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Recovering work-life balance

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PrideFallen posted 1/26/2014 10:25 AM

Thereís a thread ongoing right now in the general forum about workaholism and its contribution to infidelity. I didnít feel comfortable posting in that thread, but I read some of the work from the late Dr. Barbara Killinger that was referenced in the thread, and wow did it ever hit home.

For those interested, Iím specifically referring to this blog:

There are so many aspects of what she writes that apply to me that itís hard to know what to quote, but this one really struck me:

Projection of blame and even dissociation may give these self-serving individuals license to be unfaithful, to go elsewhere to feed their sagging egos.

Followed closely by this one:
Couple grandiose plans, together with the arrogant belief that they are above the law and accepted societal rules and regulations, and you have the components that can lead to unethical and immoral behavior.

Thereís a lot more to read and process on just the blog, and BW has reserved Dr. Killingerís book at the local library. As I told her when we were discussing the general forum thread last night, Iím not even quite sure what I feel about it yet.

This reminds me of one other quote that hit home:

Ask these stressed out individuals how they feel, and they will tell you what they think.

This is perfectly in line with some recent work Iíve done in IC where my counselor has told me, a bit sharply which is exactly what I needed, to quit telling him what I think and tell him what I feel.

Sorry if this is wandering a bit, but as I start to process all of this Iím wondering what others have found about recovering their work-life balance. As an alcoholic you can stop drinking (and yes, that simple statement belies the challenge of actually doing it); alas, my work-focused life wasnít THAT successful such that I can stop working.

I have made a lot of progress in this area but I think itís one that Iíll have to keep a close eye on. One challenge is that my work is - and I of course think I'm being objective - important, compelling, and satisfying. (I just caught myself thinking back to the thread on the general forum and comparing myself smugly to scubachickís H, and thinking ďmy work is much more important than boatsĒ. Aaaaargh! Breaking the patterns is hard.)

Dr. Killinger offers this:

"What is the difference between a hard worker and a workaholic?" is a frequently asked question. A hard worker who is emotionally present for all family members, co-workers and friends, and who manages to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal responsibility is not a workaholic.

I guess Iíll keep focusing on being emotionally present. Easy to say, and actually it hasnít been THAT hard to do lately. Am I jinxing myself? Unfortunately it does just seem to be something Iíll have to keep always present and be vigilant against sliding down the slope.

UnexpectedSong posted 1/26/2014 11:07 AM

To summarize: are you saying you are a workaholic?

PrideFallen posted 1/26/2014 11:56 AM

I'm cautious about "diagnosing" myself, but basically yes. It's interesting how much editing, debating with myself, and hesitating I've done over that single sentence. That in itself probably speaks volumes.

UnexpectedSong posted 1/26/2014 12:07 PM

Ok. Let's say, while you do not have a diagnosis, your behavior is probably consistent with that of a workaholic.

What are you escaping from at home?

lostmylight55 posted 1/26/2014 12:20 PM

I have been following the thread in General as well with my BW and we both can identify very much with what is being said.

Thanks for posting the blog link. I've just started reading it and this first part caught my eye.

Some Controller-type workaholics display their wealth by buying big houses, fancy cars, frequenting prestigious clubs, and sending their children to exclusive schools. Other more cautious conservative Pleaser-types preserve their carefully crafted ďhumbleĒ persona by refraining from outward displays of wealth. Their ordinary cars, casual but studied dress belie the importance they attach to power. They secretly want others to feel sorry for them because of their long hours and dedication, but not to be envious of their accomplishments. Approval and acceptance by others are very important to Pleasers. They save for a rainy day, and carefully oversee how other family members should spend, and on what.

This really resonates with me. I didn't want expensive things or the latest gadgets. We lead a very modest lifestyle. I worked a full time job, part time job and also took on additional contract jobs because I just couldn't bring myself to refuse work when offered. We had more than enough money to live extremely comfortably but I refused to spend money Ė basically like a hoarder of cash. I didn't feel safe unless I had it. I wanted people to think I was hard done-by Ė to portray myself as a victim or martyr. Never taking holidays unless forced and still checking into work while waiting for my time off to finish. And when I say holidays, I never went anywhere, I stayed home and worked. I was so cheap it was maddening for my BW who wasn't a big spender herself. Shortly after we lived together I once gave her grief for wanting to buy a new dish sponge and my attitude never really improved.

