Perfectionism and addiction

How My 'Type A' Personality Got Me Hooked on Painkillers


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Perfectionism and addiction

I have always had a "Type A" personality. The type that likes to knock everything off his or her to-do list no matter what it takes. In fact, you may even belong to this gift-and-a-curse personality type yourself.

Constructive words associated with Type A personalities include perfectionist, overachiever, conscientious, and extremely energetic. The flip side to this is that there are also several unfavorable behaviors associated with Type A’s such as impatience, agitation, worry, and insomnia, to name a few.

Humans have been trained by society that if they don't do everything perfectly, their lives have little to no meaning. This is not only incorrect, but extraordinarily unhealthy.

Being a Type A is much more demanding and stressful than many people realize. And when you add children to the mix, the name changes as the responsibilities become necessary and extremely personal.

Growing up, my mother would always say to me, "You go overboard, Lee. You don't know how to do anything in moderation." Mothers are almost always right, and, like most people, I didn't give credence to her observations. And again, like most people, I had to learn the hard way.

The Road to Single Motherhood

Earlier in my life, I had joined the United States Army. After my first duty station, I was given orders to go to Korea. Korea? Were they serious? I came five minutes from going AWOL but boarded the plane after a Sergeant held up the flight and talked to me for 10 minutes, convincing me to go to a country that was a 24-hour flight away. It was in Korea that I became pregnant and got married. Chris and I were married for a little over four years when, for various reasons, we ended up getting a divorce.

So, after my divorce and suddenly becoming a single mother of a four-year-old son, I felt alone, went from 123 lbs to 92 lbs in two weeks, and had to put on the traditional role of Mom. Oddly enough, it was my husband who knew how to play with my son. I had never even babysat as a teenager, so I was only used to doing the bedtime stories and anything outdoors like swimming. I couldn’t and still cannot play "pretend." In short, I was beyond heartbroken, guilt-ridden, and feeling inferior. I needed something in my life that would allow me to forget the pain. I needed to stop thinking about how I was going to afford to raise a child on my own, and most of all, to stop analyzing my entire marriage to answer the ever-present question, "What was it about me that made my husband stop loving me?"

Distracting Myself

To rid me of those thoughts, at the age of 29, I started working out. I think I chose working out instead of drinking or taking up golf because it was the only thing I could do without having to get a babysitter and start immediately after putting my son to bed. And perhaps even more importantly, I worked out to music. Music has always been a huge part of my life, and, in a way, I would live my life through song. Every song can bring out a different emotion, make you think differently about a situation, or make you smile, or allow you to give in and cry.

I began by stepping for a half hour. Within a month, however, I worked out to the "Garth Brooks Double Live" CDs and used five-pound weights to do curls with every step. I let absolutely nothing keep me from my workouts. Eventually, I walked five to seven miles a day, stopping for an hour and then, to top it off, incorporating Jillian Michael's "Maximize Back In Action" CD. At this time, my son and I lived in New Mexico.

A couple of years later, I made a huge mistake and married a man I truly hated because I was pregnant. He was abusive emotionally and mentally, such as standing over me as I cowered in the bathroom corner for three hours, demanding an answer to a question that had no importance whatsoever. However, I also knew that he was leaving two weeks after getting married, ironically to Korea, and would be gone for a year. When he returned, his abuse and what became stalking continued. He was constantly calling me, calling my work, and calling my parents. It eventually got bad enough that I sold my home, packed up a U-haul, and took my two boys with me to Tulsa, Oklahoma—a place I had never been. Other than having to leave my parents, it was the best move of our lives.

After I got out of the military, which was not a choice I wanted to make, I always worked as an executive secretary. My mother and father had worked for Edward Jones & Co. since 1986. I knew that they absolutely loved the company, so eventually, I applied to be a Branch Office Administrator in Tulsa and got the job. After three years of working and raising my children in that town, my father suggested I could get transferred with the same company back home and that he missed his grandsons. I can't lie—I was homesick. However, deciding to move back was probably the precursor of everything to come.

On Doctor's Orders

Through everything, I had never stopped working out. At one point, reaching six percent body fat of which I was extremely proud of. Then, disaster struck. My left foot started to act up until I wasn't even able to walk a mile anymore. After seeing the podiatrist, I was scheduled to have surgery in April of 2002. In April of 2002, while sitting at my desk at work, I did a retirement calculation. When I read the numbers, I literally began to cry. I realized I would never be able to retire on what I was making. I decided to apply to become a stockbroker at the same company. Within one month, I had made this dream come true while the one distraction I had from everything wrong in my life—my workout regimen—was taken away.

