Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

Dealing with Recovery in the Construction Workplace

By Brett

Addiction, whether alcoholism and/or drug abuse, is extremely prevalent in the workplace. Millions of people struggle with this on a daily basis. You as an employer, manager, foreman or worker might be affected by addition yourself, or know someone you work with daily that suffers from this. It can be saddening, maddening, depressing and can bring out the worst of us. I know this firsthand because Ive suffered on both sides of the fence on this matter.

Not on my jobsite

As a project manager, Ive fired employees that had problems. Others were given time off for their behavior and/or lack of performance etc. I never realized what they were going through; I only knew that my projects were suffering, my customers werent happy, my boss wasnt happy, and I needed to intervene. Their behaviors were selfish, intolerable, unacceptable, and downright unprofessional. These employees just needed to adhere to our drug and alcohol policies and do their drinking at home. I didnt care what they were doing at home, just as long as it didnt affect my projects.

Before I understood

Back in April of 2021, I had an employee (well call him Bill) who I needed to deal with. Bill was a damn good plumber. Id worked with him for about 10 years and trained him myself. He was extremely thorough and extremely smart.

Bill was doing a project for me, which was a pretty cut and dry project. The GC and customer were a little bit demanding on this job, but it could be handled. The problem was that it wasnt being handled whatsoever.

The job was plummeting; it should have made a profit with no problem at all, but instead we ended up paying to finish the job. As the Project Manager, I had to listen to what the hell is going on over there” during our weekly in construction meetings. I finally pulled Bill in and sat him down for a stern talking to. This was hard because I knew Bill for a long time. We worked together, partied together, and drank together. (I myself threw them back at night. But I wasnt the problem here.)

I sat Bill down and said, You will get your ass some help whether its AA or something, or you will be fired.” He broke down in my office, weeping saying he was in the worst place of his life. I knew he was going through a divorce and such, but he hadnt talked much about it. I did my best to console him, all the while thinking to myself Stop your f—king crying and sober your drunk ass up.”

I pulled his foremanship away from him, his truck pay away from him, and told him I was replacing him on the project until he straightened out. So basically, after I punched this guy as hard as I could in the stomach, I then proceeded to kick him while he was down. But I didnt understand what the issue was. How can you let alcohol affect you like this, affect your work, your health, your relationships, your world, how? I just didnt understand…

My name is Brett and Im an alcoholic.

My name is Brett and Im an alcoholic. That employee, Bill I gave the ultimatum to, well on July 24, 2022, I picked up the phone and said, Bill, I need some help”.

You see, Bill took my advice and had now been sober for quite some time. He was into AA. He was doing service for others. His work ethics improved 1000%, and again I could rely on Bill. I could trust Bill. Bill had become one of my top foremen and was an employee I was proud to have on my team. I on the other hand, I had reached the bottom of my downhill spiral.


Truth be told, I was just as bad of an alcoholic, maybe worse than Bill. The only difference between Bill and I was I was what we call in AA an High Functioning Alcoholic”. Yes, I got drunk every night, passed out, got up the next morning, puked, had some coffee ,and got through the day. I took some Advil throughout the day and Id start getting antsy around 3:30, as I knew it was almost time to start drinking and put a hard days work behind me.

My wife had left me for the 3rd time, my kids wanted nothing to do with me, my bosses were about fed up with my grandiosity and self-righteousness. Yes, I performed my job, but my attitude sucked! I was like a grenade someone had pulled the pin on – dont drop it and youll be fine; drop it and there will be an explosion. The only reason I hadnt been fired, was somehow, someway, I could perform my job.

Starting anew with AA

On July 24, 2022 I entered AA. Bill took me to a meeting, and I started my journey into my new life. This was the beginning of learning about myself, about alcoholism and about addiction. This is where I learned that my preconceptions about alcoholism and drug addiction had been so very cloudy; this is where I started to learn a lot.