I worked hard but not smart. It was dumb because all the money coming in was putting me in a higher tax bracket and my BW's investments/savings were being used to pay for my excessive taxes. It's so frustrating looking back at it all now.

I see things very differently these days. I quit my full time job, stopped taking on every contract job that was offered, actually turning work down. And now, we take regular holidays and I try not to worry about not having enough money.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm all good with my workaholism because I still struggle with the fear/twitch of working. I have to really check myself to make sure I don't jump at every job that comes my way. I get anxiety when thinking of taking on work because I know how I used to treat the work and obsess over it and am a bit concerned that I can easily fall back into old ways. Kind of like a recovering alcoholic going to a party knowing there will be drinking and is afraid of how they will react.

What are you escaping from at home?

I was escaping feelings of inadequacy and the work gave me a sense of competence that I didn't feel within. It was an external validation that I couldn't give myself. I do not put blame on my M but I do acknowledge that my FOO had a major impact on my development, or lack of, because my parents focus was always around money. You're not anything unless you have money. I was always trying to gain my parents approval so they saw me as successful. They always thought of me as the little boy that was poor and not doing as well as my siblings Ė mainly because they didn't understand that I wasn't a doctor or a lawyer. Those were jobs with status and money to them and if you didn't have status and wealth, you were nobody.

PrideFallen posted 1/26/2014 12:47 PM

What are you escaping from at home?

I was slow to reply in part because I didn't look at it that way (which doesn't at all mean that it isn't a good way to look at it). I believed that the cycle of work stress ramped up somewhat independently, and that I didn't handle it well because of other issues. Gross oversimplification of those issues by way of summary - fear of intimacy and fear of conflict kept me from having a true partnership with my wife. Add to this a cocky self-centeredness and fear of emotions, and I was quite a delight. (Fear, fear, fear.)

Considering your question, I'm having the realization that work didn't just spontaneously get busier. I chose to throw myself into it, and of course work was happy to oblige by providing ever more to do.

I have to answer honestly that I don't yet know exactly what I was escaping from. If you held a gun to my head for a quick answer, I'd say as we had kids and life started to be more family focused, I ran from the greater intimacy and depth of real emotions at home. I will continue to examine that, though.

Thank you for the question.

lostmylight55 posted 1/26/2014 12:49 PM

Another point about how bad I was with work.

I had taken in so much work that I couldn't even do all the work on my own so I had my BW helping me, A LOT. She never got any recognition for the work she did, I got it all. I stopped being grateful for her help and instead, I expected it. When she wasn't able to do the work quick enough to my expectations or wasn't feeling well enough to do the work, I was annoyed and irritated with her. I reduced my BW to an employee.

A very sad state.

The sad part was that my BW was looking at it as way for us to connect because it was all we had. We didn't have kids so there was nothing else to focus on.

[This message edited by lostmylight55 at 12:53 PM, January 26th (Sunday)]

PrideFallen posted 1/26/2014 13:03 PM

lostmylight - I didn't need gadgets or fancy cars, either. There are some FOO issues for me as well; I was quite poor growing up and made a vow to myself that my children would live comfortably. And they are, financially. If given a vote they might have opted for a smaller house but a dad who didn't rush them through the little time each evening he had with them, in order to get back to his precious work.

I'm happy to hear that you've been able to make progress. I haven't left the company where I work, but I did change roles and divisions. It's been liberating, but like you I still feel the pull. I worked for an hour yesterday at home, and felt out of sorts about it the rest of the day. There's a deadline coming up and it's hard to know where the line gets crossed between working hard, and being a workaholic. Dr. Killinger's definition about remaining emotionally available and being present at home is useful, I think.

