There was a long period of time during which I prided myself only on how much I could get done, on the amount of work I could complete in any given day or week, on how many days’ worth of To-Dos I could fit into one measly day. On pleasing, pleasing, pleasing and doing, doing, doing.
I was a hamster on a wheel, busting my ass to get to a destination, a finishing point, a place of being done, that would never come.
It was tiring. And hard. And unsustainable physically, mentally, emotionally. It was a lose-lose situation in which no matter what happened, I had to keep going and do more, more, more.
Sometimes, sure, there was a payoff, a reward: I’d make a ton of money. I’d win an award. I’d get a heartfelt compliment from a client or colleague. These things fueled me enough to keep going on what I thought was the right path.
“Women who do too much do it because of the payoffs. As in any addictive process, we build up a tolerance. The more we do, the more we have to do in order to get high.”
~From “Running on Empty” by Ellen Sue Stern
Doing too much was my way of getting high. Throw in some crappy eating habits and someone who barely ever drank, who didn’t take drugs and who was in a unfulfilling marriage I was sure I could fix, and you have a recipe for some hardcore hamster wheel action.
Getting lots done was my drug, work was my primary relationship, feedback was my love.
I wasn’t happy, I was addicted.
Of course, inevitably, eventually, I burned out. It wasn’t an explosion I can poinpoint and say, “That was it. That was the day everything came to a a head and I knew things had to change.”
No, it was a slow burn.
* * *
Symptoms of a slow burn are different for different people. It is likely harder to recognize than an all-out burnout and yet, perhaps, ultimately more cruel on the physical body and on the soul.
For me, physically, I never felt rested, never felt that my sleep — even 8 or 10 hours of it — was enough. I turned to foods that eventually made me feel worse with the hope that they’d make me feel better. I wasn’t happy with many the relationships I was in. I always felt a sense of longing — for more, for better, for different. It was never enough. I was never enough for me. Instead of a sense of unconditional self-love or total acceptance and radical belief in myself, I had a chronic sense of self-criticism, of an inner turmoil about how good or worthwhile I really was, a “you can do better” approach to every result I produced.
Did I mention how tiring all of this was? Did I also mention how totally unsustainable all of this is over time?
Since those hamster wheel days, I have worked hard to treat myself in a way that is loving and productive in a totally different way. It is a recovery of sorts. And it isn’t always easy. When you strip away the things you thought made you feel comfortable and safe and maybe even high, whether food or people or work or drugs or anything else, all that is left is yourself. Your naked self. And sometimes, facing yourself after all that time of shielding and hiding feels raw, weird, uncomfortable, unmanageable.
But the weirdness is OK. The weirdness is your sign that you are on the right track. The weirdness is the place where you will, in your own time, find the love that will fuel you unconditionally and without end.
It’s all already there, everything you need and want is already in you. I have no doubt you can and will find it. I’ll be rooting for you.