I have a problem. I’m an addict and have recently fallen off the wagon. I’m addicted to work. And this isn’t one of those notes I write where I try to be provocative and turn things around and have a happy ending. I’m actually being quite serious. I am an addict and am here to admit it.
I love the way work makes me feel. I get consumed with projects and never-ending to-do lists and books and papers scattered all around me. I am always thinking about the next thing on my list and coming up with grandiose ideas to chase. Working gives me a high. I feel it deep in my core. I feel energized, stimulated, and engaged with it. I feel depressed, bored, and uncomfortable without it. I want more and more and more to the point where I overdose. I want to feed the good feeling that it brings me and evade the shitty feeling I get without it.
I neglect other aspects of my life in place of work. I chose work household responsibilities. You should see my house. It’s not clean and I only clean when I invite people over. And I only invite people over when I feel I should clean.
I even neglect commitments, like tonight I am suppose to go play ultimate but I emailed to say that I can’t because “I have work to do”. Others might see that email as unfortunate, but I wrote it with excitement. I get to do more work. Yay! I don’t want to go into my body. I want to stay in my mind.
People with substance abuse also often neglect other important aspects of their lives like work and school. That isn’t a problem for me. In fact, I thrive there as a result. But I have neglected my children, so much so that I don’t even have any and at 38 years old I’m not even concerned about it. I wonder if I will be regretful if I don’t conceive. But if I am I know I can lean on my work and neglect the feeling of regret.
Work is within my control. With work, I’m not dependent on someone else, on having enough money, on having a dealer, or having a pack or bottle beside me. It feels like I don’t need anyone else or anything else.
People with substance abuse problems also have recurrent legal problems. I haven’t been caught stealing or selling drugs or prostituting but I did have a conversation with the CRA today about my taxes. Apparently, I have not submitted HST/GST returns since 2009. I thought I had. Or rather, I thought my accountant had. And now I owe $10K. It’s not my accountant’s fault. It’s my fault. I am the neglectful one. Why do taxes when I could do other work, subconsciously motivates me. I also haven’t submitted my income tax return for 2012. Does this scare me? Hell yes. I have woken up many early mornings panicking about my taxes. My solution? Get up and do work. I have not yet been arrested for work-related disorderly conducted. I’m not sure what that would look like... but I’m sure it’s possible.
I even work when operating machinery like driving and biking.
I have had persistent and recurrent social and interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of work, yes. I neglect relationships because I work instead. I’m too busy to maintain, to call, to visit. And often times I don’t even feel guilty about it. I feel justified. Because of course, I’m working.
I know this still sounds like I am being facetious but in fact, I’m not. I’m actually quite disturbed about this and I can see it as a problem. But what is most disturbing is that I don’t really want to stop. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I stopped. True, yes, I have gone away on meditation retreats and do yoga and blah blah blah but I can justify them all away as “work”.
What fears me the most about giving up work are the feelings that I am left with when if I do - feelings that go by the label of depression, boredom, sadness, hopeless, uncomfortable, lost, helpless, purposeless, and meaningless. I have even had suicidal thought during these times. I question every aspect of my existence and whether I am having any meaningful impact on society.
Inevitably I am spun upward again, driven fiercely to be valuable. I yearn to make a difference and work tirelessly to do so. I wonder why others are working as much. There is so much to do everyone! This world needs our help! We must work work work. I almost forwent my own wedding celebration because I thought it was indulgent and pointless with all the work that needed to be done. Fortunately, someone reminded me that celebration was an important part of humanity and that celebration time could ultimately rejuvenate us to... do more work!
I remember a moment in time when I said to myself (and I think to my mom as well) that I never wanted to feel bored (or any of those other experiences listed above). I was about 12 years old. I don’t know what provoked me to feel that but do know that I hated that feeling and wanted it out of me. I hated it so much that I made myself throw up, kinda like bulimia except it wasn’t always about food. Sometimes too much food would, indeed, make me feel that way, but mostly it was just a sick, awful, uncontrollable feeling that would consume me and I would want it out. I remember feeling it the moment my grandmother died in my presence.
I felt this feeling yesterday in fact, twice. Earlier in the day when I felt paralyzed with all the work I had created for myself. I sat down and cried and cried and cried. That actually felt good. It was releases. Then later when I was talking to my dad about my grandfather I felt it again, only I hid it away from my dad because I didn’t want him to censor what he was telling me. I tried to hold it in, and did, but I got that sick feeling inside of me. I wanted to throw up. I got off the phone and began to sob. I didn’t need to throw up. It was coming out. But in the end, I returned to my addiction. I returned to work that night. Then I woke up this morning with fewer than 8 hours of sleep, eager to work again. When I look back at my day, I see that all but 1.5 hours of it were spent not working, a short period when I biked to my chiropractor and an early morning meditation, a practice I am trying to maintain as I seek truth about my condition and existence.
Work is a mask that covers up these feelings. I know that. I can admit that. But I’m too scared to let it go. I’m afraid of what I have to face if I do: Dark nights.
What also scares me is the idea of posting this for the world to see. I’m afraid of what people will think. Will I be judged? Rejected? Viewed as crazy? Yes! I will! And yet, I am compelled to post anyway. Why? Not because I’m trying to offer some happy-go-lucky inspirational tale. In fact, this one is just for me. This one is about my suffering and my admission of it. And despite all else, there is always a glimmer of light in me that despite how awful I feel inside, it’s better to let it out, to expose it, and to share it.
I post this today in honor of myself and many others who have been brave enough to share their stories despite what people will think. Like Dawn who just came out about her mental illness. Like Lindsey and Cathy who have spoken about suicide and Lindsey who braves the world daily with her openness and shared her monologue for Suicide Prevention Day when I know it scared her. And the many people I know who have come out about their sexuality, sexual abuse, cutting themselves, being bullied, masturbation, abortion, self-hate, cancer, depression, anxiety etc. Coming out and admitting we aren’t perfect is really fucking hard! But I’m glad I do it.