Our CFO is in Recovery But…

Getting a Grip - Personal workplace advice from Handshake 2.0 Dear Getting a Grip:  The chief financial officer of my company recently started attending an anonymity-based 12-step program of which I have been a member for years. This person is a cocaine abuser and has already had two relapses in a few weeks. I discovered recently that over the past few years she has been embezzling from our company to support her habit. She has been with the company for many years and has a long family history with the owner. Her actions put the jobs of 50 people in jeopardy and are, of course, illegal. However, I am honor-bound to protect her identity and my sponsor says to ignore it.  Help!

Dear Anonymous:  In spite of all the research, the “whys” of substance abuse and addiction remain stubbornly mysterious.  One frequently recurring factor, however, has to do with control.  In some way, the abuser felt powerless and the substance offered some semblance or illusion of control.

Those in recovery must develop an acute awareness of when they feel outrage over the behavior of others and a desire to do something about it.  Since this desire can be tied to original reasons for abuse, the risk of indulging it is perilously, tragically high.  This is why you have heard from your sponsor, “Ignore it,” undoubtedly paired with “Get thee to a meeting.”

You’re not wrong that the CFO is wrong.  But, today, it’s the CFO.  Tomorrow it will be the CTO.  The next day, the CEO.  Daily, you will witness behavior that harms others, risks others, endangers others.  Recovery doesn’t provide us with tools to hammer the lives of others into the way we think they should be.  It gives us tools to stay clean and sober long enough to build meaningful lives for ourselves.

Yes, you are honor-bound to protect the anonymity and confidentiality of a 12-step meeting. People who don’t keep their word with others don’t keep it with themselves either.  Moral defeats can sap the spirit and undermine recovery.

And you’re bound by logic to give the recovery process a chance.  If it works, your CFO will have her time to make amends and restitution.  If it doesn’t, you won’t need to break your word.  Someone else will finally mention the CFO’s inevitable progression into a living hell.

What about the company?  “We never noticed a thing.”  Yes, they did.  A corporate system where silence is kept when people are sick and suffering, and where money is missing, or isn’t noticed when it’s gone, needs to break down.  May all involved find the breakage an opportunity to piece together an honest corporate culture.

Getting a Grip:  Don’t let anyone take your recovery away from you.  Not your CEO, your ex-spouse, even your sponsor.  Otherwise, there will be not one person, but two, jeopardizing your company.  Keep the focus on yourself, follow the program, practice the principles.  Your ability to oversee others is not your gift to the world.  You are.


Need to start “Getting a Grip” on a personal problem at work?  Need workplace advice?  E-mail your question to [email protected].

Getting a Grip, a workplace advice column for Handshake 2.0, is written by Anne Giles Clelland.  Getting a Grip regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.


Getting a Grip appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT.  A version of this column appeared in the July 2009 issue.

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