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Restarting Your Career in Recovery

We know that sobriety has to come first. That doesn’t change the fact that the bills need to be paid. Hopefully you’re seeking to create a balance between managing your recovery and managing your professional and financial responsibilities. Regardless of what you’ve been through, its safe to assume that restarting your career is going to be a challenge.

The Big Question - How Much to Reveal?

I’m often asked, “What do I tell them (employers – current or potential)?” My response is that it depends entirely on what’s already known and what you want them to know. I advocate both a person’s right to privacy and a person’s right to express the simple truth.

Either way it’s vitally important that you hold your head up and look people in the eye; regardless of what you intend to tell them.

If you want to have privacy, you’re free to explain that you were “on extended medical leave” or “being treated for a very personal health condition.” This should stop probing questions and if it doesn’t you’re free to simply say, “Thanks for asking but I prefer not to discuss it.”

If you want transparency or if you managed to harm yourself professionally while active, tell them you’re in recovery from the disease of addiction. DO NOT look at the floor while you do this. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that the person you’re addressing is supportive. Remember that addiction touches everyone’s lives, whether directly or indirectly.

If You Get to Go Back to Your Old Job

If you were fortunate enough to have an employer who knew what the problem was and supported you in getting clean/sober, thank them and show them you’re grateful. Don’t just do this in words – invest in your employer just as they invested in you. Get together with everyone you can and find out what’s changed since you’ve been away.

Find a balance. You’re not going to wow them the first month you’re back. It’s more about showing your work ethic, being accountable, and letting them see for themselves that they can depend on you again. Be humble but do not repeatedly apologize. Work hard.

If You Can’t Go Back

It’s very common that we burn bridges while active in addiction. If you can’t go back, send a brief letter or card to your former employer’s HR department showing that you take full responsibility for your actions and affirm that they were right to discharge you. Do this without expectation. Maybe something good will come from it. More importantly, your employer needs to know that some people recover and take responsibility for their actions. This very well may benefit another person in addiction or recovery down the road.

If you plan on staying in the same field, you know to update your resume. Do not leave a time gap in your resume. Fill in the gap with an explanation of “major medical treatment (true). Now in total remission and returning to career path.” Here again, if you prefer to give more detail that’s commendable but it may be problematic unless your employer is known to support people in recovery. It’s not secrecy but rather privacy that we pursue.

No employer has the right to know what you’ve been medically treated for. Simply assure them that you are in good health and they can count on you to be a hard worker and to be reliable.

Exception to the rule: If you have accumulated a criminal history while active in addiction; it’s best to lay all your cards on the table. Lots of folks are supportive of addiction recovery. No one is supportive of committing crimes. My best guidance here is to ask around your recovery community as to which employers are known to be supportive. It is likely advantageous to avoid corporate, state, or federal jobs due to background checks and instead focus on finding opportunities with independent business owners.

If You Don’t Want to Go Back to Your Old Job

Many of us found that returning to our former employer and/or former profession was simply too great a trigger. Exploring career options is daunting regardless of where we’re at in life. I encourage folks to consider what their needs are in the short term (wants come later).

  1. Write a budget.
  2. How much must you earn to cover the necessities and base your short term decisions on what’s necessary?
  3. Consider a temporary job, seasonal employment, or something that just allows you to pay the bills while you’re increasing stability and health.

This approach may allow you to consider vocational training. Perhaps going to college is an option? The AA adage applies for a lot of folks here, “We found the only thing we needed to change was everything.” The difficulty is that people in early recovery often run into the pitfall of wanting to change everything in a hurry and simultaneously. Consider that in Step One we noted that our lives had become unmanageable. In all aspects of our new life, manageability is key to success.

If you want to remain in your field, talk to people. Revisit old connections and ask for help in locating opportunity. Table your pride. If you get a chance to reenter the field at a lower position or lower pay, take it and work hard to get back what you lost. Humility is one more thing we embrace in our new lives.

Become a Recovery Professional

The field of addiction professionals employs countless people in recovery. You may find that you enjoy recovery enough that you wish to make a living helping folks enter it or grow in it. Be patient, explore options, and be mindful that everything is temporary.

Clinical Social Worker/Therapist
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: Thanks! Jim

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