One of the Human Resource Managers I work with as an EAP provider, is a gifted author and a woman who is also a recovering alcoholic. Amy Hatvany’s new book, Best Kept Secret is being released on June 7, 2011. The book tells the story of Cadence, a recently separated mother of a five year old boy who struggles with a painful divorce and making ends meet. Cadence descends into alcoholism and loses custody of her son in the process. This book tells a heartbreaking story of a women’s alcoholism and path of recovery. For many alcoholics, giving up their painful secret is the first step towards recovery. I asked Ms. Hatvany the following questions:
1. What made you decide to write the book?
I began writing the story as a direct result of my own emotional experiences as a professional woman, mother and recovering alcoholic. While the characters and plot are fiction, Cadence’s emotional turmoil during her decent into addiction and her journey back toward sobriety are largely based on what I went through. As I worked on the emotional side of getting sober, it became clear to me that there is a special, intense kind of shame that accompanies being a woman who was drunk in front of her children. It’s that shame that forces so many of us to keep our addiction secret, for fear of what might happen if we tell someone the truth. We are terrified of the stigma and possible consequences, but keeping this secret, can have devastating – even deadly – results.
2. How does it relate to your own life and that of other professional women you know?
I think as women in our culture – whether or not we are mothers – we are certainly driven by perfectionism. We are told we can do it all, be it all, have it all. Of course, we can’t – at least, not “perfectly” – so I wanted to portray how as a result, many women experience profound levels of shame and self-loathing, even as we smile brightly and tell ourselves that we can’t expect to always be perfect at everything in our lives. But deep down, perhaps subconsciously, I think we still believe that we “should” be. So we reach for behaviors that drown our shame out, at least temporarily. And then we become ashamed of the behavior and the vicious cycle emerges. I’m not just talking about alcohol, here. Eating disorders, shopping, gambling, sex – even our careers can serve as an escape from the pressure.
3. How is alcoholism perceived in the workplace?
Unfortunately, I think it’s perceived the same way the world perceives it: as some kind of moral failing. I believe the key misconception is that the alcohol itself is the problem, when really, drinking is really just the symptom of much deeper physiological, and emotional issues. Simply stopping drinking is not going to resolve a person’s problems. There is a saying in recovery, that when you remove the alcohol from the alcoholic, you are left with”ick”. Certainly an alcoholic needs to heal from the physical side of addiction, but learning how to sift through the “ick” – negative thinking patterns, emotional reactivity, etc, – is the true work of recovery.
4. HR Managers deal with performance and personal issues with their employees every day. How does this impact an HR manager who may be going through her own issues?
I’d have to say that being in recovery has certainly made my job in HR easier! I used to be a bit of an emotional “sponge” but I have learned healthy ways to set boundaries and not absorb the chaos that can surround me on any given day in my job. I can’s speak for any other HR professional, but for me, I have gathered so many tools to manage my own performance or personal issues, and I’ve found that sharing some of these tools – which are universal, not recovery specific – has been greatly appreciated by many of the people I work with. I think in order to be an effective HR manager, I need to be aware of my own baggage, so I can hopefully keep it from coloring my interactions with employees. Of course, my generally cheery, positive outlook can irritate the heck out of people too, but it helps me immensely to understand their response is not about me.
5. What is the best way in your opinion for an employer to deal with an employee who is suspected of having an alcohol problem, from the recovered person’s perspective?
That’s a tough question, because as a professional, I know I need to manage it – from a performance level. Monitor the employee’s attendance patterns, lack of productivity, etc., and discipline as necessary. We all know the dangers of labelling anyone as an alcoholic, or even intimating that they might be one, so clearly, I don’t recommend that. But if an employee comes to you and communicates they are afraid they might have a problem with alcohol, I would certainly refer them to your EAP for help and guidance. I would let them know if your health plan covers treatment for substance abuse. I would recommend finding ways to educate your management team about the disease of alcoholism. But at the end of the day, if an employee refuses to seek help, and his or her performance continues to decline, sometimes the best thing to do is follow your progressive discipline procedures based on a well-documented case for not being able to perform their job, and terminate. Nursing an active alcoholic along, making concessions and exceptions and excuses doesn’t do them any favors. It only enables their disease to destroy them more quickly.
6. What message do you hope this book will leave your readers with?
Overall, I hope that women, especially, are able to see the similarities they share with Cadence, rather than the differences. I hope that the story widens the readers’ understanding and compassion, and perhaps makes them re-evaluate any preconceptions they might hold about women who suffer from alcoholism and mothers who don’t have primary custody of their children. I also hope that any woman in the throes of active addiction sees herself in Cadence’s story and finds the courage it takes to reach out for help.
For me, that’s the inherent beauty of books – each person will walk away with something different from a story. My hope as an author is that readers will find a need met perhaps one they weren’t aware they had to fill.
I highly recommend Best Kept Secret. It is a wonderfully well written and heart wrenching story that portrays the struggles that women alcoholics face, especially if they are also mothers.
To purchase a copy visit Amazon.com or www.amyhatvany.com