WORK – If there is such a thing as an addictive personality, then I certainly have one. In the deepest core of my character from an early age was a toxic combination of low self-esteem and perfectionism. I desperately sought validation of my worth from external sources. This became the root from which my anxieties and eating disorders grew.
I was an early bloomer, and from as young as 10 years old I had already started to hate my body. In a frenzied attempt to control the runaway development of curves, I would cycle between starving, binging and purging ― habits that would stick with me until my late 20s.
Losing weight felt incredibly validating and helped mask the feelings of worthlessness that I felt. My anxiety was an ever-present companion, and the rush I’d get from destructive behaviors like drinking, doing drugs and engaging in self-harm was simultaneously toxic and soothing.
However, when I found out I was pregnant at 18, I knew things had to change. I turned away from drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviors. But all those things set the stage for my later too much work habit.
As I entered into adulthood, I craved the rush that came from control and from being acknowledged as worthy. This same craving had fueled many destructive behaviors. However, it also gave me the drive to finish a degree as a high-school dropout and single parent in my 20s. The pride I felt and the positive recognition I received from doing so fed right into my desire to be valued.
I continued to chase that feeling through my brand-new career in social work, a profession that required me to be “on” all the time. I worked specifically with adults with developmental disabilities.
As such, my job was very interpersonal, and the emotional stakes were high. I was an overachiever and was quickly promoted. This put me in a position of overseeing the whole program; the clients, the staff and the day-to-day operations. I threw myself into this role completely.
Unlike the other hats I wore at the time ― mother, wife and friend ― this position came with guidelines, expectations and frequent positive acknowledgment. It filled the void of feeling adrift. I knew who I was in this role, what was expected of me and what I, in turn, could expect. No other role could give me that, and in other areas of life, I often felt lost and completely inadequate.
The term workaholism brings to mind long hours at the office, resistance to taking time off and a compulsive need to be connected to your workplace at all times. For me, and I’m guessing many like me, it was far more insidious.