Like any addiction, addiction to control is a bitch to recover from.
It’s hard enough to imagine surviving without doing the stuff we’ve always believed was absolutely necessary.
It’s even harder without models to guide us. How do you practice alternatives to controlling if you’re not even sure how they look?
To help with that, we’re introducing The Practice Corner. It will be an occasional series of true (but cleverly disguised) stories told by readers working actively to free themselves from compulsive controlling.
The Corner is divided into three sections: I. Tales of Surrender, II. Tales of Responsibility, and III. Tales of Intimacy. (If you’re not sure what we mean by those words, you’ll find an explanation here.)
We hope you find these stories helpful.
Feel free to respond here, if you like. I’m sure their authors would appreciate that.
And we’d love to have you contribute your own.
Because nobody recovers alone.
~ Steve & Bert
* * *
I. TALES OF SURRENDER
I’m a teacher, and it’s our first day back, and there’s a blue envelope in my mailbox. I know what it is. We each get one. It contains a sort of report card, an evaluation of my teaching last year, boiled down to a rating number I never really understand. Each year I watch my colleagues take their envelopes and scurry off to their classrooms to open them in private, emerging with lips pressed together and a sort of scared grayness in their faces. It’s what I’ve always done too. Great way to start off the school year.
Beside me a colleague murmurs, “Open yours yet?”
“No,” I say, “and I’m not going to.”
“No,” I say. “Why ruin the first day?”
I take the envelope to my classroom and store it in a desk drawer. I’ll read it eventually. But I’m serious about teaching. I spent the whole summer thinking about last year. I know what I want to do differently, and what I want to do better. I’m serious about teaching, and I don’t need a blue envelope to scare me into more seriousness.
I feel oddly liberated.
I remember what A.S. Neil wrote in Summerhill: “The absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.” Not such a bad thing for teachers, either.
~ Shared by A.P. (8/29/14)
Since my wife and I separated I don’t see my kids as much as I like. This week we planned to have dinner together Friday night. So Friday afternoon I make a big pot of spaghetti sauce – it’s kind of my thing – with meatballs and sausage. It smells really good and I’m all excited. Then the phone rings and it‘s my daughter, sounding nervous, asking if she can go to the movies with her friends instead. While I’m on the phone I get a text from my son saying he’ll be late because he’s gone with his friends to McDonalds. Now, not too long ago I would have gone ballistic. Would have turned into a hurt angry raging screaming bastard prick of a dad. But I’m working hard in therapy on this control thing. And I hear myself say to my daughter, “That’s okay. Sauce tastes better the second night anyway.” Then I text “No prob, c u later” to my son. Then I fix myself a plate of spaghetti and sit down and eat it, and surprise, the sauce still tastes pretty good.
~ Shared by T.B. (8/7/14)
I dreaded this visit, but my wife talked me into it. It’s his birthday, she said, and we’re his grandparents. I gave in, but I was still scared that what happened last time would happen again. We worry about my grandson, and can’t stop trying to help. “Maybe less junk food,” we tell his parents. “Maybe less tv, more fresh air.” But the help never helps. It always ends in anger and tension and tears. My wife ends up depressed and I end up overeating. I didn’t want that again. So we worked on it in therapy. I mean, we worked hard. I talked about it in my group, she talked about it in hers, and then we talked about it with Steve, who gave us stuff to read about alternatives to controlling. Then we talked with each other about surrender (a word my wife still hates) and responsibility and intimacy. We talked at home, and on the flight down, and then more in the hotel room. And when the time came we found we were actually able to not control things. We bit our lips instead of “helping.” Talked to each other about how we were feeling, instead of acting out with my son and his wife. We tried to accept everything and judge nothing. And it worked. No fights, no tension, no tears. My son and his wife relaxed around us. They talked to us more. We enjoyed our grandson and he enjoyed us. It was a wonderful visit. Then we came home and told Steve how it went and he asked, “So, which was easier – controlling or not controlling?” And we looked at each other and answered him in unison: “Not controlling.”
~ Shared by J.R.S. (5/10/14)
I learned the hard way that trying to control someone, especially an addict, will not work. Begging, pleading, reasoning, bargaining fall on deaf ears. And when I finally did “let go” and turn the control over to my son, a heroin addict, a miracle happened and he finally hit his bottom and asked for help and is currently sober and in recovery.
