What Did I Learn By Putting My Recovery Before My Career?

I had to give up working for around 8 months when I first got sober. This was not my first choice, and I was really frustrated that I couldn’t work when I first entered a sober living. Most sober livings that I had researched required that you either have a job or be in school within a certain short period. This is what I wanted, so when I was told that wasn’t the case at the sober living I entered, my first thought as an alcoholic was to leave and go somewhere else.

Being out of options I chose to stay at this sober living. At the end of the day it was a really good thing that I didn’t work right when I started getting sober. The funny thing is, as alcoholics, as soon as we get sober we really easily get inspired and feel like we can go out there and achieve greatness right away, especially when we are riding the pink cloud when new in sobriety. The only problem is that we forget that we are alcoholics and we are not yet equipped with the necessary tools to actually allow us to stay sober without being in the confines of a structured sober living home.

That was my experience, once I was able to get around 30 days sober, I believed that I was ready to go back to college, get a job, and pretty much felt as though I could live on my own and I would be fine. Before I got sober I couldn’t even last more than 20 hours without getting high, and being surround by AA and recovery, it made me forget about all of the negative and outside influences that we experience when working. Especially in tip based positions like I was accustomed to. If I would have gotten a job when I had anything less than 6 months sober it would have been so easy for me to be influenced by co-workers to drink or get high. Even if I truly didn’t want to drink. I hadn’t yet been able to get a grasp and have a keen understanding on myself and what it takes to stay sober. I was susceptible to seeking validation from others and doing things to please other people even when I didn’t want to. Basically, it would have been way too easy for me to say yes rather than no.

Another issue was that my way of coping with problems and stress before sobriety was getting high and drinking – I had not even come close to the ability at 30, 60, or even 90 days, to grab a hold of my emotions. My emotions controlled me day in and day out and if I was having a bad day at work it would have been really easy for me to get a drink. When I did get my first job in sobriety, that fact that I had spent lots of time gaining internal knowledge, developing emotional sobriety, and discovering tools to allow me to cope with situations where I may be faced with drugs and alcohol paid off. I had no mental defense at that point in my sobriety. My first job in a restaurant was full of people who were constantly inviting me out to go drink or party with them after my shifts. I had the ability to say no. One situation that I can still vividly remember was when a bartender was making a blended cocktail. There was leftovers in the blender and he poured it in a kids cup and handed it to me. Immediately without any forethought I said, no thanks I’m good, I don’t drink. That was the first time that I was able to look back and realize that I had gained a mental defense against the first drink.

As much as I hated having to wait 8 months before I got a job, I can honestly say today with over 3 years sober that it definitely played a pretty large role in why I am still sober today.  Some people and families may not appreciate the concept of their children having to wait for an extended period of time before working for financial reasons, or because they want to see their children start to prepare themselves for entering a career. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation with alcoholics is that before we can even consider achieving any of that, we need to be able to get a grasp on how to stay sober. If we don’t get a grasp on that, then inevitably we will end up in a position sometime down the road where we will have to go through the process of trying to get sober all over again and that will prolong forward movement and growth in our lives even further.

-Matt L., New Life House alumni

2 Comments
  • Kathy N
    Posted at 03:21h, 21 May Reply

    Thank you for that great insight into getting back to work sober. I know most people don’t realize how difficult it can be and how important it is to build up your defenses to temptations prior to stepping out into employment. Wonderful article.

    • Howard Barker
      Posted at 18:05h, 22 May Reply

      Thanks! It is tempting to focus on the external things when we first stop using, at the expense of our internal health. Unfortunately, there are a lot of programs that are not willing to make residents uncomfortable and tell them no. When an addict gets to dictate the terms of their recovery though, the results are not usually pretty. Holding off on work is just one example of this!

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