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.
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.
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.
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.
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!