After having four two-inch pins inserted in my foot, I was sent home with a prescription of Hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin, Norco, Hydros, Lortab's, or simply Vic's. I should preface this because I didn't and still do not drink, had never used any other drugs before (prescription or street), and unfortunately did not know what the word "addiction" even meant.

I took my pain medication as indicated. But, there was a major issue going on at home: my "Supermom" mentality. My home was not being cleaned the way I wanted it cleaned, the laundry was not done, the floors were not getting mopped, and the baseboards were being neglected. I was immobile, however, and had no way to remedy the situation. My parents were picking up and taking my boys to school, and my mother would help a little here and there, but she worked full-time.

Then one evening, it happened. I took my one Vicodin at 11 p.m., and as always, fell asleep within 15 minutes. This time, however, 20 minutes later, I woke up. And what I felt in those first minutes would change my life for the following nine years, ultimately destroying it. I never had in my life felt such an incredible surge of energy. I had no idea what it was from; all I knew is that it was time to get up and get things done. Using my vacuum as a crutch, crawling from place to place, I cleaned my house and did all of my laundry for the next five hours straight.

Even though I never took more than was prescribed, from that night on, I would take my Hydrocodone, lie down for a 20-minute nap (something I have always been able to do without an alarm), wake up, and begin all of my Supermom duties. As usual, I pushed it to the limit one night. I had well over 25 cupboard doors in my kitchen and at least 20 drawers in my home. Within three days, I had disassembled them, repainted the inside of the cupboards, the cupboard drawers, and doors, and had it all put back together again.

Having it All

I worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day. By that time, I was taking my Vicodin 7.5's every four hours. I could help with homework, make sure the boys got to Taekwondo practice, mow the lawn, paint a room, and once we had moved to our new home with wooden flooring, I could wax the floor every night. By that time, I also had more than a handful of young men—my two children and their friends—calling me mom.

When my boys were young, I always told people that I couldn't wait for them to be teenagers. I felt that the friends that my sons brought home needed a "haven." And, that's what I always had really wanted to be the house where all the friends go. Almost all of them, at one time or another, ended up living with us. The rest would normally stay at our house most of the day. Due to my job's income, I didn't care about the expense of them being there. I cooked for them, cleaned up after them, and found time to listen as they told me about the lives they lived at their respective homes. I was the epitome of Supermom—that is until I wasn't.

The Fall of Supermom

At the age of nine, my oldest son started showing signs of being violent. At first, it wasn't directed towards people. He would kick doors, punch walls, and yell and scream at me if I asked him to do anything. By the time he was a teenager, my oldest son had choked me, tried to tip a refrigerator over on top of me, and would, with a look that would stop me dead in my tracks, tell me, "You better lock your door tonight before I come in and slit your throat." I tried a psychologist, tried having my father talk to him, even thought about sending him away to a military school. But, in the end, I blamed myself for his anger because his father had left, so I couldn't make myself kick him out as punishment.

This was when I learned that Vicodin had a second magical power. The worse my son got, the more I started taking, and I found that his violence didn't hurt me anymore. I didn't sit on the couch and cry for hours after every argument we got into. In fact, truth be told, I didn't care about him anymore (or so I thought). I had also dealt with depression. Like most addicts, I had comorbidity. I had dealt with depression since high school. It went away while I was in the Army, and it went away a couple of other times, but during this time in my life, it was alive and well. Vicodin took away my depression. I never noticed until I started to reflect on everything that took place over nine years because it didn't just take away my depression; it took away all feelings.

Eventually, the Vicodin caused me to want to be alone all the time. I could handle the boys all being at the house for about an hour, but that was it. After that, I made them leave. Sometimes, as humiliating as it was, I would even pay my own children to spend the night elsewhere.

Being a Supermom not only to my two sons but to many other young men was beneficial only for a while. Vicodin turned me from a mother who could do it all to a mother who was not even fit to raise her sons. Although I never put them in harm's way, and 80 percent of the people that knew me had no idea I was even taking pills every single day to survive and pretend I was a "normal" human being, I am the one that knows how much it damaged my children.

"Supermom Syndrome," what I call those of us who use opioids, not to get high, but to accomplish as much as humanly possible, has and is becoming more prevalent in the middle to upper-class neighborhoods. I used to picture a drug addict as a person with a needle sticking out of their arm lying in the gutter of a street when I was young. I now understand that drug addiction can happen to the most unassuming and law-abiding individuals at any time.

Somewhere along the line, humans have either been trained by society or decided for themselves that if they don't do everything perfectly, their lives would have no meaning. This is not only incorrect but extraordinarily unhealthy. We all have to find a happy medium, and it will be distinctive for every individual. For me, it's being okay with just being Mom, not Supermom. All that my addiction to Vicodin did for me was a delay for nine years, the issues I really needed to deal with in the beginning.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-891-8171 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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