Addicted

Addictionad·dic·tion
[uh-dik-shuhn]

noun. The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

source: Dictionary.com

That’s a scary word.
To many people the word “addiction” brings up visions of drugs, needles, sleeping pills by the bedside, or sugar-laden foods eaten in secret. Or it might even make you think of things like coffee, smoking, shopping, or gambling. It’s all around us.

But I have a different addiction.

Last week I had surgery. This surgery required a hospital stay, which would leave me completely unplugged from the rest of the world for at least a few days. No big deal. Hey, it’s kind of like taking a short vacation…right?

No. Not even close.

I didn’t think it would be that difficult to unplug, but it was a whole lot harder than I expected. I found myself doing a lot of “checking” at the last minute – checking email, checking client sites, checking facebook and twitter, etc. I was even updating WordPress plugins literally as my husband was warming up the car to leave for the hospital. I felt panicky and unsettled. I didn’t like the thought of being disconnected. I felt like one of those people who would take their phone into the operating room if allowed. A tech junkie.

I realized I was addicted.

And frankly, it was an eye-opener for me. I admittedly spend a lot of time online, but it’s because of the work I do – at least that’s what I tell everyone, myself included. I really had no idea just how hard this unplugging thing would be.

I was in the hospital for four days after the surgery. Thankfully I was feeling crappy so I wasn’t the least bit tempted to check email, facebook, blogs, etc. And I didn’t feel bad about it – because, well, I had an excuse – so it wasn’t like I was “slacking off”. What surprised me, though, is how incredibly freeing it was.

Now almost a week post-op, I am home and back online, though on a very limited basis. I’m giving myself permission to lounge on the sofa, to sleep, to stare at the snow falling outside my window, and to refrain from doing much real work. But true to my word, I will check email once a day and respond to those that need immediate attention – even if it’s just to acknowledge the receipt of that email and communicate my availability – because I said I would. And that’s just how I am.

But my clients are also addicted to me.

Through this experience, it’s become crystal clear to me that I’ve trained people to expect me to be available at a moment’s notice. By always “being there”, by responding to email and phone calls outside of “regular business hours”, by being super-dependable, I have created a monster. Here’s an example: everyone who was in the “need to know” category (clients, etc.) knew that I would be “off the grid” for at least a week, and they knew why. Everyone understood and wished me well, urging me to take the time I needed to heal. Yet less than 48 hours after my surgery I started getting messages and emails saying “hey, hope you’re feeling better – but can you do “XYZ” for me when you get a second?”

That sucks, but it’s my own fault. And I have the power change it.

This experience helped me realize that yes, I spend way too much time online, and I allow myself to be available to others all the time, instead of caring for myself. As a result, I “shut down” in a sense. My creativity suffers, none of my efforts are very focused, and I don’t get as much done as I could. That’s when we spin our wheels ineffectively.

Does this sound at all familiar?

Do you find yourself checking email before breakfast? Scanning Facebook in the car? Do you know how many apps you have on your phone – and do you use them all – or maybe you don’t really remember where some of them came from…

I challenge you to unplug. For one day. A half a day – even a few hours if that’s all you can do. So much of our lives are spent in front of a screen – a television, computer, smartphone, etc. – and we owe itself to stop and notice the tangible things around us.

Do it. Today. Break the addiction. Share your thoughts in the comments. And if you liked this, share it with someone who would like it just as much.

photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

  • I can empathise with you Lisa, I damaged my wrist and thumb thingies in Niovember. I took an enforced break from online and I realised just how much time I spent plugged in!

    Wishing you well in your recovery. Any tips for not getting up and checking your emails before your eyes are properly open?

    • Sarah, that’s still a tricky one. I think it’s a matter of establishing a new routine, and being mindful about it. For example, instead of checking my email before I’m even out of bed, I’m getting in the habit of making a cup of tea or coffee when I get up and sitting in front of the fire for a few minutes before I get into the rest of my morning. I’ve come to realize over the past week that much of what I do in my “normal” routine is just habit – and not necessarily anything I really care all that much about. It’s all about being mindful.

      And BTW, your determination to be productive in despite of your injury is inspiring. Sometimes the world just has a way of forcing us to slow down. Hang in there – you’re doing great. 🙂

  • 1) I’m glad all went well with surgery.

    2) Like they always say, step 1 is admitting you have a problem 🙂

    3) I’m a recovering workaholic so I can say first hand that step 2 (doing something about it) is a lot harder that step 1 though. If you need any creative excuses for working, I can definitely help with that. The big problem is that I enjoy working. Like all good addictions I guess 🙂

  • I can so relate about having your clients addicted to you because you’ve trained them to expect it. Over Xmas I took a few weeks off – all my clients knew it, but I still had some expecting me to work on their stuff. The emails prefaced with ‘I know you’re on holidays but … ‘.

    That’s one thing I’m trying to change – trying to put some boundaries in of when I respond to work emails. Because really, website design & maintenance isn’t a life and death deal 🙂

    • Hi Kez – it’s so true, isn’t it? Most of us make ourselves available because we truly do love our customers and want to help, but sometimes there are other factors that we don’t even realize – like fear of losing customers, or just the need to feel needed. It’s really interesting to pick apart our motives for what we do and why we do it.

      Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation 🙂

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