Throughout my life, I have gone through periods where I get obsessively excited about something and it takes center stage in my life, usually hobbies or learning new skills.
I will throw myself into learning every possible thing about it. This usually follows a period of dysphoria and extreme boredom. I’ve had love affairs with pottery, refinishing furniture, cake decorating, politics, party planning, and the list goes on.
I once learned to make my own beauty products. I enjoyed it so much I started an Etsy shop to sell them. It took a while for it to get off the ground. Not only did I have to make the products, but I had to design the packaging, network with other shop owners, advertise on social media, research new and interesting trends in the market.
It became a full time job (figuratively). But I loved it and it was paying off. I was finally growing my customer base and starting to establish a real following and reputation. I had repeat customers that really liked my products and bought them over and over again.
And that’s when the inevitable happened: I got bored. It no longer provided the excitement it once did. It just became another responsibility. A chore. I closed the store one day without much notice and never reopened it, leaving my customers in the lurch.
I treated my love affair with my hobbies like so many cluster B’s treat relationships – idealize, devalue, discard. Once I master a new skill or a hobby, it’s no longer exciting to me. I’ve conquered it. It no longer captivates my interest. The feedback (supply) I get isn’t as valuable.
And then I’d be back on the prowl for a new hobby. Something I could throw myself into again.
During these off periods between hobbies, I’d feel boredom and long for something new to capture my interest, trying thing after thing. But I could never tell what it would be until the very moment I’d stumble upon something that would ignite that spark in me again.
I think the initial enthusiasm I feel for my hobbies is similar to the love-bombing we do in relationships: You’re genuinely over-the-moon excited about this new person you’ve found this rare spark with, you want to learn everything about them and be with them all the time. They captivate you. Until they don’t. And you’re genuinely sad because you had such high hopes that this one would work out long term.
Before starting recovery, I never realized that these hobbies were a source of supply. Mastering something new so quickly and effectively told me I was smart, capable, creative and superior to others who couldn’t pick things up as quickly and easily as I could. It made me feel special and unique. Sharing my hobbies with people and having them like it told me I was valuable and worthwhile and offered gratification when they gave me approval. Adding yet another skill to my list made me a more interesting person – it gave me something to impress others with at parties.
And there’s a genuine upside to it. I am good at a lot of random, interesting skills and hobbies. And that really does make me a more well-rounded, interesting person, which is pretty cool. I never know when I’ll get to use these old skills again in surprising ways.
And when this idealizing happens to align with my career – as it did for me during college and immediately after – I wildly excelled professionally. This enthusiasm translates into an intense drive to succeed, which can be a great thing. After all, some level of narcissism is healthy and required for those who become the very best at what they do.
The problem is that I would become completely self-absorbed during these times. My love affairs with hobbies left no room for anything else – namely my family which would be put on the back burner or shut out completely.
The best way I can describe my state of mind during these periods is that it is akin to anxiety. I became anxious and obsessive. My mind felt cloudy – the only thing I could see clearly was my new interest, while everything else fell into the periphery. I had trouble focusing and controlling my thoughts.
It also left me jumping from thing to thing without any stability. I felt erratic. While I’d learn a lot about a bunch of different things, I’d never really attain that “expert” status – I didn’t stick around long enough. I always wished I could find something I loved that could continuously make me happy long-term.
As I continue in my recovery I often come across something that makes me feel in an old and familiar way. When I’m feeling like the “old me” I try to stop myself and think about what I’m doing, how I’m feeling and what I think the root cause of this feeling or behavior is.
The more I learn about my disorder and my own personal motivations behind my repeat behaviors, these things become easier to recognize and deal with.
Just recently I realized I have been doing it with this very blog. Being able to recognize that early on, identify a pattern and pinpoint my motivations makes me feel like I’m making real progress. I had never put all this together until now.
And that’s a major step I don’t want to downplay. But to continue to grow, I have to learn how to actually balance my interests with the rest of my life – and enjoy something without making it the focus of my entire world or a source of supply.