#WeAreNot9to5 is a campaign to share a series of lived experience stories about mental health and substance use from our Not 9 to 5 community. Our aim is to encourage us to learn from one another.
Transcript of audio clip by Shell Righini (she/her):
My name is Shell. I’ve worked in hospitality since the age of 21, so 17 years in total. In November 2020, I lost my job due to my drinking. I want to share my story as I think it’s important for people to understand it really could happen to anyone and that the prevalent drinking culture of excess we have in the industry, it needs to change. What started out as a career focused on all that I love about the drink industry ended up being the reason I lost my job, my mental health, and nearly my life.
When I lost my job because my drinking had become out of control, I couldn’t believe it had come to that. I love my job. I love making people happy. That joy when you surprise a guest with a little something extra. And those moments you get to be there for them. You know, the highs, the lows. It’s all about connection. It’s a rush, It’s exciting. And I was hooked the moment I started my first waitressing job.
So when I found out I’d lost my job because of drinking, it wasn’t that I just lost my income. I felt I’d lost my entire identity. And the thing that hurt the most was that I’d lost it for something that everyone else around me was doing as well.
And you know, I walked away from the restaurant just completely confused. I’d never worked anywhere where drinking after shift was not considered standard. The only way I was ever shown to come down from that cloud, You know, that adrenaline high of a great shift with with drinking and drugs.
You know, my drinking was normal for years. I studied wine, beer, spirits, and I worked as a bar trainer. But as that pressure of working in the high intensity environments increased along with expectations to perform and achieve, you know, my drinking escalated. And what made it worse is that I could just hide my increasing consumption in plain sight. No one battered an eyelid if I came to work hungover, and I certainly wasn’t the only one.
The culture of work hard, play hard meant that as my relationship with alcohol spiralled, you know, there was no support or resources being signposted to me to get help before it was too late. Alcohol stopped being something I loved and became something I needed. And the last five years, my drinking. I kept the facade of normalcy in the workplace. But I’ve become chronically dependent on drinking when I got home from work to numb out the stresses of the day.
I’m sharing all of this because over the last 21 months I’ve been sober and I’ve been looking at the reason why it got as bad as it did. And one of the things that stood out to me was that all the while I was struggling with addiction and with increasing challenging difficulties. There was no one at work, where I spent my entire life, no one was stepping up to offer support. I didn’t even know I had a problem because I wasn’t doing anything that other people weren’t.
I may be responsible for choosing to drink, but I think it’s time the industry took some accountability for the role it plays in creating unsafe alcohol fuelled workplaces.
It’s also time for companies to put in place policy for people who are suffering from alcoholism within hospitality, which allows support and a plan to get them better so that they can reenter the workforce, you know, rather than just letting them go. There are a lot of people in our industry who are in pain and who struggle with addiction and there are a lot of people in recovery, but the shame and stigma is standing up and claiming. That means that people are dying quietly in our industry. We need more and more people to stand up and say I’ve recovered and I do it loudly so that people can get that identification and that’s the beginning of the road for them to find help.
You know, we can save lives with our stories, but you know, only if we’re brave enough to share them.