ACoA and Job Burnout
Frederick A. Levy LCSW

All night long, Jim wrestled with his mattress. Pounding his pillow, his mind reverberated with the clamoring cries of desperate co-workers vying for his attention, like overly excited school children. EAch voice faded into the next, creating a tapestry of interwoven worry that pulled ever tighter around his head. Barely aware of skies lightened by dawn, he trudged to the medicine cabinet, searching for an end to his pain. Then suddenly, like a distant shot of thunder, his radio took the remainder of his sleep. For Jim, it was the start of another day.

Jim, an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACoA), was beginning to "burn out" at work. Overwhelmed by the demands of his job, increasingly exhausted, Jim felt a crushing sense of failure over his inability to cope. He had always felt able to manage any crisis; now, attempts to deal with his life just left him drained and depressed. He felt virtually paralyzed; worse, he didn't have a clue about what was really wrong. Jim struggled to make sense of his life.

Sometimes, he reflected back to his childhood, and recalled that nothing he did ever pleased "the old man." Constantly critical and drunk, his alcoholic father would curse Jim's successes and belittle his attempts to grow. His mother would try to be supportive, but nothing could protect him from the shadow that shrouded his sagging spirits. Jim longed for a way to feel good about himself.

Desperate for recognition and a sense of accomplishment, Jim started a paper route. The long hours were difficult; he wasn't sure if he could maintain the job and still keep up with school. But somehow, he found a way.

Soon, he began to enjoy the extra cash, and the status in being the first kid to own a stereo system. For the first time, Jim belonged. Hard work was the key that had opened the door to his new life.

In high school, Jim expanded his sense of enterprise. He became the neighborhood "Mr. Fixit." He even hired other kids; he would find them jobs, and in return take a cut of their earnings. Jim felt ten feet tall when he bought his first sports car with the huge stereo system. When he cranked up the volume, he could almost completely drown out the torment of his family.

Jim was driven by success. Shortly after graduation, he got a highly sought after job with a prestigious company. His supervisors loved him. He worked long hours, readily accepted any project they would give him, and never complained. He got stunning evaluations, and was promoted quickly.

But deep down, Jim felt like a fraud. Echoing still was his father's voice, cursing his accomplishments. Jim lived in dread. Feeling over his head, he constantly feared that his boss would discover his incompetence, then take him down in flames. Jim clutched his shameful secret, and worked even harder to guarantee that no chink in his armor ever showed.

Meanwhile, his responsibilities mounted. Unable to complete his assignments, he would stay without pay, then cart papers home. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, work would wake him until he resolved the problem that had captured his sleep. He began to feel like a runaway train with a jammed throttle. Then, he stopped sleeping.

And suddenly, Jim became ill. Very ill. Never had he felt so frightened and alone.

And for the first time in his life, Jim was compelled to accept the unrelenting kindness of co-workers and loved one alike, who supported him even though he wasn't moving and shaking the world. Losing some control over his ability to care for himself had forced him to allow others to care for him. And few had turned their backs.

For the first time, Jim had felt a full measure of his loneliness. His life had been an empty room. Now he was letting it fill with a family of friends.

Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved