Addicts Need Not Apply

By Allison Holland 12/11/15

I still feel like a fraud who's a ticking time bomb, living on borrowed time until an employer discovers my past life as an Olympic crack smoker.

Addicts Need Not Apply

Sitting in a royal blue room, across a long oak table from an appellate court marshal, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut that these men in state-issued uniforms knew the truth—that I’m a reformed junkie who has no business being in a courthouse unless I was on the defendant’s bench. Making a meager attempt to convey my professional prowess to men in uniform—who I likened to the same individuals who tossed me into a holding cell almost four years ago—proved to be one of the more daunting tasks I’ve experienced since getting sober. I walked away from that interview with a sense of unworthiness and an unshakeable fear that someone was going to catch these men on their way back to their desks, and inform them of the imposter who had just left the building.

This wasn’t the first time that an interview had gotten the best of me since getting sober. Time after time, I found myself staring blankly at potential employers when asked the question, “What draws you to this position?” Regardless of my aptitude or how qualified I was on paper to satisfactorily carry out the requirements of a position, coming face to face with a functional “normie” in the working world never failed to make me sink into a hole of self-involved despair.

Full disclosure: I am an incredibly skillful employee who has the work ethic of a sweatshop worker—but only when sober. When I drink alcohol or put any mind-altering substance into my body, I become a nightmare of a burden on my employer. I become the utter embodiment of “unemployable.” When I’m sober, I take pride in a polished and professional appearance. I could beat anyone in the room in a punctuality exam (if those even exist). But in active addiction, if I wasn’t making the excuse about my mother dying for the fourteenth time because I was too hungover to go into work, I was showing up seven seconds before my shift in the same blood-stained clothes I had slept in, to steal money from the register. Knowing the capacity I have to become a Jekyll-and-Hyde employee would never fail to make me ashamed of highlighting my strengths in my professional life, when my downfalls were locked away in a red room to be taken to the grave. I felt like a fraud who was a ticking time bomb, living on borrowed time until an employer discovered my abhorrent behavior from my second life as an Olympic crack smoker.

Naturally, the advice from my friends and sober supports gave me no solid, foolproof answers to my problem. Their solutions ranged from skirting around the issue—by simply neglecting to mention any entry level positions I held that resulted in a dismissal because I couldn’t keep my hands out of the figurative cookie jar—or to disclose the fact that I was a woman in long-term sobriety who had a dark past. But not to worry, because now I had practice being a normal human being who doesn’t shoot heroin on their lunch break. Both ends of this spectrum seemed to be ridiculous temporary fixes to a larger issue. The first solution only offered temporary relief until I was actually hired and then thrown to the wolves, or co-workers, who would grow to be suspicious of a woman who never disclosed anything about her past yet has had approximately four-thousand jobs since graduating. And the latter solution of announcing myself as a card-holding member of AA to future employers seems only to be the less scary option if the interviewer has never seen an episode of COPS like, ever.  

I have tested both of these methods. Generally speaking, the hidden identity option worked well for under 90 days, until co-workers began to question what I was doing living in a state where I had no family, no real ties to anything. At that point, I would begin my exit strategy, looking for another position that I was overqualified for in order to float through the application process without raising too many eyebrows. I have also been upfront with employers about being in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It is always a huge relief when someone hires you after having disclosed that information. That is, until the woman from accounting won’t stop talking about her second cousin who is addicted to porn, and she totally understands what I’m going through. Cue exit stage right before my benefits even have a chance to kick in.

So, what is the right answer? What is the key to working out in the real world while being in long-term recovery? The answer for me—and what I tell the women that I love, sponsor, and support—is that there is no right or wrong way of getting a job while in recovery. However, for myself, as a woman of integrity in the program, there is a right and a wrong way that I can live—and that is only through practicing honesty and acceptance in all of my affairs. It’s apparent why people who don’t understand alcoholism and drug addiction judge what their minds cannot compute, just as it is effortless for those of us who suffer from the disease to commit atrocious acts in the midst of abusing drugs, without blinking an eye. The disease concept doesn’t make sense to many people who have never had their lives touched by drugs and alcohol. It is human nature to judge what we do not understand because it is easy. Had I been in the position of an employer, I would not have blamed them for being wary of recovering addicts on the mend. However, by empathizing with those who judge rather than try to understand, I found myself in a position of judging myself critically for having the audacity to be a functional, working member of society.

Being a member of a group that preaches unwavering love and tolerance for our brethren is critical to our sobriety. Yet having a feeling of unworthiness and intolerance towards myself in the executive world was proving to be detrimental towards my emotional sobriety. Blending in with those around me was what I tried to do while I was drinking and using. I wanted the people around me to believe that I was OK, that I didn’t have a problem. At over a year sober, I found myself displaying those same behaviors yet again. I wanted to blend in with those around me, rather than living my truth.

Qualifying as an alcoholic is not simply about admitting that one drinks too much, or to an extent to which it damages aspects of our lives other than our livers. It is about admitting defeat and surrendering to the fight that we had been battling our whole lives: that coupled with alcohol and drugs, we were the center of the universe. That isn’t something that most “normies” struggle with. Normal people who do not struggle with addiction don’t have to regularly attend meetings to be reminded that regardless of what our minds tell us, the world still doesn’t revolve around us. Drinking alcohol will still kill us. I have to attend those meetings because I had gotten to a place in my life where I believed that my recovery from alcoholism was so repulsive, that it deserved to be put on a shelf and hidden from those around me. I have to attend those meetings because I believed that my personal life was so different, so tragically unique, that employers all over the county were whispering to each other about how I was a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

The reality was, and still is, that I am not that important. But I, most assuredly, am worth it. Every day, I am given the choice to disclose that I am in recovery. There is no right or wrong way to choose or decline this option. There is no room to be ashamed of our past actions, but there is no need to disclose them to an employer if they endanger our employment status. But what will lead to the dissolving of an employment position is the belief that one’s past is a reflection of what will come. If I continue to not pick up a drink, I never again have to show up to work in blood-stained, dirty clothes. And the woman in accounting who is desperately trying to relate to a largely unrelatable disease is far more of an ally to me than the individual who TiVos COPS and believes we are nothing more than a group of degenerates, doomed to living under bridges.

We alcoholics and addicts are a group of highly competent and talented individuals who deserve the same opportunities as the rest of the world—so long as we believe it. Self-acceptance of who we are and the battles we have won to get to where we are, is a far more riveting story than self-doubt from a disease that lies between our ears. The position of being a powerful woman in recovery is one that keeps me alive. The position I hold 8 hours a day is simply one that pays the bills.

I didn’t get the position at the appellate court, due to reasons that haven’t been disclosed to me. However, I choose to believe the position was given to a deserving, better qualified person, and that the decision was not based on an assumption of which applicant has consumed the least amount of cocaine in their lifetime. I work in an office with women who are on all sides of the spectrum—both in and out of recovery—but I will gladly disclose my personal qualification as a woman who is in long-term recovery to anyone who is interested in trivial things that have no bearing upon who I am as a person or an employee.

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