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Another Burnt Pancake: Employment, Then and Now

At 24 years old, I found myself unemployed for the second time in my adult life. It was only a few short weeks after the first time I had found myself unemployed, and both jobs were lost for the same reason: I was an #alcoholic, and my life was #unmanageable. I burned those jobs, those pancakes, to a crisp. I was also a college drop-out with no skills aside from serving tables and mixing drinks. Not a combination of traits that necessarily spell "success".


The problem with finding a new job in the restaurant industry was not my lack of experience, or even my alcoholic tendencies, but more due to the court order stating that should I ever expect to regain custody of my son, I had to obtain employment somewhere sans alcohol. The order had been in place for two years at this point, following the series of unfortunate events that led to lost custody. For two years I continued to drink and work in various bars and restaurants. For two years I burned pancake after pancake, refusing to acknowledge the fact that my son was robbed of spending his formative years with his own mother. So, when the shoe dropped a second time, I was ready and almost willing to finally get sober and create a life worth living.


I will happily admit that my first venture into the non-alcoholic workforce was a failed attempt to sell Cutco knives. It's only worth mentioning because of the chain of events it triggered, despite the fact that I was a terrible salesperson and most of my "sales calls" were simply excuses to party with friends. (Spoiler alert: I only lasted a few weeks.)


During the first week with Cutco, I trekked 45 minutes north of home to attend training. I planned everything beforehand, fully intending on using this gig as a gateway to my new, sober life, and eventually regaining custody of my son. I was going to finish training at 5PM. Then, I would find myself a nice little spot to "eat dinner" and "study". I told myself that I would order one single gin martini as a little treat for landing this sweet job. Self-employment here I come! See, I hated gin, and the thought of a martini made me nauseous, so I was confident that ordering a gin martini would prevent me from partaking in further libations. I would have one drink, eat dinner, study, and go home. I wrapped up training, searched the ol' Great Googley Moogley (Google), found a swanky little wine bar that served grilled Romaine salads, and off I went wearing my fancy blazer, binder in hand.


If you're an alcoholic like me, you already know the next chapter in this story. One disgusting gin martini turned into shots, and next thing I remember, I was buying bourbon for a local restauranteur and making my rounds through the bar. I hadn't meant to get drunk, but there I was. All eyes on me, drunk Mary, at it again. No longer fierce, no longer free. Just a drunk in a bar, playing dress up and acting a fool.


At some point in the night, my sights landed on the man with the coffee cup. No wine glass in the swanky wine bar, no rocks glass, no beer, only a coffee cup. Even in my unintended inebriated state, I felt the strings of fate pulling me toward him. "You're not drinking?" I asked, eyeing the mug. He could tell what I was with a glance. He told me he'd been sober for 17 years. I marveled. I told him that I, too, was an alcoholic, that I, too, was desperately trying (and failing) to get sober. He suggested I order coffee, I asked the bartender for Bailey's. I could not recount a single phrase he spoke to me that evening, my friend, my hero, Fred. But the heart-churning acceptance and love that poured from his words still resonate within me today. I was not alone, and there was hope. Fred and I met regularly after that night. We talked endlessly over coffee about life, sobriety and the world. I complained about my family, the state of my life. He listened and shared his experience. When I finally found myself truly sober, Fred cheered me on and celebrated my milestones. "I love you, girl", he'd say, and kiss me on the cheek. "I just want to fall in love, Freddie", I'd lament. "I just want to quit smoking cigarettes". "I just want..." He'd smile and tell me these things take time. And he was right. He was right about everything.


A month after my last drunk, I found luck with a temp agency that was hiring Collection Agents. An angel at the agency glowed with compassion and assured me that I was in the right place. I didn't necessarily want the job, it sounded terrible, but I wanted a job, needed a job, and my bank account was in the negative. I started, making $10 an hour, calling people who were behind on their jewelry payments, driving 45 minutes one way to a job I resented. I hated it, vehemently, but I knew the opportunity for what it was - a stepping-stone, a launching pad, a second chance. So, I tucked in my ego, turned down the heat, mixed a batter of determination and work ethic, and settled in to cook on Medium.


Three months after starting as a temp, I was hired in with the company. Six months later, I was promoted to a Fraud Representative position, where I fell in love with the world of Fraud. I was promoted to my first salary position as a Trainer a year later, and a year after that, promoted again to a management position back with the Fraud Department. Two more years, marked with continued sobriety, marriage, regained custody of my child, Covid, conversion, home-buying, and relentless pursuit of success, and I was offered a position in Senior Management.


Today, I was one of seven dedicated managers to receive an award at my company's first-ever PROPS (Performance Recognition of Phenomenal Service) ceremony. As I walked toward the stage, dressed in Roaring 20's swag and terrified of tripping up the stairs, I felt the momentum of the past six years coursing through me. All eyes were on me, I was fire, I was fierce, I was #free. Mary Bre, 2022 PROPS Award Recipient. The excruciating patience required to cook on medium heat paid off after all, in the form of a glorious glass and granite trophy.





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