ETA: Ouch re: turning BW into an employee. My BW also fought against my work-centered life but in my conflict avoiding way I deflected and ignored as much as possible. Until the A and the issues couldn't be avoided any longer.

[This message edited by PrideFallen at 1:09 PM, January 26th (Sunday)]

DixieD posted 1/26/2014 14:17 PM

ETA: Ouch re: turning BW into an employee.

Re being regarded as an employee: I was very angry about that, but many years previously I was a workaholic so I understand what it is all about, where it originated and why I used it as a coping mechanism. And during that time I considered (and treated) my husband as my employee. We've had a dysfunctional relationship that revolved around work for a long time.

PrideFallen, it's great that you are looking into all of this stuff. Keep up the good work.

PrideFallen posted 1/26/2014 16:23 PM

Thanks DixieD!

It may sound foolishly naive but I'm still marveling at the realization that I actually did seek out more and more work. I didn't just "get busier" and become a workaholic as an unhealthy response. I actively made it happen. I made a long series of choices that resulted in my turning away from my family toward work. Then when it finally became too much I acted out with an A instead of trying to find a real solution. Ugh.

Kyrie posted 1/26/2014 18:38 PM

[This message edited by Kyrie at 9:57 AM, January 27th (Monday)]

UnexpectedSong posted 1/26/2014 19:35 PM

I made a long series of choices that resulted in my turning away from my family toward work.

So how do you plan to be more emotionally present at home, as you stated in your original post?

PrideFallen posted 1/27/2014 08:20 AM

The first step was just having the realization that I hadn't been emotionally present. I started actually talking to my BW. As this was immediately post-DDay these were painful conversations, but taking the step brought me closer to her emotionally.

As a result of this different focus, I was already backing off of my work hours pretty significantly. The next major step was to change roles within the company, largely to get away from OW but also to take away some of my duties and allow me to get more in balance.

Now it's just the ongoing slog of making progress in IC, opening up to feelings, restoring empathy. Every small step of feeling compassion, realizing that there is a story behind someone's actions, understanding their emotions - these are victories.

BW won't let me disengage emotionally from her and I don't want to. Having now seen glimpses of what our marriage can be if we're truly connected, I have absolutely no desire to go back to the emotionless wasteland of the work hamster wheel.

With the kids, I've been gentler, spending more time with them, being more understanding and compassionate. BW remarked yesterday that there was more of an easy lightness to me, which made me feel fantastic.

I'm not declaring overall victory by any means. I'm feeling the pull right now because I'm posting here instead of attacking my to do list. The list will still be there in a few minutes, though.

lostmylight55 posted 1/27/2014 18:22 PM

Sounds like you are doing some good work and digging into some of your issues. You are not that far out and will probably be faced with a lot more ugliness of your behaviors and realizations that your actions caused things to happen rather than them just happening. Try not to turn away from the hard facts, you have to feel them. Examining the darker parts of yourself will lead you to other things to look into.

I learned a lot about how I was a passive-aggressive, narcissistic, conflict avoider with very low self-esteem and poor boundaries Ė to name a few. On top of my work addiction, I came to realize I was also a porn/SA addict (which my BW was completely unaware of for our entire relationship), and was addicted to binge eating fast food.

It was overwhelming at first for me to realize that I wasn't this great guy I always thought I was. I don't shy away from the labels now. I try to look at them as a starting point to dig deeper rather than an excuse for my behavior.

For me, I know I hit rock bottom with my addictions because during my A prior to D'Day, I couldn't even project myself having a positive future. I was very arrogant but for some reason all I could see for myself was living alone in a dark, bleak basement apartment with dripping pipes. It wasn't for any financial reason, but that's what kept flashing through my head as my future at the time. I knew I wasn't headed to a happy place.

After D'Day, I made a conscious effort to do the opposite of what I was doing in the past. I should say that I still was lying and TT'd a lot after D'Day to protect myself (the image of myself to myself and my BW). But for other things, as strange as it may seem, because I knew I screwed up so badly, I would think to myself what would I have used to do in a situation like this and did the opposite (the Costanza theory). It was a start.

