I’ve been fired twice during my time in recovery. This post talks about the first time. Hopefully, this helps someone with their difficult work situation and/or if they’ve been fired in sobriety. I know writing about it helps me.
The first time I was fired happened during my first year of sobriety. I got a job at this well-known company that handles the exams people take to get into college. I worked for one of the highest executives and I had some security clearances. It was a lot of responsibility. It was the kind of work I had done before, so I wasn’t intimidated by it. I had paid for my college tuition working for executives in downtown Chicago during summers and breaks from school. My father was an executive who took me under his wing for a summer at the age of 16 and taught me the ropes. He was mostly horrible at home and the kindest man you ever met at work. I LOVED working for my father! He set me up for a lifetime of executive assistant skills that would parlay into administrative skills I still use today. I am forever grateful to him for that.
I was working at this place that thought their shit didn’t stink. Looking back, their ethics were shit. If I knew then what I know now, I would have never applied for such a corrupt racket. I honestly didn’t know. My ignorance is no excuse.
Not long into my employment, the woman who hired me – the Office Manager – sits me down and starts having a conversation with me that makes me totally uncomfortable. She had said things before that were weird and inappropriate. I could/should have done or said something about these conversations and I didn’t. That was on me.
Here are just a couple examples of the prior inappropriate conversations I remember:
She said the executive I was hired to work for was “so brave” to be the only gay man in the industry at “his level”. He probably “shouldn’t be there”. What the fuck did that mean?
And then there was the story about her husband the medic who had to respond to a grocery meat department when a butcher decapitated himself using one of the machines. She felt comfortable going into great detail about that one and watching my face the whole time.
(I can tell you I’ve never looked at grocery butchers the same.)
But, this next conversation with her was even weirder than usual. She was asking me questions that made me VERY uncomfortable. I now know that these were completely illegal and unethical questions. (Again, the things I did not know at the time…) One of the questions was whether or not I had a problem with drugs and/or alcohol. I was BEYOND excited to tell her how many MONTHS of sobriety I had! (My part: I let my ego get the best of me.) Whenever anyone bothered to ask little ole me how much sobriety I had, I couldn’t wait to tell them. Even if that was in a completely inappropriate situation that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I thought I was BIG SHIT! This was because, at that time, I was AMAZED by anyone who had ANY sobriety. Days, weeks, months…that was a sheer MIRACLE to me. I couldn’t IMAGINE a year of sobriety…let alone YEARS!
As you can imagine, things got weird after that. She started explaining things less and less to me. I would ask a question and she wouldn’t give me the full answer. I would ask for files and be told I would get them, “Later”. The executive I worked for was no longer available when I needed to meet with him. He even forgot my name! I would go looking for files in the computer that she assigned me to work on and they wouldn’t be there any longer. I noticed people in the small office were whispering about me. And, when I tried to get involved on planning an upcoming conference in Milwaukee, I was literally told that everything was already, “Taken care of.” The conference was supposed to be ENTIRELY my responsibility to organize!
I went to the conference with my boyfriend, checked out meetings in Milwaukee, met with my cousin (who got wasted in front of me), and hung out at the conference and did very little… while I felt very awkward in front of the other professionals who attended. People were nice, but distant, with me. I look back now – 25 years ago – and wonder why they kept me on at all. They must have been getting their little, legal ducks in a row. I had no idea what was coming. I will tell you this: The whole time all of this was happening, I felt inadequate, worthless, paranoid, and sad. I would ask over and over if there was anything I could do and I was met with a cold silence. She would tell me to do something and when I would try to get it done and couldn’t I would go to her for help. I would point out – for example – that a file was missing, a she would accuse me of misplacing it. I would wonder, “How could I misplace it if I never had it?!” I would go back to my desk and look for it over and over, everywhere. I would ask her the name of it again. She would just stare at me.