I, like so many people, thought things like, If Bill could just drink less, only drink on the weekends, stay off the hard stuff”. I thought anyone sticking a needle in their arm was a loser, because drug addiction was a choice, You made that choice to put that needle in your arm.” I never really knew what was at the core of all this. What made people into alcoholics where they cant stop, or they drink themselves to death? And same with drug addiction. What makes people take pills that they dont know what they are? Put a needle in their arm? Chop up pills and snort them to get high faster? I would soon find out that there were many things Id never considered, many things I never knew, and many things that I was so very wrong about.

In AA Ive learned that most people with abuse problems, believe it or not, are just broken. They are some of the nicest people youd ever want to meet. I learned a lot about myself and how I was a broken person. I now think that alcohol wasn’t so much the problem for me when I was drinking as it was more of a medicine for me. It was my fix all. Someone died? Drink. Someone was born? Drink. Happy? Drink. Sad? Drink. Work is great? Drink. Work sucks? Drink. Funny enough, I knew I had a problem for years and I was ashamed of it. Lying to myself constantly, I’ll only drink Friday through Saturday.” “I’ll get a small bottle.” “I’ll only drink beer.” “I’ll only have one.” My wife was commenting, calling me Bourbon Brett.” My kids were afraid to ride with me, and those relationships were tattered. Work was frustrated with me. April of 2022, my grandson had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. All these things just fueled my fire.

Theres a saying in AA that the disease is Cunning, Baffling and Powerful. I can attest that it is all of this, and more. Ive never met a person with an addiction problem that didn’t want to stop; who deep down inside yearned to be normal, not a loser.” The biggest problem with addiction is that we cant do it alone. Addiction grips us. It pulls us back in, telling us itll make everything ok and fun. Prior to entering AA, every day of my life Id wake up with a hangover, hating life, usually throwing up within 20 minutes and every damn day Id ask myself the same question, Why the f-ck am I doing this to myself and those whom I love?” Id scan Facebook and my phone to see what dumb-ass thing Id done the night before that I couldn’t remember. Every damn day Id say, Not tonight.” Yet I could never drive by that liquor store as I had a constant fear that I might run out of Jim Beam and not have enough Medicine” to get through the night.

AA is my lifeline

AA is now my crutch. The people and the program are truly there for nothing else but to help alcoholics and addicts alike to recover from this disease. The fellowship is strong. Addiction knows no social, economic or educational boundaries. Ive met doctors, lawyers, police, firefighters, and everyday Joes. We are all there supporting one another through fellowship and the program to be supportive and help us to stop drinking, drugging, re-lapsing. Ive made some of the strongest relationships and bonds in my life in the short 18 months of sobriety. When my grandson passed, the whole fellowship was there, making sure I was alright, lending a shoulder to cry on and most importantly to make sure I stayed sober. This is my life line. Its literally saved my life. My relationship with my wife and children is now better than its ever been. My health is amazing, my mind is clear and able to think, and work relations have improved. Most importantly, I am able to accept life on lifes terms.

My role as a Leader

So now back to me being a leader. I am a project manager at a multi-million dollar plumbing company. I was, and am, fortunate to be in a family business and lucky enough that my brother-in-law afforded me the opportunity to work through my recovery. Not everyone has this opportunity. (Remember, I used to be that boss who was ready to fire someone who wasnt performing.) So what can we do as owners, managers, foremen and work mates?

Its important to first realize that the beginning stages of recovery are the absolute worst physical and emotional pains a person can go through. For me, I was going headfirst into a divorce, so that weighed on me emotionally. My body was literally trying to kill me. I was a 4-5 half-gallon of bourbon drinker a week. I made the foolish mistake of quitting cold turkey, and yes, this can kill a human. Drug users go through the same withdrawals. Theres a lack of sleep, lethargy, headaches, and confusion. It is a brutal time for those trying to recover. When a person begins their recovery journey, they are trying to learn a new way of life, going through things at home, and to add to all this, they are trying to perform for you! And while your employee is going through this, all the while that bottle of Bourbon or that needle, or that line is calling them back, Come back to me, you know if you do, youll feel much better.” So, we as owners, managers, foremen etc. need to be supportive. We need to recognize when something is off with our employee and be there to support them.

