Returning to Work in Recovery

woman working on her laptop after addiction treatment

Work In Progress

You were so desperate. Your decisions felt like they just exploded in your face. No matter what you did, everything just seemed to fall apart. You needed relief. It seemed to take forever to get here. But it did come. You admitted that you needed help. You got treatment. That’s a very significant step. That is a decision you should feel good about. Now, inch-by-inch, you’re starting to put your life back together. Once crucial way for you to continue to recover is to invest in your work. You’ve been in treatment, so you’re familiar with the importance of a schedule. Work helps continue that schedule. Work helps you keep a routine. It lets you know what to expect and when to expect it.

So, what do you do now? How can work aid in your recovery? That depends on the season you’re in. If you’re returning to a job you had prior to treatment, your path will look one way. If you’re job hunting after treatment, your path will look another way.

Punch In, Zone In

If you like your job well enough to continue working there, then you must engage with your work. Commit to being present while you work. You’ve likely heard athletes describe being “in the zone” when they train. Or, maybe you’ve heard something similar from people wrapped up in their favorite hobby. Don’t dismiss that; it’s a legitimate experience. The phrase “in the zone” is short for zone of proximal development. It refers to the space between your current, comfortable skill set, and what lies just beyond it. When you’re at work, do your best to try and get “in the zone.” No matter how menial your tasks, focus intently on them. Sink into your work. Forget about your other obligations for just a little while. And just work.

Around The Water Cooler

Meaningful relationships with coworkers can make a huge impact. You may have a job you don’t like. Or at least one you don’t love. And that’s ok. But chances are, there’s at least one person there you can tolerate. Consider that a win. As your work duties allow, nurture meaningful relationships with coworkers. Use common sense, and keep your conduct professional. Don’t hunt for flirtatious or romantic encounters. But look for people you can invest in. People who will encourage your path to recovery (even if they don’t know you’re in recovery). If your schedule allows, step out to lunch with them. Have discussions about the future, whether work-related or otherwise. Cultivating and maintaining relationships like these makes drab work more interesting.

Educate And Elevate

The road to recovery runs uphill. So does the road to advancement at work. Now that you’re in recovery, you can use your time to think about the future of your job. Is it a feasible career path for you? If so, look for ways to move forward. Check to see if your company offers training programs for promotions. If none are available, try looking for a lateral move. Doing so might provide a way for you to progress faster. Do you need to start (or finish) a college degree? Contact colleges in your area to see what programs they offer for working adults. Many professions have certifications that make you a better candidate for increased responsibility.

Humility Goes A Long Way

What if you’re starting over with work? Maybe you’ve got a gap in your resume and you’re beginning a new career path. Or, what if you’re a young person entering the workforce for the first time? Two words to keep in mind: stay humble. Everyone has to start somewhere. If what’s available to you doesn’t fit with your skill set, or doesn’t pay enough, that’s fine for now. Life has brought you very low. And that’s a good place to be. If you think a job is beneath you, then you must shift your perspective. Carl Jung said that people don’t see God because they don’t bow low enough. You can’t recover upward if you’re looking down your nose at your job. If you aren’t humble, you’ll be aiming down instead of up.

Rate Of Return

Financial investors and business types often mention “rate of return” (ROR). It’s a measure of the loss or gain of money put into an investment. That principle also holds true for life. The amount of money you are paid at work isn’t the only way to measure your success (or lack of it). The very idea of work implies investing in the future – doing something hard or unpleasant now for a reward later. When you punch a clock, you’re actively investing in your future. You’re shaping who you could become tomorrow. What’s your rate of return at work? What level of satisfaction does your job provide? If you’re not getting what you want out of your work, consider what you’re putting into it.

Make Hay While The Sun Shines

In treatment, you stuck to a daytime schedule. Doctors, therapists, counselors, and other medical staff regulated everything for you. In recovery, you must self-regulate. You must lay down the law for yourself, so to speak. When possible, find work that will allow you to participate in evening home groups. This isn’t always possible, especially in job fields like retail, hospitality, or restaurants. But if you can, find work that lets you work daytime hours. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid night shifts. If it’s night shift or nothing – take the night shift. But transition to daytime work ASAP. Regular sleep remains paramount during this stage of your life. Definitely steer clear of bars, liquor stores, and clubs. Even if you’re a young person, you don’t need a night life right now. You’re a person in recovery. You must treat yourself like one.

Work can make a difference in your future. Recovery focuses on the future. Because it’s in the present that we build the future. Finding a job that you like, even just a little bit, helps build that future. Don’t look at your work like something you have to do. View it like an ingredient in your new, recovering life.

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