This article is not meant to diagnose or provide medical advice—that responsibility lies with physicians. The author is not a licensed medical professional.
Addiction is an issue that impacts almost everyone in some way. I’ve been in recovery from alcoholism/addiction since January 2008. During that time, I’ve gone through ups and downs but have fortunately managed to stay sober. I’ll be answering a reader-submitted question about recovery every other week (information on how to submit below). I’m not an expert or mental health professional, just a sober person offering advice based on my experience and the research that’s available. This week, I’m talking about how to handle a party invitation from someone who was recently hospitalized because of alcohol use.
My friend “Bob” (who is married to my very close friend “Kim”) has been sober for like 10 years—as long as we’ve known him. From what he’s told me, if he drinks ANY amount of alcohol, he could get very sick and die. But last week they went to a party where he started drinking and he ended up in the ICU as a result. Bob missed Kim’s birthday because of it and now wants to throw her a surprise party to make up for it. But he’s telling us all to feel free to bring alcohol to their house and that she’s got a ton of beer there, etc.
This just seems like such a bad idea. I don’t know how she’d feel about drinking around him, about us drinking around him, about him encouraging us to drink around him, and I can’t ask her because it’s supposed to be a surprise. And I know in this group there will be at least one stupid person who will go ahead and drink around him. I do not plan to drink at all at this party, but should I even go? I’m afraid things are still really raw between them and I don’t want to contribute to an awkward/painful situation. But I also don’t want to hurt his feelings by not trusting him. Should people be around alcohol so soon after having a relapse? I’m also sort of afraid my friend Kim plans to continue drinking around her husband, especially if she really does still have beer at her house after this happened. Is it none of my business?
Hi Worried Friend,
Well, I can definitely understand your concern. From what you’ve described, I would be concerned, too.
I’m assuming the reason “Bob” can’t drink now without getting sick (potentially fatally ill) is because he did so much damage to his liver by drinking before he quit. Although I suppose the reason he can’t drink without getting super sick doesn’t really matter. The fact is he’s been told it’s dangerous, he did anyway, and the consequences were bad. Which leads us to your question about the party.
Yes, to be blunt, I do think this party is a terrible idea, for all the reasons you outlined. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can actually do about it—if he’s set on having this party and having people bring alcohol, that’s probably going to be what happens. Do I personally think it’s unwise for him to be around alcohol so soon after a major incident involving alcohol? Especially considering he drank at a party presumably not unlike the one he’ll be throwing for Kim? Yes. Although just because I think it’s a bad idea doesn’t mean he will definitely drink or the party will end in medical disaster. It might be fine. But as a sober person concerned about not drinking, that’s not a situation I would put myself in.
That said, I get why he wants to. It can be really hard to feel like the odd person out, whatever the reason. Being the only sober person in a room can be lonely and uncomfortable. I’m comfortable enough with my sobriety to put all the nitty gritty details of it on the internet and yet I still feel a little lonely or excluded when I’m the only sober person in a room. It’s really hard to not find yourself wanting to “just be normal” and drink like other people without the negative repercussions. It’s one of the reasons I’m constantly yapping about the importance of having a sober community. From that perspective, I completely empathize with Bob. Here’s the crucial difference: he was just hospitalized because of alcohol.
In a weird way, I’m actually less concerned that he was hospitalized (though that’s obviously very serious) and more concerned about his attitude toward that hospitalization. If, for example, he came away from the hospitalization scared and ready to take a hard look at what’s going on with him—what propelled him to pick up a drink after so many years sober—the hospitalization could have been the beginning of a really important process. Given that he’s ready to throw a party and encouraging guests to bring alcohol into his home … well, it doesn’t sound like he’s real serious about what happened.
Again, I know he’s in a really hard situation. Often after something obvious and damning happened with my alcohol use, I wanted to sweep it under the rug. Not just so the focus would shift away from me, but also so the people I loved could go back to a worry free, “normal” existence that I seemed to constantly be interrupting. That is undoubtedly a shitty feeling and I understand his instincts.
What I’m left wondering is: how does Kim feel about the fact that Bob just relapsed? Obviously, you can’t approach her with questions about the actual party, but you can ask her (or maybe you already know) how she feels about Bob’s hospitalization. Is she concerned? Or does she think it was a one-time thing that isn’t likely to happen again? Having made many promises about not drinking again to my loved ones—promises I really believed I was going to keep—I know how convincingly an addict can assure someone that the relapse only happened this one time for this one reason and there’s no reason to worry about it happening in the future. If this is what happened, I’m not criticizing Bob. My guess is that if he made this argument, he really believes it.
I think you should talk to Kim about how she’s feeling regarding Bob and booze. You don’t have to spoil any surprises he has planned; just try to gauge how she feels about what happened. If she expresses a lot of concern about it happening again, I think it’s reasonable to reach out to Bob and say you’re not sure about how you feel about the idea of having a party so soon after the hospitalization, that you know Kim is worried about his health and maybe, as sweet of a gesture as the surprise party is, he should either rethink it or make it booze free (maybe he can plan an activity that is inherently dry—like hiking or paint ball—instead of a house party). If you frame it as being worried about the potential stress on Kim and not that he might drink again, it might make him less defensive and more open to hearing what you have to say.
If she isn’t worried about it and he’s clearly not worried about it, it’s not really your role to make them worry about it. In that case, the decision is yours—if you don’t go to the party, I think you should be honest with Kim after the fact about why you didn’t attend. I also think it’s a smart call to not drink if you do go. Frankly, I think you’ll feel weird drinking and you may want your wits about you. But at a certain point you just have to let them make their own decisions, despite your concerns. It’s entirely possible that Kim is acting more comfortable with the situation than she’s letting on to Bob, because she doesn’t want him to feel like she doesn’t trust him or upset him. This is understandable and she may just need a gentle nudge from a good friend like you to get her to open up about how she really feels.
Good luck, Worried Friend.
P.S. Editor’s Note: After all this, if you really really are still concerned and have to ruin the surprise, it’s not the end of the world.
Paste contributor Katie MacBride is a freelance writer and the associate editor of Anxy Magazine. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, New York Magazine and The Establishment. Every other week she will answer one recovery/addiction related question posed by our readers, based on her experience. Email questions to [email protected] with Ask Katie in the subject. By emailing, you are agreeing to let Paste publish your email. Emails may be edited for length.