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Honestly, I Was Better At My Job Before I Got Sober

In my line of work, recruiters pride themselves on their aggressive tactics. Being aggressive simply means being persistent ― very persistent.

As a headhunter, I am a 100 percent commission-driven sales professional. I recruit people for hard-to-fill jobs in the business sector. Finding the “purple squirrel,” which is what we call a perfect candidate who may not even exist, isn’t easy. It takes research, persistence and the will to cold-call a lot of people in search of that one dream candidate. I live and die by the work I produce and bill on the board. People in my position tend to not eat unless we get someone a job — and we are not considered a success unless we multiply that one person by 30 each year.

I had been habitually and heavily drinking, and keeping my drinking a secret from my family and friends, for almost a decade before I sought out help for my addiction. At one time, I felt my drinking ― and the daily recovery from it ― motivated me. I could sober up with a pot of coffee and some ibuprofen. The promise of more alcohol at lunch or after work drove me to make my calls and get the billing. The thought of plowing through the day so I could have my next drink, or six, was like a carrot on a stick wagging in front of me. Instead of a carrot, it was a bottle of Skol.

In the past, I would crank out calls nonstop. 100 a day? No problem. I could focus more because I was motivated by the win ― and by how I rewarded myself with alcohol when I nabbed a win. When I was drinking, I was less worried about my demeanor and my methods for securing billing, even if it meant alienating some people because of my behavior. I was less precious with my time and my efforts and it translated into success, even if it meant my personal life was simultaneously crumbling.

Two weeks off the bottle, I walked back into my office sober and without a hangover for the first time in years.

I was finally convinced something needed to change after one night when I had been binge-drinking cheap bottles of vodka all day. I was about ready to pass out when I realized I couldn’t speak anymore. I felt like my brain had shut off ― as if I had blacked out with my eyes still open.

My wife found me, petrified and worried I was having a stroke or a seizure. She was about to dial 911, but I managed to stop her. When I could speak again, I broke down and told her about the addiction I had kept from her all of those years. I had hidden every drop, bottle, receipt, credit card purchase, sick day, impromptu vomiting session, bloodshot eye, hangover, missed memory, lost item, drunk driving session, sleepless night and blackout from everyone in my life.

I knew that in order to stop drinking I needed to immediately attend a detox program. With my wife in agreement, I made plans to go to Central DuPage Medical Center in Illinois for treatment. Leaving my kids was hard. I cried. I’m man enough to admit it. I hadn’t been away from my kids for more than 17 hours since the day they were each born. Leaving my wife ― who was not at all happy with me at that moment ― was hard, too. I love her immensely and knowing that my drinking had driven a wedge between us and was threatening our family devastated me. 

When I told my bosses at the small, family-owned boutique headhunting firm where I worked that I was headed to detox, they were incredibly supportive and simply said, “You probably aren’t the only one here who needs it, kid. All the best. Get well and your seat is here when you get back.”

Detoxing was hard ― but in some ways, easy at the same time. I guess when you’re doped up on as much Valium as I was given at the clinic I checked into, anything seems doable. They gave me the drug so that I didn’t have a seizure while I spent four long days flop-sweating and reeking of the booze that poured out of my body and off my skin. My brain oozed inside of my skull like a mixture of a fried egg and ice cream. 

After a week of detoxing, I spent another week in all-day outpatient rehab. Being able to go home at the end of the day was a blessing for me. I was able to see what I was fighting for every night and remind myself why I was driving to the clinic every day to finally put an end to my drinking.

After detox and rehab, I chose the Alcoholics Anonymous route and continued my recovery by going to meetings and working through my problems with those who best understood what I was going through. Two weeks off the bottle, I walked back into my office sober and without a hangover for the first time in years. I still maintain my recovery to this day through a mix of meetings and a strong support system of family and friends who have stuck with me through it all.

My first month back at work was spent trying to get reacquainted with my professional life. Prior to going to rehab, I had been in the “Partners Club,” which only the top-producing headhunters reach if they hit a certain amount of sales each year. Most years I was what you could call fairly successful and consistent in terms of the revenue I was generating. Overall, candidates flowed in relatively easily, my clients were satisfied and my bosses were pleased with my work. But none of them knew that most days I was either hungover or tipsy from the drinks I had during lunch.

After I made my way a few months into my sobriety, I still hadn’t billed a damn thing. My drive was gone and worst of all, I didn’t care — not about work, anyway.

My struggle initially centered around the fact that I was trying to emulate the “me” from before I had gone to detox. Sobriety had fundamentally changed my attitude about the world. I had been living in an unending tunnel of work, sleep and booze, and when I stepped away from it and looked at what was happening around me, I wasn’t able to concentrate on my end goals anymore.

Without alcohol in my life I am at a strange crossroads where I’m doing better in my personal life, but worse at what pays the bills.

I came to learn there were many things I was better at once I got clean. I could devour a book in just a few days. I could engage with my kids instead of getting frustrated with them. I could hold a conversation with someone and not constantly be trying to come up with an excuse to get back home to sneak a drink in the garage. My job just wasn’t one of those things I could do as well anymore. The truth is that I was a better salesman off the wagon.

Now that I’m sober, I’m more finely tuned to finding the “right” candidate, not just a butt for a seat. I spend more time ― perhaps too much time ― filling a position in order to find someone who meets all of the necessary criteria rather than wanting to throw just about anything at the hiring manager and hoping it somehow works out. I am also more meticulous in how I complete projects. You would think all of these things would make me a better employee, but, given that my job is essentially a numbers game, this approach has proven to be less lucrative than the one I was taking when I was drinking. Without alcohol in my life, I am at a strange crossroads where I’m doing better in my personal life, but worse at what pays the bills.

Still, I don’t care. I won back my high school sweetheart and wife of 13 years and am now building a long-lasting relationship with my kids, who will thankfully never know a father who drinks. Those gifts are reward enough to keep me sober, even if it means making less money. Whether my career will ever be as successful as it once was simply isn’t a priority for me. I can get a new job, but I can’t replace the love of my family and the memories I am making with my kids.

After being on this journey I’ve realized that leading a sober life isn’t about finding the bright and beautiful new “me” at the end of the tunnel. It’s actually the opposite. With the goggles now off, it’s about finding the true ― if imperfect ― me. And it’s not easy. Sometimes I miss the old wildly successful guy I once was. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But the path I’m now on is a path to being ― and staying ― aware, honest and present with my family. If I have all of that, I really can’t ask for anything else.

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