They say addicts will always be addicts. They are right— I should know, I am one. It has taken years for me to separate my addiction from my self-worth and apply the “label” in a way that is productive. It’s a reminder, a warning, a trap that will swallow me whole without me realizing it.
Most of us gain our understanding of addiction as it pertains to substance abuse. It can be polarizing and confusing to someone who doesn’t understand addiction as an illness, and the consequences can escalate quickly through overdose, illness, accidents, a slow poisoning. Yet there are addictions that come with a kind of twisted badge of honor, a sign of unflappable willpower and focus. Those addictions have less lethal consequences in the short term, but long term, the consequences can take years to unravel, and for some of us, require medical intervention. I’m not a medical professional and will not be giving advice on seeking treatment or claiming my definition of addiction is accurate, but I can share what I’ve come to understand about addiction through my drug of choice: work.
Before you roll your eyes, I am not claiming my own vices are of the same severity of substance addictions. What I’m saying is: work is how I get my dopamine fix. And I crave it all the time. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. It’s the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. It’s the easiest way for me to feel the rush of excitement that comes from making something, sharing it, and getting instant feedback. It’s the rush that comes from seizing my own destiny, to feeling in control, for feeling powerful and capable in a world where I often feel invisible and small. My need for this rush has only increased since having children. And my need for this fix has brought me to a place where my physical health is visibly suffering.
In a culture that puts being busy on a pedestal, my addiction is met with praise. I often overperformed in college, doing more than what was asked of us as students (and annoying many of my classmates in the process) and went well beyond what I was paid for as a consultant. I jumped into complicated issues, dying to feel the sensation of becoming completely and utterly immersed in a subject so the whole world would fall away for hours at a time. You didn’t even have to pay me. I’d gladly sign up for that work for the distraction itself.
And perhaps that’s why I crave it so much. To get so focused on a project that real life, the things that are consistent and steady and calming and structured to keep me healthy, are hard for me to face. It’s uncomfortable. When I’m working, I can get “high” and I can get rewarded for it. It’s a “productive” bad habit. History shows us that bad habits have a way of catching up with us.
When I went into labor at 31 weeks, my OB was baffled. I had to be induced with my first child and had little to no Braxton Hicks contractions. Yet here I was hooked up to a machine, contracting three times in twenty minutes. During my 3 days stint in the hospital and a clean bill of health, no one could quite figure out why my body thought it was time to go into labor until I took a conference call while my belly was hooked up to the monitors. As I spoke to our suppliers, my contractions began. The scary thing was… I didn’t feel stressed. My body was giving me clear signs it was in distress and my conscious brain was clueless to it. I would later give birth to Bennett a month early, two days after I went back to work. Labor began while I was designing our fall stationery collection. It wasn’t until I went back to a handful of doctors (both conventional and functional) to learn my cortisol levels were 3 times where they should be. My body was operating like I was running from a pack of lions 24/7.
Many addicts will tell you about a moment when the truth surrounding their vices become crystal clear and we decide this isn’t the future we want for ourselves. It means every day, making a choice to take the long way towards contentment. The journey where we choose to live with fewer ups and downs. Where getting high isn’t an option. When approval-seeking is tied to your work addiction, being in the world of social media is a lot like an alcoholic working at a bar. You’ve got to get comfortable with your proximity to the substance.
These are some questions that a potential work addict can ask themselves to identify if they have a problem that needs to be addressed.
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you may be suffering from the work addiction syndrome.
Work will always be my vice. Living life in the “slower lane”makes me panic. But I’m slowly coming to realize that making things can be just as enjoyable and exciting when you give yourself reasonable limits. To walk into a clean office after a weekend away and a fresh perspective is starting to feel just as satisfying as indulging a new idea at 1 am. If anything, I’m learning to trust that walking to my destination might be just as efficient as sprinting.
BY Kate Arends - October 16, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.