control is not a heart word

I love plants. I love planting them, seeing them grow, bloom, flower and develop. I also kill them. My chosen methods are: overwatering, over-trimming, too much vitamin, replanting when they aren’t ready. And don’t all of these sound like love? After all, I want the plants to have nourishment and grow well, don’t I? Turns out, too much of any such “love” can be deadly. And, you guessed it, not just for plants.

One of the symptoms that any OCD sufferers can pass around as extreme care and helpfulness is the need to control. Uncertainty just kills us inside and therefore the compulsion is to control. Everything. Letting things be is a foreign land that does not seem attractive to us, we do not want to go there, we do not want to hear of it or hear stories about it.

I could not bear the uncertainty that I lived in with my birth family so I continuously tried to be everywhere and oversee everything: my grandma did not pick up the phone – I hopped on the bus and ran to her door, my brothers were missing – I went looking for them, day and night, my parents were fighting – I wrote letters explaining I will run away from home if they don’t stop or detailing how it was my fault and how I will be better, completely certain that this will fix everything.

I could not fathom the idea of being abandoned by friends, my boyfriend or colleagues so I twisted myself into any pretzel shape to fit in with what they deemed acceptable, controlling myself, my ideas, my instincts, my urges, my words, always going after people I had fought with to make sure the uncertainty of a break up cannot catch up with me.

Parenting was probably the cruelest game the universe started playing with me. There is absolutely nothing, NOTHING, certain when it comes to our children because, as appalling as this may be, they are not extensions of ourselves, they are their own individual selves. I remember when my son was little I could not let anything just be. There were the endless doctor visits, countless hours in front of the computer trying to find the meaning of something he was or was not doing, something he was or was not eating, ways in which he was or was not moving. To simply tell myself that que sera, sera, was just equivalent to pushing myself off a cliff.

I work hard. HARD. And as luck would have it, for the ones working around me or with me, I never think it is hard enough. I have recently spoken to each member of my team, only to realize something I had felt in actions long ago: in my wish to protect I had over-sheltered, in my wish to be extra-helpful, I had harmed.

I am digging deep these days to understand what is happening. And I have to confess that what I am finding brings me shame and its something that is hard to deal with. It would be so PRy to say about myself that I am just this person who is so helpful, always a saviour and always ready to jump when someone says help. But the truth of the matter, the whispers of that small voice I have vouched to listen to tell me, that all of this is still my complete inability to tolerate uncertainty. Any failure throws me in a vortex of such despair that I can’t even bear the thought of it. Perfection is still my dance and, in all of the work I have done with myself over the past decades, I have peeled only the outside layers of the onion: the middle, probably the stinkiest and hottest part of it, is still there, untouched, disguised as a quality that fools me into thinking I am helpful.

Tough parenting talk this week with my partner. No surprise – I am a control freak, trying to continuously arrange reactions in our family triangle, anticipate effects, offering solutions that work for me. When you hear it from the person you love the most, who is speaking to you from the heart, looking into your eyes and trying hard not to go away from the discussion with such a pigheaded person, “my love, you have to allow me to screw up as a parent as well.” When those words are filled with such grief at the inability to go past your constant barricades of control, something snaps. At least something snapped in me. It was like in that moment I stepped outside of myself and watched the two of us talking – she, trying to lovingly give me one last warning and me, continuing to look for ways to control, to disguise that control into coaching, questions, suggestions and all of these discussion wannabes that hide my disease. From outside of myself, in that instant, I saw what I was doing and I just made myself be silent. There was no more to be said. She was right – trust means letting go of the reigns every now and again. There is no recipe for how life must be lived and I sure as hell don’t have any: what kind of relevant scenarios would I build anyway?

“I am beginning to unlearn what I used to believe about control and love. Now I think that maybe control is not love. I think that control might actually be the opposite of love, because control leaves no room for trust—and maybe love without trust is not love at all. I am beginning to play with the idea that love is trusting that other people Feel, Know, and Imagine, too. Maybe love is respecting what your people feel, trusting that they know, and believing that they have their own unseen order for their lives pressing through their own skin.
Maybe my role with the people I love is not imagining the truest, most beautiful life for them and then pushing them toward it. Maybe I’m just supposed to ask what they feel and know and imagine. And then, no matter how different their unseen order is from mine, ask what I can do to support their vision.
Trusting people is terrifying. Maybe if love is not a little scary and out of our control, then it is not love at all.
It is wild to let others be wild.”

― Glennon Doyle, Untamed

I feel I have gone half way – I realize my problem. The rest of the way is completely uphill and, knowing my way of digging out of holes I put myself into I will probably go two steps up, fall three down, have to rest four days before I take another step. I am going to write it, in spite of my shaking hands: there is no guarantee I will ever get out of the hole. All I can say is that today I am noticing it and what seems to be at the other side of it is starting to feel like freedom. I can only hope that the smell of the latter, that one of a summer morning after a night rain, will propell me into taking more steps up and not looking down.

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