The watercooler, or more modernly the Keurig, can be the epicenter of the workplace rumor mill. From harmless banter to speculation about the personal lives of coworkers, there is no shortage of conversation around the morning mug of joe.
For those that have taken the brave step to take a leave of absence to receive treatment for addiction, facing a return to the office can seem daunting.
According to the SAMHSA Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 51.8% of those aged 18 and over who received substance use treatment in the last year were employed full or part-time.
Returning to work is a major transition moment and can bring up many emotions, from excitement to anxiety.
Here are some ways to prepare:
Prepare for questions
Regardless of if the reason for your time away has been disclosed or not, it’s possible people will be curious or concerned.
Some will respect your privacy and might simply utter “happy to have you back” or “We’ve missed you, glad to see you.” Others may ask where you’ve been, usually not out of malice, but inquisitiveness.
Remember, it is entirely up to you how and when you discuss any details. On one hand, being open can be freeing and empowering. On the other, it can tap into underlying stigma or create pressure.
With a therapist or support, practice some responses you feel comfortable with. This way, when questions arise, you aren’t searching for the words.
- Thank you for asking, I took some time off for my health. How have you been?
- I took a break to work on a few things, and I’m happy to be back.
- I’ve been handling some personal matters. How is that project going?
- I’ve been away in treatment for _______. Getting help has made a difference, and I’m on the path now. I appreciate you checking in with me.
It’s good to have a pivot prepared for those who you don’t want to share details with. Often, people will be sufficed with a short response and let it go. For those that are close colleagues, it may be useful to fill them in on your journey so far.
Make a plan
In the time you’ve been away, it’s been business as usual. That may leave you feeling behind on the times, needing to catch-up on what’s changed since you were last there.
Further, continued outpatient treatment and recovery support may require some adjustments.
Most employers have some level of employee assistance programs (EAP) or other policies about physical and mental health modifications to adequately care for their staff. There may be shame or uncertainty about asking for this type of help, but don’t allow ego to keep you from utilizing tools that are designed for this exact situation.
Find a human resources team member that you trust and ask for more information. Their job is to maintain confidentiality and connect you to resources that boost not only your health and life but make you a better and more engaged employee for their company – it’s a win-win.
Through a case manager, insurance, treatment team professionals, your supervisor, or any conglomeration of people, devise and agree on a plan for a gradual and responsible return to work. Coming back part-time, working different hours, having check-ins, and setting clear expectations on all sides will help you feel in control of the situation and prepared for the return.
Acknowledge emotions and urges that arise
One of the difficulties of returning to a job after treatment is jumping back into an environment in which you previously used. While you’ve been focused on relearning and developing through recovery, many of the stressors, difficult coworkers, and familiar triggers remain the same.
This can feel discouraging and may bring up immediate urges to either go back to behaviors or to abandon this job to escape old identities or cognitive dissonance.
Working with your treatment team and mentors, consider what some of the challenges will be or are when revisiting the past in this way, and go in confident that the change is important enough to push through.
While a shake-up of career or job isn’t out of the question, especially after as much a life-changing experience as recovery can be, take a moment to breathe, gain your footing, and not make any major decisions impulsively. It can be helpful to spend a few months, if possible, reintroducing back into the workforce first, rather than putting increased stress of unemployment or a new job on the table.
It will also take some time for coworkers to adjust to the changes in your behavior and demeanor. Be steadfast in the values and goals that have carried you through recovery thus far and be confident in saying no to the happy hour invitation as you need. Suggest a new activity or offer to catch up over coffee.
Grieving some of the loss of “what has been” is natural. Frustration, anxiety, or other emotions that previously were tampered down by substances may feel overwhelming at times. Know that the tolerance over time will increase and use the therapy skills that you’ve learned to stay mindful and focused on what is most important – you and your recovery.
Your recovery is your most important job. We know that the journey you start with us at Steps Recovery Center continues far beyond treatment, and we are here to support through each milestone and transition. Continuing care at the outpatient level can be an essential resource as you return to live in sobriety. Call us today to learn about the programs we offer – 385-250-1701.