Monday, March 15, 2010

Taking the Red Line

I am one of those Red Line people.  

You know, one of those people who waits until the red line appears on the envelope of a bill before they open it?    Then puts it in the Important Drawer until the utility company threatens fines, or to shut off something like electricity, phone or water?   Then, under threat of disruption in life, finally paying it?  With interest or fines?    That's me.

Thankfully, I no longer pay the household bills.   Under my husband's watchful eye, things like finances and taxes run like a Swiss clock around here.

I don't know where the expression "red lining it" came from - I always presumed it had to do with that red zone on speedometers - but we all know what it means.   Pushing things to the limit, taking things right up to the edge of the cliff, not over it, but almost.   

There is more to it for me, though, than simply a tendency to procrastinate.   I think on some passive-aggressive and chronically bored plane of my psyche, I feel a need to test limits.   Even over mundane, daily stuff.  I've described it as being a "chaos junkie".   Only now I no longer flirt with chaos in the form of alcohol and all the insanity of addiction.   But the urge to mess up my life a little hasn't left me.   Yet.

It is a character defect I know I need to change.   Today, instead of ticking off the usual items on my To-Do list, I spent the day tearing around in the pouring rain, going to the DMV, waiting on hold with various bureaucratic offices, trying to get some parking tickets paid.  I left it, true to form, until the very last minute.   My husband needs to renew his driver's license this week.   Like, tomorrow.     He is not happy with me about this, and I don't blame him.    It is one thing to snarl up my life with little inconvenient knots I have to unravel; it's another thing to inconvenience him. 

So as I settled in for the long wait on a bench at the cheerless DMV office, drenched and shivering from the long run across the parking lot in the rain, clutching my little paper number like my life depended on it, I did some thinking.

What is it? I thought.  Why do I do this?    Is it some quiet rebellion?   Some need I have to feel that the rules just don't apply to me?     I was briefly distracted from my reverie by the loud conversation happening between two strangers behind me.   "Those f-ers think they can just fine you for anything," said one husky voice, the gender of which was impossible to determine.     "I'm gonna give them a piece of my mind."   

I totally deserve this, I thought.   I deserve this hellish wait in this overly bright office on this hard bench in my wet clothes.   I deserve this for not just paying the freaking tickets when I got them.   

And then it hit me:  it isn't some quiet rebellion.   It isn't that I think the rules don't apply to me, like Husky Voice.  

It is that I still set myself up for failure.    I remembered carefully filing the parking ticket in the Important Drawer, making a note on the calendar to pay it, and then simply not doing it.    I stared at the deadline on the calendar as it came and went, and I did nothing.    

I'm going to change this, I thought.     This is part of not putting myself first.   This is part of not caring for myself.   This is part of that damn disease of addiction:    Self-sabotage?  Check.    Denial?  Check.   Hiding from responsibility?  Check.    Good intentions and lousy follow through?  Check.    Having a negative or disruptive impact on my life?  Check.

This is one of the gifts of recovery:  the gentle observer who can take a step back, see things for what they are, help me understand that my problems are of my own creation, most of the time.   Most importantly, though, the gentle observer can nudge me towards change, not self-hatred.  

When my number was finally called, I stood up to approach the counter, and Husky Voice said, "Go get 'em!"   

My gentle observer quietly flicked him the bird.

It is a work in progress.


  1. Ouch. This article really hit home with me. I can't think of what else to say at the moment, but thank you for sharing your insight.

  2. I procrastinate. Hugely. Something about this resonated with me. I am not sure if I do this to myself for the same reasons you wrote about, but there was something in this that gave me a small bit of relief. "Good intentions and lousy follow through" - yes, big-time.

  3. Ellie,
    I have had this conversation with myself many times..Thanks for clearing it up. I am the QUEEN of myself!
    My life is also a process...Since I am in recovery, I am enjoying the journey..Never able to do that before. So glad women like you are here!

  4. I am a varsity procrasinator - and I have never really looked at it in this light. It makes perfect sense. I have gotten better about some things because in sobriety I have to deal with the anxiety that I used to medicate with a little Chardonnay. But back in the day I once went four years without filing taxes - that shit'll keep you up at night no matter how much you drink.

  5. Oh my goodness there is so much to relate to on your blog. I know it sounds silly, but I've thought for so long that it was just me. That I was just 'untogether', but you're right, it is self sabotage on an almost subconscious level.

    Question is: How do you change these habits of a life-time? Acknowledging them is the first step I guess.

  6. I checked everything on that list. I am a huge procrastinator, but I never really looked at why I do it. The critical little voice in my head tells me it's because I'm lazy, and maybe that's a little right, but I think you are on to something to. As part of my recovery I am trying to start "acting like a grown up" which means paying bills. Of course, first I had to open the stack of bills next to the door... going all the way back to October. Now I've got them all sorted and in a spreadsheet. Next stop, actually paying some!

  7. This is so me also. Thankyou very much for writing about this and giving me some answers. It has always completely baffled me why I procastinate on deadlines like bills and such. So nice to hear that you are sorting this out for yourself. Go Ellie!

  8. It could be an adrenaline rush, beta endorphin raiser thing going on as well. Drinking used to provide those highs and now we try to get that feeling from other behaviour.