Putting Work Ahead of Sobriety

I love sobriety birthdays, especially my own. I know that it is one day at a time, and we are all one drink away from being a drunk, but I am an accomplishment oriented person. In addition, I am not shy from taking praise from others, even when my sobriety was given to me through the grace of my high power and the contribution of others. Still, I love it when someone asks if there are any anniversaries, I raise my hand, collect my coin, and come up with something short but witty when asked “how I did it.” So why would I ever give that up? Well, I almost have, many times. Here is one of those stories.

Just after I completed my undergraduate degree and long before I attended law school, I got a job in a coffee house & café. I worked my way up to manager within a year. As the manager, I was responsible for the front of the house, the finances, and eventually the kitchen. It was a good job, and at $20,000 per year, I could afford to move out of my parents’ house and into a farmhouse flat.

At first it was me and two other managers. I worked 45 hours per week, still attended all the meetings I enjoyed, and found new meetings to accommodate the different shifts I now worked. That included some lunch time meetings, and some midnight meetings.

Eventually one manager quit. Instead of hiring a new manager, they gave me a $5,000 raise, and a new set of responsibilities. That meant I had to give up some of my favorite meetings. But on the plus side, I had $5,000 more per year (minus taxes), and a sense of pride that came with the new responsibilities.

Eventually the other manager quit. Instead of hiring a new manager, the owners told me that they considered me part of their family, and gave me a new set of responsibilities. This meant that I had to give up my lunch time meetings.

One issue in the restaurant industry is something called “labor cost” and “food cost.” That is the cost of labor and the cost of food that goes into every product sold. The food and my salary were fixed costs, but I quickly learned that if I reduced the amount of employees needed by doing more work myself, I could reduce the labor costs. That made my new employer family happy, but it meant that I had to give up my midnight meetings to stay late to clean the restaurant.

That year my sobriety anniversary came and went. Instead of going to one of my favorite meetings, or a lunch meeting, or a midnight meeting, I worked. Instead of announcing my birthday, picking up a coin, and saying something short, but witty, when asked “how I did it,” I worked. Instead of being grateful for the gift of sobriety, working to maintain that gift, and sharing that experience strength and hope with others, I worked.

A few weeks after my sobriety anniversary I received an envelope in the mail. The envelope contained an anniversary coin. Someone from one of my favorite groups remembered my anniversary and sent me a coin. It was at that moment that I remembered the value of this gift, and I made the decision to find a new job that allowed me to continue working on my sobriety, instead of just working.

I missed many meetings during law school, but I never forgot that story. I still attended meetings, knowing that without sobriety, I had no chance of becoming an attorney. Today I have a wonderful job in the legal field. My job comes complete with laptops, blackberries, and bosses in every time zone.

For me, the pressure is still there to always be working. There is something addicting to having the most billable hours, or the highest utilization in my group. It is much like the pride I took when I managed the restaurant, and the owners kept giving me more keys, more responsibility, and more praise for hard work.

Still, I need to remember that without sobriety, I have nothing. Without sobriety I do not have that wonderful job, my loving family, or any sense of accomplishment that I so relish. Early in sobriety an old timer said to me that “whatever I put ahead of my sobriety will be the second thing I lose.” That is why, and much as I enjoy being a husband, father, and lawyer, I always make sobriety my top priority. As I said, I love sobriety birthdays, but that is because I love sobriety.