update: I’m in recovery and my office just moved above a bar

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was in recovery and their office had just moved above a bar? The first update was here, and here’s the latest.

I wrote to you two years ago; I am the sober person whose office was directly above a bar. I thought I’d send in an update because things got…weird. After my first update about how my manager was pretty chill about the whole situation, some red flags started appearing. Like finding a literal bar’s worth of booze in the office kitchen on my first day back, and my manager’s insistence we schedule a giant holiday party despite the pandemic. I pushed back on these things and got my manager, who is also one of the owners, to reconsider, but it put me on high-alert.

Then, about 7 months ago, the shit spectacularly hit the fan. I learned firsthand what happens when the “family” part of a family-owned business capsizes (i.e. lots of gaslighting, lying, and shady behavior in order to try to coerce employees to be on certain sides). Honestly, that could be a whole other letter because the stuff that happened was WILD, and not in a fun way. (Example: I was asked to social media stalk someone who offended my manager, which is not a part of my job description and should not be a part of anyone’s job description.)

Anyway, it became clear that my manager had a drinking problem of his own and would frequently call us (his employees) drunk in the middle of the day or email us tirades late at night, which was understandably upsetting. Half our staff left in an extremely short time period. I finally realized I was on the Titanic and had been assigned the role of the musicians who stayed and played music while the ship sank. I decided to take my chances in the water instead, and literally the day I started updating my resume, a former coworker reached out to me about a job opening at their new company, which ended up sounding perfect for me. The universe didn’t open a door; it burst through the wall like the Kool Aid Man, grabbed me, and dragged me out.

I ended up getting the new job AND I used all the AAM advice about negotiating to make it a lateral move with much better perks and benefits! It was totally worth it to leave my toxic old job (the way my manager reacted to my 2 week’s notice proved I made the right call). I LOVE this new job and we’re fully remote, so no more bar to worry about. I’m two and a half years sober now and so grateful to finally be with a company that respects me and isn’t stuck at Dysfunction Junction. Thank you, Alison! It was your blog that helped me to realize the truth when things got bad and understand that I deserved better.

{ 101 comments… read them below }

  1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Dysfunction Junction – Love that LOL!
    Ah, small “family” businesses. I wouldn’t say ‘never do it’ but yeah.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I know, right? The Titanic and Kool-Aid Man metaphors…this update was a joy to read. And I’m so happy the OP found a better work environment.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Yes, this was a very entertaining read. Happy to hear that LW has a new job and is doing well.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Over the course of my career I’ve worked at 3 or 4 of these small “family” businesses. One was a fairly large software company and pretty good (except it was all contract work), one was ok (nice people) but the work too ho-hum and one brother wanted to control all the creative, and the other 2 were simply the worst.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          There is an interchange in the larger metro area near where I live that residents call Dysfunction Junction.

          (Yes, in perfect weather conditions it’s a mess – add snow, I and many others avoid it.)

  2. insomnia*

    “The universe didn’t open a door; it burst through the wall like the Kool Aid Man, grabbed me, and dragged me out.”

    I need to remember this line.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          It’s been an exhausting two years–things in one facet of my life suddenly going spectacularly right, with little effort from me, is a lovely daydream.

    1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I picture Kool Aid Man yelling “H#ll No!” instead of the customary line of “Oh Yeah!”.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      GOD I WISH THE UNIVERSE WOULD DO THIS FOR ME. I feel like I have been knocking, begging, pleading, crying and praying for a rescue for so long, and nothing ever has worked. The universe wants me where I am, apparently.

      Love this line, in case you couldn’t tell.

      1. Hills to Die On*

        So the universe sat on you like a large fluffy cat and refuses to move? ;)
        I had that feeling for so long and then…
        The second I left my ex-husband, The Kool-Aid Man of Destiny got me and dragged me all of the place. Net is for the better but wow what a ride!

      2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Same!!! Where is my Prince Kool Aid Man?! I guess I’ve got to save myself :) Good luck to you and to OP!

      3. Nathan*

        Sometimes you have to be your own Kool-Aid Man.

        Stephen Crane wrote a poem, which reads:

        A man said to the universe:
        “Sir, I exist!”
        “However,” replied the universe,
        “The fact has not created in me
        A sense of obligation.”

        It is so true. I’m not saying that people in a crappy situation need to just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” or that it’s your fault you’re in whatever place you’re in. Sometimes life just dumps on you. But I can tell you that if you’re waiting for the Universe to throw you a bone, you’re going to keep on waiting. Maybe — I don’t know your situation, and I’m no guru anyway, but MAYBE — there’s an action you can take that seems really hard right now, but five years down the road you’ll look back and say “my life changed when I had the courage to make that decision”.