~ Shared by D.K. (5/18/14)
II. TALES OF RESPONSIBILITY
After yoga class I like to walk at the park nearby. It’s one of my favorite times, when I feel clear-minded and enjoy being with myself. Not always easy to arrange.
Today I’m sitting on a bench lacing up my sneakers when a woman from the yoga class comes up to me.
“Oh,” she says brightly, “you’re walking? Want company?”
No, I scream inside.
But I also feel my heart drop into my stomach.
Such a familiar trap.
I’ve spent my life saying Yes to such requests, mainly because of what my mind does at such moments.
Be nice, it whispers. What’s the big deal? Don’t hurt her feelings. Don’t make her angry. You can walk alone tomorrow. Be nice.
I hate my mind sometimes. It usually wins these arguments.
But this time, this time I breathe, and take my tiny courage in my hands.
“Most people complain I walk too fast for them,” I say. “So, no, I guess not.”
“Okay,” she says, “Bye.” And goes away.
I pass her later, walking in the opposite direction. We nod at each other and smile.
Best walk I’ve had in months.
~ Shared by S.P. (9/13/14)
So it’s three months since we broke up, and Saturday he calls me and asks me to lunch. And I’m feeling stronger and curious about how it would feel to see him again, so I say yes. We go to lunch and he’s really nice and I’m enjoying myself. After lunch he asks if I want to take a walk on the beach and I think, what the hell, so far so good, so again I say yes. And again he’s really nice and I’m enjoying the attention. So somehow we end up back at my place and he ends up staying the night. Also the next night. And now I want him to leave, but the old fear is back – I don’t want to make him angry at me. So I tell myself tomorrow’s Monday and he’ll have work and leave on his own. But Monday he takes the day off, and when I go to work he stays at my place. Then I talk to him by phone and he tells me he’s doing my laundry for me. “Please don’t,” I say, because he always does it wrong. Then I come home and find he did it anyway and put all my hang dry delicates in the dryer. “I asked you not to,” I say. And now he goes off, screaming and cursing, just like he always used to. This always happens, I do something nice and you don’t appreciate me, you think you’re perfect, you’re just a critical bitch, and so on. But this time it’s different. “I want you to leave now,” I hear myself saying. I’ve never said that to anyone. Inside I’m shaky, but I sound surprisingly calm. He stops screaming, looks at me like I’m speaking Martian. “Leave now,” I repeat. He starts to argue. “Just leave,” I say, louder. He leaves.
Afterwards I realized what all this was: a test. He was testing me to see if his old tactics still worked. Maybe I was testing myself by seeing him again. Whatever. I passed.
~ Shared by R.M. (8/16/14)
I’m sitting in a faculty meeting and the chairperson turns to me and I know what’s coming. Last week she asked me to do extra work I really really don’t want to do. Being me, I told her I’d think about it. Now she says “So can you take on that project we spoke about?” “No, I decided against it,” I say. She blinks. Then she turns to the person beside me and asks them to do the same project. I’m amazed at how easy that was. I look across the table to a friend with whom I’d shared your recent post Gun, the one about the power of being able to say No. I raise the tip of my index finger to my lips and blow imaginary smoke away from an imaginary muzzle. My friend grins, then presses her lips together to keep from giggling. Thanks for the carry permit, Steve.
~ Shared by A.P. (4/26/14)
We’re separated a year and a half now, and it still doesn’t feel real. Behind all our talking and fighting and negotiating and problem-solving certain thoughts play like background music:
It‘s just a separation. Be careful what you say. Don’t push him away. Maybe he’ll see the changes I’ve made. Maybe he’ll come back. It‘s just a separation.
But life has moved on. Now, after years of stay-at-home momming, I have a job I love. People notice and value what I do. And I’m beginning to feel, you know, like a full-fledged person.
So today he calls to talk about our budget. And he’s being irritable and rude.
And I’m tired of it.
“Why are you talking to me this way?” I ask.
“Because you don’t help me,” he snaps.
And the background music suddenly stops.
“You’re a dick,” I say, and I hang up.
And a full-fledged person walks away from the phone feeling like she turned a corner somehow.
~ Shared by Anonymous (2/22/15)
III. TALES OF INTIMACY