Tag: spiritual principles

Should I Work in Treatment if I’m Sober?

Working in Treatment as a Recovering Addict

We recently reported on a New Hampshire woman who was arrested for trafficking heroin. That on its own is hardly newsworthy. There are hundreds of people each month arrested for possession and distribution of heroin.

should i work in addiction treatment

What was interesting, though, were the circumstances surrounding her arrest. See, she’s a substance abuse counselor at a New Hampshire treatment center.

This story got me thinking about the men and women who work in addiction treatment. So many are in recovery themselves. This gives them the unique advantage of being able to empathize and relate to patients.

It also puts them at risk for relapse and, as we all know, a relapsing addict or alcoholic is a dangerous person to be around.

I haven’t been able to shake this thought from my mind. So, let’s explore the phenomenon of working at a drug rehab center and being in recovery. It offers some major benefits and some equally major pitfalls.

People are always arguing about whether Kava is a relapse…well is it?

Helping Others

The major benefit of working in treatment and being sober, in my eyes anyway, is the ability to help addicts and alcoholics in early-sobriety. What’s that we’re always being told in meetings? That newcomers are the most important people and we should always have our hand out!

Working at a rehab and being in recovery gives us the ability to help newcomers on an unprecedented scale. Still, there is a major drawback – we’re being paid. It’s one thing if you’re volunteering at a treatment center. It’s another if you’re an employee.

See, getting paid to perform twelve-step work cancels out the performing twelve-step work part. While we may very well be helping newcomers in treatment by sharing our experience, strength, and hope, we’re not doing it for free. We’re doing it for money and that isn’t the same as twelfth-step work.

There are some other benefits of being a man or woman in recovery and working in treatment. We’re able to connect with patients in a way that “normies” aren’t. We’re able to offer patients a level of compassion, care, and assurance that “normies” aren’t.

Basically, being sober and working in the field gives us the ability to be a more effective worker. That’s true of behavioral health techs (BHTs), therapists, doctors, group leaders, alumni coordinators, clinical directors, and everyone else who makes a rehab run.

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The Risk of Relapse

If there’s one major risk of working in addiction treatment and being in recovery ourselves, it’s this. The risk of relapse is very real and very dangerous.

working in rehab and being in recovery

Imagine you’re a patient in treatment (shouldn’t be too hard for most of us!). Imagine your life is a mess in every sense of the word. Imagine you’re a ball of nerves, fear, selfishness, and resentment.

Now imagine your therapist goes out on a run. I would take that as a personal betrayal. Of course it isn’t, but we’re not thinking the clearest when we’re in treatment. The damage that a relapse can do to patients can’t be overstated.

So, the question then becomes how do we avoid relapse while working at a treatment center? Well, we avoid a relapse in treatment the same way we avoid it anywhere else – we live by spiritual principles.

These are things like honesty, open mindedness, and willingness. These are things like prayer, meditation, and service to others. In other words, these are the building blocks of everyone’s sobriety.

This town has some interesting ideas about how to end the opioid epidemic!

Well, Do I Take the Job or Not?

Okay, we’ve looked at a few of the benefits of working in treatment as a sober individual and we’ve looked at the major drawback. What now? If you’re offered a job in the field – do you take it or not?

Well, it all comes down to the individual, their personality, and their choice. I’ve known people in recovery who’re amazing addiction professionals. I’ve known people in recovery who should never be allowed to step foot in a treatment center.

Like most areas of recovery, there’s not an easy answer. Some people will be able to work in treatment, live by spiritual principles, and flourish. Others won’t. It’s that simple and that complicated.

If you’re offered a job at a rehab and you’re in recovery – do you take it? Why not ask the people around you. Ask your sponsor, your sober supports, your significant other, your family, and your God. See what they have to say. The answer will come. I can promise you that!

Famous Writer Gives 12-Step Advice

This is Water

Famous American novelist David Foster Wallace gave the 2005 commencement address to the graduating class of Kenyon College. He shunned the traditional graduation speech in favor of something a little more…spiritual.

david foster wallace

In his speech, Wallace touched on a number of ideas that are very twelve-step in nature. He spoke about things like spirituality, perception, unconscious negative beliefs, self-centeredness, attitude, and how everyone, whether they like it or not, is connected.

The speech, which has come to be called “This is Water,” caused some waves when he made it. Not least of which was due to his use of some four-letter words. It was also anthologized in the Best American Non-Required Reading 2006 and later printed as its own book.

So, just what made Wallace’s speech so intriguing? Why did he choose to break the conventions of typical graduation speeches and deliver something a bit more personal? More importantly, what lessons can we take from his talk?

Ultimately, I don’t have the answers to these questions. What I do have is an opinion and a link to his speech. Find both below.

Do you know the amazing places recovery will take you?

A 12-Step Philosophy

In his commencement address, Wallace urges those listening, and everyone who’s listened since, to break the chains of unconscious living. By this, he means our “natural default setting” of self-centeredness.

For the non-alcoholics in the crowd, this is good advice. For the alcoholics listening, though, this is absolutely vital to life, sobriety, and happiness. Remember, alcoholics are “extreme examples of self will run riot.” Our desire to do what we want, when we want to, is at the very heart of our disease.

Wallace touches upon this in a truly beautiful way. He says,

“Here’s one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence” (Wallace, 2005).

It’s nice to hear someone address this gut level self-centeredness outside of a meeting. It’s nice to be reminded, in the last place I’d expect to hear it, that self-centeredness is a poison we need to get rid of.

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Wallace then touches on how to break free of selfishness. His answer is, once again, rooted in a very twelve-step mode of thought. He drops profound knowledge in his signature style, mixing insight with deadpan humor. He says,

“But please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called “virtues.” This is not a matter of virtue — it’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self” (Wallace, 2005).

It’s all about the work! And for alcoholics like myself, this work takes the form of working the twelve-steps and getting in touch with a God of my understanding.

Speaking of God, Wallace touches upon spiritually later in his speech. Not only does he touch on spiritually, but he proclaims something which all recovering alcoholics know to be true – there are many types of Higher Powers, but only the spiritual ones offer us any sort of relief.

Wallace says,

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive” (Wallace, 2005).

spiritual principles

That’s some deep stuff delivered simply enough for everyone to understand!


I could go on and on about this speech. I have before. I wrote my senior thesis on how David Foster Wallace adapted twelve-step principles and attempted to spread them to the world at large through his writing and essays. It was a noble pursuit, Mr. Wallace.


For now, though, I’ll leave you with a link to his speech. Give it a view. It’s tender, inspiring, and heartbreaking all at once. What more could someone ask for?

Listen to David Foster Wallace read “This is Water”

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