September 25, 2022

Returning to Work After Treatment

Read time: 8 minutes

You put your heart and soul into treatment. You progressed from feeling hopeless and out of options to being in control of your life again. You endured many agonizing moments and are ready to start reaping the rewards. 

Yet, you are confronted with another challenge. Now that you have left treatment, you are preparing to return to work. Whether returning means going back into the office or logging into a Zoom meeting, this can be an intimidating moment. You might be replaying interactions with your coworkers in your head, painfully aware of how your active addiction was influencing your words and actions. You might be pondering how much work has been piling up on your desk while you’ve been away. You might even be wondering if you even have a job to come back to if your leave of absence was abrupt or preceded by unsatisfactory performance. 

Facing Your Next Challenge

One of the most fundamental, yet challenging, aspects of treatment is reconciling who we were with who we have the potential to be and returning to the aspects of our lives that we may have neglected, such as work, school, or relationships. There is often a lot to apologize for and a lot to prove, and this can be a tremendous burden to carry in the early days of recovery.

The stigma that surrounds addiction can make it feel like you are walking right into the flames. Returning to work does not have to feel like this. No matter how much you have built the moment up in your head, it is important to take a step back and look at the situation for what it is: an opportunity to make things right and reclaim your life. You have most likely spent a significant amount of time so far repairing your relationships with family members and close friends. You have the opportunity to do a very similar thing with your colleagues when you return to work.

You Are in Control

Depending on what preceded your treatment, your colleagues may or may not know why you were absent from work. If you did not disclose your addiction, they might be eager to know why you were gone. If your departure, on the other hand, made it clear that you were seeking treatment for substance abuse, your colleagues may not know what to expect when you come back. Curiosity is a natural human response to situations like this where there is ambiguity, and you should expect some questions about where you were and how you are doing. 

You are fully in control of how much you disclose to your coworkers. Just because they are curious does not mean you owe them a detailed insight into your life. You can say something along the lines of, “I would rather not talk about that at work” and stick to it. Keeping conversations limited to work-related discussions can also be an indirect way of indicating your desire to move forward.

This might not be applicable in every situation, however. Part of recovering means recognizing the consequences of our actions and making amends when necessary. If there are people in the workplace who you have offended or harmed in some manner as a consequence of your addiction, it is important to not let that be swept under the rug. In those cases, just as you may have already done with family and friends, it’s important to find the right time and place to make a sincere apology and acknowledge what happened. 

Letting Your Work Speak for Itself

Whether your work was superb before you left or you were struggling to keep up with it, you might feel like you have something to prove. Trying not to let those sky-high expectations overwhelm you can allow you to comfortably get back into the swing of things. The more time passes and the more good work you are able to put in, the more confident you will feel in your abilities and your standing in the workplace. Trying to assume a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible can quiet both the negative voices in your head and the questions posed to you by coworkers.

Establish Expectations

Depending on what you told them prior to treatment, your boss might have the most insight into your treatment out of all your colleagues. This means that a bit more of a conversation is probably warranted upon your return. This doesn’t mean that you have to tell them everything, but it is important to be upfront about any needs or accommodations you may need to help you transition smoothly back into work. 

Keeping a clear channel of communication open can limit the opportunity for misunderstandings. For example, since your boss knows you’re struggling, they might assign you less work or a different project until you feel capable of returning to your normal workflow. On the other hand, they might assume that you can jump right back into what you were working on before when you really need a slower reentry. While every boss is different and these conversations will have varying conclusions, being transparent about what you need to be successful can help make sure everyone’s expectations are aligned.

Be Mindful of Stress

For many people, stress from work was a catalyst for their substance use. If this sounds like you, it is important to have a plan in place. Setting boundaries, leaving work at work, taking care of your body, engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and implementing stress reduction techniques can all help you balance sustaining recovery while succeeding at work.

Recovering from substance use disorder means reclaiming the things that give your life meaning that you have been forced to give up as a result of your condition. Addiction can create so many obstacles to our goals and impact many facets of our lives, and work is no exception to this. If substance abuse is disrupting your career, it is time to seek help. Our team of licensed clinicians at Family-Centered Services is dedicated to helping you be your most complete self. We take the time to get to know you as a whole person and develop an individualized treatment plan to prioritize your specific needs. We offer individual and family therapy, a Family Recovery Program, comprehensive case management, intervention preparation and education services, and sober monitoring services to provide you with a well-rounded approach to care. If you are struggling, reach out to us today at (509) 991-5822.