, because no one drinks to excess Monday or Tuesday. Except Andrew, apparently.
I work with an alcoholic.
Correction: I work with alcoholic(s).
Correction to the correction: I work surrounded in my industry by alcoholics.
Selling alcohol to bars isn’t wildly lucrative. Nor is it particularly easy. Which makes it an odd job to spawn a career. Why would anyone work this hard to make a below market rate income?
Most won’t admit it. Hell, most won’t even answer the question. Alcoholic? Alcoholics ruin their lives and get multiple DUIs and lose their families. “I’m just a fun guy.” Except every “fun guy” I know is 35-45 and single, which, is a perfectly valid life choice; if not uncommon. They frame it as a party lifestyle. The fact is their loneliness is overwhelming and only squelched by meaningless sex with other industry types or more drink. How do I know? They tell me.
They’re terrified. They aren’t working “real jobs.” They won’t advance in their careers because they don’t want to advance in their careers; they want to be 25 year olds in perpetuity who get paid to travel. They know this carousel ends eventually. But craft liquids have been growing and everyone is hiring and why change? I’ll get paid. Or paid enough. And my Thursdays are everyone else’s Fridays. Actually my Wednesdays. And sometimes my Tuesdays…
What is a drunk? What is a problem drinker? What is an alcoholic? How are we supposed to know? My boss invited me to a happy hour at 2 p.m. last Tuesday. My clients use me as an excuse to call it a day at 2:30. My coworkers suggest we “do a little quality control” at 4:00. Lunch means two drinks. Which means a sluggish afternoon. Which means…drinks at 4:00 as a picker upper. Which means Ubers at 8:30. Shitty work until 11:00 a.m. the next day. No one cares. No one notices. We have no idea what clear eyed, peak performance looks like. But business is strong and everyone gets along, and hey, isn’t this better than some stuffed shirt corporate gig?
Andrew is no closer to help. He’ll do a good enough job to stay here and earn a salary, and he has no wife or kids, so no one is driving him to change. He might be an alcoholic for his adult life, and all we will be are the functional years. I’m terrified to imagine the non-functional years.
Some days, I’m terrified to imagine my non-functional years.
*Names have been changed