Thirty years is a long time for an empathic introvert to work in the field of addiction and mental health and in an environment of constantly expanding bureaucracy. Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful to have served. I learned a lot. Parts of it, I even miss. About 20%. But that job took a lot out of me.
A couple weeks ago, I was driving down the street near my old office. The same street I used to drive Monday through Friday. The same street I drove to get home at 9pm on Thursday nights – my late night when I did my group. I liked doing groups, but the paperwork had increased to overwhelming proportions. I often prayed for deliverance as I drove home in those last years when I was a single mom, especially on Thursday nights. Deliverance came in January of 2017 when the love of my life made it possible for me to “retire.” It felt more like an escape to freedom after years of captivity.
I don’t go to that side of town much anymore. It had been months since I’d driven down that street. As I approached the turn to my old office, I felt tension in my gut. How many years had I just sucked it up with deep breaths? Then, I passed by the turn and felt relief, gratitude, and defiance wash over me as I realized, I don’t have to go there anymore.
Could it be that I’m still coming out of survival mode? When I started my career in the 80s, I was eager and excited to help. After about twenty years, when the bureaucracy mushroomed, survival mode and being a single mom, kept me there for another ten years. I think I’m starting to come out of denial, starting to realize how burnt out I was.
I used to think burnt out people didn’t care. But I still cared the whole time I worked at that job. Maybe I cared too much sometimes. I still care now. But I’ve learned to care about myself, too.
Maybe burn out isn’t so much about not caring as running on empty.
I’m still drawn to articles and memes about self-care. I’m protective (sometimes defiantly) of my time and space. I’m learning to say no to things that drain me like committee meetings and anything with a hint of bureaucracy or supervision, so I can say yes to what energizes me like helping first graders read, painting community murals, and organizing books at the mission thrift store. Now, I have time to say yes to the creative work that nurtures me.
Maybe this is what it’s like to be an assertive person with a healthy sense of self worth.
Do I harbor resentment? Perhaps. In time, I hope to let it go. Wouldn’t it be nice if resentment just faded away? That would be easier than letting it go. But right now I’m still feeling the need to protect myself.
I’m still putting back what was lost.