As a union representative, I’ve had a number of opportunities to sit down with a member and guide them through a really difficult situation. Some of these times have been downright gut-wrenching.
When problems at work come up, what happens going forward can be life-altering. We’re talking about a person’s career. That is why when issues of addiction show up at work, it’s one of the most agonizing conversations that can occur between a member, employer, and union rep.
Let me tell you briefly about Joe (not his real name). Joe works as a long-haul trucker, and he was getting in trouble at work. He was missing shifts, getting tickets for poor driving, and his work performance was declining rapidly.
When I met Joe, he was all of 125 pounds soaking wet and he looked like a mess. At the disciplinary meeting, the employer—no stranger to addiction himself—was about to fire Joe. But before he did, he point blank asked him, “Is there anything going on in your personal life that might explain what’s going on? Because you used to be one of our best employees.”
Joe just shook his head and said he had everything under control. The employer, smelling a blatant lie, turned to me and said, “Before I make my decision, maybe you two would like a few minutes to talk alone.”
I turned to Joe, looked him in the eye, and asked him, “Do you have a problem with drugs or alcohol? I need to know right now.”
Joe looked at me in silence for a good long while. Then his upper lip began to tremble, and for the first time in his life he said to another human being, “Yes. I’m an alcoholic.”
Joe checked into rehab shortly after, and I worked with his employer to make sure his position would be there when he got out. Two months later, he came back looking healthy, motivated, and grateful. He was on a gradual return to work with modifications to his duties so he could attend AA meetings during the week. Before long, he was back to his regular shift, and he was loving his life without alcohol.
Joe is one of the success stories. Unfortunately, there are many others I’ve worked with who weren’t able to beat their demons. My heart goes out to them. I have learned over the years to have great sympathy and even admiration for those who are fighting with all their strength against the monster of addiction.
I recently came across an amazing blog by a recovering addict named Regan, titled “Proud to be an addict.” Say what?! Who’s proud to be addict? Regan is. “Recovery is something that requires of us all the very best things humans are capable of,” she writes. “Courage. Resilience. Compassion. Trust. Community. Forgiveness. Peace. Love.”
Later in the blog she writes, “Addicts are canaries. We are society’s canaries in the metaphorical coal mine. Addiction is a symptom of the greater, general dis-ease of humanity. There is a staggering lack of connection around us. . . . In a world where vulnerability is feared and despised, love and trust are acts of rebellion. . . . Choosing to get out of the mine before the canaries fall is revolutionary.”
She ends her blog with these words: “Recovery is fighting for all the best things humans are capable of. I am so proud to be a part of that. My name is Regan, and I am proud to be an addict.”
When I finished reading Regan’s blog, I wanted to stand up and salute her! I also wanted to stand up and salute all the people who I personally know who have died because of their addiction. I’ve attended far too many funerals of people who fought the good fight and lost. For me, if I can reach out and help even one person like Joe, just as people reached out and helped me in the past, then it makes everything worthwhile.