I began thinking, “Am I losing it? Is she thinking this is happening because I’m an alcoholic, new to sobriety? IS THIS HAPPENING BECAUSE I’M AN ALCOHOLIC NEW TO SOBRIETY? I only got out of treatment for anorexia 6 months ago. Maybe I’m NOT ready to work yet. Maybe she’s right! Wait…did she actually say that? Or, did I just THINK that? FUCK, what is happening????”
See? Things were not going well.
Put a newly sober person in a situation where someone is fucking with them and the addict/alcoholic will fuck with themselves 100 times worse than that person ever could! The abused dog starts to beat themself.
Right after returning from the conference in Milwaukee, the office manager sat me down in her office and lowered the boom: I was fired. I asked why. She said she didn’t have to give me a reason why. It was within my 90 day probationary period and I could be fired without reason or notice. She was cold, without emotion, and correct. She told me SECURITY WAS GOING TO ESCORT ME OUT! I asked why. She said that was protocol. When I left her office, and was greeted by security like a low-down, dirty thief, no one in the office looked like they cared. They just looked at me and looked down.
I was on my own and I was scared. I was a perfectionist. I was my father’s daughter. I had NO IDEA why this was happening (because I still didn’t make the connection about saying I was in recovery as being a bad thing). I was a fuck up in relationships, with myself, and with my life when I was in active addiction…but I was SOBER NOW and I was VERY GOOD at this kind of work. There was no logical reason why I should be FIRED!!! So, why was I fired?!?!
I went home and licked my wounds. I did the recovery work. I also went to counseling. I wasn’t taking anti-depressant/non-addictive anti-anxiety meds at that time, so no help there. I talked to my friends in recovery and they helped me to figure out MY PART and what happened with the Office Manager.
I was also faced with the decision of whether or not to take legal action.
As I said, this place was a HUGE powerhouse in the “unethical creation of bullshit tests and the scams that they run on innocent people” game. I was a young person in new sobriety who barely (obviously) had her shit together. They would establish that, along with a pattern of ineptitude (i.e. – misplacing those fucking files…even though we knew the Office Manager hid them from me). It would be my word against hers. No contest. So, the legal plan was moot.
This can be the reality for those of us in recovery: Our sobriety is used against us in LEGITIMATE cases of wrongful termination (firing). Both of my terminations were grounds for legal action. In one, I never would have won. This first one. In the second one, I probably could have won…but the cost would have been too high. If you want, you can read about that next week. The point is this: If you feel you’ve been wrongfully fired, you’ll have to take your USING and RECOVERY into account. They look into ALL of that and ALL of the people in your past and present. You can’t just think about yourself. You have to think about the people you love(d) too. These things get ugly.
If I had more sobriety, and my shit together, and a lot of money to burn, I would have LOVED to make a statement against that company and – what I believe – were discriminatory and illegal practices. Realistically, that wasn’t going to happen. So, I needed to pray for those people and that company and do the work to forgive them, let go, and move on. I am grateful to say that I have. This post is not about retaliation or revenge. Otherwise, I would name the company, the Office Manager (whose name is written in my journal from that time ), and I would want to go back and get them with torches of fire!
After more than 25 years, I am sure the Office Manager is dead. I am happy to say that I have seen in the press that the company has faced several legal repercussions for their unethical and illegal activities over the years. Yahoo! And, I have been able to stay sober.
Some of you may think that I didn’t make the right decision back then…I should have fought. Over the years, I have wondered that myself.
Survival is a tricky thing in sobriety. It’s a moving target. What do we need to survive?
I wanted/needed to regain my integrity and peace of mind in order to survive.
What would have given me more integrity and peace of mind at that time in my sobriety: Fighting the injustice of what happened to me during my employment at that company, or righting the wrongs of the things I did to myself and others during my active addiction? Which did I have more control over? Where did I want to put my energy?
There’s this prayer I learned. The Serenity Prayer. I replace “God” with “Love” (because that is my Higher Power). So, it goes like this: “Love, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I said that prayer a lot when I got fired and had to make the decision of what to do next. I don’t know if I did the RIGHT thing or the WRONG thing.
I do know that I am VERY grateful to be sober today and writing this AND, of course…
Sober. Doesn’t. Suck.