Why sobriety during a CO's trial service helped him succeed

After a few months on the job, a new CO realized there was still one thing holding him back

During my trial service year as a correctional officer, I wanted to give myself every advantage to succeed because I knew learning the job would be a challenge. Beginning day one, I showed up early to shift and prepared to learn. The more shifts I worked, the more questions I asked and the more I progressed as an officer.

After being in the prison environment for a few months, however, I knew there was something else I could do to help give myself the best chance to succeed: I decided to take a pause from drinking alcohol.

Here's why I made that decision and why it turned out to be one of the best things I could have done.

You don’t need to have a drinking problem for alcohol to disrupt your life or to hold you back from your full potential.
You don’t need to have a drinking problem for alcohol to disrupt your life or to hold you back from your full potential. (Getty Images)

It wasn't difficult to see that alcohol destroys lives

When I first began in the facility, teachable moments occurred early and often. I would carry a small notepad in my pocket and write down important observations, like advice on how to work with an adult In custody (AIC), who to email for what I needed and what all the acronyms meant. I also believed that when senior staff saw me taking notes, it showed them respect and that I took learning seriously, which I think encouraged them to help me more.

Important observations would get a star next to them in the notepad, such as when I would hear COs and AICs say the same thing. For example, "A good housing unit officer is fair and consistent and you have to give respect to get respect," was one I heard again and again. These observations would have multiple stars next to them.

I would also hear both COs and AICs talk about the destruction addiction had caused in their own lives. COs would warn me to “leave it at the gate” and not to respond to work stress by drinking. On the housing unit, you didn't have to try very hard to hear AICs talking about how addiction fueled their criminal behavior. After getting to know these AICs, I could nearly piece together the entire state county by county and see an awful map of addiction and the sadness it created.

So, what did I write down in my notepad?

what sobriety taught me about my own unhealthy habits

I decided to pause drinking for a few months, and what I learned taught me a lot about myself. (It also saved me some money.) I didn’t believe I had a drinking problem, but I wanted to see what sobriety had to offer me.

1. I drank to alleviate stress.

Have you ever been on shift and looked forward to a drink (or a few) when you get home? Well, some shifts for me would be multiple drinks stressful. Being a new officer, I often felt stressed on shift trying to learn and I felt stressed while making inevitable mistakes. And then, at times, I responded to that stress at home by drinking.

Those multiple drinks, however, would leave me feeling sluggish and looking fatigued the next morning. It was also harder for me to operate at my best on shift the next day, and I have no doubt an observant AIC could look at my face and know I was tired. Fatigue, or even just the appearance of it, can be perceived as a vulnerability. 

Needless to say, I learned quickly that I don’t need to drink excessively for alcohol to negatively affect my life.

2. I drank because of boredom.

Drinking because I’m bored has always been an easy trap for me. A beer on the weekend with lunch – why not? I got nothing going on. Another after doing some housework and another because the game just came on. Now I can’t drive anywhere, so I might as well have another.

But then my wife comes home from work (you know my weekend is a weekday) and I’m on my way to getting drunk. Sobriety also showed me that drinking doesn’t help me be a more compassionate or communicative husband. Our loved ones already make sacrifices and experience hardship because of the nature of public safety shift work. There is a fine line between having a few drinks on the weekend to relax and having a few drinks every weekend in order to relax.

It doesn't take a lot to disrupt your life

Addiction is a hook that has caught us all; whether it's ourselves, family, friends, a coworker or an acquaintance, most of us have seen the destruction it can create. Even still, I believe you don’t need to have a drinking problem for alcohol to disrupt your life or to hold you back from your full potential.

I’ve completed trial service and still haven’t had a drink. I get better sleep, keep saving money and have even been the designated driver. I encourage anyone to try a couple of months without drinking so they can find their own benefits, too.

NEXT: Correctional officer mental health: Surviving on the inside

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