• Hazelden Renewal Center

Too Much To Do

woman on elevator mountain of books

I am relaxed when I stop at the library, having dissolved a truckload of tension on a massage table. The library, not far from the spa, seems like a good place to kill some time before my next appointment. Good chance to pick up a novel and maybe a movie.

Oh, here’s a good movie. Looks like it anyway. I’d better get another one just in case. Well, here are two that both sound promising. I’ll just take all three. Maybe I can get to all of them this week. 

The CDs catch my eye.

Oh, good thing I came in. I’ve been wanting to get some fresh music to play. Let’s see, how about world music? African sounds, maybe? Sure. These three all look like good possibilities. And Celtic music! I’d like to try a couple of those. OK, let me also snap up a little Latin music. Gospel music too.

By now, I’ve collected a sizeable stack of take-home items. I head for the fiction section, where a similar scene plays out.

Oh, a new Anne Tyler book. I always like what she writes. And here’s that memoir I’ve been hearing about. Gosh, I hadn’t realized that Byron Katie has a new book (Now I’ve moved to nonfiction, having quickly loaded up with Tyler and a few other fiction authors I favor). Katie’s writings and a couple more books are added to my pile.

My time is almost up, so now it’s grab anything that’s remotely interesting. Soon, past my time to leave, I repeatedly press the wrong buttons on the automated checkout machine as I try to hurry. I race toward the door, dropping things more than once, then scrambling to scoop them up.

Once I disarm myself of my stash in the back seat of my car, I get behind the wheel. I am tense, very tense. The benefits of my pricey massage have been wiped out thanks to this mad adrenaline rush – my addiction to do, do, and do more. I’ve got to have it all and do it all, and I can’t stop myself. Truly, I’m not acting sanely. I’m taking way more material with me than I can possibly get to before the due dates. I’ve damaged materials by dropping them. I’ve made myself late. I’m deeply discontent. Relapse.

I stop. I breathe. I say the Serenity Prayer. My cell phone rings. It’s my scheduled call from a Workaholics Anonymous sponsee. I pause, then pick up. I can’t do much for her until I admit to her the insane scenario that has just played out in the library. I am powerless over my addiction to work and continuous activity, I tell her. I’m glad we had this call scheduled, I say. It’s helping me come clean and once again turn my life over to my Higher Power. She receives my words with understanding and compassion. I am not alone. Together we proceed to work on our recovery.

It’s been like this for 10 years, recovering day by day from workaholism. In recovery, I have come to relish getting direction for my daily activities from the God of my understanding, a commitment I live out imperfectly. Rarely are work and continuous activity the gods that dictate my behavior anymore. When I do catch myself sliding into adrenalized behavior, as I did at the library, I don’t stumble for long. A prayer, a sponsee call, a spot-check inventory, and a host of other step and tool resources have become my habitual reboots to recovery.

I’ve created healthy new preferences — a new way of living so attractive that I don’t want to lose it. No way am I going to let an unmanageable armload of library materials or work projects or even fun activities return me for long to the self-destructive den of insanity I experienced for decades.

I acknowledge the setback and surrender my will to my Higher Power again, resuming my recovery walk. I return most of the borrowed materials, with gratitude for the quick resumption of sanity.

Later, at home, I relax. I wait until after dinner and start reading just one book leisurely, even though my workaholic tendency would insist I should start several or dash through one ASAP so I can get to the next one and the next one.

I don’t put on the new music until the next day, though my addictive drive would like to lure me into “saving time” by listening while I read. My workaholic mottos: How many things can I do at once? And, how fast can I do them? Add to that:  If I get them all done today, then I will be able to get a lot more done tomorrow.

Another workaholic motto is always lingering, I should get to work. And behind that one, I have so much work to do. Living is not to be enjoyed but to be worked at. Life is all about getting things done.

Not today. I remind myself of some of the many sane Workaholics Anonymous (W.A.) slogans I’ve come to depend on:

You can’t run your life on empty.

Good enough is still good.

Don’t succumb to production seduction.

You aren’t livin’ if you’re driven.

Know when to quit.

 I enjoy the book I’m reading for a while. I stop before I’m overtired. I complete my nightly inventory and go to bed. Another good enough day in W.A. recovery.


Pat S. is recovering from work addiction in Workaholics Anonymous. Learn more about W.A. at www.workaholics-anonymous.org.

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