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The Fallacy of Control

From the Gastric Bypass Barbie vault:
Originally published November 6, 2009.

As I reread this, I realize how far I’ve come…how much healthier I am emotionally and physically…how much freer I feel since I’ve cut those ties that bound me. Thanks to some wonderfully supportive friends and a willingness to do whatever it took to get well, I learned that, the first step in being a recovering control freak is to recognize you really control…nothing. My wish for you is this: Let go of your need to control, and watch how much more “in control” you feel…  ~ Cari

The Fallacy of Control


I would describe myself as a “recovering control freak with latent OCD tendencies.” The idea of “control” is quite seductive and appealing for a Type-A personality like me. Unfortunately, it’s always tantalizingly out of reach — just around the bend, over the horizon, or in the next “whatever.” Which is why control is such a lie. You see, no one ever really has it — not over situations, or others, but least of all over SELF. I mean, PUHLEASE — Self-Control. What the heck does that mean??? Does it mean that I get to control everything I think and do? Does it mean that, as long as I try hard enough, everything I touch will stay in check? Does it mean that I can actually be the master of time and space?

Not so much.

I spent years misunderstanding the idea of control, and more importantly SELF control. The reality of control is that, despite all best laid plans, intentions, hopes, dreams or preparations, whatever is GOING to happen, will happen. It’s what I DO about it that really gives me CONTROL (limited control, naturally).

I began to learn this painful lesson when my daughter (who will turn 19 on the 16th) was 3. We had dressed her as “Belle” from Beauty & The Beast; she had a lovely golden yellow dress, and cute black patent mary jane shoes, white tights, a plastic pumpkin with a handle (to carry her loot) — and an incredibly intricate undo with about 10,000 bobby pins holding it up, and an entire can of hairspray CONTROLLING every single hair on her head.

She looked ADORABLE….as long as she stood perfectly still. The problem was when she moved. LIke any 3- year-old, she had to RUN to each house. Of course, as her *loving* mother, I *patiently* encouraged her to *take it easy.* I think it went something like this:

HANNAH! Quit running! Stay here! ”
“HANNAH!!!! Come here so I can fix your hair. NOW!”

Oh my God.

About 3 houses later, it hit me: What the HELL was I doing? I was chasing my 3-year old in a frantic and misguided attempt to CONTROL — her hair. That was my “come to Jesus” moment for sure. At least in THAT arena. I made a solemn vow that I would STOP being so neurotic about things that didn’t matter, (as long as it only pertained to Hannah’s hair, apparently! Everything else was still fair game.)

So, I pulled out the bobby pins and said, “Baby, go have fun.” Which she did.

That might sound like a happy turn of events, but what I didn’t mention is the fact that inside I was boiling over in frustration, filching Snickers and 3-Musketeers from her pumpkin after each house:

Why can’t she just hold still? Her hair looked so beautiful and I spent *so much time* on it? People are going to wonder what kind of a mother I am, sending my kid around looking like such a scruff muffin…”

Parent at door: Oh, don’t you look ADORABLE?! Who are you supposed to be?”

Me: Well, she is Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, but her hair fell. It looked so pretty a few minutes ago. But you now how little urchins can be….”

Okay, that doesn’t sound like a recovered ANYTHING. I just stopped trying to control my kid and tried to control everybody who opened the door!

Fast forward a few years.

We go camping with our friends and family. It’s always a big to-do; a huge — well-organized — affair with exquisitely planned MEALS and events! I always pre-reserve sites, so there won’t be ANY SURPRISES when we get there.

Only…there always ARE surprises. We always end up in a campsite with a big rolling trashcan (the one that everyone in the loop uses for their garbage), or a telephone pole. Our trees are always lacking shade, and the site isn’t level, so we have to sleep rolling downhill. And no one likes to eat when I say it’s time to eat: “Be back in time for dinner!! No later than 7, okay?”

Are you noticing a trend here? A sick pattern?

I was ruining everyone’s time in my endeavor to CONTROL the situation. Instead of just going with the flow — rolling with the punches — I would get bent out of shape, like someone had intentionally hollowed my insides out with a spoon. Nothing to do but EAT to make it feel better. Fortunately, I always had Red Vines, Double Stuff Oreos and BBQ Ruffles potato chips to assuage the pain. There was always plenty of bacon in the morning, extra blueberry pancakes, and s’mores after dinner. There was always room to stuff my frustrations way down so I could “fully enjoy” myself.

The only problem was, I didn’t enjoy myself. I stayed behind in camp while everyone else was off hiking, biking and exploring. I would carefully (and gracelessly) climb down out of the motorhome (trying not to fall and sprain my ankle — for the umpteenth time) and lumber over to my big-butt beach chair. There, I’d pop open my 13th can of Diet Pepsi and flip through one of the 17 gossip magazines I’d brought along for entertainment.

“Look at her — she is WAY too thin! Please! Who looks like that? ‘Lose 10 pounds in 1 week!’ — Are you kidding me? I have to lose 200 pounds…nobody has only ’10 pounds’ to lose. Piffle.”

