By Haley Kennedy, Recovery Coach – 8.13.2021 –
When we come into recovery, we are faced with countless challenges; from admitting the problem, to pursuing treatment, to mending relationships, each stage of recovery and rehabilitation comes with its own set of hurdles. In addition to the more obvious obstacles, we also have to continue to take care of responsibilities and fulfil obligations in our daily lives. Here enters the difficult, sometimes scary, process of getting, or returning to, a job.
Early on, the recovery process is like a full-time job, and working through strong feelings can make the idea of going back to work even more overwhelming. But securing gainful employment that pays the bills, puts food on the table, and provides purpose allows us to move ahead in recovery as a contributing member of society, which I believe is an essential piece of sustaining long-term recovery. Working provides stability and routine that can greatly benefit us.
There is no need to rush, because everyone’s journey is different, but once we’ve found our recovery supports and feel secure, there is no harm in looking for employment.
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as updating a resume and putting in an application or two. A lot of us face barriers that extend beyond the state of the job market, which level of education we’ve achieved, or how qualified we are compared to the other applicants. Struggles with substance use are rarely confined to our personal lives. For example, the complications of substance use often carry over into our professional lives, leaving us with spotty work histories and a lack of credible, positive references. Furthermore, we haven’t yet erased the stigma associated with a history of substance use, especially in the event there are accompanying criminal charges. And in small towns or rural areas, where everyone knows each other, the stigma can be a huge disadvantage to gaining employment altogether. Even when this is not the case, those of us in recovery are often only considered for jobs where background checks are not standard practice, which happen to be in environments that are far less than ideal for maintaining our recovery.
Finding a job might seem like a daunting undertaking, but luckily, there are tips and tools to help those in recovery to not just find any job, but the right one.
Start networking with people you know.
While in the throes of active addiction, our sole relationship was with our substances, which made it undeniably difficult to maintain positive connections, even with family and close friends. For this reason, we might find ourselves with few people to turn to for help to get back on our feet. Furthermore, we might be starting over in an entirely new location in hopes of cutting ties with our old lives. This can be disheartening, but there is good news. The recovery process often connects us to a network of counselors, sponsors, and friends in recovery who are willing and able to help. If you are living in a recovery house, your house manager might be able to point you towards job opportunities and they may be willing to serve as a reference. If you are taking part in a support group or 12-step program, your sponsor and/or peers can often do the same. There could be an opportunity directly from treatment as well; some programs have partnered with local companies committed to bettering their communities by providing employment opportunities specifically to those completing treatment.
They say, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” which reminds us it is always a good idea to expand our network. Getting involved in or volunteering with a local church or community organization helps us meet well-connected community members and build valuable relationships.
Use the resources and assistance available.
You don’t have to rely solely on your own network, though. There are programs designed specifically to help those of us in recovery who are seeking employment where guidance, education, and even placement services are offered. There are also online tools dedicated to helping people in recovery who are looking for work. America in Recovery, for example, has a free job board for recovering individuals, people released from incarceration, and at-risk youth looking for employment. The National HIRE Network, on the other hand, provides potential employees with resources, information, and job-related assistance based on their location. And the best part is it doesn’t matter where you reside, as long as you can access the internet from your home, cell phone, or local library, you have access to these tools.
Rebuilding a life after active addiction isn’t easy. Addressing our physical and psychological needs is an around-the-clock battle, in many cases. Combined with the pressure of meeting the needs of our families, it can feel like too much to bear. It’s important to be patient, both with the process and with ourselves, to minimize the stress and frustration that could threaten our recovery. Finding a job in recovery can also mean making some sacrifices. We might need to take a job that offers part-time or alternative hours in order to do whatever it is we need to do to support our number one priority: recovery. Or, depending on how big of an impact substance use had on our professional life, we may need to work our way back up to our previous level of expertise, which could mean taking a lower-paying job in the interim. And if work in any way contributed to our substance use, we might want to do some soul searching and learn a new skill or find a new industry altogether.
Continue to recover.
Above all, it is imperative we stick close to our recovery support in this process. The continuation of both behavioral therapy and/or treatment medications and/or peer support groups will help reduce the chances of recurrence. And don’t hesitate to take advantage of any assistance programs available to help ease the burden of supplying food, healthcare, and other basic needs for yourself and your family while you get back on your feet; that’s exactly what they are there for.
Remember you are not alone.
Millions of people embark on the same path to a productive, fulfilled life in recovery and all the benefits that go with it each and every year. In addition to being necessary for survival, gainful employment is an important piece of recovery: it provides a sense of purpose, meaning, and accomplishment that encourages us to continue our journey.