Rush to Nowhere
I worked at a treatment center in Culver City for over 5 years. The last six months of my employment, I helped run their detox center. Typically, clients spent the first few days of detox sleeping, feeling awful, and occasionally throwing a tantrum. When the shakes and vomiting stopped, they began to realize they had bills to be paid, alimony due, a car that was six months behind in payment, loans, insurance, bank accounts, etc. I even saw clients attempt to manage accounting departments for corporations while in detox (Their employer was not aware of their location). These responsibilities became their new obsession and if the facility didn’t allow them to begin working, they were going to walk. My colleague, Andreau, always used to tell them, “You are in a rush to go nowhere.”
It was as if they were trying to make up for lost time. The sheer panic of realizing you have wasted six months, six years, or your whole life is not a pleasant feeling. I mean, when I was in college, the most productive day in any semester was a week before finals, when I emailed all my professors . I had signed up for their class and maybe came the first week, but then never returned. My email usually consisted of a lie that told them an excuse for why I needed to have a medical withdrawal immediately, or take an incomplete. And these lies were typically about made-up people who had died, or real people who had died 10 years prior. I'm not proud of my actions, but I was desperate to maintain my life of self-sabotage.
It always humored me when my clients rushed to become a responsible citizen by any means necessary. There was this need to be perfect. It was as if they had lived in grime and desperation for so long, that they would try to bypass any sort of middle ground of living and instead shoot for perfection and 100% responsibility. Honestly, I still do that to this day. It took me about six years to realize that I think I’m a perfectionist. For many years, I believed I was a laid back island kid from St. Thomas who liked to drink rum. Over the years, I became obsessed with different things. Whether it was a tv show, or music, or deciding my life needed to change right now (and it would start by reorganizing my entire apartment despite my wife’s wishes). It turns out that I’m a perfectionist when it comes to setting expectations for myself. And now that I am stuck inside all day, I have developed a strong desire to be perfect with my time.
On Sunday morning, I decided that my schedule was not accurate enough. So I sat down for an hour and blocked out my time for the whole week. Now, my schedule has changed since the beginning of all this. I no longer am participating in 25+ zoom meetings a week; it’s down to about 10 or 11. But my urge to produce rather than consume was still there. So I blocked my schedule out completely with activities. My day on paper started at 6:30 AM and ended at 10 PM. I did not include breaks. In other words, I completely set up a schedule that was designed to fail. And I completely failed yesterday. I got two hours into my day and I burned out. This standard I set for time management has only brought me needless anxiety. Being inside all day and concerning myself with high personal demands does not make a great equation for serenity.
It reminds me of an article I read in the New York Times by Scott Kelly, an astronaut who spent a year of isolation in space. He wrote that he had to have a detailed schedule every day where there was little time where he was not occupied (This is what I did). He goes on to write about how he knew that he was going to be in space for over a year, so he took his time. He was not so much concerned with the results of a task but the process in which he was doing them. In other words, he paced himself (which I did not).
My newly-discovered perfectionism also reminds me of a famous passage in the Big Book, page 417 (no, not the acceptance paragraph). It states, “Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did.” Now, I have written about not chasing the arsonist on multiple occasions. And I have done my best to not follow the news threads and begin blaming. But I feel like I have chased a different arsonist the last few weeks -- myself. In a Covid-19 world where I choose not to leave my apartment, my external control has shifted towards a desire to be perfect with my time. And that perfectionism does not leave room for other people, and leaves me isolated (even though I live with another human being and two cats). When people ask how I got sober, I take a deep breath and tell them one day at a time. The obsession to change my life immediately does not yield immediate results. It’s a process. I have to remember to change the things I can and do what’s in front of me. I must remind myself that being in constant solution is not always productive. So today, I’ll follow my schedule the best I can, take a few breaks, talk to people, and try to remember that we are in this for the long haul.
This article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery.