Job Hunting in Recovery
Finding employment can often be quite difficult regardless of one’s situation, but if you are newly in recovery from addiction, it can sometimes seem daunting and even near impossible. You may have been fired from your last job due to drug or alcohol addiction, or it’s possible that you have a large gap in employment on your resume. Your addiction may have kept you from developing new skills for many years, or perhaps you just simply did the bare minimum necessary to keep your job while you were struggling. You may have few, if any, employment references, and you may feel like giving up before you even begin.
However, despite all of that, never fear – it’s not hopeless. According to a survey by The Partnership for Drug Free America in conjunction with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, as many as ten percent of all adult Americans – 23.5 million men and women – consider themselves to be recovering from a past addiction, and certainly a large number of those people are gainfully employed. In fact, many people in recovery manage to find fantastic positions and even entirely new careers that they can get excited about, and that can actually help support their recovery efforts in countless ways. But how?
First, before you begin looking for a new job to accompany your new clean and sober lifestyle, consider positions you’ve held in the past. Will what you have done in the past support your new self? Perhaps it’s tempting to simply go back to what you’ve been doing for years, and to a role in which you already have experience, but that may not be the best choice for you. If you worked at a bar, for example, that probably won’t work well for the new you that you are trying to develop and empower. At least initially, most jobs that take you back to places where you may feel triggered to relapse, such as concert venues, restaurants, or high stress office jobs, may not be for you either. Furthermore, before you even start looking for new employment, you must be sure that you feel strong in your recovery efforts, as new situations and major changes – especially new jobs – can set you back dramatically if you’re not ready.
Once ready, though, there are many resources out there that will help recovering addicts find employment. The best place to begin is by speaking with counselors at your rehabilitation center, who may have many suggestions for you. They may have contacts within companies or organizations that specifically seek to hire and support people working on their recovery. Talking to people in your support groups and to your personal sponsor may help as well; even if they don’t have businesses or individuals to which they can refer you, they will certainly be helpful when it comes to supporting you in your job search.
Additionally, there are a variety of organizations in the United States that exist to help people trying to re-enter the workforce. One, America in Recovery, is a non-profit with the main, specific goal of helping people in recovery find jobs (although they have recently added at-risk high school kids to their mission as well). Although they are based in Houston, and therefore focus on jobs in Texas, they are not exclusive to that area, and they are happy to help recovering addicts who contact them from anywhere. For individuals who have been through the legal system, the National Helping Individuals with criminal records Re-enter through Employment (H.I.R.E.) Network, a division of the Legal Action Center, works tirelessly to increase the number and quality of job opportunities available to people with criminal records. They achieve this through political advocacy and focused efforts to change public opinion, and have had some success in changing policies that may have previously hindered some from gainful employment after a difficult time. Although they do not assist specifically with job placement, they do offer referrals to government and community based programs that do help people with criminal records with training, finding employment, and job retention, and they are hard at work every day fighting for the rights of people with criminal records so that they can easily transition into a successful and productive life.
Furthermore, there are many things you can do to make yourself more attractive to potential employers. If possible, always be seeking out more training in whatever field you choose; employers are drawn to candidates who have put effort into learning as much as they can to help them succeed in the position. If you have little or no experience in the field you wish to pursue, look for apprenticeships and internships. Both of these types of job training experiences can help you to learn a great deal while also helping you to gain the experience you need to work your way up the ladder down the road.
Many people in recovery question whether or not to mention their past substance abuse issues in a job interview. In some cases, this may help you get the job, but in others, it could work against you. Although you may feel that being completely honest is paramount, it may be best to avoid bringing up your recovery status. The United States Department of Health and Human Services has put together a free booklet outlining your rights if you are in recovery. It is sixteen pages in length, but the main point within is that employers are not allowed to ask you about past substance abuse issues in many cases, and they are not allowed to discriminate against people due to them being in recovery, so keep these things in mind while interviewing.
Once you land the job, there are many things you can do to ensure your success. First and foremost, continue to stay focused on your recovery; new jobs can be very stressful for anyone, so it is imperative that you keep your recovery efforts at the forefront of your mind, and that you seek help when you need it both inside and outside of the workplace. Be professional, arrive on time, and do your best, but don’t overdo it. Build relationships with your co-workers slowly, and be prepared to field questions about your sobriety. Some workplaces encourage their employees to socialize with one another outside of work, and in some cases, it can be a huge part of the office climate. However, if going to get drinks after work is a tradition at your job, skipping these events, with explanation if pressured, is likely your best path.
If despite your best efforts, you are unable to find traditional employment, not all is lost – there are still other options for work. Temp agencies often hire people who are otherwise unemployable, as their clients are sometimes willing to hire people with less experience or criminal records. Through temping, you can gain experience that may make you more attractive to other employers. Or, you could look for online, work-from-home type work; many of these types of positions do not background check or are willing to overlook certain past issues since the employee will be working remotely. Websites like Flexjobs.com and VirtualVocations.com list many of these types of positions. And lastly, if all else fails, or if you have an entrepreneurial mindset, you can always start your own business. Some service jobs, such as pet and house sitting, freelance writing, consulting, painting, and handyman work, have much demand and can be started with little or no overhead or additional training on your part.
Job hunting isn’t easy, no matter who you are, and may seem harder if you are in recovery. However, with the right resources, support, and perseverance, you can certainly find a position that is good for you, and begin moving forward on your brand new, healthy and productive lifestyle towards employment success.