It is often with mixed emotions that recovering addicts return to work. Whether you’re returning to a former position or starting fresh, going back to work can be both a blessing and a challenge. Steady employment offers structure and predictability to daily life, and is strongly associated with long-term sobriety. It allows you to rebuild your financial base and work toward your goals, promoting self-confidence and an optimistic outlook. For all the positives, there are also a few challenges to prepare for:
Dealing with Co-Workers
When returning to a job you had before rehab, the rumor mill may have curious co-workers digging for details about your absence. You will have to decide in advance whom you’ll share your struggles with, if anyone, and how you’ll respond to probing questions you’d prefer not to answer. Although it may help to have a few co-workers who understand what you’ve been through, they do not necessarily need to know every detail. Save the personal information for your sponsor, therapist and close personal friends.
Many co-workers will support you and be inspired by your courage. These people can be a positive addition to your social support system. The ones who sneer and gossip will likely lose interest in your life after a couple weeks and be too wrapped up in their own lives to worry about making yours more difficult. Even if they are not supportive at first, they will eventually be won over by your new attitude and determination. Let them know in words and actions that you’re committed to your recovery and your job.
If job-related stress contributed to your drug or alcohol problem, you’ll need to take special precautions to manage this potential relapse trigger after rehab. You may need to talk to your employer about a reduced schedule or limiting your responsibilities as you ease back into your career.
If you’re starting a new job, learning the ropes can be stressful. To guard against relapse, make time for regular support groups and meetings, lean on your social support system, and practice the stress management skills you learned in drug rehab. If you find that the pressures are wearing on you, ask your boss if part-time or reduced-hour opportunities are available. You may also want to consider moving into a sober living environment that provides extra structure and support as you transition back into the workforce.
Whatever solution best addresses your needs, take action at the earliest signs of relapse. You best serve yourself and your employer by putting your recovery first and building up to full productivity over time.
Return-to-Work Agreements After Rehab
Some employers will condition a recovering addict’s return to work on a written agreement. Terms vary but often include random drug testing, computer filters, additional supervision and long-term monitoring. If the employee relapses or breaches the contract terms, the consequences outlined in the agreement may include termination, disciplinary action or additional substance abuse treatment. If you’re struggling, be honest with your employer so you can work out a solution together.
Taking a Step Back
After rehab, you may be returning to a workplace that functions very differently than when you left it. Perhaps someone has taken over your duties or new positions have been created while others were cut. Especially in a poor economy, you’ll need to be flexible in terms of salary, job responsibilities and future prospects. Work hard and maintain a positive attitude and you’ll be well-positioned to move up and take on more responsibilities when business picks up. You may even find that your newfound work-life balance is more conducive to recovery and you’re happier and healthier than before.
A New Threat: Workaholism After Rehab
Guarding against relapse is an ongoing process, but so is watching out for cross-addictions. For some, an addiction to drugs or alcohol may morph into workaholism. To avoid dealing with feelings, relationships and other life stressors, or to make up for lost time, some recovering addicts throw themselves into their work and end up burning out.
It is important to keep life simple in the early stages of recovery. Don’t let the temptation to work late or bring work home stop you from spending evenings with family, going to meetings, and making time for sober fun and other recovery-related activities.
If you don’t want to get stuck working late every night to meet your deadlines, maximize your efficiency. Make lists and set goals each day so that you don’t waste time trying to find the materials you need or deciding which project to tackle next. And while a small amount of socializing is acceptable, try not to spend too much time chatting with co-workers or handling personal business at work.
Part of recovery is taking the time to take care of yourself. This means getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, taking breaks and vacations as needed, leaning on friends and family, and eating a healthy diet so that you have energy to manage work and the rest of life. Although workaholism is more socially acceptable than drug addiction, working excessively is a sign that you’re not really doing the work of recovery.
Now that you’re in recovery, you may expect life to be better, easier. But what you may find is that you have bills to pay and that the daily grind ends up feeling like, well, a grind. Maybe your supervisor is hard on your or you feel like you’re not living up to your potential. Sometimes these feelings are fleeting and resolve on their own; other times you need to take action to look for a new position, go back to school or volunteer for a cause that you’re passionate about in order to avoid getting “stuck” in your recovery.
Going back to work after drug rehab will help you carve out your place in the world. Although challenges lie ahead, you’ve already accomplished the most difficult task: getting sober. The rest is like fitting puzzle pieces together – methodically, one piece at a time, until all the parts are in place for a productive, balanced and whole life.
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