During a group when I was in treatment the facilitator asked us, “when is a thief not a thief?” I thought, “it’s simple, when he stops stealing”! The facilitator replied, “when he works with his hands, has enough to meet his own needs and is able to help others”. This was a much higher standard to reach for and it has remained with me ever since.

My own work journey started humbly. I got a job on a building site as a general labourer with a building firm that was “recovery friendly” in that it knowingly employed people in recovery from addiction. The work ethic I adopted from the rehab that helped me stood me in good stead and they gave me a specialist labouring role with the firm’s electrician. This led to day release at college and when I qualified as an electrician, I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had a brief period running a building business with a friend that resulted in near bankruptcy and that crisis taught me how resilient I had become and led me into a social care role at first and then into drug services which is where I felt at home.

It was a 5-year journey to go from service user to drug worker. But it was in drug work, helping others who were in the situation I used to be in that aligned with my own interests and passions. This made the work more enjoyable and fulfilling. It also allowed me to set goals for a career that gave me a sense of direction and motivation.

Here are a few ways in which work can benefit those in recovery.
1. Provides structure and routine:
Work provides structure and routine to one’s daily life, which is important for people in addiction recovery. Having a schedule and responsibilities can help us stay focused and avoid idle time, which can be a trigger for relapse.
2. Increases self-esteem:
Work can give people a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which can increase self-esteem and self-worth. This is especially important for those in addiction recovery who may have lost their sense of self during their addiction.
3. Builds skills and experience:
Work can provide people with the opportunity to learn new skills and gain experience, which can be helpful in their recovery and in building a new life after addiction.
4. Provides a sense of community:
Work can provide people with a sense of community and social support. This can be especially important for those in addiction recovery who may have lost relationships during their addiction.
5. Reduces financial stress:
Work can provide people with financial stability, which can reduce stress and anxiety. Financial stress is a common trigger for relapse, so having a stable income can be an important aspect of addiction recovery.

In addition to paid work, another way to find purpose in work is to look for ways to give back to the community, such as through volunteer work or working for a company that values social responsibility. Prof. David Best’s research showed that people in addiction recovery volunteer at twice the rate of a regular citizen and part of the Towards Recovery ethos is to affirm that those in recovery are community assets – we give back, we help others, we improve the world around us.

A final word of caution, it’s important for people in recovery to prioritise self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance. This may involve setting boundaries, taking breaks, and seeking support when needed. By finding purpose in work and balancing it with self-care, individuals in recovery can build a fulfilling and sustainable life in recovery.