I could already taste the first sip.

Closing my eyes, I languished in the warmth that’d start in my belly, then slowly spread, loosening my limbs and easing all tension. I’d drink on an empty stomach, naturally. Maybe I wouldn’t eat the day prior, just to be safe. I didn’t want anything interfering with my buzz. The sooner the alcohol hit me, the better.

Ah, that moment. That magical, magical moment when it hit. An alcoholic’s alchemy: when the drab, dull base metal that is everyday existence gets transmuted into the glittery gold that is a buzz.

Just three more weeks, I thought to myself, counting down the days. Three more weeks until my company holiday party. Three more weeks until I relapse.

Welcome to my first job in recovery. The time: November 2011. The place: West Chester, Pennsylvania.

I was ten months sober, after spending four months in inpatient treatment and three months in outpatient. And, in three weeks, I was going to throw that all down the drain.

The reason? I was miserable. A few months earlier, I had a really good life in Ocala, Florida, where I got sober. I had a strong recovery community, amazing friends and, miraculously, I didn’t rue every sober breath I drew.

But I couldn’t find a job in Ocala, so I had to leave. Getting a job in early recovery is tough. On paper, I looked like a terrible hire. I had to check the box saying I had a criminal background, thanks to drinking related charges, including a DUI. I had a massive gap in my resume from the time I spent in treatment. And I wasn’t too keen on anyone calling my references, since I’d been drinking on the job since high school and had lost jobs over it.

I’d worked hard to get sober, draining my Mom’s retirement accounts in the process, but then trying to find a job brought me to my knees. So I left my support system, moved home, found a job through a temp agency, and started planning my inevitable relapse.

Don’t get me wrong: the place I worked was great. They gave me a chance and treated me well. But I struggled. My first Friday in the office, there was a barbeque, complete with free flowing beer and wine. For the first time in my life, I had to say no to joining my coworkers for happy hour, instead of being the one who planned them. And my depression was rearing its ugly head. I wasn’t yet convinced that life was worth living if I had to live it sober, and if I had to choose between suicide and drinking, I was going back to drinking.

Fortunately, the Universe had other plans for me.

On short notice, the court date for my DUI got pushed up to the day of my company holiday party. Instead of going to the party and relapsing, like I planned, I had to go to Pittsburgh for court.

As a result, I didn’t drink that December. I didn’t drink the following one either. And, if I stay on my current trajectory, I’ll celebrate 9 years sober on December 24th, 2019.

I’m trying to use the gift I’ve been given to make a difference. With the support of an incredible network of mentors, advisors, coworkers, friends and family, as well as a brand new husband, I’ve focused on addressing a problem I don’t see other people looking at: helping women in recovery secure their first job and survive it without relapsing.

I can’t count the number of people I’ve seen taken out over this issue. Finding a job in early recovery can feel like an almost insurmountable challenge, especially for people like me with barriers to employment. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many jobs you apply to: if you have a criminal background and gaps on your resume, an employer is almost always going to choose the other candidate.

Hearing no day after day after day hurts, especially when you’re already in an emotionally precarious spot (hello, early recovery). If you feel like you’re doing everything you can to build a brighter future, but no one is willing to give you a chance, it’s not particularly surprising that going back to your old way of living can start to feel appealing.

Then, for those of us fortunate enough to actually secure work, a whole new set of problems is introduced. If you have a few free hours, ask anyone in recovery if they know someone who relapsed when they started working. We all know more people than we can count.

It doesn’t need to be that way. At the Second Chance Initiative, we’re proving that.

Since launching in November 2018, we’ve created jobs for 11 women in recovery, all of whom were previously unemployed and struggled to find work. Our program is designed to be transitional and 6 of our women have already moved on to their next step. Next week, another Second Chance woman is moving on to full-time employment in the traditional workforce and we’ll be able to hire two more to take her place.

There have been bumps and it hasn’t always been easy. But it’s working.

We’re spreading hope with every second chance and could not be more grateful to everyone who has contributed. Every single mug purchased makes a difference. Every dollar donated makes a difference. Every kind word, every piece of advice, every gesture of support makes a difference.

Ultimately, the difference is measured in the lives of the people we impact. And it’s not just the women who go through our program. It’s their families, their communities, all of the people they go on to impact, all of the second chances they go on to offer.