By Anne Watkins
If you’re a recovering addict, re-entering the world of employment is more than just a welcome return to normalcy. It may also have a direct bearing on the long-term success of your recovery. Having a steady job gives life structure and a higher purpose. It gives you a reason to set your ego-centric thoughts aside and occupy your time with truly productive activities, and it may also connect you to a whole new set of people with whom you can make a fresh start. In short, work is healing.
However, even in good economic times, it’s never easy for a recovering addict to find a job or transition back into work. That’s why returning to work is a precarious step in the process. Recovering addicts who can’t find work are much more likely to relapse or return to old patterns of thought and behavior. If you’re having trouble getting hired, you may be tempted to take your difficulties personally. Your may wrongly interpret job-related rejections as painful signs that the world doesn’t want you, or that trying to go straight is a lost cause.
In poor economic times, these difficulties can have a huge bearing not only on individuals, but on society as a whole, which magnifies the importance of employer understanding and of programs designed to help former addicts return to the workforce.
Returning to an Existing Job
A recovering addict returning to an established career faces a special set of challenges. You may be worried that opportunities for advancement have been closed off, that co-workers will gossip and look over their shoulders, or that you’ll be the first to go in the event of downsizing. The bad news is that, depending on how much your boss and co-workers know, these fears may not be far from reality.
At first, it’s understandable for your co-workers to have misgivings about your return, particularly if your addiction directly affected your job performance. The sad fact is that some addicts have trouble staying sober in the long term, and most people are aware of this, so you may need to give your co-workers some time to discover that your old problems aren’t coming back. Try to sympathize with them, and understand that their feelings aren’t malicious.
But there is also good news. Now that you’re getting better, any addiction-related problems that used to affect your job performance will no longer be a factor. You can now prove to the world what you’re capable of. If you’ve been around other addicts, you probably know that they tend to be passionate, bright, energetic people who just happen to be troubled. Once they learn how to direct their energies toward productive ends such as work, nothing in the world can stop them. Approach your job as if you have something to prove. Don’t be ashamed to take pride in your work and go above and beyond the call of duty.
Taking this approach to your work will be a positive use of your energies, and it will also be an investment in your future. If you can prove over the long term that your co-workers and employers have nothing to worry about, any doors that may have been half-closed to you before will be flung wide open.
Finding a New Job
If you’ll be looking for a new job, you may be worried that potential employers are going to find out about your past and discriminate against you. Even if your situation doesn’t require you to disclose your history of substance abuse, addicts are often hampered by spotty work histories, criminal records or a lack of good references, any of which can be sufficient reason for a potential employer to pass.
Because of these difficulties, other aspects of the job-hunting process, such as applications, cover letters and interviews, take on added importance. Even if your work history and references aren’t great, you can earn points by outshining your competition in all other respects. Put all of your energy into creating application cover letters that are tailored specifically to the job while showing off your enthusiasm and unique personality traits.
Come interview time, present yourself as the sober, responsible and productive person you wish to be. This is a time of new beginnings, and your past work history doesn’t have to haunt you. In your former life, did your problems stop you from doing the things that a responsible adult is expected to do? If so, now is the time to make amends.
That being said, there are organizations specifically designed to place recovering addicts in jobs, and there are plenty of employers out there who understand, first-hand or through a loved one, the difficulties that addicts experience. Treatment professionals working with you may take it upon themselves to connect you to one of these organizations, but it never hurts to ask. Also, check for helpful resources online or in the local papers.
Tips for Everyone
- Talk to your therapist about your fears and anxieties about returning to work or looking for a job. Often, these fears are closely related to the deep-seated issues that caused your addiction. Your therapist can help you work through all of these feelings.
- Avoid employment-related triggers. If your addiction was brought about or perpetuated by job-related feelings, avoid employment that will lead to the same circumstances. This may limit your options, but even if you have to start over in a new career field, the most important thing is to be healthy.
- Learn skills to cope with stress. Teach yourself about meditation techniques to calm down during high-pressure situations at work. Also, learn how to let the small things go. Work wouldn’t be work if there weren’t unpleasant things about it. Accept these as part of life, and know that it’s all worth it in the end.
- Set a good example. Each day that you live a healthy and successful post-addiction life, you’re creating a positive example for other recovering addicts who doubt themselves.