The Illusion of Control

I used to know the mail delivery schedule well enough to know when I needed to leave work to get home for mail carrier dropped the mail in our box.

I used to know the date our credit card statement closed each month, what day it would be sent, and how many days it would take to arrive at our house.

This may not be odd information to have. Probably many people are so well-organized and structured they have this type of knowledge and recollection handy. Here’s the thing: I’m not one of those people. I am not well-organized and structured. I am repeatedly surprised by the monthly arrival of numerous bills (Didn’t we just pay that one a few weeks ago?).

The only reason I knew about the credit card bill and its arrival in the mail is because I was hiding those purchases from my spouse. I did not want her to see how I was spending money (that we didn’t have).

The funny-not-funny element in all of this is that I thought this was a sign of how much control I had over my life. I mean, if I put that much effort into hiding what I was doing, I must have it all together, right? It couldn’t mean I was spiraling out of control, could it?

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My life in addiction was not only marked by an inability to stay sober. It was also marked by the outrageously arrogant belief that I had everything under control. Unfortunately, too many things worked out in my favor to bolster that belief. I got away with it. I could cover my tracks. I could hide what I was doing. I never missed work.

But every day (Every. Day.) I had the thought that I was worthless, useless, weak, and awful. I had momentary thoughts of wanting to stop or at least recognizing that what I was doing was not good. Yet each of those momentary thoughts could be quickly washed away and drowned out.

The illusion of control allowed me to continue doing whatever it was I wanted to do. The illusion allowed me to believe that I was in charge. The illusion allowed me to close my eyes to the reality of what I was doing to myself and my family.

And here’s the thing: I don’t think you have to be an addict to fall victim to this illusion. How many of us are controlled by our desires yet think it really isn’t such a big deal? That extra trip to the buffet line, that impulse item you buy on Amazon, that movie that you know shows stuff you really shouldn’t see, that juicy piece of gossip you can hide behind a “prayer request” or “I thought you should know.”

Most of us have encountered multiple instances in our lives when we can polish ourselves up enough and escape consequences often enough that we think our lives are moving along just fine.

After all, if we are putting that much effort into it, we must have it all together, right? It couldn’t mean we are spiraling out of control, could it?

It’s not normal to follow the mail carrier’s schedule. It’s not normal to pass out every night and come to every morning. It’s not normal to eat to the point of heartburn and bloating every meal. It’s not normal to pay interest on impulse items just because we have to get them now.

All those things may be our routine; that does not make them normal. They are all indicators of the illusion of control.

So stop. Take a breath. Step back. Ask what is controlling whom? Ask if you can truly step away. Recognize what you are hiding and reflect on why you think it needs to be hidden.

And give up the illusion. It will be an important step in moving into a life of freedom.

Letting Go Of The Leash

Have you ever walked a big, energetic dog? The kind that seemingly has the strength to pull an 18-wheeler? Only you are the one holding on to the leash and the dog is pulling you all over the place. When you are done, it would be factually correct to say you took the dog for a walk. But honestly, who was in control?

Image result for dog pulling man free clip art

So many times in our lives, we find ourselves going about our daily routines and rituals thinking we are calling all the shots. But work schedules, and kids’ after school activities, and parents’ getting sick, and scraping together enough money to pay that bill come along and we are just being along behind the large dog that we can barely keep up with.

It’s exhausting when something else is in control. And let’s face it: we make our decisions, we make our choices, and we know there are consequences. I knew when my kids said at the beginning of the school year they wanted to be involved in choir, theater, service clubs, athletics, youth group activities, debate, and still be in the top 10% of their class that we were going to be exhausted all school year long.

So what’s the point?

Be they good or bad, we often make choices to participate in activities that carry certain repercussions. We often make choices that lead to something pulling us along the way.

I made a decision one day thinking I would be in total control. I would be fine. I could handle it (this particular thought developed into “I can stop at any time”).

It is not challenging for me to admit that my life is at times spinning out of control. The question I have to ask is if I am going to do anything about it. I know when I am in over my head. I know when I am too busy. I know when I am spiraling out of control. Today, that usually means I drink another cup of coffee and keep on going. Not so long ago, that meant I kept drinking something else.

But even then, I knew. I knew I was not in control. I knew the consequences of my decisions were leading me around like a big, active dog pulling me by the leash. So I was faced with a choice: I needed to decide if I was going to let go of the leash or not.

I held on to that leash for a long time. I knew I needed to let go. I just didn’t want to. But finally, I did. Finally, I realized I didn’t want to be pulled along by something else.

So I came to my senses and let go.

Grabbing Me By The Hand

I could not move. I was just standing there.  I was frozen. Bob grabbed my hand. He walked with me into the room. He sat with me.

I could not move.

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The time I remember my powerlessness being so manifested physically was the first time I went an AA meeting after my last relapse. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I felt I had let many people down.

