“God*, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
*God, Goddess, the universe, or whomever your higher power may be. Many people who are atheists or agnostics find the Serenity Prayer helpful. Just finish the article and overlook the fact that it is used as a prayer if need be.
I am a semi-reformed control freak. What that means for me is that instead of biting my teen’s head off when he puts the spatula in the wrong drawer, I remember I am thankful he’s doing the dishes. And then I silently sneak it back in the right drawer when he’s not looking.
But seriously, I like working with people with control issues. I am a people with control issues. I think that helps me understand why it’s so difficult to change this particular personality quirk. As a child (and often as an adult) I felt things were out of my control. Whenever I could, I convinced myself I had more control than I really did. Parents going somewhere I didn’t like for dinner? Well, maybe if I have a big enough temper tantrum they won’t and we can go to McDonald’s. Sometimes it even worked.
The problem was that I believed I had more power than I did, that I was more important than I really was. Maybe I was even magical. Take for instance when my parents divorced, I was around ten, a Big Girl. I knew why it was happening. It was because I was told to get only A’s on my report card and I got two Cs. My father couldn’t stand to live with a daughter who would make two Cs and so he went away, or so my thinking went… All My Fault.
Yeah, that was also about the time when my perfectionism started to rear its ugly head. Control and perfectionism are related. Really, they are. But that’s a story for another day, Dearies. Stay tuned.
As I got to be a teen I became more codependent (again, related to control and another issue for another day) and learned to “give” my power away and try to control people through guilt over what I did for them. “What, you won’t lend me your car? But I just did all of your homework for you without you even asking me to and I missed dinner to do it and I loaned you $20 last week!” That didn’t give me the control I thought I would get. Teenager’s brains aren’t fully cooked yet, as you can see by my teen “logic.”
As an, ahem…more surly, late teen I realized that I could control my needs by never asking for them to be met by anyone else. If I didn’t ask no one would say no and I wouldn’t be disappointed, right? So, I lugged my belongings up four flights of stairs to move into my dorm. By myself. “No, I don’t need any help, thank you very much!” Nope, no one knew what I needed. I was completely self-sufficient. I was great company, didn’t need anyone else’s. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I ate every meal alone for the first month of my college career. Lonely. See, brain still not cooked.
After graduate school and about ten years into my career as a mental health therapist I decided I needed a change. It seemed to me that almost everyone in treatment for mental health issues also had addiction issues. I decided to study more about addiction and learned one of the most important lessons in my life (aside from, “If the boy says he’s not good enough for you he most likely isn’t.”). I volunteered to help lead a group for people struggling with addiction. These were some of the most amazing people I’ve met in my life. All of them were clean for six months to two years and were so grateful. In the meetings we said the Serenity Prayer (see opening paragraph) and I finally understood what it meant for me.
“It was as if my Higher Power had shaken me while yelling, “MECHELE, WAKE UP! THE ONLY THING YOU CAN CONTROL IS YOURSELF. YOU CAN NOT CONTROL ANYTHING ELSE AND YOUR EFFORTS TO DO SO ARE FUTILE” That really scared the shit out of me. Then I got mad at my Higher Power, who was he to tell me that I can’t control anything. I controlled nothing and the only thing in my power was me and the changes I could make to myself? And then I felt the most beautiful relief. I was no longer responsible for what happened in the world or what other people did or said! It felt as if a weight had fallen off of my shoulders and scales from my eyes. My life would be so much easier if I just focused on being the best person I could be and didn’t judge what others did (more perfectionism).
I began living my life that way. Most days were much more smooth and happy than before. Some days I forgot and regressed a bit. I’m not perfect.
Sometimes when I tell my clients, “Control is just an illusion, let it go,” they freak out and fight to stay exactly where they are. And sometimes they change and generally lead a happier life. It’s not an instant transformation and it takes work. There is a fork in your road. Which way will you choose?
Wishing you serenity and much happiness,