Working in Restaurants in Recovery

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An Honest Look   

As an addict in recovery, I can personally attest to the overwhelming difficulty in obtaining a job within the first few vital months of recovery. When our recovery is in its infancy, many of us deal with our consequences from active addiction, such as various legal issues and gaps in work history. This can present a severe impediment in our quest for gainful employment to finance our new lives that we’ve been bestowed in recovery. Many of us turn to what we know or what we can get: working in restaurants.

This includes serving, hosting, or working in the back of the house in a restaurant. While we may be enthusiastic about our new job, how safe is it really to work in this type of environment?

When we are newly in recovery, they say to be mindful of people, places, and things. While I hate to generalize, the stereotypical restaurant environment is frequently riddled with alcohol and drug use by both patron and fellow employee. Working in restaurants can potentially be negative for your recovery.

It may seem unfair to make such a harsh judgment, but the fact of the matter is that this is true. In my experience, both in and out of recovery, working in restaurants is characterized by after work drinks or the occasional line bump in the bathroom by the other employees. As a server who has several years in recovery, I can say that even now it can be a little much.

Making Way for Relapse

 At my current serving job, I work at a burger bar in the downtown section of the city in which I live. The majority of the staff is normal people, or “non-addicts.” However, after several months of employment at this particular establishment, several fellow addicts in recovery had begun to work there.

Two of these men had over a year in recovery and lived in the same halfway house together. They were avid in their meeting attendance and practice of their steps; however, within the first two months of their employment, they succumbed to temptation and subsequently relapsed on property at the restaurant by drinking at the bar after their shift. There was no prior warning, no harbingers pointing to this potential relapse. It was an after an average shift on an average night; no seismic event had unfolded.

Their stories are not unique. Unfortunately, time and time again throughout my recovery, I’ve watched my brothers and sisters in sobriety fall victim to the temptation a full bar after a busy weekend shift presents.

A close friend of mine cannot get sober no matter what he does. He can accrue a few months, but ultimately falls right back off the wagon. A common theme I’ve noticed? He is always working in restaurants. When I asked him why he continues to work in restaurants if it causes him to relapse, his response was merely that the quick and easy money was too good to pass up.

A Lifestyle Choice  

While I am in no way damning hospitality jobs, nor am I saying that a job is responsible for a relapse. As we all know, it is purely up to the individual to work his or her program, I am saying that this can be a real trigger for people.

The glitz and glamor of nightlife are very attractive to some of us. There is a certain demographic that the nightlife appeals to, and this demographic typically engages in drinking and drugging that may be harmless for a non-addict, but deadly for those of us blessed with the curse of addiction.

From the outside looking in, it may seem normal–even acceptable–for us to engage in the same behavior we see others so freely partake in on a daily basis. But what some of us may fail to realize is that we are not normal. We’re addicts. There are no “one or two beers” or even just one night of binge drinking without consequence.  Watching people day-in and day-out laughing and drinking can prove to be too much for some, and ultimately relapse ensues.

There Are Exceptions

For every addict who relapses while working in restaurants, there is an addict like myself who doesn’t. I have known plenty of addicts and alcoholics in recovery to work in a restaurant either alongside myself or at a different establishment that have been able to maintain his or her sobriety without issue. They can separate fantasy from reality successfully and continue vigorously working steps without temptation. I know people with years of solid recovery who working in restaurants full time as servers or cooks; even those who manage these establishments without issue.

Is It Right for You?

Clearly, there is no right and wrong answer here when it comes to deciphering whether working in restaurants is healthy for people in recovery. It is solely an individual basis. Knowing whether this career path is right for you is a result of trial and error–essentially, there is no way to truly know if you can handle it without testing the waters firsthand.  

If you are willing to take this gamble, there are certain things I would recommend from experience to help protect yourself from relapse:     

  • Get a sponsor –

    Before even attempting to tackle a job like this, make sure you have a sponsor and are avidly working steps in your recovery. Having the support of a sponsor is vital to recovery, but especially when faced with temptation every day.

  • Be honest –

    Getting honest with your coworkers as far as you breaking your anonymity is up to the individual, but at the very least you must be honest with yourself. I suggest from day one you express to your coworkers that you don’t drink, whether or not you reveal your status as an addict. By doing this, you are laying the groundwork to keep yourself accountable whenever the inevitable shot or bump offered by coworker/patron is presented. It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when. Staying honest with yourself on how you’re handling it is also imperative. If you can sense that working in restaurants is too much for you, get out.

  • Avoid temptation –

    While it is impossible to prevent your table from offering you a drink on occasion, or the staff to invite you out after work, what you do have control over is your response. In my experience, it is best to avoid a potentially dangerous situation at all costs before finding yourself in it. By respectfully declining, you’re doing yourself a favor in the long run. While you might not engage the first time, or even the fifth time, as they say: you go to the barbershop enough, you’ll get your haircut.

  • Have your support system –

    It’s natural to develop friendships at the workplace since most people spend the majority of their week at work. However, I would recommend remaining cordial and friendly but never close to your coworkers at the restaurant. It is imperative in recovery to have a strong support system, and your time off is probably better spent with other people in recovery, at least when you’re a newcomer.

Making the Choice

 After weighing your options for employment and taking an honest inventory when it comes to handling restaurant life, the choice is ultimately yours. There are plenty of valid arguments for both sides, and I, for one, am undecided. Is working in restaurants while in recovery okay? I believe it depends solely upon the individual. Does a job really determine whether or not a person can stay sober? No, the only thing that can determine that is you.

I believe it all boils down to personal choice and educating yourself on the realistic risks posed to your sobriety by working in such an environment. However, there are plenty of other jobs available if you don’t think it’s right for you.

Just remember that wherever you go, you take yourself with you. So no matter what career path you may choose, the main thing you can do to avoid relapse is to continue avidly working your program to the best of your ability. Working in a restaurant in recovery is totally possible, but it’s up to you to always put recovery first!

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, give us a call at 855-960-5341 so that we may help you or your loved one get back on their feet! Help with sobriety is only a phone call away.

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