Recovery At Work

By Peter T.

Like many alcoholics, I spent decades changing my goals to match my behavior. Getting fired from a job took me past the tipping point, where I could no longer deny that I didn’t need to do anything about my problems. I say “problems” rather than just “problem,” because I know now that I couldn’t blame my drinking for everything.

I’ve been at my current job for almost 20 years, minus an externally imposed hiatus. My work story of “what I used to be like, what happened, and what I am like now” serves as a recovery story itself, within the larger story of my journey.  For many of us, our job can occupy half our waking hours.  Our level of serenity at work can have a corresponding impact on our general wellness and life outside of work.

In my early 30s, with my alcoholism in full progress, I walked away from a life that wasn’t going according to my plan. Instead of considering that alcohol might have something to do with my malaise, I quit my job, sold my house, and moved back to my home state. I lived off my savings in the finished attic of my sister’s house, feeling defeated and not looking very hard for a job. 

I drank most waking hours for another full year until a job found me. At a wedding I met a friend-of-a-friend whose family owned a software company. As soon as I mentioned one particular skill I had, he asked me to come in for an interview. An offer was made after one interview and I accepted. I then showed up to my first day of work still drunk from the night before. Another employee told the owner that she smelled alcohol on my breath, but I managed to lie my way out of the accusation, and it was forgotten.

I quickly settled into a pattern of working with intensity in order to pass the day, starting to drink as soon as I got out of work, and managing to be mostly sobered up for the next morning. After a few years, I bought my own house, which was very close to the office. It was bigger than I needed and cost more than I wanted to spend, but since I didn’t do anything but work and drink, it was a brilliantly alcoholic selection. My world had shrunk to my house, the office, the convenience store, and Costco, all within one mile of each other.

As my success and responsibility in my job increased, so did my bitterness and dissatisfaction. Pounding my body with a continuous flow of alcohol, I was capable of feeling only depression, anger, and boredom. I indulged in defective behaviors, feeling entitled to be judgmental, critical, sarcastic, surly, and dismissive at times. I copped the grandiose attitude that “this place couldn’t run without me,” though it would later be demonstrated that this was not the case.

Due to poor executive decisions, the company almost folded, but instead was acquired by a larger software company. There was a large staff reduction, and to cut costs the office was moved across town to a no-frills refurbished industrial space. I now had to face the “horror” of a 20-minute commute, the indignation of a workspace that wasn’t worthy of my presence, the intrusion of new corporate overlords, and a bigger workload not of my own making.

Most rational people, like the majority of my co-workers, would have taken all this in stride, been grateful to still have a job, and moved on with the business at hand. I could only see how all of the changes were not to my liking, and my resentments grew greater with each passing day. For the first time in my life, I was now sneaking drinks at lunch. I asked to work from home one day a week (to be spared the arduous 7-mile drive). On these days I’d start drinking in the morning and usually be passed out by mid-afternoon.

I lost my job for a single spectacular act of insubordination, attempting to serve justice for harms fancied against me. I was home and quite drunk during the incident – thanks to technology that allowed me to do my damage via email – but I can see now that I could have acted the same without any drinks in me. 

I accidentally happened upon some very sensitive documents that were carelessly left in a publicly accessible spot on our company network. They included salary information and unflattering comments about employees who were candidates for further staff cuts. I assumed they originated from the CEO, for whom I was holding a very strong resentment. 

When I share my full story in meetings, this is where I say “The right thing to do would have been to inform the executives of the situation. The wrong thing to do was to anonymously suggest to all your co-workers that they also have a look.” In my selfishly childish state, I felt justified in my actions. I was miserable and somehow concluded that spreading the misery was warranted. I hurt many of my co-workers and destroyed my employer’s trust. 

I was rehired a couple years after being terminated. It was a slow my introduction, from occasional contracting, to part-time, then full-time. Some at the company knew of my recovery efforts and were willing to give me a second chance. Others were against bringing me back, and a couple of them were not shy about telling me so. I had to face one of the harshest episodes of my past every day at work, knowing it could not be undone, but that I could only move forward.

In sobriety, I’ve taken a hard look at the nature of my defects. I do not believe that they will be removed from me, but that I can only remain keenly aware of them. Instead of engaging in my defective tendencies, I try to behave in an enlightened manner. I’m an advocate for living amends, rather than the formal amends process; my experience has taught me that quiet, continuous, correct action is the way to show you are genuinely remorseful for past actions, and working to make positive changes.

Back at my job, I persevered in quiet dignity, trying to be a “worker among workers,” and staying positive. Instead of being my old critical, blaming, pessimistic self, I embraced a new attitude: “How do we best move forward from here?” I volunteered to be on the Improvement Committee, where we developed recommendations to management on how to make the workplace more pleasant.

