Jan Arzooman

Recovery at work: Four tips for fitting in and beating stress

Recovery at work

When you put down your drug of choice, someone may have told you, “You never have to feel that pain again.” True—but now you’re dealing with life and work without drugs or alcohol and the pain that makes you feel. Work is, after all, where you spend a huge chunk of your day.

Do any of these work scenarios sound familiar?

  • “I stopped going to the bar after work with my department, and now I feel isolated. I think it’s affecting my job.”
  • “I saw a colleague at my meeting. Suddenly everyone at work knows I’m in AA. What happened to anonymity?”
  • “I used to have a little something after work to take the edge off. Now I can’t seem to find an outlet for my stress.”

In a perfect world, your boss would have given you a leave of absence and your insurance would have covered your entire treatment cost. Upon your release, they would have happily welcomed you back and your coworkers would have been supportive. Instead, you may encounter:

  • A boss who isn’t so sure he can trust you
  • An enormous stack of work that piled up while you were in treatment
  • Colleagues who tell you you’re not an alcoholic and still want you to drink with them

If you lost your job, you may be facing:

  • A demoralizing job search
  • A job with a lower status than the one you had before, and maybe more stress
  • A job with sporadic hours that makes it hard to commit to a home group
  • A smaller paycheck

Here are four suggestions for navigating work:

  1. When you’re stressed out, call someone in your recovery group as soon as you can. Say the Serenity Prayer as often as you need to. Go for a walk around the block. Put headphones on and blast music…or play a meditation podcast.
  2. If coworkers tell you it’s OK to drink, stand firm in your knowledge that “one drink” is too many for you. All you have to say is “not tonight.” A workplace with a heavy drinking culture can be a lonely place. But look around—maybe there are other colleagues who don’t drink that you never noticed before!
  3. If you must be in a drinking situation, such as a cocktail reception at a conference, take breaks as often as possible. It’s also OK to say you don’t feel well—it’s not a lie—and leave early for self-protection. These events can be awkward and painful for those who “needed” a few drinks just to be sociable. They will get easier.
  4. Don’t feel you have to tell people you’re in recovery. People may treat you differently—and you already feel different enough. But if they do find out, think of it as a possibility to help someone else with the same problem.

Work will get easier. With the support of your recovery group, your outpatient counselor, or your therapy group, these feelings of awkwardness, low self-esteem, and your craving to drink or use, will start to lessen.

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