        Sending you positive vibes either way!

    3. SomehowIManage*

      I am very sad that some day soon people will not understand references to the Kool Aid man bursting through walls.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        Not in tune with much of popular culture, I don’t get the reference in the present. But it is nonetheless a fantastic phrase with great imagery that I loved reading!

      2. INFJedi*

        I’m not America, but thanks to Family Guy and (to a lesser extent) The Simpsons, I understand the reference :-)

      3. Candi*

        For a quick synopsis, there’s a Macho Man vs Kool-Aid Man Death Battle (not even kidding). I just find the father in red subplot absurd.

        I laughed at the Kool-Aid Man metaphor. The universe really doesn’t care, but sometime it wants to amuse itself, whether by playing dice games, and maybe there’s a seven in your favor, or doing random acts of positivity.

        And OP? Remember that the Titanic tilted end-up in its final moments, and everyone slid down or fell off the deck in the end. Getting out before it did that, and getting away from the suction as it went down, was literally a lifesaver. You avoided that business sucking you down.

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      This line is on a Post-It on my bulletin board, and I look forward to the day when I can use the Kool-Aid Man reference. Way to go, OP!

  3. Cranky lady*

    Congratulations on the new job and the continued sobriety! This made me so happy to read. Yes, the universe opened a door but you were smart enough to walk through it.

  4. squirreltooth*

    I’m so glad you’re in a better situation, OP. I’m sober myself, and it’s always a huge red flag when people just won’t let go of the idea that someone else isn’t drinking. If you feel personally judged by someone else’s sobriety, it’s worth examining why.

    1. CatMintCat*

      I have never been a big drinker, but am currently completely off it as it conflicts unpleasantly with a medication I have to take. It has really surprised me how many people feel they can comment on my lemon squash on a night out, when they never commented on my nursing one glass of wine for an entire evening.

      1. Dragonfly7*

        *Googles what a lemon squash is*
        I don’t drink for the same reason, and I really need someone to introduce me to the world of mocktails. Somehow, the only bartenders I’ve encountered so far act just as surprised as the customers that I’m not drinking and don’t know what to recommend.

        1. Brightwanderer*

          Squash is a UK thing – concentrated fruit… thing. Syrup? Juice? I’m not sure how to describe it. Anyway you dilute it with water to get a fruity, sweet-but-not-too-sweet drink. Options include lemon squash, orange squash, blackcurrant squash (aka Ribena) etc. Posher versions get called “cordials”.

          1. Lucien Nova*

            A syrup version of the frozen canned concentrates one can find in American groceries.

            I prefer squashes, tbh. Much tastier than the US frozen concentrates.

        2. Euripides Pants, Eumenides Pants*

          Cranberry-orange is a good mix, and most bartenders will also have Rose’s Lime Juice, a sweet/tangy non alc syrup that can go with seltzer on ice. I used to drink gimlets more for that syrup than the booze.

        3. Candi*

          If you like sodas, just have them pop a cherry into a Dr. Pepper or Coke like they do with the ones with alcohol added. Just make sure YOU pick up your drink, to avoid confusion.

          Alcoholic drinks with clear soda often have citrus slices added, so maybe try that for Sprite or such.

        4. F.M.*

          I’ve become increasingly fond of mocktails over the years. My favorite bar (though it’s more like ‘small restaurant/cafe that has some alcohol’) has a seasonal cocktail menu that always includes one mocktail; they’ll even add alcohol if you want that drink with a kick, but it means there’s a fancy, interesting, seasonally varied option for non-drinkers too, not just “I guess I’ll have… a soda?”

          I recently got a friend a small subscription to a place that does fancy flavored syrups, and it’s specifically a Mocktail subscription kit. Fancy syrup, bitters, and mocktail recipes, with notes on which alcohols to add if you want that version instead. It means that when I’m in a house with drinkers and non-drinkers, we can all have the ‘same’ fancy cocktail together, which was particularly nice just last night for NYE.

    2. AnonPi*

      Yes that’s why I avoid social gatherings in places with a bar – it leads to inevitable questions about why I’m not having a beer or whatever. I just don’t like the taste and I’ve gotten sick trying two different drinks once (not because someone spiked them, just a bad reaction to whatever was in the drink). First they assume I’m a recovering alcoholic and want to “talk about it” to “reassure” me it’s ok – um I’m not and you know what they say about assuming… Then if we get into the whole don’t like alcohol/makes me sick thing, I’m pressured to try stuff because I’ve “just not found the right drink” yet. Like they can’t handle it if someone doesn’t drink as if it affects them. Which is why when these things come up I’ve often mentioned (at least occasionally) having stuff at places that don’t include bars, but no one listens since I’m very much in the minority.

