They walk among us

Housekeeping: I’ve been trying very hard, this past week, to concentrate on my other writing, which is why I’m quiet here.  This is my safe place, and I need to do something scarier for a while, and that means scaling back on the blog so I can write elsewhere (preferably for money).  I still love you all!  Also, the following post is a total stream of consciousness, and it turns out my subconscious is quite annoyed today, so please be aware there are sweary bits.  I still love you all, though!

I was at a work conference all weekend.  Lots of networking, a little bit of learning, and various corporate sponsors lining up in the breaks trying to entice people over to their stalls.

I was prepared for the fact that there would be a lot of alcohol at the all-inclusive Saturday night dinner, and there was, and it wasn’t a problem.  I had my mental shields up and – to the extent that I still need sobriety tools – I was implementing them as well.  Fine.

What I wasn’t prepared for is that one of the sponsors broke out champagne and beer in the afternoon break, so at 2.30pm on the Saturday there were suddenly people everywhere holding flutes of sparkling alcohol and laughing.

It hit me, a little bit, then.  The feeling of being left out.  It’s not a time of day when I’d have been thinking about alcohol, even in my drinking days, except to the extent that I’d have been thinking about how nice a glass of wine will be after all this is done.

And then I got a bit angry.  Nobody needs alcohol in the middle of a conference, for goodness’ sake.  It was a cheap publicity stunt, and it meant that the afternoon session was completely disrupted, and it meant that those of us who don’t drink was suddenly in the middle.

Look, I understand that most people don’t have a problem with alcohol.  But some of us do.  And it’s not the occasional one unfortunate soul in a sea of normies.  One in ten Australians drink at levels considered harmful; that’s consistent with the UK and slightly higher than the US.  Within the past year, a quarter of adult Australians – 22% – experienced an occasion where they couldn’t stop drinking when they started, and the same number couldn’t remember what had happened the next day.   That’s a lot of people.

There were almost 200 people at that conference; statistically, 20 of them had active drinking problems, and up to 50 of them had, in the past year, been unable to stop drinking, woke up the next morning without remembering what had happened, and experienced guilt over their drinking.

And here is a thing that, as far as I can see, nobody at all measures: the number of people in recovery at any one time.  There are good reasons for that: recovery is often done in private, or in anonymous groups, so unless you’re court-ordered to attend rehabilitation, nobody is watching.  And recovery isn’t linear; how do you measure something that is characterised by relapse?  But I have found the latest alcohol-consumption poll, 2014, from Australia, here.  That says that non-drinkers comprise 21% of Australian adults, and 4% of those people nominate ‘I’ve previously had a problem with my own drinking’ as the reason why.  That’s not a lot.  But another 4% say that they are afraid that they would have a problem if they drank; that category easily applies to many of us who didn’t or don’t consider ourselves proper alcoholics at the time of quitting, but who can see that they were on a slippery slope.  For all intents and purposes, those people are in recovery.  And another 17% say ‘I don’t like the effect alcohol has on me’, which covers a multitude of sins.  So that is up to 25% of non-drinkers who don’t drink because when they do, they drink alcoholically.  That’s 5% of all Australian adults, abstaining from alcohol because they can’t drink normally.

That’s another ten of my conference attendees.  Standing amongst all those happy drinkers in an environment that shouldn’t have had alcohol in it, suddenly having to cope with something that feels dangerous and hostile.

You guys don’t need me to go on about alcohol-related death and illness, the cost to society of alcohol-related disease and violence, or any of the other sorry, tawdry statistics around alcohol usage.  We see those a lot.  But what I wish we talked about more are the people in recovery, walking around every day in remission from a deadly disease, exercising all the tools in their toolbox to prevent relapse, and being fucking bombarded with opportunities to fail.

Fine, alcohol is a social drug and lots of people love it very much and that’s all very nice and sparkly.  But for the love of everything that is good in the world, keep it out of the damn workplace, because alcoholics have to hold down jobs too.

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8 thoughts on “They walk among us

  1. Yes. I totally get this view that it is not necessary to have alcohol at every function and occasion, whatever the time or place..(I am remaining sober). It is a waste of money and human potential, as well.

  2. I’d LOVE to know those statistics, accurate ones.

    I’ll never forget finding out that there are around 700 AA meetings a week in London. It blew my mind.

    I’m on my way to a very boozy conference and will hold tight. The real party is being sober.

    • So would I. I think I might go on an investigative hunt. First I’d need to define ‘in recovery’, though, since AA is also attended by people who are court ordered and at very high risk of relapse after ceasing attending (so, are they in recovery given that someone else is imposing the decision?), active drinkers who keep searching for their Day Two. Etc.

  3. I wonder also how it makes people feel who don’t drink for other reasons, say, religion. I’m an academic in the UK and this is a question that often comes up at freshers’ week when many introductory social events are accompanied by alcohol. It is worrying how ‘normalised’ alcohol consumption is – why do social events automatically need booze? P.S. I drink, but there is no way I would appreciate alcohol at 2.30 pm at a conference.

  4. Ironically, I’ve taught addictions classes several times at both community colleges and university settings. The fact that alcohol is worshipped in our culture and other drugs illegal boggles the mind. We love our drugs for sure and have done so since recorded time. Scary.

  5. I have googled a number of times trying to establish the proportion of people in the UK who don’t drink. harder than you would think! one survey in 2011 said 15% of UK adults don’t drink. that is a sizeable minority….

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