Tuesday, October 30, 2012

# 21 Hungry Ghosts

    Over my career I have known, worked with and taught quite a few people who can be classified as owning addictive behaviours. I think the best place to start with the control of an addiction is to acknowledge it and so, I am here to confess that I am a recovering addict. Now, before your imagination causes your moral compass to spin south, let's develop some perspective on the problem.

    First of all, people don't like to talk about addiction, For the most part, it is a dirty little secret that many will go to great lengths to avoid. So, what is an addict? Well, in my opinion we can be addicted to anything. The key to the description is that once you start the behaviour, you can't stop. In addition, we'll continue doing it in spite of warnings from our health, personal and professional relationships etc.. Simply put, we can't control ourselves.

   I think there are really only two categories of addictions: 1) socially unacceptable and 2) socially acceptable. In the first category, you have unregulated drugs, and various degrees of social deviation.  Society is repulsed by these addictions and will go to great lengths to cover them up. For example, if a person is a street level heroin addict, and resistant to being 'cured'; they will probably be punished, shunned, possibly beaten, incarcerated, maybe killed and that's if your addicted friends don't get you first.

   However, if you have an addiction which is on the cusp of the unacceptable, but leaning into the acceptable, say, junk food, beer, tobacco, prescription drugs and a host of addictive substances, you'll get more acceptance. There will be some guilt at the end of a crooked finger, professional treatment, sympathy, and maybe some empathy.

    It's one of the socially acceptable addictions found in the education profession I want to talk about.  These addictions can do the same damage to a person, but they are ignored by society and in many instances encouraged. For example, caffeine (stimulants), aerobic activities (endorphins), shopping (retail therapy), texting (networking), and mine, work.

    I'm not here to 'out' colleagues, so I will just say, there are large numbers of people working in the education profession who are addicted to work. Teachers are usually, Type A, alpha personalities, goal driven, and often first born (I'm not a 1st born). We are driven to organize situations and the people in them, which translates into a need to be in charge of our social environment. Years ago I had a  provincial judge for a neighbour. He told me how he dreaded having a teacher on the jury. He said, "They take over everything and try to get everyone to follow them." I laughed and said "Kind of like sheep dogs eh?"

   The time within every class we teach is defined to the second by law and policy as is the time we are in the school. However, preparing to achieve the goal of teaching those classes is left up to the teacher and no one will tell you when to stop working. This is a perfect environment to nurture and sustain workaholics.

   Logistically, teaching is about reaching predetermined destinations within tight time lines so momentum plays an important role. I can't count the number of times I have gone into work with a cold or flu because I didn't want the momentum to be disrupted. I've taught entire classes with painfully damaged knees, back, eyes, and hands. Many teachers live with sleep deprivation from anxiety related to planning their next lesson, test, day, week or semester. Now that I think of it, I have spent a good portion of holidays marking essays and exams too. 

   Many teachers approach their personal lives with the same industrious attitude: coaching their kid's sports team, organizing church groups, running marathons, even planning holidays to the minute. I have known many teachers who are up at the crack of dawn to do a work out, mark papers, feed the kids, go to work early, and prepare for the day's classes. In addition, they'll belong to various committees, attend meetings after school, take work home every night and they do this five days a week, throughout the year. It's no wonder the divorce rate is noticeable in the profession, as are collapses due to exhaustion and stress.

  Work addicts rarely get criticized for their behaviour, at least not in the work environment. Most of the time people will acknowledge your 'devotion', 'dedication',  'We love all that you do!' and often 'Can you do some more please?'  Employers love the fact that you're a work junkie, because they are getting a good deal. If you get sick or die, they'll just find another one like you, and there are a lot of us out there.

   So why, addiction?  What causes it?  If you are curious, view the 15 minute video I included with Canadian Dr. Gabor Mate. He isn't a really dynamic speaker, but he makes some very insightful comments about various struggles with addictions.

    I have improved over the past few years. I try and do all my preparation and marking at the school and do my best to shut the job off once I leave the building. It is a challenge to say the least, but I feel better. However, I always have about five socially acceptable projects going on in my personal life so, I don't think I have really dealt with the addiction, just shifted it toward activities that have a greater personal return.

    Lately, I have been looking toward retirement and thinking about how to replace the fuel for my work addiction. I was thinking, if the withdrawal gets too severe I may go downtown during rush hour and herd commuters or organize shopping carts in big box store parking lots. Failing those ideas, I may just herd squirrels in the backyard. Have a productive day eh!