Back to Employment in Recovery
The Big Book contains a whole chapter “To Employers”, and to share my experience in a few hundred words may add little to it, but eleven years ago I thought I was just that weak, stupid, spineless and irresponsible individual described on page 139.
I had spent the last 10 years trying to cover up my drinking “habit”, as I then thought it was, trying to protect my secret at work and from colleagues and family, trying to deal with resentment, fear, frustration and jealousy the only way I knew how, in a career that seemed to be an endless landscape of pinnacles of panic separated by deep troughs of despair. Getting hold of the alcohol was never a problem – but finding the opportunity to drink it without getting found out was always the difficulty.
When the wheels eventually came off the wagon and the truth finally came out, in shame and embarrassment I knew deep down that the game was up.
I wasn’t exactly an employee, because I worked in a professional partnership with three others and it was only when I eventually got on the program and read Chapter 10 of the big Book that I appreciated that I had been treated by them almost precisely as it suggests – despite the fact that none of those there had ever seen it.
I was offered a leave of absence to spend eight weeks in a treatment centre; my partners looked after my clients in my absence, explaining away that I had been advised by my doctor to take a complete break because I had been “overdoing it” – absolutely true, but not quite the whole truth!
When I completed the course of treatment it was agreed that could rejoin the practice provided I followed whatever recommendations for aftercare had been made by the treatment centre – which, in the event, was to attend AA. I thought I was being clever and giving myself a get-out by agreeing with my partners limiting that attendance to a minimum of two years!
You see, they thought – and I hoped/wanted to believe – that I had been cured in those eight weeks, that the habit had been broken, that I would be able to drink normally, like they did. And deep down I knew that I couldn’t deal with those same old fears and resentments which were waiting for me back at work without a drink, and I simply couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol.
But I found a way to do so. I thought I’d better show willing and promised I would go to AA meetings. By a fortunate coincidence, at the treatment centre I had been pointed in the direction of what became my home group. After a few meetings listening to the same old stuff I thought that if I’m going to have to do this for the next two years then I’d better get one of those sponsors they all kept talking about and see what those Steps, that they never stopped going on about, were all about.
And that’s when life took a turn for the better. My sponsor introduced me to a daily plan of action and I began to apply some of those actions in the work place: the Serenity Prayer and Just for Today card taught me that the actions of others were not always directed at me personally because they didn’t like me or were out to get me, and I began to become less irritated and touchy about the world generally. The discipline of the daily plan got some discipline back into my working life, and I have seen that since with many others who come into recovery, particularly in employment and education. When I started on the program and actually put in the actions, without necessarily concerning myself with whether I wanted to do them or not – in short, to stop prevaricating and worrying about outcomes before I’d actually done anything about achieving them – I began to see the world differently and with less cause for fear and anxiety.
But one area of concern when it sunk in that, one day at a time, mine was to be a life without alcohol, concerned those with whom I had previously drunk for business – “networking” nowadays, for want of a better name – how would I explain away the reasons why I could no longer split a bottle with them at lunch or after work? How much the less would they think of me for not joining them? But these tended to be just self-centred fears trying to hang on to my old way of life; some of these work colleagues actually saw it as a strength rather than a weakness – “not like old so-and-so; he just never knew how to stop: remember the state he used to get in? Haven’t see him for months now – such a shame, he used to be a good bloke when he wasn’t smashed”. Others simply didn’t seem to notice any difference, or simply ignored it showing neither concern nor criticism – none of the jibes or put-downs I had expected.
As a result of what I have learned by working the Twelve Steps in recovery I have, I hope, been able to pass on my experience to other alcoholics, some of them members of my own profession. I find it important when working with newcomers to AA to try to remember just what I felt like when I first came in – to share the fears, the shame and the embarrassment that I felt, in the hope that by being able to identify with those comes the realisation that they are not the only one who has suffered and that the way out that I have found, they can find as well.
Johnny, Road to Recovery Group, Plymouth, July 2012