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Recovery Stories: Control

Love and control. Love and freedom. I’ve made a discovery in the last little while.

I am an event planner. Therefore, I am a control freak. It’s something we event planners take a peculiar kind of pride in. You see it in the flash of our eyes…the smirk that changes to an all-out-grin upon hearing that moniker. Planning events can be summed up as this: there is a vision, there is the building of that vision, there is the execution of that vision…no matter what. An event is a moving train, threatening to veer off the rails at any moment. The event planner is the conductor. If I can control the environment, all the circumstances in that environment…and take control and steer when both of those things fail me, I am successful. Unfortunately, these skills don’t translate nearly as well in life outside the venue. In my own life these days, I am trying to pry my fingers off the steering wheel. Control is overrated. At the end of the day, life will have its way with you, regardless of how hard you are trying to have it your way.

And so herein lies the theme in my fourth year of recovery (there always seems to be a theme to any given year). In fact, my word for 2019 is freedom; that one word I will be rolling around with this year. It walks hand-in-hand with control and seems to permeate all aspects of my current life. And it’s only February!

One of the hardest things I have ever done is raise my child (and I may never really be done). He is at times, chaos and living with him is complicated. Like most parents I’m sure, I feel as though I will be learning alongside him until the day I die. I often find myself blanking on lessons already learned, especially when trying to control him or his environment. And this one trips me up every time: attempting to control the consequences of his inappropriate responses to ordinary things that happen in everyday life. This past holiday season showed me once again how futile directing, avoiding or influencing one’s path in a certain set of circumstances can be. The holidays are tough. His social skills and sensory tolerances are put to the test. Even when we avoid obvious activities such as Christmas shopping and Santa at the mall, school concerts, etc., we usually hit black ice at least once. A family party – the safest and most accepting party for my son to be at – turns quickly as he reaches his limit. As a hormonal 13-year-old with autism, his angry go-to is to physically lash out at me. It happens this time with no harm done; his father is there to de-escalate and my son and I go home. We let go together.

The interesting thing is where I find myself after these icy patches…forlorn, tiredly waving the white flag. But at the same time, a lot less stressed. Deep down I know there’s not much I can do to make my son more comfortable at Christmas. It is what it is. With this surrender, space suddenly appears where it once was cramped. I can stretch a little. I can soften into the hollows. I can breathe here – slowly without effort. There is nothing I need to be doing to make this experience anything other than what it is.

I know that I ought to set myself free from my perceived codes of conduct in parenting – who says I must make a square peg fit in a round hole when it comes to me or my son? There is no doubt he will need to navigate his way through a life but perhaps there’s another path we could walk together that’s friendlier. In order to find that path, I understand I must let go of the judgement, both real and perceived. I need to let it go right then and there, as soon as I hear the snarl in my head. Trying to be or pretending to be perfect is ludicrous. Maybe I set my son free by acknowledging his lack of control; let it be what it is and suspend my judgement of him. He is not perfect either.

In my working life, the idea I have been moving towards for a while now is creating space so that I have time to pursue some of the things I have been saving for some rainy day in the future. Slowly I am doing it. My working week is no longer seven planned-out days of meetings, to-do lists and transitions between work and home. It’s also not a controlled seven-day event. I am inserting blanks where I am not task-oriented. I am inserting dreams into my Google calendar – bits and pieces so they might manifest and lead to what will become the months, years and remainder of a purposeful and joyful life. In this schedule, I make room for and live with softness. I can be curious here about what is happening, how I am feeling and what I would like to do about it. I don’t have to know everything. I can explore and I can listen. At times I hear something different under the din of the usual white noise. Control may be an effective and sure-footed way to climb your own ladder but there is the eventual realization that there must be something more.

And then there’s love. Oh love. Love and control. Love and freedom. I’ve made a discovery in the last little while. All this time of moving in and out of relationships in my adult years, feeling like I have no control over the men I am meeting or the wayward paths my relationships take, I now conclude it is only me driving this boat. I have been the one white knuckling my way into the rocks every time. Why am I doing this? Because I never learned to drive properly to start with. The movie of my life plays on the screen in my head, from womb to where I am now. My love life makes perfect sense. I know I need to heal some old wounds and create different thought-patterns around love. Perhaps in the not-too-distance future, new ideas and sharpened skills will take root in this space. And one day, I will thrive in a relationship without needing to control my wild heart…or these wild men.

I am on an airplane writing as I travel for work – a first visit to a city where our team will host our next large event. We’ll visit the hotel and walk the spaces; we’ll sit together with laptops open, brainstorming and building. We are over a year out and will have months to create something big and beautiful and life-changing. There are so many details, so many moving parts and we are a small team. We will do our very best to anticipate and control everything. But even here I know, there will be many times where letting go will be the only appropriate response…where it is what it is with nothing to be done about it. Nothing more to control, only the letting go and the sound of wings beating into the distance. And then it will happen…the quiet moment where some softness is felt and curiosity steps out from the shadows. I will remember to keep my eyes wide open here. I will listen and breathe and feel…the freedom.


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