I suppose I should begin this post by saying that I had originally planned to write something completely different today. My original post will be making its debut in the near future, however, recent events and a serious dose of self reflection have guided me to choosing a new subject matter for today’s post.
Today I’d like to write about my greatest friend and my truest enemy, which happens to be the exact same beast: control.
I’ve been a grade-A control freak for as long as I can remember. Throughout my life, this need for absolute control has manifested in many ways. Some ways have been highly adaptive, such as my tendency to be extremely intrinsically motivated and disciplined. Other ways have been…not so pleasant…such as my tendency to be bossy or (obviously) controlling over everyone and everything. Still other ways have been both assets and deficits, depending on the context, such as my ability to manipulate words and situations as well as my tendency towards extreme perfectionism.
Although I have been both massively helped and hindered by this element of my personality, if I’m honest, I often find my compulsion to be utterly in control at all times completely and totally exhausting. Deep down I struggle and yearn for a break, but my behavioral and cognitive habits insist on clinging to the familiar, and, more often than I’d care to admit, I find myself rapidly spiraling into self-induced mental breakdowns. The thing is, the more control you crave, the less control you feel you have, and the less control you feel you have, the more control you crave. It’s a nasty, intoxicating cycle, and it’s a tricky one to pull yourself out of.
Within the last twenty-four hours, I have found myself yet again marching along that yellow-brick-road of torment, chased by some demonic version of the Lollipop Guild that taunts me as I descend into the control-craving hells of my psyche, singing merry little songs of anxiety and neuroticism. For the millionth time, I found myself rebelling and resisting against my circumstances, easily finding excuses to hate everything and everyone because, at the root of it all, I’m terrified that I have indeed lost all control over my life. Here’s a little PG rated snippet of my latest brush with madness:
“I hate it here. I’m stuck in this Godforsaken country where I can’t talk to anyone, I can’t go anywhere, and I can’t do anything. I have no access to the activities I enjoy, the foods I like to eat, my friends, my family, or my dog. Everything is inconvenient…shops close by 8:00 every single night and on Sundays they aren’t open at all. I can’t even receive my damn mail in this country because of their stupid import laws and refusal to work efficiently.”
I can assure you, it went on and on and my language was much more…graphic. My mother, the poor recipient of this outburst, responded by telling me hard truths, truths that I already knew to be true but didn’t want to admit. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is this: I am in the situation that I’m in because of choices that I have made. I chose to move to this country (to be with my beloved, which I conveniently omitted from my ranting and raving). I have chosen to put learning the local language on the back burner, making communication with pretty much everyone more difficult. I have chosen to ignore the positives and the opportunities that living here in Germany has to offer, opting instead for harboring a festering sense of resentment, and justifying it by trying to convince myself and others that it’s all because I am a creature of habit, and because I have a serious health condition, and because anyone would be depressed without their dog/friends/family/favorite hobbies, and honestly, how dare Germany not have Target…
The harsh reality of my excuses is that, well, they’re excuses. And poor ones at that. They’re nothing but a big, steaming wad of woe-is-me-ism and BS. These nasty little lies are what I have been telling myself to help reconcile the cognitive dissonance I feel about living here. And, here’s the real kicker- It’s. Not. Working. Shocking, I know.
My mother, wise as ever, was quick to point out how much I embraced my lack of control during my many other stints in Europe. Of course, she was 100% right, but during our conversation all I could muster up as a response was “it’s different.” In a way, that is the truth…the situations are different. I am living here now, paying bills and living a relatively stationary existence, as opposed to gallivanting around the continent as fleeting and carefree as a feather in the wind. If I’m honest with myself, the amount things that I have control over have not decreased in the transition from being a traveler to being a resident of another country. Not by a long shot. However, the things I have control over have changed. And because- as I mentioned- I am a creature of habit, I am resisting this change with the kicking, screaming, vicious stubbornness of a cranky three-year-old.
After some serious checking-myself-before-wrecking-myself, I have come to the following conclusion: the amount of control one has at any given point in time or in any given situation all comes down to perception. If you perceive yourself as having no control, you will have none, whereas if you perceive yourself as the master of your own life, you will be. You know, that whole “cogito ergo sum” thing. I may not have the German language mastered, but I sure as hell have an excess of resources (not to mention real live Germans) to help me learn should I choose to do so. I may not have a car to drive, but I’ve got legs to walk and an apartment conveniently located mere blocks from the inner city should I feel restless. I may not have access to my favorite foods and activities and so on and so forth, but somewhere within me, I still possess the unrelenting sense of adventure that, if channeled, could guide me along the path to new and exciting alternatives, should I choose to open myself up to them.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the human tendency to feel entitled to express anger, resentment, and general bah-humbugness (fuel for a future post, you can be certain). In my case, at least, I have to face the cold hard truth: I have been playing the victim because I wanted to. I made conscious, real, adult decisions that have gotten me into my current situation, and I have no one to blame (or thank!) but myself. No one likes to hear it, but if we ever hope to grow, as individuals and as a species in general, sometimes we have to take a good hard look in the mirror and say “You’d better stop it RIGHT now. I mean it! I’m counting to three! One…two…..”
Most parents who use this trick don’t often get to “three,” because the fear of that “three” scares the pants off of most kids (myself included, even to this day. Seriously. You don’t want to see either of my parents if they get to “three.”). However, after my own stint in self-parenting last night, my “three” has finally come. It’s time to woman up and take control over my life again. No more excuses, no more pity parties, no more unfounded resentment. The reign of Queen Grump must come to an end (rejoice!).
I suppose this revelation will lead directly into another one relating to finding a healthy balance between self-control and adventurous freedom. But that, my dears, is a story for another day.
With the humblest and most sincere gratitude I thank you for reading my words, and I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts. Until next time, world!