It sounds easy, doesn’t it—going back to work newly sober? You’re a little bored of all these AA meetings, and fellowship coffee and you feel ready to go back to work—not least to pay for all of those coffees and meals out with your new sober buddies. But what we don’t realize is that adding the responsibility of a job onto the massive undertaking that recovery already is, can, potentially, pose a risk to your newfound sobriety. It doesn’t have to though—it is entirely possible to go back to work and stay sober.
When I first got sober, I was fortunate to be able to take the first couple of months off work. But with debt mounting, and boredom looming, I had to go back to work. I was excited by the prospect of taking on a new challenge—I felt like I could take on the world now I was sober. Within a couple of weeks, I wondered what on earth I had been thinking.
This is exhausting—I just can’t do it. I remember telling my sponsor.
Within a week, the walks to work were replaced by cabs. I was exhausted and my body felt like a dead weight. I was taking more smoke breaks to stop myself from falling asleep at my desk, and I questioned my sanity more times than I wish to recount. Who’s bright idea was this?!
In my infinite wisdom, I decided to take on a menial job so that it wouldn’t take up much mental energy. Now I see that any position I took on would’ve felt too much because I was already at 100% capacity.
Physically, my body was still healing from all of the damage that I had caused it. So, on the one-hand a menial job wouldn’t tax me mentally, the act of getting to and from work and being on my feet was a huge undertaking.
Mentally, I was drained from all of the step work I was doing, the new level of interaction, and my newfound rigorous honesty—which involved challenging my every thought and emotion. I hadn’t had that level of interaction with another human—let alone a group of them—on a regular basis for decades. It was draining being so open about how I thought, felt, and acted. Never mind running by my every decision by a sponsor! As an introvert—as I was yet to realize—that level of interaction was too much for me.
Emotionally, I was just waking up to the last twenty years of my life which included trauma, and all of the nasties associated with addiction. These included the failed relationships, the harm I caused and to others, the damage I had inflicted on my body, the enormous amount of debt, and the veil of denial and manipulation that had clouded my every judgment and action.
I was trying to spin all of the plates. And I felt like I was going to crumble.
One day I was sent to clear an office ready for its new occupant. As I trudged the hallways of the university I worked at, I wondered why I was here and why life felt so overwhelming. I was so depressed and exhausted at that point that I would cry on these expeditions. Is this all sobriety is? I asked myself. As I opened the door to the office—expecting to have a heap of mess to clean up—I was pleasantly surprised that it was already empty. Except for one thing. On the blackboard, someone had pinned this poem:
Everything Is Going To Be All Right ~ Derek Mahon
How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and the high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
But there is no need to go into that.
The lines flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
And the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.
What I saw was a direction that I should take a step back from my feeling of suffering. My heart will see me through to what matters. And that no matter what happens, the sun will rise every day whether I know its beauty or not. There was such comfort in knowing that everything was going to be okay—all right—and that the trudging would lead me down the right path.
With this newfound ease and comfort, I stopped questioning what I was doing and trusted that if I did this job and did it well, then another opportunity would present itself when the time was right. And it did. Again-and-again, for the next five years. I moved through the ranks in the university, taking on new challenges and extra responsibilities and I was ready for them. Now, I live in America and am a full-time writer and health coach for people in recovery. That was a series of small steps—steps in the right direction—that led me to where I am today.
If I were to offer any advice on how to integrate into the workplace being newly sober, it would be this: take it slow. Everything is going to appear more challenging, more difficult, more tiring, and make more mental and physical energy than usual. That requires a level of compassion and kindness that you must show yourself. Resisting the tiredness and exhaustion—trust me, because that’s my trick—will only ever make things more challenging. The last thing we want to do when we feel like we’re trudging through thick tar is to add the weight of expectation and self-criticism onto our backs. Getting sober is about re-learning how to live and loving ourselves enough that we choose kindness and love for ourselves over harm. So keep going, keep talking, and keep loving. Because everything is going to be all right.
About the Author
Writer and wellness advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery writers and bloggers, published on websites such as: Recovery.Org, The Fix, Intervene, Workit Health, iExhale, Sapling, Addiction Unscripted, Transformation is Real, Sanford House, Winward Way & Casa Capri.