Captain Awkward has this letter from someone dealing with an alcoholic childhood friend interacting with other friends and causing problems.
I invited Jake to my recent birthday dinner. My work colleagues were there. Jake, who is gay, made unwanted (verbal) sexual overtures to my straight male coworkers. He made loud, explicit and insulting observations about my female coworker’s outfits and bodies. I was fairly mortified and also speechless when it happened, cringing silently in disbelief. (He would never have said anything like this while sober, of course. When I asked, he told me he doesn’t remember the evening at all.)
What does damage control look like in a case like this? What do I say to these people now? Is there a better strategy than “sorry my friend harassed you, he’s an alcoholic”? I know Jake’s comments are not my responsibility, but I feel like I need to let my acquaintances and colleagues know that I don’t condone the things he said. I’m friends with the real Jake, not the distorted person he becomes while under the influence.
Okay, here’s one thing: it’s tempting to separate the “real Jake” from the “distorted person he becomes under the influence,” but realistically, the other friends have had to deal with both at the same time.
The fact that he “would never have said anything like this while sober, of course” doesn’t change the fact that he did get drunk while in proximity to the LW’s friends, and he did say those things. He may be telling the truth about not remembering the evening, but still, this behavior is still his and if he doesn’t accept responsibility for it, then he has no business meeting his friend’s other friends.
As to how to do damage control, maybe go to the work peeps and say: “I’m sorry you had to deal with that shit from Jake; he should not have done that to you!” That might be a start. And with that established, maybe…don’t bring Jake near other friend groups from now on? We can talk about how alcoholism is a disease and he’s not exactly in control of his actions and Sober Jake wouldn’t act like this, but…we’ve also established that you can’t always count on Sober Jake to prevail. As for Drunk Jake’s comments not being your responsibility, well…if you have the power not to bring Drunk Jake near your other friends, and you still bring him around them, his making those comments around them is your responsibility. Just a little bit. You can’t make him quit drinking, you can’t make him not get drunk at social gatherings, but you can say to yourself, this is the type of event where Jake can’t be trusted not to cause problems. And then you don’t invite him.
Most of all, though, this idea of being “friends with the real Jake” isn’t good enough. The distinction between “real Jake” and “distorted person under the influence” isn’t protecting other people from his gross behavior. If you don’t condone the shit he says when he’s drunk, then don’t make excuses for his abusing other people. Real Jake and Distorted Jake are, unfortunately, walking around in the same body, and the fact of his disease doesn’t make his drunken assholery any less damaging to your other friends. Distorted Jake is always a possibility. Being an adult means planning accordingly.