  5. KuklaRed*

    I am applauding you over here in New York!! Congratulations on recognizing what you need to be successful, both at work and in your recovery journey and going out and finding it! I am totally ferklempt and happy for you.

  6. Purple Loves Snow*

    This is a great update and I loved all the pop culture references (Kool Aid Man!).

    Also, a huge kudos to you for maintaining your sobriety and being at a point in your journey to be able to recognize the signs of addiction in others and how that could impact your sobriety. Pat yourself on the back for that one (coming from someone who works in addictions counselling)!

  7. Lady_Lessa*

    Congratulations on your sober time. Keep up the good work.

    Congratulations on the new and better job.

  8. Ellen Ripley*

    I’m so happy that OP has gotten themself into such a better position! Great work!

    Side note: the writing style makes for a super entertaining letter :)

    1. pandq*

      “Side note: the writing style makes for a super entertaining letter :)”
      Doesn’t it? I needed a good laugh. So happy for this OP and for their continued sobriety.

  9. Rayray*

    Happy update! Congrats!

    Also, perhaps you might consider submitting some writing somewhere. This was hilarious, I like your style.

  10. Anonymouse*

    The new office is being used to store liquor for the bar.
    Most of the office staff has left.
    Why do I feel the owner is going to decide his new new office is a back booth at the bar.
    OP, you made it to a lifeboat.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      From the comments about the boss calling/emailing while drunk I suspect that has already happened (at least figuratively).

  11. PolarVortex*

    Congrats on everything: leaving the crappy old place, finding a new wonderful place, 2.5 years of sobriety despite chaos raging around you, and one heck of a witty post to read!!

    1. Hlao-roo*

      I want to second the “congratulations” on all the things PolarVortex mentioned! Well done and best of luck in the future!

  12. JSPA*

    Excellent outcome, and also a great read.

    If your job involves writing, I’m sure you’re stellar at it–and good on your new company for nabbing you.

    If your job doesn’t involve writing, let us know when you (or, ahem, “a close friend”) self-publishes something.

  13. LadyByTheLake*

    I have to admit it would be funny to see that job description: “Job duties include internet-stalking my enemies . . .” Great writing style OP, and congratulations on getting out and on doing the work to stay sober.

  14. Observer*

    OP, you should totally consider doing some writing as a side thing. Your description of how things went down was just a pleasure to read.

    I’m also thrilled for you that things worked out so well for you. Being a non-alcoholic employee of a poorly functioning alcoholic boss is not easy under the best of circumstances. Adding in the chaos of Covid, and being (relatively) newly sober must have made it exponentially harder. So, I’m glad you realized that you needed to get out, and that such a great lifeline came your way so quickly.

    It sounds like a good job. But it also sounds like you are a good employee.

  15. CW*

    It seems like Dysfunction Junction was sinking faster than the Titanic. I’m glad you got out of there and are at a much better place now. And congrats on your sobriety as well!

    1. Legal adjacent field*

      “Honestly, that could be a whole other letter because the stuff that happened was WILD, and not in a fun way.”

      I, too, have had my appetite whet for this whole other letter.


  16. NotMeButAMachine*

    ” I finally realized I was on the Titanic and had been assigned the role of the musicians who stayed and played music while the ship sank.” You finally put into words exactly why I’m leaivng!! Thanks. lol

  17. AppleStan*

    OP, first and foremost, congratulations on your continued sobriety. We support you 100000000% and wish you continued success.

    Next, congratulations on getting off the Titanic before you had become Jack and freeze in the water.

  18. Bookworm*

    This was a very entertaining update, OP. I’m sorry you had to go through all of that but am happy for you! Very glad you’re in a better spot! Congratulations and thanks for the update!

  19. Mary*

    This reminds me of the situation my family went through with my aunt and uncle. It was an open secret my uncle was a functional alcoholic, but my aunt essentially refused to “see” that even as their marriage deteriorated…then by the time of their divorce we all realized (because of her escalating drinking and other issues) that she was also an alcoholic.

  20. Michelle Smith*

    Absolutely incredible achievement. This update brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations!!!!

  21. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I cringe when I hear about an office “family”. I once worked in a company that was a paradise to work for, and in.

    And then one day, the company split into several parts, and those other parts were sold and I was stuck in the corporate HQ.

    Where a feud existed and you had to take sides. One day, I was called up to the boardroom. I went up – and the company president, the CFO, and the CIO were there and said “Anon2, you have a job here so long as WE are here”… “Follow the direction from US. And if there’s a conflict or confusion, come and see US.”