I showed up at the meeting, but could not walk through the door into the meeting room. Instead, I went to the kitchen next door. My sponsor, Bob, arrived and saw me there. He asked me what was wrong. I told him.

And then he reached out his hand, grabbed mine, and we walked into the room together.

I honestly do not believe I would have made into that room on my own. I do not think I would have been able to speak up and admit what I had done.

I was powerless. Powerless to move. Powerless to speak. Powerless to confess that I needed help in my life.

And Bob showed up. Bob listened. Bob grabbed me by the hand and walked with me, sat with me. And he continued to show up, listen, talk, and sit with me.

I hate admitting I am powerless. But on that day, my powerlessness led me to rely fully on someone else.

And for that I am eternally grateful.

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People often ask me how they can help people in their churches who are in the early stages of recovery. I think Bob provides the greatest example: listen, show compassion, be present.

I remember sideways glances. I remember people shying away from talking to me because they didn’t know what to say. I remember people just flat-out giving up on me. But I want to stress this: there is no magic statement you need to speak to somebody. You are not going to cure them with your words. But your presence might make a difference.

Show up. Sit in silence. Or make small talk. When the person in pain decides to open up, be ready to hear what they have to say. Don’t offer solutions. Don’t feel like it is necessary to make suggestions. Listen. Maybe grab them by the hand and walk with them to a meeting.

As I reflect back on the morning a number of years ago, I only remember one thing Bob said to me. As I opened up about my relapse and what all had occurred, I told him I would understand if he no longer wanted to be my sponsor. Instead, he said, “I want to see you get better. And I want to be a part of that.”

I know Bob told me other things that morning. But that is what I remember. Especially since he showed that to be true by his actions in the following months.

Be present. Listen. Walk alongside.

I may be powerless, but you can give me strength.

Powerless, Not Helpless

I need to be able to fix things. There is this desire (most likely driven by ego) to be able to state I am self-sufficient enough that I can do all things. I would rather not have to rely on other people. I’m sure you have heard the joke: I want the members of my last group project to the be the pallbearers at my funeral; that way, they can let me down one more time.

I just want to be able to do it all, at all times, in any manner necessary, with varying degrees of success. Is that really so much to ask?

I am powerless.

Those are three difficult words to say. That is an admission I do not want to make. There are too many implications in that phrase that I do not think I am ready to deal with.

I might need to rely on somebody else. I might need to invite someone into the deepest, darkest places of my life. I may need to admit that I actually do know how weak I am. I may need to take off my mask and acknowledge that I have just been putting on a show.

That is not who I want you to see when you look at me. I want you to see Michael Jordan in his prime; Stephen King churning out bestsellers; Lin-Manuel Miranda creating another masterpiece. I want you to see success. I want you to see strength. I want you to see perfection.

I want you to see me as powerful.

I want you to think I have my life together.

I want you to think as highly of myself as I do.

Only, I don’t really think that highly of myself. When I put on that show, it is much more for my benefit than for anyone else’s. I think I have always known that I am powerless. I just never wanted to say it out loud. I mean, let’s face it, there is quite a wake of destruction in my path. I can see the evidence of how my lack of power nearly destroyed those I love; nearly destroyed me.

I am powerless. I am not helpless. I can’t do this on my own. But when others pour into me (and I don’t resist them), I find the strength to survive each day.

I may never look as great as I want to. But that’s okay. That’s not me. I’m powerless today. Thank God.

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From dust you came, to dust you will return.

You were powerless to bring yourself into the world; you are powerless to the fact that you will one day leave this world. It is the human experience to be born; to experience death. We make choices along the way. We make decisions every day. But our power is limited. It is good when we can remember that.

40 Day Invitation

Over the next 40 days, I will be sharing one post per day sharing reflections from my journey in recovery. I would be honored if you would join me!

My hope is to share thoughts, struggles, successes from my own experience in sobriety. I will be sprinkling in some stories from others and a few meaningful quotes here and there. My desire would be that everyone reading will be able to recognize their own journey in some way; additionally, maybe we can all understand people who are fighting for sobriety a little more, as well.

My schedule of posts will follow loosely the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is not intended to sell anyone on the 12 step process or to indicate this is the only way to achieve freedom from addictions, it is simply the best way I know how to communicate my story.

This series of posts corresponds with the Christian calendar time of Lent. Although this will not specifically be a Lenten series, it will be part of my practice over the next six weeks of daily writing and sharing. Whether or not you participate in this practice, I hope my reflections will resonate with you in some way.

For my readers who do participate in Lent by staying off social media for the next six weeks, I would like to encourage you to subscribe to my blog so that you can receive each day’s post in your email inbox. If you are a WordPress user, you can click on the Follow link.

As we go through the next 6 weeks, please let me know what you think: your reactions, thoughts, questions, challenges. Please share with anyone you feel may benefit. I appreciate all who take time to read this blog. Thank you for letting me share life with you.