Journal Entry #58
My name is Juli and I am a workaholic.
They say the first step in resolving your issues is admitting that you have them.
I come by it honestly though. When I was a kid, the motto around our house was “if we work hard, we can play hard.” I have had chores around the house and within the community for as long as I can remember. I was mowing the lawn by eight or nine, babysitting for others at ten, making family meals by 11 and doing laundry even younger than that. As a young teenager I was reupholstering furniture, grouting tile, and caulking bathrooms. When it came time to drive, I had to learn how to change the oil in a car and do basic vehicle maintenance before I could get my license. At 13, I “nannied” for a summer. At 16, I was laying interlocking brick, working at Canadian Tire, babysitting and house-sitting. At 18, I wrote and developed an entire one year Sunday School Curriculum for 4 different grade levels. By 20, I was a landlord, “homeowner”, business owner and caregiver.
And so many other tasks along the way.
I don’t need to rehash my resume. I have done a lot. I have worked hard. Sometimes, I have played hard. The trouble is, over the last few years, I am more comfortable bartending, than being a guest at a wedding. I am more comfortable coordinating an event than participating in it. I am more comfortable doing chores and running errands than I am sitting poolside tossing back drinks. I am more comfortable serving tea and doing dishes than sitting at a meeting. I am more comfortable preparing appetizers and snacks than I am sitting around having a good time. Last year at girls weekend, I knit an entire scarf…and I am not a knitter!
The trouble is, I have at some point equated my worth with work.
If I am not working or contributing, what am I? Who am I?
This might sound ridiculous, but how is it that I am more comfortable working, than I am enjoying the company of family and friends?
My mom always said “work is fun” and because we were always doing it together as a family, I guess it was. So, I kept the mentality…but I cringed when I said it to my own kids the other day; “Come on guys! Work is fun when we do it together! A family that does projects together, stays together!”
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a pity party. This isn’t an “I wish my childhood was different” story. I am so thankful for all the skills I have developed over the years. In fact, there is little that I feel I couldn’t accomplish in this world. My parents turned both my brother and I out as capable, competent, confident and contributing adults into the world.
But have I taken it too far?
When there is an internal battle raging when I am enjoying the sunshine and a cup of tea first thing in the morning, and that inner voice is scolding “empty the dishwasher!” or is making a list of all the things that I should be doing INSTEAD of sitting still in the moment…I know I have an issue.
I am a workaholic.
But, I don’t want to be.
Leishmaniasis has shown me another layer of myself. I physically haven’t been able to work, to contribute to my household or to my community…I have had no choice but to enjoy my tea sitting in the sunshine. And you know what? I think I can grow to like it.
When I reflect back on life before Leish, I wonder how I did all of the things I did. I was busy. I mean, really BUSY. And I thrive being busy. And I love being busy. And everything I was busy doing were things that I loved. I was working hard. I was confusing work with play. I can see now, that it was too much. I was doing things because I wanted to but I was also doing things because it was comfortable…it was what I knew. I often found myself doing things, working, helping because it is more comfortable than participating. And not doing, is simply uncomfortable.
Which is a sign that something isn’t quite right.
Actually, it is an addiction.
I couldn’t help myself. I would get up and do and be busy just to avoid the discomfort of not.
Now I know better. Which means I can do different. It means that when that feeling of discomfort arises, instead of automatically jumping up do work, I have an opportunity to recognize that I have a choice. I can sit in the discomfort – it isn’t going to kill me. I can be aware of the feeling and let it move through. The feeling is no different than a feeling of sad, or a feeling of fun. Feelings are transient…they come and they go…they don’t stay forever. So if I get comfortable with being uncomfortable and trust that it will pass through, it will. With this awareness, I know that I am stronger than the feeling.
It doesn’t control me.
I can wait it out.
I am patient.
I think over the years, I have conditioned myself as currency. I have equated my worth with work. If I am not helping, serving or contributing, why would someone want me? What good am I? What I am realizing though, is that I am worthy, important and integral in the fabric of life without exhausting myself with busy tasks. My company is enjoyable. My thoughts and views on the world are valuable in conversation. My humor, although rare, is funny.
You know how our children are often our biggest teachers? Well, Canyon enlightened me this summer. The cannabis I use at bedtime for pain, nausea and headache, sometimes makes me giddy for about 20 minutes before I fall asleep. So I usually take it after the kids go to bed when I am in bed…so they don’t see my silliness – but most nights I just fall asleep with no one the wiser. One night I took all my night-time medicine, but sat up chatting with friends instead of going to bed right away. I got into a giggle fit…like laughing really hard. It wasn’t anything in particular, but I was belly laughing. It felt good to let loose and really enjoy the moment! Canyon heard the ruckus and came in the room…he was furious! He took me aside and accused me of getting high, of making a scene and embarrassing him. He said my laugh scared him.
How does a mom start to explain this? I was calm and chill about it. I let him have his say, I let him yell and get his anger out. I asked him if I looked like I was a danger to myself or others? I asked him if I was in a safe place? (We didn’t have to drive anywhere and we were with friends that we trusted) I asked him if he felt I needed to stop taking the medicine that the doctors have recommended? I explained that what I was experiencing wasn’t unusual, just that usually I take it and go to bed right away to avoid the side effects. I asked him if he could explain how my laughing embarrassed him?
Now, as a parent, when we ask questions like this, we have to be prepared for the truth. Because, kids, time and time again, will hand it to you.
He served me the truth.
He said, “Mommy, you never laugh and you hardly ever smile. I was scared when I heard you laugh so hard, because I have never heard you laugh like that before. I thought something was wrong…I thought you were maybe drunk or high because laughing isn’t something you normally do.”
Doesn’t that cut to the quick?
As I didn’t sleep that night, working through the mom guilt, I reflected on the truth of what he confessed. I don’t laugh a lot. I don’t let my hair down. I don’t cut loose and have fun with my friends very often, and when I do, he doesn’t witness it. I am a serious person. I have meaningful conversations and don’t engage in small talk. I am focused and driven. And for some reason, having fun and being expressive is uncomfortable for me…because it means I am not working, helping or serving. But this is what I have realized; having fun might mean that I am not helping others, but I am certainly not helping myself by avoiding it either. And further, what kind of example am I setting for my kids?
So, it is time.
Time to be uncomfortable with participating. Time to laugh. Time to not work. Time to find time to play. Time to relax. Time to find a balance between work and play. There is a time to work hard and play hard. Somewhere along the line, I let the play piece go. It is time to reclaim that. I suspect this will be an ongoing process for me. Getting comfortable in situations where I am not naturally comfortable. Laughing more freely. Engaging in play and things that don’t involve me coordinating or helping but instead just enjoying the time together.
I am committed to make this change. To be an example to my children of what good, clean fun looks like. That it is okay to laugh and play. It is okay to work and be serious too. But there isn’t a particular order in which that needs to happen. Both are important to healthy living. I definitely don’t want to pass on a workaholic mentality to my children. I want them to see and know determination, responsibility, initiative and a solid work ethic. But life isn’t all about work and no play. It is time to balance this out…and be a better example for our children.
Mark my words, that will be the last time that my son is ever afraid of hearing me laugh.