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Returning to Work After An Addiction

One of the hardest things an addict will do is go back to work at the same workplace where he or she was employed before they decided to get help for their addictions. Many employers are hesitant to allow employees back, especially if an addiction got in the way of an employee’s performance. And, even if their employer does welcome them back, dealing with coworkers and clients can be tough, especially in the beginning.

The simple fact is that deciding to sober up is hard and the process of detoxing and withdrawal can be brutal. Even the tools that have been developed to help people detox and physically overcome their addictions more easily, like methadone and suboxone, have their limits. Many people–particularly those who try to self-detox with suboxone–find themselves addicted to their detoxifying agent! (1)

In addition to that, the pressure to be perfect at work and having your coworkers stare and either treat you with kid gloves or decide that they can cross some very personal boundaries (everyone will have an alcoholic uncle or drug-addled cousin they’ll want to tell you about) increases your risk of relapsing. Obviously relapsing is the last thing you want to do. Thankfully there are measures you can take to keep that from happening.

In addition to therapy, exercise, and all of the other tools that are commonly employed in overcoming addiction (2), it is also important to set some concrete goals. Goals are incredibly helpful because instead of telling you what not to do, they tell you what to do. They can help distract your brain and give you something to focus on instead of the subject of your addiction.

Your instinct here is likely going to be to set some sort of huge goal for yourself like “I’m going to stay sober forever and I will be promoted to a corner office within the year!” But guess what: trying to set a long-term goal like this will only increase your chances of failing. That’s not opinion. It’s science (and it’s why people are more likely to fail their New Year’s Resolutions) (3).

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have lofty or long term goals. On the contrary, it’s good to have an idea of where you want to be in a year, 5, 10, etc. In order to keep those promises to yourself, though, you need to break those goals down into smaller and more manageable steps. For example, when things are rough and you feel yourself tempted by your addiction, instead of drowning in the sea of forever, tap into your inner Kimmy Schmidt and focus on just the next ten seconds–especially when the guy in the cube next to yours insists on telling you about the time he got alcohol poisoning in college or when your team leader makes a big show of having the team happy hour in a coffee shop instead of a pub.

So how does this play out in terms of goal setting and distracting your brain away from your addiction?

Practice! What you need right now is to build your confidence up and prove to yourself that you can meet the goals you set. The best way to do this is to start by setting small goals for yourself.

For example, this week your goal could be to get out of bed at the same time every day. Or to go for a ten minute walk every afternoon. Something small that you know you can do.

When you achieve these goals for a few weeks, move on to something that will take some more time, like learning a skill. This is a good time to incorporate one of the traditional sobriety coping mechanisms like exercise. Learn yoga or pilates or take up jogging or swimming. Learning a craft like knitting or photography can also be helpful. What matters is that you choose something with which you can actually see and feel your progress. That progress will help motivate you to keep going.

Do this over and over again. Once you’ve learned to knit, for example, maybe sign up for a class at your local college, something that requires commitment.

Over time, you’ll be able to build up to and map out steps you should take to reach larger goals, like changing careers, buying a home, etc.

Obviously, like with everything else in life, you’re going to have to make some mistakes on this journey. What worked for someone else might not work for you (4). That’s okay! If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. Like we said earlier: just keep trying!