by Tania Archer
In my new role as Case Manager/Addictions Counsellor with Renascent Workplace Solutions, I work with employees and employers to help get people back to work after treatment, so I know firsthand the fears that both parties experience.
Employees are worried about their reputation. You may feel that colleagues or your supervisor will view you differently or have an altered sense of your capabilities. Sadly, addiction is a highly stigmatized and misunderstood disease so it’s important to understand what you can control and what you can’t. In reality, the reactions of your colleagues are never as bad as you imagine – how you handle the situation and your ability to do your job effectively ultimately are the best ways to counteract negative attitudes.
Employers and work colleagues share the same fears as society. Most people are surprised to learn that 70% of addicted men and women are employed. Many still don’t believe that recovery is real and this is understandable. Most people in recovery do not break their anonymity, so people’s perspectives are shaped by the negative consequences of active addition rather than the millions who are living healthy, productive lives in recovery.
Many still view addiction as a moral failing, choice or character flaw. It is a health problem that needs treatment and ongoing support to prevent relapse. An employee’s admission that he or she has a problem with addiction should not be viewed as failure but instead as the first step toward resolving a treatable health issue.
Depending on your situation, your workplace can be an ally in recovery. But you need to make an assessment of what you’ll gain or lose by being open. Not all workplace cultures and supervisors are created equal. Read your company’s drug and alcohol policy. If treatment was mandated, the cat is clearly out of the bag and there’s more to be gained by advocating for your needs.
Legally, addiction constitutes a disability under human rights legislation, so employers have a duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship – that includes working with you through relapse and making accommodations to support recovery. But employers do have the legal right to terminate if an employee refuses to get well or stay well (and, arguably, a moral imperative to not enable the disease). The point of undue hardship varies with the employer and its capacity to provide resources, but much depends on the employee’s willingness to participate in his or her own recovery.
Having a return-to-work strategy is vital to success. If you’re in a mandatory referral situation, you may choose to have a candid discussion with your supervisor about the types of supports and adjustments to your schedule and workload that will be beneficial for you. You may be able to access funding, benefits and/or interest-free loans to pay for programs. In a supportive workplace, you’re working collaboratively with your supervisor and human resources to come up with a plan that minimizes risk of relapse.
How do you develop a plan that minimizes relapse? Renascent’s Continuing Care program is a first and natural next step after completing a 21-day residential program and it extends treatment by 15 weeks. Your Continuing Care counsellor will work with you about your concerns related to returning to work and will help you develop an action plan that acknowledges your fears and triggers in the workplace.
Continuing Care is available on an outpatient or telephone basis, so distance and work schedule is never a barrier. The cost is $2,000 and outcome studies indicate that it boosts success by 37%.
If your workplace has not mandated treatment and instead you’ve initiated treatment, consider making the $2,000 investment in Continuing Care. Calculate how much you would have spent on your addiction over 15 weeks and consider the long-term investment in protecting your recovery and employability. If you’re committed to doing Continuing Care, Renascent will find a payment plan that works.
Working with a sponsor and sharing your concerns about your workplace is also a necessary part of your action plan. Your sponsor, ideally working separately but in tandem with your Continuing Care counsellor, will help you to gain awareness about the issues that put you at risk of relapse.
They’ll help you get a handle on whether you’re exhibiting compulsive behaviours in other areas of your life to cope with stress. This can include overworking, over-eating, dieting or over-exercising. Continuing Care counsellors and effective sponsors will hold the mirror up when you’re isolating, acting impulsively, having doubts about your ability to stay abstinent, feeling constantly irritated, or feeling sorry for yourself.
Remember, as Terrence Gorski notes, “Relapse is more than just using alcohol or drugs. It is a progressive process of becoming so dysfunctional in recovery that self-medication with alcohol or drugs seems like a reasonable choice.” Recognizing the signs and process of relapse helps you combat it: http://www.tgorski.com/gorski_articles/understanding_relapse.htm.
Your Continuing Care counsellor and your sponsor will help you identify high-risk situations and how you can address them with tools and action plans. When you’re drinking buddies at work invite you out, you need to have a plan. And how will you negotiate the holiday staff party? As I’ve been told, “Planning for a flat tire or a thunderstorm does not decrease the chance of either happening, but if it should happen you’ll be ready!”
Having a sounding board to help you determine what level of work or what kinds of accommodations you need will help you have productive conversations with your supervisor. Your Continuing Care counsellor can also help you look at what career choices best support recovery. Sometimes changing your job becomes an important part of sustaining your recovery.
If you’re looking for employment in recovery, there are many great agencies to help you. As alumnae Natasha B. attests, Oasis made a difference in her life and now she’s helping people in recovery find employment (http://www.oasismovement.org/).
Frankly, anything that lightens your load in recovery (the “do” things, engaging family in recovery, being an active alumnus) helps with the transition back to work. If you think Continuing Care could help you work to your potential, give me a call (416-927-1202, ext. 2) or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you think Renascent can help your workplace address addiction more effectively, I’d be pleased to be introduced and receive referrals.