sober lifestyle


The content of this blog has landed me in the crosshairs of Employee Assistance (at my first marketing job, circa mid-2019) and “Aggie Care” (during the initial culture-shock days of grad school at Delaware Valley University, in the fall of 2021).

Concerned parties read my raw reflections on mental health and addiction and sounded the alarm: 🚨 Achtung! There’s an alcoholic in our midst! 🚨 And I was taken by surprise both times, being ushered into a glass-walled conference room in the middle of a work day for an eval by an ADP consultant, and receiving an obligatory email from the head of the psych department while sitting in class. It felt like I was back in first grade on one of my frequent powwows with the principal; if there’s one thing I’ve always kicked ass at, it’s being a mischief-making squeaky wheel!

Hard to believe I’m the one who’s applying the grease now, isn’t it? This past week, I started seeing clients one-on-one at my new part-time counseling job, and it was one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my entire life.

It’s 5:58AM, and I’m wearing real clothes. 😳

I can’t tell you about it, though. Nope; playtime is over, confidentiality is crucial, and professional ethics demand that I keep everything that happens at work under wraps from here on out.

I’ve been an open book for the past 43 months, for better and for worse, as I immersed myself in the worlds of recovery and academia. But it’s one thing to air my dirty laundry as an obscure student/anonymous copywriter who’s role-playing therapy three nights a week while kicking it around in various means-to-an-end employment ventures. And it’s quite another to spill my guts as a real addictions counselor with her name on the door of a real treatment center, whose job is to deal with the serious business of real people.

I mean, I didn’t real-ly give a shit what folks thought of me in the marketing world. I could let it all hang out because I knew I wasn’t in it for the long haul. In terms of recovery and grad school, honesty and vulnerability have been huge assets. Blogging has expanded my sober network, and a few posts even won me cash money in DelVal writing contests.

Now, though, THE most important thing in the universe is my ability to build trust and rapport with my therapy clients and earn the genuine respect of my colleagues.

I’m not sure I should even be posting pics of myself on the job. So I’m gonna cut that shit out, too.

Some therapy humor…

This isn’t the first time I’ve transitioned to a new field — hell, this is my second transition in four years — and I’m fully acquainted with the myriad challenges. Going from journalism to marketing nearly broke me…and I’m not even talking about that two-month, rock-bottom stop-off between careers, when I was draining tequila bottles and scrubbing toilets for $9 an hour at Shady Brook Farm. 🤦🏼‍♀️

There were times at that first agency job when I felt so overwhelmed by the mountain of work and the culture of fear that I completely dissociated to avoid a colossal public breakdown. (In hindsight, it’s kinda funny that it took venting on the internet about alcoholism and suicidal ideation for them to show any type of concern about their employees’ mental health or work-life balance.) I left there for an equally toxic, even more chaotic work environment, but at least my remote role gave me space to process the madness in the comfort of my own home.

Transitioning from the (mostly) quiet isolation of content management to drug and alcohol counseling is a whole different ball of whacks. And even though my position is part-time, and I’ve only been at the job for a total of eight days, I have indeed felt totally whacked at the end of each shift. My off days should be reserved for doing coursework; I’ve been spending them mostly asleep.

It hit me in a staff meeting the other day, as I sat in a crowded room with voices chirping all around me, speaking a clinical language I still don’t fully understand, that I’m really “in it” now. I mean, other than my own battle to overcome addiction, I’ve never worked at something so all-consuming, something that requires total immersion and constant interaction.

Funny how you think you know what to expect from a situation, but reality still hits you like…

Not me spending 30 minutes scrolling through “piano falling” GIFs on Google…

I think what I liked about journalism was that even though I couldn’t avoid close contact with other humans, and I often had to talk to strangers 😱, I could always keep them at arm’s length. On every story I covered, I could maintain objective detachment, observing the goings-on from a safe distance for a short while, then saying “seeya!” and escaping back into my comfort zone, where I sat in solitude and conjured up my own creative take on what just happened. Not my circus, not my monkeys! 🙈🙉🙊

Now, I’m smack dab in the middle of the ring, and there’s no getting out. 🎪

This is the life I chose, and like breaking my dependence on alcohol — or anything else worthwhile — no part of it is going to be easy. Good thing I have such a solid foundation of sober time to build on, and a strong support network to fall back on, and my own therapy and 12-step work to keep me grounded through all the growing pains.

Oh yes! And a higher power I can connect to whenever I need to snap out of my anxious, fearful, overthinky perfectionist patterns that have done — and will do — nothing but hold me back from fulfilling my purpose.

Helping others find the courage to change is one of the hardest jobs I can imagine having. It’s not something you “dabble in” or do with half your heart. Staying present with clients as they work through pain, applying knowledge and skill with empathy and flexibility, striking a balance between authenticity and objectivity, and setting boundaries to promote accountability as well as protect my own peace…it’s all part of the job description, and the rewards are more spiritual than financial.

So, yes, there’s no doubt that this employee will need plenty of assistance over the coming days, weeks, months…but unlike back in 2019, when I was a noob in recovery and in the workplace, I have all the self-care pieces in place, and a better concept of “letting go” and “giving it up.”

Let me be what they need in this moment. That’s my daily “work prayer.”

Whether or not it actually “works” remains to be seen — but only by me, my supervisor, and God. 😉

4 thoughts on “Immersion”

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