Best of luck with your journey.

Tesseract posted 1/27/2014 19:00 PM

I've been chewing over this thread since I read over it this morning, wondering if the label of workaholic applies to my behavior. Worth noting is that I initially scoffed at the idea, which has become a flag to me that I need to examine the issue a bit deeper. I scoffed because I immediately rationalized it to myself that I hate work (well, school at the moment) and would rather be spending my time elsewhere, but the work had to get done.

It's the outlook of a martyr at best, and it would frustrate me when my wife and family wouldn't acknowledge what I was giving up by spending so much time wrapped up in my books. Granted, it does require a great deal of work, but I was hiding in it an, like the author said, not emotionally available.

I've been wondering why getting things done is so important to me. Why so often when I'm doing something that doesn't involve having my nose buried in statutes and cases I'm cataloging what I need to do when I get back to it and what I have to do to get back to it. To the point where I'm more comfortable with the anxiety of it than without. It sometimes takes conscious effort to anchor myself to the current situation I'm in or I just operate on auto-pilot. My auto-pilot is kind of an asshole. I owe my wife and kids and immense debt of gratitude for making that present somewhere I love to be.

Back to the why of it; I've realized that this is probably yet another upbringing thing. It's truly shocking to me how many of those there are. My dad only ever cared about his job and work. He's always defined himself by that status at the expense of his relationships. My mother is a workhorse, but was constantly worried about money and imparted a lot of that fear onto us, despite pulling down six figures comfortably.

Then, I was always labeled as the brainy sibling and cousin. The bookworm, the nerd, the scholastic Heracles of the family. I beat adults at Scrabble, I was hyper-competitive at silly trivia games in the car. At family gatherings when cousins and siblings tried to get me to play basketball or football I'd complain about them never wanting to play chess with me. I ended up defining myself by my scholastic superiority. It was my niche, I suppose, my signifier of success.

And it still has been, and that is a major problem for me. I would rather just be myself. Be a good husband and father. Succeed at work not to prove a point to the universe at large, but to make them proud of me and so I can better take care of them.

It's been a hard slog to bring even a bit of balance to that. Harder on them than me, since I've fought for my addiction and hurt them badly because of it. Like some of the others have said, looking for status and validation outside of myself is part of the reason I ended up here, dragging my family through broken glass in my wake.

I've noticed that I feel immensely better (and more capable!) when there's balance to my work. It's something I'll continue to seek out.

PrideFallen posted 1/27/2014 20:33 PM

Lostmylight - thanks for sharing your experience and insight. It sounds like you might have been a little bit more in touch with the reality you were facing, and knew even during the A that you were going down a bad path. I was always looking forward to a future in which I'd reached the mountaintop, had financial security, and could bow off the stage. It was a nice vision but I was absolutely miserable while I pursued it.

As you say, revelations keep coming. I remarked to BW today in an email that I was contentedly happy several times over the past couple days (don't worry, I'm not getting complacent with it and expecting that all is well at this stage) and I had the awful realization that I hadn't felt that simple happiness in a long time. I had plenty of moments of adrenaline or excitement, but I'm really hard pressed to remember a time in the past few years when I was just simply happy. I did that to myself, and also to my family who had to live with a horrible grouch.

I like the Costanza rule; I may have to start applying it.

One of the greatest ironies is that I'm actually more effective at work, too. I didn't set out with that as a goal but it's another side effect.

PrideFallen posted 1/27/2014 20:41 PM

Tesseract, I'm proof that you can hate what you're doing and still be addicted to it. Or rather, that you hate what your life has become as a result but can't stop doing what got you there.

We came at it from different original angles but I think we ended up in a similar spot. I also have spent a lot of time trying to prove a point to the universe at large, and to the "spoiled, snobbish" kids I grew up with.

Perhaps some of them were spoiled, and a few of them were snobs, but the vast majority were just - normal. They didn't reach out to me because I was too busy playing the outcast to reach out to them.

And wow, have I ever showed them. Here I am, trying to figure out my life after betraying my wife and family.

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