Charlie's Blog: Confessions of a Recovering Workaholic


Confessions of a Recovering Workaholic

We're not in this life just to work, we're in it to live.

I discovered the pleasure in work when I was young. I read Mark Twain's story of Tom Sawyer whitewashing that fence and conning his friends into paying for the privilege of doing his work for him, and it left an impression on me. People's love or hatred for work depended upon how they thought about it. I decided that I loved work, and I did. I loved it like an alcoholic loves gin. The difference is there is no Workaholics Anonymous group to help you out on this.

You can turn anything good into something bad by extremism. The antidote to extremism is sensibility. Being lazy is a vice. Being a workaholic is also a vice. Working 12 hours a day or more was a common thing for me. I would get blue on a Friday evening when work ended because I would have a whole weekend of leisure time to fill. I toyed with the idea of a second job, but I knew there would be interference with my day job. So, I threw myself into writing which is like a methadone program for workaholics. It prevents withdrawal.

I can confidently say I was a workaholic because my co-workers called me a workaholic. I would go to work sick. I cashed out my vacation time instead of taking vacations. And I wasn't doing it for the money. Earning money was a pleasant side effect of having fun getting things done. As for my bosses, they found it way easier to dump the work on me than to try and motivate someone else to do it. I was the path of least resistance, and they took it. I wanted the work.

It's easy being a workaholic if you're a bachelor. It's not so easy when you get married. Wives have the habit of wanting to see their husbands once in awhile. I learned that the trick is to not hunt, fish, or play golf on the weekends. I never cared for those things, so I ended up devoting my entire leisure life to being in the company of my significant other. I had become the workaholic equivalent of the functional alcoholic.

My workaholism ended on December 4, 2018, when an idiot struck my work vehicle which put me in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury. That date has become a second birthday to me. I don't talk or write about it much because I haven't fully processed the event in my mind. I don't know why God let that happen to me.

When you're Catholic, you get used to suffering. I couldn't handle suffering when I was a Protestant. As a Catholic, it is my daily experience. You don't think it is unusual anymore to go through adversity. You just offer it all up as penance for past sins.

What the accident and the injury have done to me is break me of being a workaholic. Most people are clueless about brain injury, and I have had to deal with a lot of stupidity. I can do things for small bites of time before fatigue wipes me out. My prior self would binge on work until I could no longer stay awake. Now, I take small bites and try to accumulate them into something resembling achievement. I also opt for low labor strategies like lasagna gardening. The rest of my time is spent looking at the back of my eyelids.

I have made peace with the fact that I will never be what I used to be. When I take it too far now, it is not pleasant but catastrophic. All of my activities are done with imposed limitations. If I go too far, it costs me more than if I had been sensible. I have lost entire days because I chose to binge instead of taking a bite.

The primary lesson I have learned with workaholism is that you work to live. You don't live to work. That has been an unbearable pill for me to swallow. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish that I was back on the job. I write a daily list of chores and errands, and it is modest. I never get all of those things done. My energy is limited to a handful of hours each day. I am always tired.

Doing nothing is not an option. The biggest hazard to a brain injury survivor is the temptation to stop moving. Once this happens, your lifespan becomes greatly diminished. You are left with striking the balance between doing too much and doing nothing. It is a tightrope walk with danger on both sides. It fatigues me thinking about it.

I think God has put me in a school where I must choose the mean as defined by Aquinas. I must be neither deficient nor excessive. I must not be lazy, but I must not overwork. The alcoholic is limited to one drink per day. The glutton is limited to one serving. The workaholic is limited to doing what he must to serve his needs for living.

I have learned some lessons about workaholism. The first lesson is the need to rest on the Lord's Day. I had already embraced this lesson before my injury. You work six days and rest on the seventh. Work should never take the place of God in your life. People only see the negative in the commandment to not work that one day, but they overlook the positive to work the other six days. Most people work four or five days and take two or three day weekends without even thinking about church attendance. God gives us ample time to get the work done. He also limits our leisure.

The second lesson I learned is the need for sleep. As a workaholic, I treated sleep as my enemy. I would get all the sleep I needed when I was dead. This is profoundly stupid. I have done without sleep so long that I would hallucinate. Why did I do this? You need 8 hours of sleep per night. 4 hours doesn't cut it.

The third lesson I learned is that the work never ends. It will be waiting for you the next day when you return to it. There is no state of life called "done." I agree with Stephen King when he said that he didn't finish novels but abandoned them. Consequently, it doesn't matter if you do a little or a lot. You end at a point with more things undone than done.

The fourth lesson I learned is that people are always going to be disappointed with you. This is because they are never satisfied but always want more. This hit me as a Knight of Columbus when I raised the second highest amount of money for our annual Tootsie Roll drive. I was at a competitive disadvantage to the retiree who was the top earner. He didn't have to work a day job. Yet, the organizer still wanted me to give more hours. Like I said, people are never satisfied. Don't bother trying.

The fifth lesson I learned is that family comes before the job. When I was in the hospital, the boss man didn't spend the night with me in a chair by my bedside. My wife did that. The boss was too busy filling the hole my sudden absence had created. When it comes to work, you are just cannon fodder. You work to support yourself and your family. Your family doesn't exist to support your work.

That last lesson is the most important lesson. Protestants think that your job is your vocation in life. Catholics know that your real vocation is to be a husband, a father, a mother, a religious, or a priest. These things require labor, but the labor is not what defines you.

The purpose of life is to become a saint. You can't be a saint and also be a workaholic. It is enough to be a good worker like Saint Joseph. You should work hard but within the limits of reason.

I haven't embraced the silly idea of taking up golf. I'm not a vacation person. I like my leisure in small but frequent bites. I also can't handle more than that. When people deride workaholism, they do so as an excuse for excessive leisure and laziness. It's like the alcoholic I met who claimed to drink in moderation. Life is not meant to be spent in idleness. I believe in rest, but that rest needs to be earned.

My work right now is recovery. Traumatic brain injury is the cross that I bear today. This has revealed to me that workaholism is an escape from thinking and also a form of pride. The hardest thing for me is coming to terms with what I used to be able to do. It has taken me years to get to this low level of functioning. I am a sleepaholic instead of a workaholic. I no longer do time management. I do energy management. As for this post, I am abandoning it now. I am out of energy.