Tag Archives: overachiever

Don’t give up before your motivation returns

5 Nov

2:46 pm

So, in getting sober, I’ve realized that there are things about myself that I know. Things that simply make me “me,” that are neither things that I have to accept nor things that I have to change. They are things that just ARE, and these things are OK.

Like, I’ve always been an overachiever. Some of this behavior was maladaptive, but to a certain degree, I was just born this way. I THRIVE off stress, off getting things done. A LOT of people do, I’m not saying I’m special. In fact, I’ve been wondering about this ever since I got sober. Why have I been struggling so much this past year? Well, I’ve been lacking in motivation because I don’t have wine anymore, that’s true, but I’ve also been going against my grain. Why do I need to go, go, go? Why do I like big cities, with all their ambitious people and innovative ideas and commotion and conflict? I don’t know! I just DO. That’s me.

The past few days have been awesome–large to-do lists, lots of information and sources to research, too much to do, all of it competing for my time. I got off on working in environments like this–for years I worked in the startup industry, and when I went back to corporate America, I can look back now and say that’s when I became depressed. When I went back to graduate school and was once again stretched to my limit, I was on top of the world again! Too bad I didn’t know how to manage my stress and my expectations–my “workaholism,” I suppose I could call it.

It’s always been a fine line for me, but in re-reading my journal from this year last night, I can say this much: I was my most enthusiastic after returning from a weekend visit back to NYC; and, I have never been more vexed, in general, than this past year struggling with too little to do and no motivation to do it.

No motivation was a daily thing in my journal, from about March until, well, now. It’s seriously been a theme in my getting sober. It was a constant struggle, and I blogged about it quite a bit. Now? I feel like there’s been some movement, something’s changed. My brain is healing, for real. Chemicals and circuits are getting back in shape. And, I can honestly say that it’s been like a missile landing in my lap, this return of my motivation levels. What a relief.

My focus, my desire to work, and my ability to manage my time–it’s all back, so it seems. I can “parse” information even better than I remember I could. For example, I seem to have learned how to say “Fuck it” to my perfectionist tendency to get lost in the details when reporting, and instead, focus on the bigger picture, the gist of it. What I need to know is who to contact; what I don’t need to know is their field of expertise (that’s why I’m interviewing them), OR–and this is key–whether or not they’re going to think I’m stupid or ill-prepared. That’s none of my business, what they think of me. (And, they simply don’t think of me, is the point. When I was drinking, I was always so concerned with what others were supposedly thinking about me. Ugh.)

It really does seem that it’s happened only within the past several weeks, maybe a month or two at most–along with motivation, I find myself focusing less on the “what if’s” and trying to perfect the outcome, and more on the “why not?” and “just do it.”

I almost gave up. I was so frustrated that I was going to be “brain-dead” forever. It’s been almost 17 months since I started getting sober, so, seeing my focus and motivation needing that long to come back is DEFINITELY a deterrent to me starting to drink again (even in moderation, whatever that means).

These past few weeks, I feel new. Renewed. A version 3.0 of myself. (I was going to say 2.0, but I think at 39, I’ve already had at least one major upgrade, right?)

The point of this post is, don’t give up! It will come. As Carol said on “Walking Dead” on Sunday’s episode (because you never know where you’re going to find sober inspiration!):

How do you not feel afraid? You just fight it and fight it and fight it and then one day, you’re not afraid anymore. We all change.

Allowing myself to be happy, or, the balance between “should” and “want”

18 Oct

4:41 pm

The longer I am sober, the more I am learning–having to learn, and painfully most of the time–how to allow myself to be happy. I had a friend about ten years ago who used to tell me that I liked being in pain. That I liked not being happy. I took offense to that, as well as feigned confusion: Me? Reaaaaaallllly?

Years later, after sort of (well, OK, totally) confronting my drinking problem, I am realizing just how much truth there is to his observation. I don’t–I never fucking DID–allow myself to be happy, and I drank because of it. I did things I “should,” never things I “want.”

In fact, I had a nightmare the other night in which I was rendered unable to breathe in the midst of a “craving panic.” You know what craving panics are, I’m sure: that anxiety that must be quenched, now, right now, and if it’s not, which it won’t be and can’t be but has to be, you start to feel your insides boil, your heart clench, your throat close…and your breathing stops. You need wine, right now. Yes, it was horrible. I woke up feeling sick, and had to take a few minutes to catch my breath.

