10 years removed from that time I became addicted in college
Stars strobe like fireflies around the driver’s seat. Glowing glyphs of letters and numbers glitch and streak across the dashboard.
Have I taken that (in)famous blue pill, the newest seer to the world of the Matrix? No, the subtle rattles of the engine tell me I’m in the same red Ford I have used each semester of college.
Too bad my eyes can’t make sense of the minutes serving as milestones to uncharted depths of euphoria.
My fall semester of senior year didn’t start that way. I’d enrolled in 12 credit hours of coursework and managed my two part-time jobs.
If anything, my planner — if I had used one — would have spoken of a tale of greater margin than any previous season of my university experience. Except I’d never used a planner. Never kept a calendar. Life was manageable just through the internal time my mind kept.
But the white rabbit was creeping in the shadows.
Eardrums beat to the beep of the morning’s alarm. The digital lines say 9:30, just enough time to get to my 10 a.m. board meeting.
I hop out of bed, grabbing my newly-unpackaged Motorola smartphone to glance at client emails and the afternoon’s meetings.
Forty-four hours. That’s how long it’s been since I have last heard the familiar sound that wakes me from sleep.
Too bad I will not experience it again until 4:30 tomorrow morning.
Problems in Public Relations. A four-word phrase for any senior communication student. There was quite the variety thrown around the comm building of my university. Scriptwriting. Advertising Campaigns. Each three credit hours fooled any naïve student from thinking it just another class.
There was a reason those words were spoken in hushed tones in public. They were full-time jobs masquerading as three-credit-hour classes. Bless the heart of that poor student naïve enough to think the horror stories myth, fable or otherwise.
Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who participated in these capstone projects would tell you it was the most grueling, most satisfying four-to-eight months of their lives. I regularly structure workflows and speak into organizational matters directly from my mentored experience.
It was theories and textbooks made flesh. It was the inauguration of our careers. The labor pains of giving life to ambitions in the workplace.
It just was also the inception of my addiction.
“I’m having withdrawals,” a recent graduate laments to me and my peers. “I can’t decide if my decision to go back for a masters is me or my adrenaline talking.”
We chuckle, thinking hyperbole of her lament. I look back and see she was one of the lucky ones who so quickly acknowledged her addiction.
She called out the anxiety of the Wonderland’s hare and took a step back to normalcy. I had forgotten I’d ever climbed through that hole to begin with.
It’s hard to remember a time before smartphones, before iCals and Zoom invites and Google reminders that you’re going to be late. But that was my world 10 years ago.
Ten years ago was the last time I tasted relaxation without the need to detox a week before gaining an appetite for its joys. Ten years ago was the last time I can remember not being addicted to doing — the sense of being alive that came from the constant trickle of underlying stress from deadlines and project goals and full itineraries.
Hindsight reveals to me that the week that led to my drunken-like state from sleep deprivation may have been my first foray into all-nighters, but it wasn’t the last time my body would crave and consume its needed fix.
Sure, I’m no longer this guy.
I’m no longer working 30 hours each week plus managing creative writing, French, photography and our client needs around the communication audit. My resume is now one of husband, dad-to-be, community development educator and cultural intelligence facilitator. My hobbies keep up with the latest in the Star Wars galaxy and Marvel Cinematic Universe, some virtual game nights with the guys and the routine of home keeping, running and being.
None is bad. Calendars are not a direct correlation to addiction. They are also signs of trying to steward well the responsibilities and realities of adulting. But the lie I started to believe 10 years ago is that I can manage it all. And my body now lives on the hype.
John Mark Comer writes in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, that margin is the difference between our load and our limits. That night I drove home while my brain was so fatigued it couldn’t keep up with my eye movements to make sense of what they were seeing — I was introduced to new blocks of time that I had never tried before: longer days, later nights. New limits.
I still find it easy to see a space in my Google calendar as an invitation to be filled in instead of a grace to exhale.
Seasons expand and contract loads. I would be foolish to think life will be unchanged when our son enters the world. But I am equally foolish to think it vital to keep up with all that I am doing now when he does arrive.
The reality is, I can’t. Sure, I can stay up until 3:30 two consecutive nights, down some Mountain Dew, get a pass from our professor with rights to stay on university property past open hours, stay up until I welcome the first morning class the next day and not drive home until 4:30 the next morning. Life happens. But I shouldn’t expect it normal to do that all the time.
Yet I “feel bad” when I don’t, because I unknowingly became addicted to my limits.
So, I add three shows to my watch list as I near the end of that one show I binged and said would be the last show I watch for awhile. I suffer from FOMO scrolling through feeds of lives in Chicago while living in Atlanta. I read like every book is due back at the library. And I stack far more projects on my day off than reasonably can be completed in the 24-hour day that’s not new — just been in existence since the earth began revolving around our star.
Maybe you resonate with this, maybe you don’t. It might not be limits and stress, but we all have our fix. We all have our first times. And no matter where we are in this journey, we are invited to a party where we can mutually acknowledge to one another that we can’t help it. Consider this your invitation to join that conversation.
The road to recovery ironically is admitting we have limits. We’re human. “We’re all mad here.”