I understand that most people spend an average of 92 seconds reading a blog. At the risk of losing faithful readers I am publishing an article that is both embarrassing to me and also dear to my heart. I feel many of you will see both the sadness and the humor and will be able to identify with some of my former unbalanced traits. Here it is: How Much Is Too Much?
I have always been a list maker. As far back as I can remember it has been routine for me to systematize my life with layers of words shaping the next day’s activities, work, communication, reports and generally anything that has been my responsibility.
I started this habit as a child and to this day you will find from one to several lists planted around my house. Is this a compulsion? Am I neurotic? I am a Virgo, born in September, and one characteristic of this sign is the need to organize.
This practice has taken a variety of forms. In high school each plan involved school activities and was embellished with colorful drawings. I coordinated these daily arrangements in a large notebook which I carried with me from class to class. I would never cross anything off the list for I thought it ruined the artistic design but I needed the security of the pages to remind me of what I had to do. I was afraid I would forget an assignment or special activity if I didn’t write it down. With all the chaos in my life of growing up in an alcoholic home, I didn’t trust my brain to remember. I definitely was becoming dependent on my catalogue of personal business.
By the time I entered college in the 1960’s I had created a “mini daily notebook,” 3 ½” by 5”, filled with several colored insert pages depicting all the categories of my world, i.e. friends, classes, stuff to do, addresses, phone numbers, supplies, wish list, tomorrow, next week, next month. A few of my classmates thought I was nuts and played a trick on me. They stole the “precious planner.” I went crazy! The adrenalin was pumping; I was furious with these girls. It felt like I had lost my purpose, I wasn’t aware that this habitual recording of tasks was such an intrinsic part of my being. It was embarrassing. I decided to pretend it didn’t matter and said nothing. Instead, I created another one, this time bigger and better and under lock and key.
As my life became more complicated in my late 20’s, this habit escalated to an addiction. Several times each day I needed to check my lists, which by now had become a detailed card catalogue. I used 5 by 7 index cards, color-coded by type of activity. If the card became too messy with lines drawn through completed tasks, I would copy what was “left to do” on another card, starting a whole new list. The wooden box which held my “memory” was too bulky to carry with me so I would take only the cards I needed for the day. Sometimes in the middle of the afternoon I would check these descriptive details just to be sure I hadn’t forgotten something. At the time it didn’t matter to me that this was obsessive-compulsive behavior because I was totally dependent on my “paper brain” and couldn’t function without it. Besides, I kept my “index madness” secret and therefore didn’t need to discuss it with anyone. This was one of the many ways I tried to gain control over my life.
When I became involved with Joey, my ex-husband of 12 years, my sickness of codependency gushed out of control. I attempted to organize the man, his daily activities and his personal affairs. I was convinced he would fall apart if I didn’t. I began recording for two. I have an incredible story to share with you that will illustrate how warped my thinking had become.
Joey’s mother was quite ill and he hadn’t visited her in Boston for a few years. I had only briefly met his parents before we moved to California. I knew how much he missed his family and how important it was for him to take the trip back east. We had several garage sales with goods and pottery to pay for his ticket. For weeks I scoured sales at department stores buying clothes so that he would have the proper attire. I purchased a suitcase as large as a trunk for the one week journey. Then I proceeded to list the items that I was planning to pack for him with instructions on “what to wear with what.” This meant spreading out the articles all over the apartment and methodically counting and coordinating each item. The process took many hours and days of concentrated work.
Please, promise me you will read all these original lists carefully, as tedious as they might be, for I want you to see the excessiveness of my codependency and the need I had to control another person’s life. I discovered theses sheets of paper hidden in my dresser years after I had begun recovery. I am sure Joey never read the lists. Who, in their right mind, would ever read something like this, let alone use it? It is not understandable. This may be one of the most unbalanced acts of my addictive personality. IT IS ABSOLUTELY INSANE.
