Cause of my being a workaholic

6 Jan, 2021

One of the ways I have coped with my trauma has been through overworking. I have spent years running from crisis role to crisis role and working way more than any person should work in a week. I have done whatever I can to not be at home often being an absent mom or partner. I realize after many years a few things; for some time, working was where I felt competent. I did not feel at home that I really belonged or could manage or parent effectively.  I was also wired in my brain and body for extreme stress all the time. That was what was comfortable. The chaos and helping others while not doing anything for myself was my normal. Also what I find interested reflecting back to that time how often I made excuses for not engaging in self-care. I was too busy, others had too many needs I couldn’t take time off. Reflecting back, there is a part of me that wishes someone would have said… this is trauma these are symptoms of trauma. On the flip side of that, I am not quite sure I would have heard them.

I am also so grateful that I am able to reflect on this and recognize it as a coping skill releasing me from guilt and shame that has come up around the ways in which I have coped. 

There were days that I would pull 24 hour shifts. I remember when I started trauma treatment I walked in and we were looking to schedule a regular appointment time for consistency. ( if there was not a set time available, I was so disorganized that the only consistency I would have seen with irregular appointments would have been consistently missed appointments.

 Anywho, we were looking for time to schedule and I was working about two 16 hour days and 3 8-9 hour days each week.  There was a period that I was also working 2 jobs. Both in the violence against women sector and really didn’t see the impacts. The idea of being still, in the moment, meditation or  “filling my cup” all of it was foreign to me, I would try them but they didn’t seem to work or only worked for seconds in time. Feeling relaxed was not safe. ” I felt my best at work” (how many times have we said that?!)  Being hypervigilant was safe.
At the time I started my treatment I was having 10-20 panic attacks a day. My health anxiety was out of this world and I consistently felt like I was only moments away from death. I was 27, with a 8 year old daughter, a 2 year old son, a partner that I had been married to for 9 years and a long history of early childhood abuse, time in family and children services, sexual violence, human trafficking, poverty, parents with mental health and addictions issues and substance abuse issues myself. At that time I had already been working in the field of violence against women for 6 years and had just started a new fulltime position. All the while continuing to stuff down my own pain of the violence I had experienced while seeing it reflected back to me in many of the individuals I was supporting.

I walked into my therapist’s office to meet her and she started to take my history. At the time, I remember saying I have no idea where these panic attacks are coming from and this anxiety, it just came out of nowhere.  I often think about that time and giggle a bit to myself now. After being in treatment for so long and really delving into the work to address my attachment wounds I think the better question is why the heck did it take so long for those symptoms to come on?  

When I wasn’t working I was thinking about work. I was checking emails, reading everything I could about trauma and just pushing to do more and more. Many of the people I admired in the field were similar, they also worked long hours, emailed back on their vacations and wrote late night emails. Even on my vacations I would work, I could be away with my family in another country and still be checking my emails and responding to things I felt were important or emergencies. This was supported by a societal expectation of working harder and an underlying belief that my value was tied to my job.

Over the past about 2 years as I’ve gotten to heal deeper layers of wounds, the need to overwork, to not be home and to take it all on has shifted for me.  This holiday season I was rewarded for the ridiculously hard work I’ve done in healing. I took the two weeks off the end of December and beginning of January and did what ever my body told me it needed to do. If I needed to rest, I rested. If I needed to make art I made art, if I needed to purge the crap out of my house that’s what I did. I read, I sang, I connected with my kids but not like half way because I couldn’t tolerate the presence I REALLY connected with them. I turned my phone off, I slept great and did my gratitude journal every day. I can tell you my system appreciated it so much. There were days I meditated 4 times. I am now moving to a place where being in my body and calm in my heart is safe and I am so grateful for that. I cant possibly imagine going back to where I was before.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely do not have my shit 100% figured out, and there are many days that I am not on my A game. Once and a while those panic attacks resurface. The key for me has been that they are ( like many of my other symptoms, way less frequent and I now understand them as a symptom of stress). I still have many more years of work to do in terms of my healing, but I have learned a lot about myself, boundaries, systemic violence and my own triggers and responses. I am also excited to go back in 2 years to this post and read it over and reflect and see what else I have learned about myself.

Each new year, I write a reflection of what I have learned about myself and my intentions for the new year. 2020 was really hard for a lot of people including myself. 2020 was financially challenging, it was morally, ethically and emotionally one of the hardest years I have had. That being said, I have never ever learned more about myself ever and so for that I am so grateful. Here is my facebook post from my 2020 lessons.  If you are open, I would love if you comment below and share some of the things you have learned about yourself in 2020!