Multiple times, I’ve said I have control issues. It’s an excuse, a justification, an apology.
It’s me. I use it to describe myself, and it’s rarely a positive thing.
Again last week, it surfaced. With my spiritual director, I was talking through a situation that had me flummoxed. (NOTE: isn’t that an AWESOME word? I think I’ll use it more often!) A wide variety of emotions surged through me in alternating currents. I was frustrated and I was angry – I was deeply grieved and in tears. I longed for reconciliation while I was also leaning towards physical violence (not really, but I felt like it).
Yin and yang. Mix and match.
My head (and my heart) were a mess.
Time with my spiritual director is so full of grace – which is the point, that we are making room for grace, truth and wisdom to arrive and be discovered. Generally speaking, once I shut up, it shows up. It happens, every time. But last week, it took a while. I talked and vented and gave space to all the feelings and I spoke them out loud and set them free and watch them dance in the sacred space that is our time together.
It’s my control issues again, I said. I can’t control this. I can’t make anything happen. I am powerless and I don’t like that and I guess I just have to keep working on this…
I felt defeated, truly. I didn’t want to be reacting the way I was, but I knew it was the truth. Authenticity is key, and I was being as authentic as I possibly could, which led me to a familiar place of ego-driven desires to control and be in charge and not be vulnerable. And those darn control issues – again.
Except for this one thing: When I kept teasing out the deepest part of my feelings and what was really disturbed in my soul, buried below the surface, I realized something interesting. There was real, honest-to-goodness, legitimate pain there, centered on a very real and legitimate core value.
In hindsight, I can see where it all came together. 1) A good friend has been talking about his work with his therapist. They’ve been exploring his core values as a way of understanding his reaction to a situation within his family that has caused him no small amount of distress. 2) I’ve been reading a book – and even recently led a short time of meditation – focusing on the necessity of honest, authentic emotional release as a vital part of prayer and connection with the Creator. 3) I have been diligently working to understand and honor boundaries with my adult kids – intellectually and experientially.
All that was swirling behind me as I sat with my spiritual director in this precious, powerful time and space. And suddenly it all swirling together with a big WHOOSH (not really, but I love the visual and aural image, because that’s what it felt like!) and something clicked into place with a fierce solidity. I had a bona fide ‘AHA’ moment. The light bulb went off over my head.
I got it.
I realized that the “I’ve got control issues” excuse wasn’t adequate for this; in fact, it was a detrimental distraction from the truth of a necessary understanding.
My problem wasn’t control.
My problem was pain.
And my go-to solution was to bury it, ignore it, stuff it – anything to avoid feeling it.
My circumstances – this situation – presented a tremendous amount of conflicting emotions and loss. I kept trying to figure out how to behave, what to do, what to say, how to fix it. And every action – every behavior – even every thought – was driven by something I kept calling ‘control issues’, but something that was very different, indeed.
Underneath every layer of expectations and insecurity within me there lived honest pain; raw, red, nerve-exposed damage to a deeply-held core value that had been disturbed and disrupted. And I was subconsciously doing everything I could to avoid feeling that pain.
I choose to keep the details close to the vest right now, although I’m glad to have a conversation with anyone who is feeling some resonance and wants to talk. But here’s what’s important: Often, we are so terrified to name, claim, and give air to our pain that we bury it under mounds of dirt and clay; boulders that become burdens. I’ve spent years believing – and living like – I had control issues. No doubt my behavior indicated a kernel of truth in that assumption. But the root of my ‘control issues’ is really a deep desire to avoid pain.
Let me say that again; if you are one of those people who has to control things and would readily admit that you have ‘issues’ (which makes us sound oh-so-humble, doesn’t it?), take a breath, take some time, seek some space and let some things bubble up.
I bet you’re running away from something. I bet you’re burying pain.
I bet you’re probably just like me.
Claw your way out from underneath the boulder. Feel the pain. Cry the tears. Let it live.
It’s surprising how good freedom feels.
And how little I feel I compelled to control.