“My first day returning to work after being treated for a severe opiate addiction was one of the most daunting moments of my life,” wrote Peter Grinspoon, MD, author of Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction, in an article for Harvard Health.
He recalled thinking that everyone in the office knew that forged prescriptions and criminal charges were the reason he had been let go from his previous job.
“My mind was spinning,” he continued.
- “What would my coworkers think of me?
- Who would want to work alongside an ‘addict’?
- Would they ever come to trust me?
- Did I even deserve to be here?”
In the article, Dr. Grinspoon offers some profound words about the stressful transition back to work after an addiction. For one, he believes stigma is what ultimately makes coming back to work after an addiction the hardest.
“If I had been out of work to receive chemotherapy or because of complications from diabetes, I certainly wouldn’t have felt self-conscious or self-doubting upon resuming my employment,” he wrote. “With addiction, due to the prejudices that many people in our society hold, the return is psychologically complex and anxiety-producing.”
Here are a few tips gleaned from the article to help you or someone you love return to the workplace:
- Remember these phrases. “Just keep your head up,” “Put one foot in front of the other,” “Bring your body, and your mind will follow.” Dr. Grinspoon recalled everyone’s eyes on him as he entered the door on his first day back: “I did wonder if they were judging and criticizing me, but I made it to my desk without incident, and managed to power through my self-consciousness and get into the flow of my work,” he wrote. “…We can defeat the stigma by confronting it, putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.”
- Remind yourself that time does help. Dr. Grinspoon said that every day got easier as he “did a good job, deepened my connections with my colleagues, and accumulated good will, which would eventually replace any negative images that may have accompanied my arrival.” And other than office get-togethers, “where co-workers awkwardly don’t know whether to put a wine glass at my place setting,” his substance use disorder is no longer an issue.
- Focus on the positives. Despite being hard, being in recovery, landing a job and returning to work is a major achievement and you should be proud of yourself. “With all I had learned in recovery about communication, about humility, about connecting with others, I feel that I was in a better position to thrive in my workplace than I was before my addiction started in the first place,” wrote Dr. Grinspoon.
Tools for a Sober and Successful Life
At Providence, we offer clients an Aftercare Integration Program (AIS) designed to give them the tools to manage their emotional, physical and spiritual health as they return to their careers. To find out more, call today: (866) 247-3307