My company had saved my email account, so I got to see the evidence of 12 years of my past behavior. I could see in my own writing, a trend of increasing toxicity over the years. I even wanted to apologize for a couple of them, but again, just saying “sorry” doesn’t mean much without demonstrating improved behavior. When sending emails now, I rarely have to completely throw out the first draft; I do review them, however, to make sure I’m staying professional, only communicating facts, not casting any judgment, and not offering my opinion where it is not requested.

Now six years later, and five years of continuous sobriety, I have earned back the respect of my co-workers. One of the executives, who did not want to rehire me told me that she saw that I was a changed man. For years I believed that I would only be known as “that guy who did that stupid thing,” but now my termination is rarely mentioned. 

I am open in the workplace about my not drinking. I travel with co-workers, and I’m comfortable enough to dine with normal drinkers. If asked why I don’t drink, I will simply say “I can’t stop, so I don’t start.” I do not offer that I attend AA but will acknowledge if asked specifically. I have a couple co-workers that appear to have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but I don’t make it my business. I only offer my experience to them when it comes up in conversation.

As had heard, it turned out there would be a lot more to my recovery than just putting down the drink. In my first run at sobriety, I tried to do the AA steps with a sponsor in a traditional fashion. As an agnostic, I was not able to embrace an ethereal higher power and this contributed to my eventual need to do “more research.” It was not easy to reconcile my beliefs with what I was hearing in meetings, but I kept attending, unsure of what else I could do. 

I found resolve to avail myself of the fellowship, and to somehow find a sobriety program that worked for me. I discussed the 12 steps at length with a new sponsor and used outside literature to understand their underlying principles. I was able to interpret the steps in a secular way such that I believed I could work them and grow through them. My connection with the AA Beyond Belief community and other secular recovery networks has kept me progressing along this path. I’m grateful to have a new set of principles, and the willingness to try to practice them in all my affairs.

About the Author

Peter is a Vermont native who has lived in DC, Chicago, and Detroit but enjoys the beauty and laid-back lifestyle of his home state. As a music lover, he has played bass guitar in bands and worked as a radio DJ. He is also an antique car enthusiast and loves going to car shows with his 1971 Buick Riviera. Peter attended WAAFTIAAC 2016 in Austin where he gave a workshop on the Living Sober book. He looks forward to discovering secular meetings as his work travels take him all over the US, and he welcomes all to enjoy his soberbingo.com website.

Read Peter’s article Without A Higher Power, published here on January 22, 2017. 

Artwork

The artwork used in this article was created by Cope C. from the Many Paths Group in Urbana, Illinois. 

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Terry B.
Terry B.

Perhaps coming late to the discussion, I thank you for your article.   I found many similarities and you lend hope that I might re-engage with some of my past employers and co-workers for ongoing amends.

Peter T.

Thanks all for the kind feedback and comments.  The team here is great to work with – John S, Doris A and especially editor Galen T who not only helps really polish up the final product, but helps me take a closer look at my own experience.  I was able to reflect and grow a bit in the process.  I’ve had to inventory my work habits of late and it seems there is always opportunity for improvement. I’ve never interacted with Cope indirectly, but the artwork here is always spot-on.  The glass in the main graphic is eerily similar to… Read more »

PJ
PJ

Hi Peter, I love the play of the words in the title of your article ‘Recovery at Work’. So much is conveyed in these three words no matter how you interpret them. I have always been a fan of a practical approach to living. I have found that it is one thing to have a fantastic sounding theory but quite another to demonstrate that theory in practice. Your story very much captures this principle in action. The fact that you were rehired by your company and were working amongst those who remembered your previous history adds an extra dimension of… Read more »

Galen T.
Galen T.

Thank you for your excellent article, Peter. I do differ with you a bit on the business of making amends. Living amends are certainly vital, but so are the actual apologies for our past hurtful conduct. Such apologies inculcate the humility that helps us avoid repeating our objectionable behaviors. Most important, perhaps, it is crucial for us to listen to what the other person has to say to us, no matter how painful this may be. This is a part of taking responsibility for our past actions, and this, in turn, grounds our capacity for change. I hope we hear… Read more »

Gerald
Gerald

Nice to hear more of your story. The biggest problems in my life were #1 depression and #2 the effects of childhood trauma, abuse, & neglect. (Actually not resentment (#3?) not self-seeking (#4?); lack of power? What’s that even mean?) Neither one of these problems is a character defect or personal failing. Prozac was *** wonderful *** in ‘93-95; wouldn’t have survived my depression in AA without Prozac. Meds-free since ‘95, and sober, but since ‘09 I’ve been 100% cured of lifelong depression thanks to very low carb dieting, f.i.n.a.l.l.y., (not spiritual means but nutritional means). ACA was wonderful for… Read more »