The following is an excerpt from the minutes recorded at a recent support group meeting that I attended with the hopes of overcoming a very real addiction in my life—volunteering. I urge you to continue reading, as it appears that this is much more of an epidemic for most than I had realized.
Group Leader: “I want to welcome you all here this evening. What a great turnout! While I recognize most of the group, I do see one or two new faces. Could you kindly introduce yourself and talk a bit about what has brought you here tonight and how you think we can help you?”
I felt the warm stares of the 20 or so people in attendance. I nervously gazed amongst this eclectic mix of real powerhouses—beautifully dressed executives who radiated confidence seated alongside some earth mamas who were giving the term “go green” a whole new meaning. There were even some funky student types and a couple of foxy mid-life gentlemen who probably thought they were at an eHarmony dating club.
The diversity was very interesting, but I was immediately drawn to the women twitching nervously in the front row, the multi-tasking veterans who really wanted to be there but obviously had a zillion other things they should be doing at that very moment—the PTO mothers.
My Turn: “Uh, hi everyone, my name is Cheryl, and I am a junkie—a volunteer junkie. I’ve been clean for a couple of hours now, but that’s because I turned my cell phone off in order to attend this meeting. For me, it all started with the simple joy of baking two dozen teddy bear cupcakes. The immediate high I felt after I delivered them to my daughter’s nursery school is how I got hooked, and nearly 13 year’s later, I’ve totally lost control.
Group Leader: “Go on, dear, tell us more.”
My Turn: “You see, soon after the cupcake incident, I began fantasizing about living the charmed life of a “room mother” so I made sure I was easily accessible to attain that honor. Once I fulfilled that 5 times over, it was only natural that I start attending each and every PTO and other school meeting that came down the pike.”
Group Response: “Ooh, we’ve all been there and done that, keep going—its obvious there is more you’re not telling us.”
My Turn: “The rush I received from attending those PTO meetings prompted me to shoot up with the really good stuff–becoming a member of the board. With only five children at the time, this was totally doable and there was plenty of time leftover to continue helping at bake sales, rallying to “save the bay” and support every magazine, candle and car wash fundraiser that came my way.
Group Leader: “What else, c’mon, you are amongst friends here.”
My Turn: “Um, yes, well it’s not just my eight children’s school’s I’m involved in, uh, there’s another place, too.
Group Leader: “It’s OK, Cheryl….we know this is difficult, but just say it aloud and let the healing begin.”
My Turn: “CHURCH” “There, I said it” I’m neck deep in doing the Lord’s work and that’s a high that I just can’t stay away from.”
Group Leader: “Is that everything, Cheryl? No Girl Scouts, nursing homes, or affiliations with saving the whales or baby seals in Alaska?”
My Turn: “Well, there are all those causes such as collecting for Juvenile Diabetes, the American Cancer Society etc., and during election time I do jump on board and make phone calls for my candidates.” “Other than that, no, there’s just the ripple effect from having served on committees in the past which somehow follow me everywhere I go.”
Group Leader: “Cheryl, when did you realize you were totally addicted?”
My Turn: “Honestly, for the first ten years, I didn’t notice anything different. I signed up for anything and everything because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to. Each new duty introduced me to new experiences, friends and feelings of being useful that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But now my children are getting older. I have four teenagers who need to be driven all over God’s green earth and this has added an extra few hours to each day.
Group Leader: “Ah, teenagers—say no more!” “So tell us, how are your extra-curricular affairs affecting your family—are they supportive, resentful, or jealous?”
My Turn: “It really got bad this past spring. My laptop and I were inseparable and I hid in any closet or crevice I could find so that my kids and husband wouldn’t know I was at it again.” “Then, my 6-year old son sprained his ankle from hurdling the piles of laundry I had let go and now there are rumors circulating that the leftovers in our fridge are spending more quality time together than my husband and I have had in the past year.” “Do you think there’s hope for me?”
Group Leader: “Cheryl, thank you so much for sharing and being so brutally honest about your addiction. There are many that can relate and the key to your one-step recovery program is quite simple. It’s ok to say “no” from time to time. You will not be judged in a bad light, only you have the power to do that to yourself.”
There I had it. By saying “no” to a few obligations, I was really saying “yes” to myself and my family. As I said my good-byes to my new group of confidantes, a paper was quickly handed to me. Would I kindly be in charge of organizing the refreshments and location for the next group meeting?
With only a smidgeon of hesitation, I locked eyes with the others and said “I’m sorry, I just can’t commit to that right now.”
Group Leader: “Let’s give up a round of applause for Cheryl, folks. She’s going to be just fine.”
Copyright 2009 Cheryl Butler