“I’m a recovering alcoholic, approaching fifteen months of sobriety. I attend AA meetings twice a week, which my boss has been really great about supporting. However, she holds monthly staff meetings at this upscale bar and lounge her friend owns. I have told her that I don’t feel comfortable being in an environment where everyone is drinking and for a while she was supporting my decision not to attend. Lately though, she’s been pressuring me to start going again. She says I’m missing important information and that I’m not being a ‘team player.’ I told her that I’d be happy to attend staff meetings in the salon, but I can’t go to a bar. My addiction was very severe (life-threatening) and I don’t think I’ll ever be at a place where I can safely step into that environment.
She refuses to move the meetings just to accommodate me. The last time we talked about it, she seemed very impatient with me and told me I was being melodramatic. She accused me of not wanting to go and using my alcoholism as an excuse. What do I say to her to help her understand? Should I just find a new job?”
The problem isn’t that your employer doesn’t see your alcoholism as an illness–it’s that she seems to assume you can recover from it much in the same way you’d recover from the flu. She needs to understand that time doesn’t heal addiction the way that it heals injuries or viral infections. This is a disease you will struggle with for the rest of your life.
To get her to understand this, I suggest either providing her with information on alcoholism, bringing her to a meeting, or having your sponsor speak with her. Go ahead and show her this post if you want.
You’ve already made it clear that you’re not using your alcoholism as an excuse not to attend by communicating to her that you’d be happy to attend if the meetings were held elsewhere–so the argument that you’re using your addiction as “an excuse” is entirely invalid. Telling you that you’re being “melodramatic” is incredibly ignorant and insensitive. It says a lot about her character and lack of maturity that she would say that to you and stubbornly refuse to change the meeting venue.
I’m not certain about the feasibility of making a claim for reasonable accommodation on the basis of your addiction as a disability, but I’m willing to bet any judge reading the ADA would determine that your owner needs to be holding the meetings in a more appropriate setting.
In my opinion, it is unreasonable, unfair, and cruel to expect you to risk relapsing for something as petty as an employee meeting. If she can’t understand the struggles you’re facing, you might be better off finding an employer who can and who will respect your commitment to recovery.