And on it went, until my family was late returning for dinner — which would allow me to get all worked up. Again. And I’d eat some other junk I’d stashed in the cupboard (like Zingers).

Fortunately, through the help of my very best friend in the entire world (Jan), I began to see the error of my ways. Now, understand that I didn’t realize how cancerous the behavior was to my psyche; I only understood what it was doing to those whom I loved. So, my motivation to correct the crippling behavior was borned from my desire not to hurt OTHERS; It had nothing to do with HELPING myself.

Whatever the case, I made a solemn vow that I would NOT have nuclear meltdowns all over everybody when something didn’t turn out as I’d perfectly planned. If it didn’t “fit my picture” then I’d paint a new one.

Here’s how it looked in application: When we’d roll up to a campground, and the site would be “less-than-perfect,” my initial reaction would always be one of intense unhappiness and frustration. But, rather than letting it ALL out all over everybody, I would stop for a beat, take a deep breath, clench my fists, and announce, “Okay. I’m going to need about X minutes calm down. Just go about your business, and I’ll be with you soon.” The amount of time required to talk myself back away from the ledge would vary, depending upon the “severity” of the campground or situation. If it was “really bad”, I’d need 30 minutes.

Of course, my family members would protest, but I’d tell them that if they wanted me to enjoy myself, they needed to back off until I could come to terms with the situation. They were to “carry on” with their business until I was feeling human again.

So, I’d sit there and talk myself through it. Sometimes, I’d pace. Sometimes I’d stop and grouse. I’d say things out loud, like,

This really SUCKS! I HATE THIS! It’s not FAIR.”
And then, I’d say, “But…it’s okay. It doesn’t fit my picture, so I’ll create a new picture.”

“But I wanted a BEAUTIFUL campsite with a bubbling brook running along side it.”
“But running water brings mosquitoes. It’s better this way.”

Over and over I’d repeat things like, “It doesn’t fit your picture, but it’s going to be okay. No one else saw the picture you painted in your head. Only YOU know what you expected. They had other expectations, but they are fine with the reality. Everyone is having a good time. You need to mellow out so everyone will enjoy themselves. Don’t ruin everyone’s time. Calm down, It’s going to be okay.”

At some point, I’d tell myself I was done being cranky and it was time to move on. Whether or not I actually FELT done was of no consequence. 20 or 30 minutes was sufficient and it was time to grow up, move on and deal with reality.

And so it would go.

When they were late for dinner, I’d just told myself that we’d eat at 10 PM.

It didn’t always work, but it was better than it had been before, and people seemed to have a better time without me raining on their parade like Eeyore.

Of course, what I didn’t do was cope with the reasons behind my discontentment, and I didn’t deal with my reaction to force-feed the bad feelings away. So, during the time I tried to “cure” myself of my crippling negativity, I ballooned to 316 pounds.

And then I had weight loss surgery and I couldn’t eat the lack of control away. I had to find a better tool. I had to realize the error of my ways once and for all. I had to quash those negative feelings dead in their tracks and replace them with truly positive ones. I had to reshape my actions into something healthy, rather than destructive.

Now, I’d love to tell you that I have perfected this art form — but as we all know, perfection is impossible and is a convenient way we set ourselves up to fail. Obviously, if perfection is unattainable, then making that the goal is self-defeating.

Anyway, I haven’t killed the beast of CONTROL, but I have won more battles than I’ve lost. As a matter of fact, up until 2 nights ago, I can’t remember the last time I unwisely decided to cope with my unhappiness by consuming an entire box of Jujubees. I can tell myself that I had a very good reason for eating myself into a post-gastric-bypass-coma. I can tell myself that sleeping in the fetal position all night was the perfect solution to my despair.

But it wasn’t, and everybody knows that.

So, I had a couple of really bad days, and then I awoke this morning, looking forward to my therapy session (Jim will get an earful from me!) and realizing that only I can control my actions.

The bottom line is: I can’t control HOW I feel, but I sure can control what I DO.

So, I’m still a recovering control freak with OCD tendencies. I still try to make things as “perfect” as they can be — but then I step back and let reality take over.

Sometimes, as you can see, I do better than others 😉 Fighting for control, like maintaining a 170 pound weight loss, is a war that is never permanently won. It must be fought anew each day — and maybe even each hour. But, with each victory, comes the knowledge that there is hope and the battle is worth fighting.


1 Paula ~ Lady K. { 11.06.09 at 1:22 pm }

In my signature lines on the forums I read I have a quote from my Father… “The second greatest power on earth is the power to CHOOSE ~ Gus S. Miller Jr”. Its hard to use this power, and many people don’t think they have this power or they give this power to someone else, but that was their choice… you choose how you will react or not react and what you will react to. Well you get the idea – LOL! I have been trying to grasp this power and apply it in my life. I’m more successful on some days than others.

2 Cari { 11.06.09 at 1:37 pm }

@Paula (aka Lady K : So, I have to ask — because I know I’m missing something: What is the greatest power ON EARTH? I mean I know God is the greatest EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE, but…I think the quote is too profound for me pea brain 😉

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