I had just recounted my latest bender. The multi-week, exhausting bender that culminated in a weekend straight of mind consumption–30+ hours of eating, sleeping (not sleeping, rather), drinking, living it. The kind that left me crashing hard and sleeping for nearly 16 straight hours. I’m not talking about drugs or drinking…I’m talking about work.
My dear friend stared across the table from me at dinner and said something to the affect of, “I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I really think you need to think twice about how much time you spend there–it’s not normal, you should consider your options, maybe do something else. Life is too short, you know, and I feel like with the four years I’ve got on you, I can tell you that and you should listen.” Quietly, she followed up, “why *do* you do it?”
Without a second thought, I responded quickly, honestly, “I think I’m addicted to it.”
And it wasn’t until I had uttered the words that I realized how startled I was. I thought twice, three, seven times about it after I’d said it. I’m thinking about it now. Is it possible that work is my drug? My vice? The excuse I use to avoid the things that are too painful to deal with?
“I can’t, I’m working. ” I’ve said that a hundred times. I’ve cancelled dates, dinners with friends, happy hours, movie nights, vacations, weekends away. You don’t get hurt if you don’t put yourself out there and you don’t have to put yourself out there when you’ve constantly got a reason to get out of everything.
I’m so easily consumed by working, by diving in and never coming back up, not breathing. This is nothing new, as I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. And in college, I took 20+ hours a semester and worked two jobs. Since I graduated, I have never worked your standard 8-5. It’s always been a 6 or 7 to whenever plus weekends and holidays if needed, and I’ve always volunteered. I never sit idle.
I think it’s coping. It’s avoidance in its purest form. It’s a way to feel like I am in control without having to admit I’m out of control of anything. It’s therapy and it’s masochistic all at the same time. It’s a way to avoid everything out there that makes me feel bad, sad, less. A way to forget about the ugly, to ignore the unfriendly and blind myself of the ache. It’s a way to feel worthwhile, respected, responsible…safe. It doesn’t get messy if you don’t let it, and the more one cocoons, the more one delves so deeply into something tangible and malleable with total control of the outcome–with the ability to determine whether the ending will be happy or sad, the more one can avoid all that is on the outside. He will let me take on more and more and more without worry that I won’t come through because he rarely sees me fail–I rarely fail because time is no object, and I will work tirelessly to succeed. I claim it’s about experience–learning about running a company, gaining a skill-set, climing as quickly as I can so they’ll never want to see me leave–but perhaps it’s more about fear.
I’m afriad this has been going on for over a decade, and tonight over Mexican food and margaritas, it became foggy when really I thought I had had it all figured out. I never really thought about it before–I figured I was doing what I could to get the job done and my willingness to do whatever it took was just a well-bred, Iowa work ethic.
But now I’m not so sure.