PANTS: (Dress and Casual) 1. Camel Angel Flights 2. Navy Angel Flights 3. Gray Angel Flights 4. Blue Jeans 5. Gray Drawstrings 6. Navy Drawstrings 7. Rust Drawstrings 8. Gray Herringbone 9. Taupe and Gray Tweed 10.Gray-Black-White Specks Total = 10 pairs of pants
SHIRTS: (Dress, Pullover and Casual) A. Black Dress Shirt B. Camel & Black Checked Dress Shirt C. Black & White Checked Dress Shirt D. Cranberry Pullover with Two Buttons E. Void F. Nik-Nik Horse Scene Gray G. Blue, White, Mauve & Brown Cowboy H. Plaid Navy with Stand Up Collar I. Brown, Gray & White with Stand Up Collar J. Gray Silky Dress Shirt K. Dark Brown with Camel & Rust Collar L. Black Rust & Gray with Stand Up Collar M. White Errol Flynn O. Brown & White Shirt Blouse N. Navy, Red Picture Shirt P. White Over Blouse with Lace Q. Blue & White Striped R. S. T. U. V. Crossed Out W. Camel & Brown Dress Shirt X. White on White Dress Shirt Total = 21 shirts
SWEATERS: T1 – Navy Blue Solid Pullover T2 – Camel & Rust Short Sleeve T3 – Powder Blue with White & Navy Stripe T4 – Black Knit T5 – Wine Knit with Long Sleeves T6 – Camel & Gray Knit T7 – Navy Blue with Knit Shoulders T8 – Gray with Blue & Red Stripes Total = Eight sweater
UNDERWEAR: Nine-Bikinis Six-White One-Turquoise Total = 16 pairs of underwear
T-SHIRTS: (Three for daytime, Six for sleeping) Daytime Teal Blue – Orange, Beige & White Striped Sleeping Blue with Red at Neck (Hole, the collar) – Powder Blue Orange & Orange – Face Shirt – Dark Navy – Yellow Total = Nine t-shirts
SOCKS: 5 Gray (for Gray Shoes) 6 Brown (for Brown Shoes) 5 Camel (Beige, for Brown Shoes) 6 Navy (for Brown Shoes) 2 Wine (for Brown Shoes) 3 Rust (for Rust Shoes) Total = 27 pair of socks
JACKETS: O – Velvet # – Plaid ^ – Leather Coat * – Blue Gray Wind Breaker Total = Four jackets
SHOES: AA – Gray Loafers BB – Brown Leather CC – Rust Patent Leather DD – Macramé EE – Slippers FF – Thongs Total = Six pairs of shoes
VESTS: Z – One Burlap Total = one vest
TIES: I – Tree (Camel & Beige) II – Beige Knotty III – Cranberry and Beige IV – Black and Brown Striped V – Dark Blue Knotty Total = five ties
SHORTS: MM – Rust ^^ – Cranberry Total = two pairs of shorts
BELTS: 00 – Dark Brown ** – Black (( – Tan Total = three belts
BATHING SUIT: One Multi-Colored Bathing Suit Total = one bathing suit
BODY SUIT: One Black Body Suit Total = one body suit
SCARVES: One White Scarf Total = one scarf
DRUGSTORE AND COSMETICS ITEMS: 1. Bar of Soap 2. Revlon Face Soap 3. Shampoo 4. Razor 5. Razor Blades 6. Comb 7. Brush 8. Nose Scissors (Found in Red Sewing Kit) 9. Electric Razor 10. Hair Dryer 11. RNA Face Cream 11. Musk oil 12. Cologne (After Shave) 13. Eye Wash (Drops) 14. Nail Clippers 15. Scotch Tape 16. Toothbrush 17. Toothpaste 18. Deodorant 19. Hand Lotion (Two Bottles) 20. Aspirin 21. Small Dental Floss 22. Suntan Oil 23. Sponges to Clean Luggage 24. Film 25. Camera 26. Shoe Polish (Two Bottles) 27. Rags 28. Shoe Horn 29. Herb-Lax Total = 29 items
QUICK CHECK LIST FOR CARRY ON SHOULDER BAG: 1. Umbrella 2. Large Black Notebook 3. Passport 4. Small Notebook 5. Long Folder for Cards etc.) 6. Book, Living Sober 7. Kleenex 8. Sunglasses (Two pairs) 9. Magazines (Two) 10. Books (Two) 11. Small Leather Bag Total = 14 items
SMALL LEATHER BAG FOR INSIDE CARRY ON SHOULDER BAG: a) Travelers Checks b) Wallet c) Address Book d) Cigarettes e) Matches f) Comb g) Pen h) Green Round Comb Total = Eight items
HINTS: 1. Match the socks with the shoe first, but if you can’t, match the pants. (Unless the code says differently.) 2. Wear the three t-shirts (teal blue, purple and orange-rust) with the gray and rust drawstring. Also, with the rust and purple shorts. Vary all bright colors (interchange.) 3. There are six t-shirts for sleeping . . . . See list. 4. Match the belts with the shoes: Black with gray shoes, Brown with brown shoes, Brown with rust shoes, with the crochet shoes match the belt with the pants or wear brown. 5. I forgot to list the two navy sweaters (powder blue with stripes and gray with blue.) Wear these two with blue jeans or navy angel flights. 6. EXTRA plastic bags are for dirty laundry. 7. Use rust patent shoes with camel and rust if you need a change from brown shoes.
- FOLLOW THE DETAILED CODE PRECISELY LISTED IN FIVE SEPARATE COLUMNS FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE
As I read over these lists today I am filled with a sense of pity for my former self. This speaks volumes to how I spent my time obsessing over my alcoholic man. I thank God for my recovery. An example of my good health is the form of list making I do today. I have one list for myself. When I am ready to pack I check off necessities using the same list each time. Only after years of use, when it is tattered, do I make a new one. I consider this to be practical, not neurotic. As for my husband Bryan and my teenage daughter, they do their own packing.
Recently I took a trip East and packed the whole suitcase without looking at the list. When I arrived I discovered I had forgotten my favorite blow dryer comb. Did I freak? No. I considered it an opportunity to be inventive and create a new hairdo. It worked. I do believe planning saves time and organizational tools such as I Phones and Blackberrys are helpful but I most enjoy a small tablet listing daily chores. This is no longer obsessive, just a reminder of “what’s up” in my busy world. What about you?