Recovery Balancing Act: Maintaining An Even Keel Between Work And Life
If it seems as though many days are a tough struggle just to get through, and you’re in early recovery, the good news is that you are not alone. Many other newcomers to sobriety are feeling the same. But that doesn’t help you much when you have to figure out a way to not only keep your focus and efforts on your recovery efforts, but also go to work and try to have some semblance of normality in your home life.
Enter the dilemma of how to keep your balance in recovery. That is, how to maintain an even keel between work and life. Yes, there are some suggestions that others have tried and found effective. Maybe some of these will work for you as well. They are certainly worth testing out to see if you find them helpful, right?
Reorder Your Priorities
Where many people get seriously off-track is when they allow work to consume their lives to the point where nothing else has a chance to grab their attention. While it may seem a bit out there to make this statement, consider how many times in just the past week you may have been so focused on what’s going on at work that you missed out on an important family event, came home late or missed dinner with the family, weren’t available to spend time with your spouse, loved one or children, and didn’t even take the time to do anything other than tend to work-related duties.
If you answer honestly that it’s happened more than once or twice, you may be veering toward an imbalance between work and the other equally important parts of your life, especially recovery.
Leaning too much to one side of anything is never a good thing. It doesn’t really matter if you are on a tightrope or a balancing bar or standing at the edge of a precipice. Even in conversations with another, if you are totally one-sided in your comments, what chance is there for normal discourse? In short, when something in life is off-kilter, as in spending an inordinate time working at the expense of everything else, you need to recognize what you are doing and take some immediate steps to change your behavior.
Step one is to reorder your priorities. In order to do this, of course, you have to take some time to think about what is really important to you. Is it making more money? If so, why do you need more money? Maybe the priority is to make enough so that you are better able to take care of yourself and your family. Just that simple shift in priorities may help you better align the out-of-balance between work and life.
Let’s say that you come to the conclusion that your family is your number one priority. Realizing this, you should be able to allocate a little more time each day to paying attention to your loved ones and family members, to making sure that you are home for the evening meal and that you carve out time that is solely devoted to interacting with them – and not checking or sending emails or texts, taking or making cell phone calls, working on reports and take-home projects.
There is nothing wrong with being conscientious about work. But being conscientious does not mean becoming obsessed. Strive for a better understanding of your priorities and then you can make adjustments in your behavior so that work and life fall more into balance.
Time Is Something You Never Get Back
Don’t we all sometimes act as if we have plenty of time to do the things we want? We put off what is seemingly important to us, such as attending our child’s baseball game or taking the family on a recreational or leisure outing, going on vacation, even spending time with the family engaged in board games or gardening. We tell ourselves that there’s always next week, or that there are plenty of games left in the season, or that our spouse or loved one is taking care of being with the kids.
What we’re failing to recognize is that time is slipping away from us, time that we will never, ever be able to recapture.
When parents of newborn babies are tired and exhausted from tending to the incessant needs of their infants, it’s tough to believe that life will ever be any different than this. It takes years for parents to realize the words their parents and others said to them about these years being so precious – and so short.
It’s like that for all of us in recovery, too, when we’re so caught up in troubles or issues or our lopsided focus on one thing over another. We don’t realize that the time we have is right now. There never will be a better time to do what is important to us. There never will be the opportunity to snatch back the time that we’ve lost because we were too busy doing something else.
Another important point about time is that what we think is so demanding of our energy and effort right now will be relatively unimportant a week or a month or a year from now. Looking at it another way, think about what so consumed you six months ago. Can you even recall what it was? You may not remember, but your loved ones and family members can probably pinpoint the day that you never came home because you were crashing on some critical work project, or were so stressed that you went on a bender to obliterate everything and wound up crashing the car.
Maybe the consequences weren’t so dire, but the point is that time is precious. If you do anything significant about trying to regain a sense of balance between work and life, do this: make every moment count. Don’t waste it.
A somewhat bittersweet fable retold here may help put this into perspective.
A man came home late from work, tired and irritated, to find his 5-year-old son waiting for him at the door.
SON: “Daddy, may I ask you a question?”
DAD: “Yeah, sure, what is it?” replied the man.
SON: “Daddy, how much money do you make an hour?”
DAD: “That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?” the man said angrily.
SON: “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?”
DAD: “If you must know, I make $50 an hour.”
SON: “Oh,” the little boy replied, with his head down.
SON: “Daddy, may I please borrow $25?”
The father was furious. “If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I don’t work hard everyday for such childish frivolities.”
The little boy went quietly to his room and shut the door.
The father sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?
After about an hour or so, the father had calmed down and started to think. Maybe there was something his son really needed to buy with that $25 and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The father went to the door of his son’s room and opened it.
DAD: “Are you asleep, son?”
