A few days ago, I visited a drug and alcohol inpatient rehab facility where I am working as a consultant. I spent the day going through some of the meetings and groups that the patients experience and interviewing the staff who provide exemplary and compassionate care for them. I had arisen pre-sunrise, driven 90 minutes to get there, down the Pennsylvania Turnpike during rush hour. I switched the radio back and forth between lively music on a member-supported station called WXPN and news on NPR station WHYY. The first was soothing for my soul and the second was fodder for my busy buzzy brain. Part of me wants to be well informed and another aspect would prefer to be blissfully ignorant, at least temporarily, about the brewing chaos in the world.
When I arrived, later than expected, I was already feeling in rapid paced running mode. Timeliness is one of my professional values. I was greeted with a hug and reassurance that all was well, and they wanted me to take my time to settle in. I could actually take a deep breath and tend to bodily functions following my long trip before diving into the rest of the day. As simple as that might seem to some, it has taken effort on my part to relax. Permission to do so did make it easier.
It was also important that I was laser focused on what was before me so that I could properly do my job for them which is to revise content for their website. My mind kept getting lured away to other projects that were brewing as well as a phone call I would be making on the ride home, additional edits on a book I was working on and a client I would be seeing later in the day. This Type -A over-achiever was clearly in go-mode. I needed to beckon it back in to full presence.
A few years ago, I began to recognize that what I had dismissed as a profound ability to multi-task and accomplish copious amounts of work in a short period of time was actually full blown workaholism. The term came into the vernacular in 1971, offered by minister and psychologist Wayne Oates, who described workaholism as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” For me it wasn’t simply about being busy, but rather an addiction to work, the emotions it evoked and the feelings it helped me to avoid. Like any addiction, it was a sometimes futile attempt to ‘fill a hole in the soul.’
Even given the opportunity for a vacation, I would tell myself I didn’t have the time to take away from work, I couldn’t afford it financially and if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning. Along came a wake-up call of a series of health crises that began in 2013. In the interceding few years, I have taken more vacations than I had in the previous two decades. Some came as a result of the insistence of loving friends and family and some from the realization that I didn’t want to miss out on anything since life is unpredictable.
Workaholism is the only addiction that is encouraged since most of us live in cultures in which productivity and success are virtues to be admired and emulated. I can say that I come by it genetically since my father could be easily have been pinned with that label. He worked what my mother referred to as ‘crazy hours’ to support us. He somehow managed to get by on little sleep for years. Both parents made multi-tasking look like a walk in the park. In my mind, it resembled the plate spinning executed by Ed Sullivan Show performer Eric Brenn. I have learned to become symbolically adept at emulating him. For years, I would work 12-14 hour days and sleep perhaps 5 or 6; claiming that sleep was highly over-rated. I also protested that because I loved what I did, it was fulfilling and creative that it really wasn’t work. This process addiction can be just as insidious as a substance addiction.
Chalk some of it up to perfectionism that resulted from a desire to be viewed as competent and confident. It wasn’t as severe as to be considered OCD, but instead, I would justify that I was merely putting my heart and soul into all I did. I was the one holding myself hostage, rather than it coming from an external source. Imagine a cake that you kept checking to be certain it was baked and sometimes it would remain a soupy mess since you kept opening the oven door and sometimes it would be a hard and crusty brick since you wanted to get it ‘just right’ and left it in the oven for too long.
Throughout my visit to the facility, I kept pondering the idea of a rehab designed specifically for workaholics, rather than treating other addictions. What would it be like? What amenities, services and therapies would it offer?
- Late wake-up calls (no earlier than 9 am)
- Leisurely breakfast that is prepared and served by others
- Baths and not just what I have called ‘quick like a bunny’ showers
- Animal-assisted therapy
- Art Therapy
- Music Therapy
- Movement Therapy
- Horticultural Therapy
- 1:1 therapy with a counselor
- Group therapy
- Daily walks in a lovely natural setting
- A zen meditation garden
- A labyrinth
- A swimming pool
- A gym
- A reflecting pond
- Wind chimes
- Lots of plants and flowers
- A butterfly garden
The content of the psychotherapy would focus on the origin of the condition, how it evolved, the secondary gain experienced and a substantial tool kit for recovering. Ideally the staff would be people in recovery themselves, so they were offering more than theory.
Other ideas gleaned from requsted feedback:
“A way to make contact with emotions. I believe “workaholism” is a symptom of a larger problem. We find our identity in our job and lose contact with who we are and how to feel.”
“Twelve-step process to help them recognize and be free of the underlying pattern at the source of behavior. And lots of massage.”
“Activities that reduce wi-fi and increase being vulnerable with other human beings, quiet and enforced unproductive then sharing together about self-worth and relationship with this.”
I’d ask something like, “what is it you’re trying not to feel by go go going?”
And offer oodles of support around that to hold heavy release for transformation.
“I keep working so I don’t have to face__________.”
“Journaling to track the thought patterns that make work the #1 focus All. The. Time. And highly encouraged meditation lessons leading to a regular meditation practice.”
“Forced” down time. Schedule mandatory AHhhh breaks.”
“Meditation. Daily 20-minute walk. Tie to bed??”
“A mindfulness coach and space intended for self-inquiry.”
“Inversion tables – changing perspective physically clears the brain.”Spend a day or more in the forest.
Rivers are a bonus. Extra brownie points for a waterfall.”
“I like the idea of meditation. Workaholic-ism, It is a symptom of wanting to control, not trusting that someone else can do what it is that you can. Or in the amount of time you can do it. Even sometimes just not feeling comfortable asking for help. So the first step is quieting the mind. Letting go of what it is you are trying to hold on to.”
“Pledge to yourself to take daily actions to love and support yourself. Then let yourself look to yourself for those actions with the delight of a child. Be vulnerable with yourself.”
“I will only speak for my realization regarding this. I used to say many times that my strategy for life is to outrun it. That is where my constant need to build value came from aka workaholic. I feel that a course would include stuff around value coming from somewhere else. Aka, its ok as it is. First… I can only be as valuable as I value myself. I can only love externally as much as I love internally. Second.. As it turns out, and hard to see except through others and self-work, I produce better results all around as does everyone when its quality that matters, not quantity… That equates to self! Make yourself the best quality self, and that in every case means that being a workaholic will produce a lesser product. Right?”
This one, in particular, made me laugh since she nailed it! “You might want to deal with your addiction….it’s called Chronic Shpilkes (for you non-Jews – it means “ants in your pants”) – Edie, it’s not your fault but it is in your DNA. Being a workaholic is an addiction. We are not supposed to be “doing” machines but rather enjoy being a BEING. I am speaking from experience here…it’s a hard thing to crack but you must make an effort. It’s also a trust issue — you think you must produce results in order to survive. It’s not true. You can do less and accomplish more by TRUSTING that abundance is your divine right and you don’t have to struggle. I am getting much better at this AND I still have my moments when I want to return to my old ways of doing doing doing. Good luck!”