And what was I doing in said nightmare? I was sitting in a salon chair, getting my hair cut. But I hated the hair cut. And, I couldn’t tell her (who?) that I hated it. Which made me want to drink more than I ever remember wanting to drink. And, after I woke up and calmed down, I remembered something, a small thing really: when I was about 12, going into the 7th grade, I got my hair cut really short. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but it was the 80s and my “stylist,” Louise, thought my curls would look SO CUTE short. My mom wore her hair severely short, and she agreed. Me? Not so much. I sat there in silence, though, as my hair was butchered. Tears started to pinch out of my eyes, and my face went red trying to hold them back. I was crying, and my hair was gone. There was nothing I could do. We all looked at each other. “She’ll get used to it,” and “It looks SO CUTE!” I felt voiceless then, and I remember now how often I felt this way growing up.

Fast forward to now, and this voicelessness–stifling my own ideas of what I want, my expression, my creativity–remains to a certain extent. And, it was a large part–an integral part–of why I drank, I see now. Never allowing myself to do what I wanted, instead only what I should, what I thought everyone wanted me to do! I mean, I could go deep into this, but the gist of it is, as a twin, as an introvert, as a perfectionist at heart, as someone with an absentee father and fighting parents, all my efforts went into overachieving as a kid. When I got to high school, this morphed into a masochism that kept me up until 2 am every morning, joining and trying to excel at every single extracurricular activity on tap. College brought a crash-and-burn of sorts in the form of bulimia, heart palpitations, running away to France for a year. And finally, wine. Wiiiiine.

After my early 20s, when I WAS doing something I wanted, I reverted back to my old ways. Late 20s came and went, early 30s. I thought I was doing what I wanted, so why was I drinking all the time, exhausted and anxious and irritated and downright angry? My brain always hurt. I felt alone. Was it supposed to be this way? Everyone ELSE in New York was running around, overachieving, working and then, drinking until all hours, weren’t they?

I drank, that’s all I know. I drank after a long day of doing a job that both bored me and overwhelmed me. I drank all throughout a graduate degree that stressed me beyond which I thought humanly possible. I drank to be able to get the courage and extroversion to reach out to sources, to interview them. I would drink for these very reasons now, if I had my way! I notice now that most of the day, my stomach is sort of clenched, my gut apprehensive: ugh, I have to research this complicated subject matter; ugh, I have to get the balls and the thick skin to be able to pitch and then, face rejection of my pitch; ugh, I have to worry CONSTANTLY about earning enough money to pay my rent. Some of the best days are when I don’t have to think about this shit.

But yet…I LIKE IT. I need it!

See, on the other hand, I NEED this sort of achievement in my life, goals that are gotten by hard work. If it’s not hard-won, if it doesn’t hurt, it couldn’t be worth it, right? I have to achieve at least as much as my competitors, if not more, don’t I? Where is the line between doing something that you put up with in order to “grow” and “push your boundaries,” and doing something that you love and it being easy, almost too easy in the sense that you stagnate, that you never find that sense of accomplishment that comes from a hard job done well?

Sigh. It’s especially confusing now that I’ve gotten sober. I put down the wine glass only to realize that I drank to avoid this edge, this cliff, one which I can neither back away from nor jump off of. I am sitting on this cliff, scared out of my mind, knowing that I “can’t go home again” but pretty sure I can’t fly!

I know now that I drank in the face of these feelings of wanting to do something easier, more fun, more with my grain; while at the same time feeling afraid that I wouldn’t be challenging myself enough if I put down my burden–and, abandon the sense of identity that doing the hard work got me.

I’ve been this way all my life–a highly overachieving, academic-focused person. It’s served me well, and believe me, when I look at my resume and see my degrees from Ivy League schools and “impressive” roster of companies that I’ve worked for, I’m not ashamed. I’m proud, but only to a certain extent. At this point, I’ve realized that life is forgettable if you’re not doing something that makes you happy, that makes your day enjoyable. That’s all that we’re going to the grave with, is a memory of our happiness, locked into every cell in our body. Maybe that’s what gets us to the next plane.

What does being happy mean, though? Right now, to me being happy means not feeling stressed to the point that I’m going to get cancer of the second (voice) and fifth (sacral) chakras. Yet, it also means being challenged, and having the ability to write, to teach, to explain–I am good at this, and I like the process. So, how do I do this AND not let it get to me? How do I reconcile a desire to “achieve” in the sense that most of us here in the US understand–working for appraisal, and winning–and an equally strong desire to “let it go” and work to live? How, in fact, do I allow myself to be happy, no matter what I’m doing for work, or for play?

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