I grew up in a family of addicts. In order to escape the daily chaos, I locked myself up in my bedroom with earplugs. I would study, rehearse presentations, and obsess about building a life far away from poverty, pain, and suffering.
There was one thing I failed to understand -- I was in my own addiction. My name is Lili, and I'm a workaholic.
Merriam-Webster defines addiction as "a strong and harmful need to regularly have something or do something." I believe the human mind can become addicted to anything that yields pleasure. My addiction to work stems from the rush my accomplishments give me. The higher I climb, the farther away I am from the hopelessness that I grew up with.
There is no greater high than overcoming poverty and chaos. It makes you believe you can overcome anything. This is why children from dysfunctional homes make great entrepreneurs. We are accustomed to a life of uncertainty, limited resources, and have a pattern of overcoming obstacles.
Work Addiction Is the Only Addiction That Garners Praise Not Scorn
The problem with work addiction is that many applaud the addict instead of asking if he or she needs help. This applause is the greatest high in the world and makes the addict work harder. This can be deadly.
Over the past few years, several young people, including Pan Jie and Ananda Pradnya Paramita, have died from possible work exhaustion. I am not diagnosing complete strangers as addicts. I am merely stating that obsessive work can kill you.
Unfortunately, unlike alcohol or drug addiction, our society believes that obsessive work should be praised. Would these young women be alive today if we, as a society, talked about the dangers of work addiction? I think so.
Are You An Addict?
You are the only person who can diagnose your addiction. My personal diagnosis was easy. I spent time in Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) in search of answers to the patterns that emerged in my adult life. Despite my ability to break away from my family's fate by becoming the only one to graduate from high school, the only one to graduate from college, and the only to escape debilitating addiction, my behavior was similar to what I witnessed in my family. I drank excessively, I spent money in a reckless manner, I engaged in toxic relationships, and I couldn't find the power to stop.
I understand today that I am an addict.
How to Manage Your Addiction
I gave up alcohol for good on July 15, 2012. In the past, I've experienced long stretches of abstinence, motivated by the fact that alcohol gets in the way of my work. When I am drinking, my mind is fuzzy and my thoughts are muddled. I have low energy and become easily annoyed by minor setbacks. Putting down alcohol was a no brainer.
Work addiction, by far, is one of the most difficult addictions to manage. As I am typing this, I am high on caffeine (another addiction), eating sugar (and yet another) and staring at my clock. I wish it wasn't 10:32 p.m. I want to continue my caffeine, sugar and work buzz. I don't want it to end.
Luckily, I have the ability to shut down for the night. In my mind, I know my desire to stay awake all night and work is not a wise one. For that I am grateful. I look forward to the day that I no longer use caffeine and sugar to power me through the day. However, as Bill Wilson wrote so eloquently in 1935, it is best to strive for "spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection." Perfection is a myth.
I am in an amazing place today, but my life didn't always look like this. I have spent the past 10 years attempting to understand my condition. I understand today that addiction is a mental disease, similar to depression and anxiety. Depression brings sad thoughts. Anxiety brings worried thoughts. Addiction brings obsessive thoughts. Today, I choose to be happy, carefree, and measured. Managing addiction is simply a choice I make each and every day.
If you are reading this and think you might be an addict, you are in luck. You have a second chance. Millions of people have died from addiction. They didn't understand how to manage the disease, so the disease managed them. My mother was one of them. On Dec. 24, 1995, my mother lost her battle with alcohol addiction. She is my motivation for publicly expressing my struggles with addiction.
The more we talk about addiction, the more lives we can save.