How can the workplace be supportive?

It is important that your employees trust you enough to be honest and vulnerable with you. When you notice something is off, one of the biggest gifts you can offer is time and listening without judgement. Take them aside, and ask, Hey bud, how you doing? Everything ok?” Sometimes things get so hard on the one recovering that we need to just take a few minutes to let go. When in AA, we might need 5-10 minutes to call our sponsors and have them talk us off the ledge, or maybe sit and read our AA literature for a few minutes. When Bill and I worked together on a big project, I had an office trailer set up. Bill was my foreman and sometimes the stress of that project would get to us. Sometimes Bill would just come in my office and lock the door and shoot the breeze with me, both of us unloading and helping one another. Previously, I would have seen this as wasted time, and in the construction business, time is money. I now know that those few minutes taking care of our mental health is a worthwhile return on investment. In addition to giving myself the time I need at work to reset, I sometimes go and do commitments to recovery centers and I might need to leave early.

As a leader, I realize that some days an employee might just need to bug out of work at noon because its too much. The important thing is to show compassion to those recovering, not be taken advantage of, but if that person is maybe lacking a little bit for 2-3 months until hes getting back into the swing of things, then be there for them. Ask them how their recovery is going. It will really bring out the best in them. Tell them that youre proud of them and the changes they’ve made. Tell them about the differences you can see in their performance, attitude and general all around being.

In this industry, we like to celebrate. Be mindful of festivities, outing, or holiday parties that can turn into “Drink Fests.” They are triggers. Be compassionate of those who have changed their ideals and don’t subject them to peer pressure. Promote a culture of celebration to be inclusive of those who choose not to, and cannot indulge.

We as a society, tend to show so much compassion to those who are hurt, sick, going through death etc. I personally used to believe that alcoholism and drug addiction were not illnesses. Unfortunately, its a real illness, so much so that people in the 30s used to be put in asylums and hospitals for treatment. Every day in this country people die from this disease, families are broken. We who suffer from this just need treatment, compassion and fellowship. With this we can recover; we can be productive and useful to the workforce and society again.

Those of us who are in the construction workforce are here for one reason, to build America. We build new buildings and provide services to those who need it. Its important to remember though that in order to do that, we need to build our workforce, too. Some of those in our workforce might rely on us to get them through some tough times. To those who take their sobriety seriously, they’ll be forever in debt to you. Bill has thanked me multiple times, and I couldn’t be more grateful to my brother-in-law for his support. Bill works extremely hard for me, and I for my brother-in-law. This is the result of compassion and understanding; being there for us we as traverse their new world.

We also have to realize that there is a possibility that they could slip. Re-lapse is a possibility, we need to encourage employees to get right back on the horse, so to speak. Saying things like I knew it” will do nothing but bring them back down. Ask if is there anything they need to talk about, do they need some help, a ride to a meeting, can you call someone for them. Its important to let them know that they slipped gently-do not demean them but let them know that what theyve worked for so hard to get, that they dont want to throw it all away because of a bad day.

Being recovery friendly is the right thing to do for our workforce and our industry

With the construction workforce dwindling and talent seemingly at an all-time low, its important to realize that some of our best talent and workers might have some troubles that we cant even begin to understand. We need to be there for them to help with their recovery in whatever way we can. Remember, theyre learning to navigate a whole new way of life, new friends, new ways of thinking, some pick up spirituality etc. They may be quiet or distant or not up to par for a few months, but with support from those they work with and work for, the benefits can pay out for everyone involved.

The Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative

Untreated addiction costs New Hampshire’s economy $2.36 Billion. 66% of that cost ($1.5 Billion) is incurred by businesses in the form of impaired productivity and absenteeism – PolEcon Research

Led by Governor Chris Sununu, New Hampshire’s  “Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative” promotes individual wellness for Granite Staters by empowering workplaces to provide support for people recovering from substance use disorder.

The Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative gives business owners the resources and support they need to foster a supportive environment that encourages the success of their employees in recovery.

Click here to learn more