Addicted to Activity
Starting out, I didn’t realize that I had a desire for approval. I knew that when I received accolades and pats on the back for a job well done, that felt good, that I felt good, I felt worthy and accepted. I started saying Yes to extra tasks at in school and then at work more and more. I also had four children and filling my days was easy, and often required. How much I got done in a day was pretty phenomenal looking back. I never connected all that activity to feeding my EGO or AVOIDING feelings and intimacy in relationships. What I knew at the time was that I had a small set of valuable skills and I could organize my day better and better to get more and more done. This was pretty valuable in the work environment and as a mother. This was less valuable when it came to meaningful relationships, personal growth, or intimacy.
I actually had a co-worker tell me to pace myself or I’d burn out. I said what I often said when warned that my behavior could become harmful: “Oh, yeah, I know. I’m keeping an eye on that.” I didn’t know.
In hindsight I can see that the desire for approval and the need to feel valuable lead me to volunteering and saying Yes to additional requests more and more. Look at me, look at how helpful I can be, look at me DOING MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE.
A friend told me once, “You are the hardest working person I know.” I took it as a compliment at the time. I see now that it might have been a veiled warning.
I began to fall into this pattern of overload and burnout. I spread myself so thin that I’d become frustrated and overworked. I caused it but I took my frustrations out on others. I pointed fingers and I blamed. I did not see that I was causing the insanity in my own life. What I saw were open spots on my calendar that I needed to fill. This person wanted to do lunch. That person wanted to visit. Someone else needed a babysitter or their kitchen needed cleaning, etc., etc. I wanted to attend event after event after event – to impress others, to have something to talk about, to make my life appear more exciting that I felt it was. And then my head would explode and my tears of rage would flow and I would honestly, ignorantly wonder how I had let the overbooking of my time happen AGAIN.
I actually had friends I’d contact, asking them if I could talk over new opportunities with them before I said Yes to new tasks and invitations. I stuck to that for a while, and then I let it slide. I had this. I didn’t need to check in with my friends EVERY time. And it happened AGAIN – repeated behavior and frustration in the wake of my chaos.
Last summer I wanted my grand-kids to visit. In the beginning, we discussed inviting the two oldest grand-kids. We (Okay, I) planned for them to stay a week in July, after Independence Day. 7 days, no biggie (except for the tiny house we live in – what followed that was my crazy-making of booking an apartment with AirBNB just down the street from our own small home, and trying to coordinate food, daily events and entertaining the kids, plus caring for our cat at home, and then deciding after trying to control everything that we’d just stay at our house and make it work. It was my husband’s suggestion, by the way, to just stay home and make it work. It took me a couple of days to come around) And then, I had this BRIGHT idea that it would be great to see our other two grandchildren, too! They came the following week, for five days, with their mom (our daughter). They stayed at a hotel near Disneyland. We spent three days at Disneyland and one day at our home. Wait, wait, there’s more – my oldest son was being transferred from one base to another following my daughter’s visit, and we’d (I’d) offered to collect his car from Los Angeles and bring it back to our house (during that first grand-kid visit) so when he and his wife arrived, he’d have his car (which had been shipped ahead of time). AND, I wanted to take THEM to Disneyland; his wife had never been. And yes, all of this activity took place in a matter of about three and a half weeks. Was I exhausted when it was over? Yes. Could I tell you why? Only partly.
The most recent overbooking, and the shift: I was looking at my calendar at two events I’d planned to attend in Phoenix, Arizona. Looking at the calendar week by week I hadn’t seen what I’d done. For whatever reason, I zoomed out to the month view and I saw it then. I had booked two intense multi-day training’s back to back. There was a two-day opening between. A total of 12 days away from home during a time when we are rehabilitating a house. My mind spun… How had I done that again? I’d been so careful (although I really hadn’t).
And a huge internal shift began to take place. After I berated myself, and cried, and eventually surrendered, I saw that something HAD to change. I had to change. But how? Right then I made a choice. A choice to LOOK at my behavior regarding activity and over-planning more deeply than I’d ever looked before. I had to ask myself WHY it was that I planned so many activities all the time, and WHY I’d never ask myself Why before.
Here are the things I wrote down when I asked myself WHY I continue to overbook my life:
“Look at what I GET from doing stuff (activities)” – EGO-FEED. Value. False Pride. Achievement. Noticed. AVOIDANCE. Avoid self and feelings. Avoid deepening relationships with others. (“I don’t have time. Can’t you see how busy I am?”)
And the oldest thought, an old truth, buried deep down: I am worthy and I am good enough ONLY IF I can DO MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE. All the time.
So this time, as I realized I’d done it again, overbooked again, for the first time I asked myself why I do that. And I answered honestly. And I can SEE now. And I can choose differently. This is the beginning of my recovery, from doing too much.
My life, at least for the next little while, is going to be purposefully simple. Using activity to avoid feeling and engaging is an addiction. I do not know when it became my addiction, but I have recovered from other mind and mood-altering substances and I have the tools to address this one. One day at a time.
This week I canceled two big events I signed up for, and I did not replace them. I gave thought to an invitation and then declined. I chose to paint a creation today. I have stopped a few times to get back to being in the present moment.
I will still have things to do. I mean, it IS life after all. There are some commitments I wish to honor. Going forward, I will be discerning in the events I consider attending. I will talk to others about my plans and ask for input. I may even limit myself to certain days or a total number of days in the month that I will schedule major and minor events. I will journal daily and stay honest with myself about the kind of person I want to be and what that looks like today. These ideas may seem extreme to some, but this is addiction recovery. And I never considered activity as something that could become an addiction.