    This is because I was in a structure where my manager’s manager (director) was trying to enlist people to participate in an office coup to overthrow the CIO. I didn’t want to leave, but I was so disgusted with the situation I just couldn”t handle it anymore. No need to, I’m not into office politics.

    1. Daniel*

      I hope OP clarifies, but based on ‘the “family” part of a family-owned business’ I thought they meant that the business truly was a family business (and fell apart when the family fell apart).

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        It’s amazing how common that is – working with family can bring out either the very best or the most monstrously worst in people.

      2. Venus*

        That was my guess too. Sounds like a couple that split up their personal relationship and then their business, or maybe siblings who fall apart when the parents get sick.

  22. No Dumb Blonde*

    Congratulations, letter writer! And thanks for an update that made me laugh out loud while cheering you on.

  23. tinybutfierce*

    So glad things turned out so much better for you! And all the congrats on your continued sobriety; from one teetotaler to another, that’s a hell of an accomplishment.

  24. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    Congratulations, OP! My heart is cheering for you. You gotta love it when the universe pulls a Kool-Aid man rescue!

  25. Spicy Tuna*

    Great update! Very happy to hear that the universe conspired WITH you!

    I had a situation with a substance abusing co-worker. In my case, he was very high up the food chain, but I thankfully had air cover from the CFO. He left on his own to go to rehab.

  26. Euripides Pants, Eumenides Pants*

    Right on, OP! This was a great update to read today, on what’s literally my own 2.5 year sobriety anniversary. And I loved your Kool-Aid Man comparison. Thank you for writing.

  27. Will's Mom*

    This is a top ten update. I love the Look Aid metaphor. So proud of you. I hope you have a great new year

  28. Not So NewReader*

    OP, in a lot of ways you created your own good fortune here. Congrats on taking charge of your life and congratulations on your new job and continued sobriety. May you have many more successes.

  29. Anonymous Luddite*

    Congratulations on your continued sobriety.
    And, as others have pointed out, you made it from a seat in the band to a seat on a lifeboat. Well done.

  30. recovering opiate addict*

    I am in recovery, and I give you so much credit for how you handled this ordeal.
    My sponsor went through a similar experience in recovery. She worked for a great guy who practiced a form of alternative medicine (think along the lines of acupuncture). This boss gave her a chance when she was still relatively early on in her recovery and had exclusively worked in the restaurant industry. She learned a lot under him. A couple of years in, he injured his back, was prescribed opiates, and became addicted to them. Things were really going downhill and she decided she had to get out, both because of her own recovery (her drug of choice was also an opiate) and because it was a sinking ship as a business. It’s a difficult decision sometimes to leave a place where you’ve become accustomed to or were treated well in the past, but when things start going awry, it’s time to jump ship. Addiction is tragic but when someone in your life’s addiction is affecting your own mental health, stability, and/or livelihood, that is not your burden to bear.

  31. neeko*

    Congratulations on your new gig and continuous sobriety! Staying sober during a pandemic has been….interesting!

  32. Sara without an H*

    I finally realized I was on the Titanic and had been assigned the role of the musicians who stayed and played music while the ship sank. I decided to take my chances in the water instead…

    Congratulations, OP, on not trying to convince yourself that you owed “loyalty” to these people at the expense of your own mental and physical health. Enjoy your sobriety and your new job!

    Of course, if you want to share some of the details of the Last Days Aboard the Titanic at the Friday free-for-all, we’ll all be happy to read them. (He asked you to social-media-stalk a co-worker??! Yikes!)

  33. I sleep when the sun shines*

    LW, I hope you have an opportunity to write, either in your new job or elsewhere. You made me laugh out loud with your colorful descriptions that we can all identify with. You are a gem.

  34. rmric0*

    “The universe didn’t open a door; it burst through the wall like the Kool Aid Man, grabbed me, and dragged me out.”

    10/19 metaphor, no notes

  35. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    ” I finally realized I was on the Titanic and had been assigned the role of the musicians who stayed and played music while the ship sank. I decided to take my chances in the water instead, and literally the day I started updating my resume, a former coworker reached out to me about a job opening at their new company, which ended up sounding perfect for me.”

    My late father advised me on this – and I have passed it along to others =

    Rats that abandon a sinking ship for higher ground greatly increase their chances of survival over those that opt to stay aboard and drown.”

  36. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    I remember reading this letter after going to an interview where there was a proper bar, with kegs and bar stools and yelling “HELL NO” in my head.
    I’m so glad you could get out, and to a much better job.

  37. Candi*

    OP, congrats on the awesome new job and staying sober!

    If you’re competitive, you can make it a goal to beat my dad’s record on the wagon -40+ years now.

    Whether you do or don’t, you can do it!

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