You Need a Job!—Returning to Work in the Early Days of Sobriety

blurry black and white image of two businessmen talking - job“It’s time to get a job. Now.”

“Yes, but I’m really just getting myself back together. I think I might just need a little more time to… you know… collect myself. I have a lot to process.”

“I think you need a job. Now.”

“Well, I’m getting a resume together, and I’ll start reaching out to a few people in my field… See where it leads, I guess.”


“But, you see, in my field, it takes time to—”

“You are currently in the field of dying inside your own head. I wonder why you’d want to continue doing that.”

“Well, see… It’s kinda like…”

“What part of what I’m telling you is not getting through?”

I regret how ill prepared I was to have that conversation with the newcomer when it happened, but I learned a lot that day. It caught me off guard, and I had yet to spend much time reflecting on the subject of working in the early days of sobriety. I instinctively knew it was important all along, but it took me some time to understand why.

If you’re newly sober or just walked out of rehab, it’s time to take action.

Work and Early Sobriety—Why the Rush?

My experience getting sober plus 6 years of sponsoring men and becoming a career social worker has taught me that getting back to work early in sobriety provides several key supports to the man or woman in early recovery:


When we come out of the fog, we’re shaky. We’re panicky. Sliding off the radar and back into the recesses of our mind, where regret, self-pity, fear, and doubt wait for us, is the worst thing we could do at this point. Steps 4-9 are going to take us on that journey without us adding more to the mix.

Instead, we need to be present in the moment and out in the bright sunshine of reality, even though it burns like hell. We need somewhere to be, to belong, and we need someone to hold us accountable in order to overcome our natural urge to recede back into the fog.

Nothing like a demanding boss at a fast food joint or auto repair garage to keep us showing up early and moving through those demanding early days.

Meetings may provide a degree of accountability, but I’m not buying that a person will do 8-10 hours worth of meetings and sobriety activities a day when nobody can force you to be there, and there’s no financial skin in the game. I couldn’t do it (I tried once), nobody else I know has done it either.

Momentum and Self-Esteem

As for my own experience, I was terrified I would lose my job as soon as I had gotten one. I was wrecked by anxiety. I had not really worked in over a year. My life was at a complete standstill.

I was offered 20 hours per week at minimum wage to operate an ancient cash register in a dusty little grocery store. I took it because that’s what my survival instinct told me to do. I expected to be fired within a few days. I was also terrified I’d collapse on the job, because I hadn’t been able to eat or digest more than a few swallows of food at a time for months—didn’t happen.

What did happen: Within a few weeks, I was offered full-time hours and a raise. I gained confidence, and my health began to return.

The simple but occasionally volatile workplace, which was full of imperfect people, provided the perfect backdrop to make my own spiritual progress visible to me.

I needed to see that I could survive and that things would get better if I practiced these principles in all of my affairs. I needed to KNOW and to compile hard evidence from the real world that the 3rd Step promise, which my sponsor Bill instilled within me as the linchpin of my sobriety was coming true.

“We had a new employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to him and performed His work well.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 63)

The Means to Make Amends

In Step 8 we become willing to set things right with all the people we’ve harmed in the past.

In Step 9, we actually have to go out and make it happen.

Many of those amends are financial, and that means we require money to pay these people back.

If we want to get and stay sober, we press forward. We do not shrink. That requires us to be willing to put out the effort to do more than say, “I’m sorry.” It means more than saying, “I regret that.”

It requires we put ourselves out there, take the risk, lean on God, and make the money to pay our creditors back—sooner and not later.

“Although these reparations take innumerable forms, there are some general principles which we find guiding. Reminding ourselves that we have decided to go to any lengths to find a spiritual experience, we ask that we be given strength and direction to do the right thing, no matter what the personal consequences may be.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 79)

Unlocking the Future

Forgive the use of the buzzword, but you probably need to reestablish your brand.

In other words, your professional reputation.

Many of us built wonderful structures of prosperity, and pulled those golden roofs right down upon our own heads. We burned our own lives to try to find some warmth in our addiction.

Or, if you’re more the failure to launch type, rather than the burned it all down type, you may need to establish a reputation in the first place.

Either way, here’s the deal: Our actions, our resumes, and our references demonstrate who we are now. They tell a story.

If you don’t really have any of those that tell a positive story about you, your chances of getting very far or finding much prosperity at all are slim.

Besides, take a few random jobs that you never thought you would, and you may just find exactly what (you didn’t know) you always wanted to do or hoped to be.

“When we sincerely took such a position, all sorts of remarkable things followed.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 63)

Getting Back to Life—Taking Responsibility for Yourself

We cannot pay back debts with money we borrowed or while borrowing more. There’s no honor or self-respect in that. No healing. That would just be more damage control and manipulation—a failure to practice honesty on the level we find necessary.

Most importantly, life is not supposed to be lived on somebody else’s dime. That’s not a political statement, nor is it a moral hilltop.

We are all meant to take care of our individual affairs through our own hard work.

“For the type of alcoholic who is able and willing to get well, little charity, in the ordinary sense of the word, is needed or wanted. The men who cry for money and shelter before conquering alcohol, are on the wrong track.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 97-98)

Can We Help You?

Working the 12 Steps while getting back into the business of life and work is the very core, the very foundation, of what we do at Solutions of North Texas (SONTX).

We and so many people just like us have found that the fundamentals work.

Would you like to know more? We are here to help.