The requirement that recovery coaches have a predetermined amount of “clean” time before they become eligible for employment is a crock of... crap. I think I understand the reasoning for this. If I’m not on point here I’m sure people will let me know
1. Proponents want to assure that recovery coaches are stable enough for employment. After all, in early recovery, we are super fragile human beings and need to be treated with the utmost delicacy (Note: I fear some readers may not perceive the heavy sarcasm in the last sentence).
2. They want to assure quality of service. They must feel that having recovery coaches clean and sober for a period of time will do this. What do you think?
3. Potential employers are fearful of relapse that could cause human resource problems.
4. They want potential recovery coaches to focus on their own personal recovery. Working in the field would be too much for them. (Yes, people actually believe this).
There are a lot of assumptions, generalizations and stereotypes in the thinking described above. There is an impressive amount of objectifying going on too. Let me dive into this. Here’s why I have problems.
1. Most everyone agrees that lack of meaningful employment following an addiction history is a significant roadblock to long-term recovery. An inherent role of recovery coaching is to serve others. This is an underpinning of recovery. So if you want to become employed in this, most places say, “No, no, no. You have to wait (usually two years). McDonald’s is hiring.”
Does this make sense to you?
2. I don't think you can legally require sobriety and/or clean time as a requirement for employment. Yet people do it all the time. If you require someone to be in recovery, you are probably guilty of discrimination.
3. How do you know when a person’s recovery started? How are you going to check? How are you going to determine if they are maintaining recovery? You could have your people piss in a cup once in awhile. At the worst, it’s humiliating and perhaps illegal. At the best, it breeds distrust. Recovery status gets even trickier to determine when someone is in recovery from alcoholism. What happens if they imbibe on their own time? It’s perfectly legal you know.
4. What’s magical about two years (or one year)? According to this deep thinking, people who have maintained recovery for 730 days (two years), go to sleep on the evening of Day 730, wake up on the morning of Day 731 and the sobriety fairy visited and sprinkled magic dust. Now they are sparkly, shiny and new. Even more miraculous is they are suddenly eligible for employment.
5. During keynotes, I often describe the absurdity of the clean time requirement. I use an example of someone with 20 years of recovery who drifted away from recovery for two years. The person now says they have maintained recovery for the last year. My question to the audience is
“Does this person have one year or twenty-one years of recovery?”
One time, after I delivered a particularly impassioned talk at a peer conference, a woman approached me while I sat at a table. In whispered tones, she said,
“That was me you described. I had more than twenty years in recovery and have worked for the same agency all that time. I relapsed a few months ago. I don't dare tell my employer. They’d fire me. It’s tearing me up inside.”
I replied, “I guess it depends if you personally look at recovery as consecutive or cumulative. In other words, those twenty plus years still count, don't you think?” I don't know what happened afterwards, but I also encouraged her to be honest. Honesty is always the best policy. Another gentleman I know in recovery says that when he’s asked about his recovery status, he says I’m three weeks short of ten years. The back-story is he had three separate lapses with each one lasting about a week. How would the system categorize him? Would he be eligible?
It’s complicated, isn’t it?
6. Hey! Peers in the mental health field have no such requirement. Have you ever seen a job posting that says you must be symptom free for a minimum of two years? Yet, administrators often say people with substance use disorder and people with mental illness are all the same. Except when hiring us, then there are differing rules of engagement. I have seen peers experience an intense recurrence of symptoms and in many circles they are applauded when returning to work. This doesn't happen too often with an addiction relapse, does it?
Ok, rant finished. In full disclosure, I do have internal bias. Back in 1987 when I first started my recovery I attended a new Tuesday night Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (AA). When I inquired about chairing the meeting, I was told you needed three years of sobriety. That was required. I waited three years, chaired the meeting and then the “rule” was rescinded. They had made the rule just for me to incentivize me. I have grown to appreciate what they did. But I still have a lingering resentment (I’m not completely well yet). I believe I was capable enough to chair the meeting, but they made the decision for me. I did not like being treated like an object.
Over the years, we have processed the length of sobriety concept deeply here at CCAR. It’s not considered when hiring employees. We don't know how long they have, we don't ask or really care, but often people volunteer the information. When interviewing, we are looking for other things. I look for gratitude. Another person on our staff looks for a servant’s heart. Another looks for the appropriate skills. Another factors in the experience. We are a well-balanced team. I think we have the right question now, especially when interviewing people “newer” in recovery.
“Can this person differentiate their own stuff from the recoveree’s stuff?”
That’s the real question. It has nothing to do with length of clean time. It does not matter if you are in personal recovery or not. To emphasize this point, I recently read the following excerpt in Bill White’s most recent book “Recovery Rising”.
“Each of us brings to each helping encounter a smorgasbord of life experiences, attitudes, beliefs, character traits, emotional baggage, knowledge, and skills. The skilled self-aware therapist and recovery coach learns to actively manage these dimensions. They find a way to keep their “stuff” out of their client’s “stuff” (pardon the highly technical language here).
I have witnessed people with multiple decades of recovery not be able to keep their stuff out of the way. Haven’t you?
Finally, CCAR has a young person we hired as an Emergency Department Recovery Coach. TJ was just over a year in recovery when we hired him. He is a natural coach. He is skilled, professional, humble and eager to learn. He has gratitude. He has a servant’s heart. He is able to keep his stuff (yes, he has some) out of the client’s stuff. He has prospered. His recovery has amplified. And he has touched, guided and helped save the lives of dozens of others.
Thank goodness we didn't create a policy that would have made him ineligible.
If you have a clean time requirement in your agency, lose it. Please.
Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87
In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During all that time alone with my Creator, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is a way for me to share things I have learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. I find that when I speak I present the same messages over and over. It’s time to write them down.