SON: “No, Daddy, I’m awake.”
DAD: “I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier. It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the $25 you asked for.”
The little boy sat straight up, smiling. “Oh, thank you, Daddy.” Then, he reached under his pillow and pulled out some crumpled-up bills.
Upon seeing that the boy already had money, the father started to get angry again.
DAD: “Why do you want more money if you already have some?”
SON: “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do. Daddy, I have $50 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you.”
Crushed, the father wrapped his arms around his son and begged for his forgiveness.
The morale of this fable is clear: Use time wisely. Don’t let it slip through your fingers.
Share the Load – Lighten the Burden
If things are getting to be too much for you at work, maybe it’s time to ask for help. Now, it is true that most of us are reluctant to ask for assistance, deeming that somehow an admission that we don’t have what it takes, or being afraid that our boss will think we’re inefficient or lazy.
But the opposite is actually true. When we have too much on our plate, and there are work priorities that must be met, a productive employee will have the good sense to go to the boss, state the facts of the situation, and ask for some additional assistance. This may take the form of an extension on the work project deadline or the assignment of other personnel or departments to pitch in and help complete the project. The boss, far from thinking that we’re trying to get out of something, is likely to be at least somewhat impressed that we’re searching for a realistic and reasonable solution to ensure that the work is done on time.
Sharing the load means lightening the burden. This makes it more likely that a) the work will get done, b) that you won’t be overworked and overstressed, c) that the work/life balance will have a better chance of being maintained.
Since it isn’t every day that you’ll need extra help, don’t be afraid to ask for it on the few times when you do need it. Also, be willing to pitch in to help your fellow workmates when called upon. It’s called giving back and it is an excellent way to keep things on an even keel at work for everyone.
Are You Irreplaceable?
This is a belief that many people have about their place or position at work. From stock boy to chief executive, the fact of the matter is that if you were to drop dead today, someone else would be available to fill your job at work tomorrow or the near future.
Looking at work fixation this way, does it maybe come to mind that you aren’t as irreplaceable as you think you are?
There is an area where you are irreplaceable, however, and that is your family. What do you think would be the impact on them if you suddenly died? Could it be that you might want to shuffle things around a bit in your daily schedule so that you take that all-important and much-needed time to be with your family?
If you were gone, how would they get by? How much emotional damage would your death have on them? How long would it be before they felt whole and safe again?
Go home tonight and give your spouse and children as much affection as you can. Let them know how much they mean to you and commit to being there for them and with them as often as possible. Work will still be there tomorrow, but it won’t love you back like your family will.
Too Much Work Makes You Counterproductive
Putting every hour you can into work and work-related projects can be counterproductive. You might think that by working longer and harder you’re being as productive as you can, but that’s a falsehood that many buy into.
The harder you work doesn’t mean that you’re any more efficient. In fact, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll become so fatigued and overworked that you’ll begin to take shortcuts, to miss important points or make mistakes in certain decisions and actions. The result may turn out to be entirely different than you anticipated or intended – all because you kept pushing yourself beyond the point of reasonableness.
Make use of some time-management training to allow you to spend your time more productively – and less frenetically – at work.
Remember that there is balance that is needed while you are at work, just as there needs to be balance at home and in other parts of your life. You cannot always be working or thinking about work. That is exhausting and results in diminished productivity, let alone motivation or enthusiasm.
Make Time for Leisure and Play
Reaching a nice balance between work and life also means that you should make time to have a good time away from work. Whether you get involved in a hobby at home in the basement or garage or take up a recreational activity with the family or with friends, or enjoy a pastime such as reading or watching movies, the point is that you need to smooth out the boundaries of work and other responsibilities with a little me-time.
The old nursery rhyme says, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Keep this in mind and allocate some amount of time each day for de-stressing and unwinding with leisure or play activities.
Balancing Work and Recovery Needs
While the previous suggestions didn’t specifically call out recovery-oriented needs, they are as much a part of your everyday life as going to work, eating and sleeping and spending time with the family and friends. In order to continue to make progress in recovery, one part of your life cannot be out of balance with the rest. This includes making sure that you tend to your recovery needs each and every day.
Common sense dictates that you get adequate rest each night, that you eat healthy, exercise regularly, watch your stress levels and practice coping mechanisms to deal with tensions and pressures that might otherwise jeopardize your hard-won sobriety. Going to 12-step meetings and working on the Twelve Steps with your sponsor are integral parts of your recovery-oriented work. These absolutely must take precedence if you are to continue healing and making progress in recovery.
Bottom line: Recovery is very much a balancing act, learning how to maintain an even keel between work and life. The truth is that you are perfectly capable of learning how to do this, and to do it well. All it takes, like everything else in recovery, is determination and practice and the belief that you will succeed.