I’m a recovering control freak (I like to think of it as “control enthusiast”) and a grateful Al-Anon. After spending 2014 in introspection, meditating and reading self-help books in an effort to learn more about myself and develop a motto for my life, I was inspired to “embrace uncertainty.” As it turned out, my Higher Power had a sense of humor, because I didn’t even know Step 1 yet! Within a few weeks, I found myself in the rooms of Al-Anon, where I learned Step 1, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Admitting powerlessness meant embracing uncertainty and giving up the control I thought I had. I soon learned that thinking I could control other people and situations was a delusion.
I was still in full “control freak” mode when I found Al-Anon. On the lighter side, I exerted control by forcing my family to have “family time” to make sure we had fun together. On the darker side, I often cancelled dinners and events at the last minute so I could rush home, thinking somehow my presence would keep my loved one from using. But in both cases, my effort to control the situation was futile and the outcome was negative. My family grew to resent “family time,” and my loved one still found ways to use. Finally, I experienced the insanity that goes along with doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome each time. This insanity led me to Al-Anon and kept me there.
As I continued to attend Al-Anon meetings, I discovered that control comes in many forms, and I am particularly good at two of them. The first is exerting control by trying to gather all the answers so I can be prepared for anything that might happen. The May 29 reading in Courage to Change, an Al-Anon daily reader, addresses this:
Most of our fears will never come to pass, and if they do, foreknowledge probably won’t make us any better prepared. But as we grow in faith, self-esteem, and trust in our Higher Power, we become capable of doing for ourselves what our anticipations could never achieve—taking appropriate action in any situation.
Now, instead of asking every question I can think of to gather every tidbit of information possible, I am learning to ask a few basic questions, then my place trust in my Higher Power.
The second way I excel at exerting control is through intellectualizing. I avoided having faith and placing trust in my Higher Power by analyzing everything. The October 11 reading in Courage to Change addresses this:
“… I began to analyze everything: Was Al-Anon a philosophy or a philosophical system? What would be the logical outcome of believing in a power greater than myself? And just when was the alcoholic going to have a spiritual awakening? These questions and others like them kept my mind busy but did not help me to get better…. When I stopped trying to analyze and explain everything and started living the principles, actually using them in my everyday situations, the Al-Anon program suddenly made sense—and I started to change.”
Not long after I read that, I had an epiphany—by continually analyzing and questioning every thought, every decision, and every insight about Al-Anon and my Higher Power, I was making my life much more difficult than it needed to be. The entry continues:
“Does analyzing my situation provide any useful insights, or is it an attempt to control the uncontrollable? Am I taking inventory or avoiding work that needs to be done by keeping my mind occupied? I have heard that knowledge is power. But sometimes my thirst for knowledge can be an attempt to exercise power where I am powerless. Instead, I can take the First Step.”
I realized that was exactly what I did – I analyzed and intellectualized everything in an effort to control my surroundings, including the lives of other people. I knew what was best for everyone, and I made sure people knew what I thought they should do. Al-Anon has taught me to “let go and let God.” As I practice this, I am getting better at letting go of trying to control everything, and my family is grateful that I have stopped forcing them to have fun.
By working my own program, I came full circle. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the life motto I distilled at the end of 2014 through my introspection and self-study, “embrace uncertainty,” embodies my recovery. The decades I spent trying to control myself, other people, and every situation have helped me understand that I have control over very little. I can only control myself; I am responsible for how I respond to people and situations, and I have choices about how I spend my time. I have discovered that the best thing I can do for myself is to admit I am powerless, turn my will and life over to the care of my Higher Power, and embrace uncertainty.
Courage to Change, Al-Anon daily reader
When Your Past Is Hurting Your Present, Sue Augustine
Codependent No More, Melody Beattie
The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, Martha Beck
When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, David Hawkins
The Control Freak, Les Parrott III, Ph.D.