I dropped my five year old granddaughter off at Kindergarten today. As we got out of the car and walked toward her classroom, she unself-consciously reached up and held my hand. She talked and skipped the whole way into the school, telling me about a birthday party she's been invited to and the work they were doing with leaves in her classroom. Very important stuff to her, of course, and very important to me to have a chance to hear it. After I hugged her and walked out the door, I thought about how good it is to be so innocent and happy, but also how much her life is out of her own control. My daughter and she had been staying with me these past few months, but now my daughter has found an apartment in a town 35 miles away. Soon, my granddaughter will be going to school in a new town. I will miss these early morning walks to the classroom and I know, at first, she will miss this school and the friends she has made. Soon, though, there will be new friends and new birthday parties to be invited to, and her months at this little school will fade into memory.
     At first, I thought it was a little sad to be so young and have so much of your life controlled by other people, making decisions for you that impact your life when you have so little control yourself. I caught myself almost immediately, though, and flashed back to a conversation I had with a mental health professional about five years ago. In the course of conversation, I had told her that I was an ACOA - an Adult Child of Alcoholic parents, but that I had stopped the cycle of alcohol abuse. I was in my mid-forties at the time and had never taken a drink, which was a direct result of being raised in a household where alcohol had caused a lot of negative things to happen. I thought I was in control.
     She interrupted my happy, in-control thought process with one question: "Oh, when did you do the work?" 
     An innocent question which I answered "Huh? What work?" 
     "Well, the work that's necessary to deal with being an ACOA. There are issues other than continuing the alcohol abuse cycle that come from growing up in that situation."
     Uh-huh. Okay.
     "I've never done any work at all," I admitted.
     She reached into her purse and gave me a pamphlet that had all the meeting times and places of the Al-Anon meetings in the area. 
     I was a little floored. I was proud of the fact that I had never had a drink or done any type of drug - that I had broken the cycle of addiction that had so greatly impacted the early part of my life. I thought I had that issue whipped, and here she was, handing me a list of Al-Anon meetings.
     I carried that pamphlet around for a while, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I attended a meeting. At my first meeting, I heard a lot of stories that sounded very familiar to me, true stories shared by people who were dealing with what I had dealt with - a terrible feeling of a lack of control.
     When you are a child in a household that is fueled by alcohol, control is in short supply for everyone. Many of us who grew up in that environment make up for that big time by trying to over-control everything in our adult life. Symptoms of that can even include things like my own refusal to drink, but it extends much farther. Without conscious thought, most of us attempt to control what our friends and loved ones think. We do that in various ways - by being a martyr, by ruling with an iron fist, by being passive-aggressive, but in the end it comes down to only one thing: The need for control.
     It took time. Years, in fact, but eventually I mostly learned to let go of that need for controlling other people. It's obviously a fool's errand any way. None of us really can control the thoughts and feelings of another person, but many of us are willing to die trying. I say "mostly" because it is easy to slip back into those old habits if you're not vigilant, but I am happy to say that they slip further and further behind in my rear view mirror every day. Part of it is being lucky to have found Dawn, who never hesitates to call me on this behaviour. Still, even with the love and support of Dawn, I need to give credit where it is due: to myself, for being willing to do the work.
     Are any of us ever in control? Personally, I don't think so. If you do, ask someone who has worked for the same company for twenty years that just got laid off. Or, the man or woman whose spouse just left them after a long marriage. Or worse, someone whose life has just been rocked by a medical diagnosis no one ever wants to receive. All those situations quickly lead us to realize just how little control we have in our lives.
     There is freedom in that, though. Ralph Ellison wrote, in The Invisible Man, "Life is to be lived, not controlled." I agree with that. In letting loose of the pathological need for control, there is freedom. Freedom to take what life throws at us and survive. Freedom to simply, be.
     Like its sister organization, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon lives by the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Growing up in the household I did, I read that saying almost every day of my life. It wasn't until I was much older that it finally had real meaning in my life. 
     If you suffer with issues of a need to control things in your environment, or if you just need someone to talk to, the Al-Anon website is here. It will tell you the time and place of meetings in your area. I hope you will take this blog post in the spirit of the meetings I attended: Take what you can use, leave all the rest.



11/19/2013 3:46pm

Sean, that was beautifully written. It is hard not to be controlling, and I was blessed to not have the particular cross of alcoholism to bear - but I can see the signs of it in dear hubby as he had that in his family. Even so, it's a fantastic thing for us all to remember - because even *I* wink, wink might try to be a little manipulative at times!

Renee Reed
11/19/2013 5:17pm

All I can say is OMG! I never would have put these two things together!! My father was an alcoholic and my mother was very controlling. I was very controlling for years when I was raising my family. I thought that's what it took to be a good mother. I fell in 2000 and broke my neck. I was so angry because I couldn't be in control of that situation. I healed and went back to controlling everything and everybody. Two years later I fell again and broke my neck again. Someone had told me then that God will keep putting you in situations until you learn the lession. It was then that I realized that I was not the one in control. Since then, I have been working very hard to just "go with the flow" and believe me, I've had to experience some very difficult situations but I'm learning. I never gave it any thought as to "why" I felt the need to control. You've opened my eyes and I understand myself better now. Thanks for sharing this Shawn. I sure appreciate you. Thanks again.

Laura Heilman
11/19/2013 5:20pm

Thanks so much for this very personal post. I, too, lived with alcohol growing up and have not done the work. Thanks for the encouragement to look at this again. You are amazing.

Karen Daake
11/19/2013 5:38pm

Thank you for sharing. I think we all have at least a small part of ourselves that want to be in control. And many things from our upbringing are responsible and we don't even realize it. Tomorrow we are going to the funeral of a family member that was murdered last week. She and her husband had been divorced for years. Her ex murdered the lawyer, too. The man had to be in control of her and no one could get him to break the cycle. He could not handle not being in charge. (Alcohol and abuse , and a lack of love at home combined to cause this). Tomorrow a sweet young man with a wife and 2 little babies buries his Mom. The one good thing, his Mom had separated her son from the abuse early on.


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    Shawn Inmon

    I am a writer, Realtor, KISS imitator and sales trainer. But, more than these, I am a husband, father, grandfather and caretaker of two chocolate Labs.

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