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A Diary from a Livelyhood Staffer on Her 12-Step Adventure

Just call me Kelly (drop the last name) Workaholic. That’s how the Los Angeles chapter of Workaholic Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program, inducted me into the group that meets weekly in the attic of a Santa Monica health food store. For all you virgin twelve steppers, it’s how everyone gets greeted at the meetings. You begin by introducing yourself, but only first names, and then everyone else repeats back in sync your name and attaches that ugly ‘w’ word. Then you’re supposed to share – confessional style –with complete strangers about your addiction, workaholism. But not for too long, because your buddy sitting next to you is holding you to a stopwatch, so no one overindulges in their stuff, riffing on and on about multi-tasking and losing it when their voicemail box is full.

And how did I end up in the company of a handful of neurotics defeated by the endless workday in probably the psychoanalysis capital of the world? I was on assignment, undercover for Livelyhood, to find out just how desperate Americans are feeling from overwork. One silent rule I learned is any identity markers, job titles or company names, are left out in all sobering tales. So instead, one man described his crusade to rid the world of advertising billboards for high tech companies that promote anywhere, anytime connectivity to cell phones, pagers and other wireless devices, because, in his words, "they enable the addiction." Another woman confessed a new habit she picked up from all the overwork: keeping quite a collection of Martha Stewart style simplify-your-life books everywhere--even in her bathroom.

Then, suddenly, I felt all their twelve-stepping eyes on me. I was the only one who hadn’t shared. Through a long pause, I thought to myself, "So what if I’m a multiple jobholder and a graduate student who gets about four hours of sleep every night and is chained to my cell phone. I wasn’t going to 12-step for personal reasons; I was on a fact-finding work mission." But before I knew it I was divulging to the group my innermost fears of dropping dead from a premature heart attack before I even turned 30, and holding back the tears as I also told them of my reoccurring dream in which a killer file cabinet chases me to a gruesome death. Really. But just when I got started, the stopwatch that the guy next to me monitored signaled the limit to my sharing. I guess speed is the name of the game after all, even when you are in recovery.

Kelly Whalen is a segment producer for the Livelyhood series and a student at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. You can write her at kellyw@uclink4.berkeley.edu.

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