Confession Time: I am a recovering Control Freak.
I grew up thinking that the way to become successful (which I equated with happiness) was to control every aspect of my life. And I tried to excel in the controlling of how others acted around me.
Let’s just say that early on I got smacked upside the head with a fundamental problem in my plan. I found out that I just ain’t smart enough to know how to control all the aspects of my life!
That didn’t stop me from trying.
And boy was it exhausting!
What’s worse is that my control freak nature, combined with the sad realization that I’m not smart enough to know all of the aspects of what I’m trying to be in control of, has usually caused me to stagnate. Yeah, not make a move.
I’ve stayed stagnant in dead end miserable jobs. I’ve held on far too long to aging cars. I’ve stagnated in inappropriate, and long expired friendships and relationships. All because I thought at least I felt a semblance of “control” in those stagnant situations.
You know what stagnation is right?
So my smartypants choice to not act and change things up, because I realized I can at least control what I know, only resulted in me spending of lot of time not living. Hell, I might as well have earned SAG credits on the Walking Dead TV show, as one of their Most Dead “walking dead”.
Forgive me if I shoehorn some Hollywood references every now and again… I’m surrounded by the studios, so they tend to creep into my psyche from time to time…. I guess I can’t control it!
But somewhere along the way, I stumbled onto (or was I led — I see you GOD), anyway I stumbled onto this liberating tidbit of wisdom:
You have no real control over other people’s actions or over what happens
— all you have control over is Your Reactions to them.
What a great lesson! It’s so empowering.
The only part of life you can control is your Reaction.
Learning that certainly took the pressure off of trying to control how everyone should speak to me, treat me, and even how they should drive around me. (because you see, I wanted to control ALL of that!)
But now I learned that instead of focussing on their actions,
I just needed to focus on my reactions to them!
However, I had built such a machine in myself of needing to control, that I got this new perspective all twisted.
And I want to share my story with you to warn you. Don’t get it twisted!
So now I was only focussing on controlling my reactions. Great, right?
Not so much.
How I got it all twisted you see, was that I only tacked that idea onto the end of my primary directive, which was to still judge and determine how things should really go, and how people should really act.
And when people still did and said things as they wanted, even if it was WRONG, (according to my rules)well then I got incensed! But being the spiritual man that I am, I controlled my reactions to everything going wrong according to my rules. I controlled my reactions, and simply stifled my rage.
Oh yeah… I controlled that rage Real Good.
If I was a cartoon, steam would have blown out of my ears, and my blood would of boiled!
That sounds all funny and cute, but in real life this practice ended up sending me straight to the emergency ward, as I found myself in a terrifying situation, choking uncontrollably (ironic) and inexplicably on nothing but AIR, feeling as if I was being strangled!
Allow me to unpack that a bit.
You see, I spent a couple of years driving along a horrible LA traffic commute into a toxic work environment – hating every second of it – and wanting to SCREAM out in rage.
I wanted to rage against the traffic that didn’t flow how I wanted it to, and then rage against my coworkers who were not acting according to how I thought they should, all the while reminding myself that even though I DON’T have control over the traffic and the awful coworkers, I DO have control over my reactions.
And that’s where I got it twisted.
I raged and boiled my blood, and let the steam build up to burst through my ears, and then I forcefully controlled the rage by CHOKING DOWN THE SCREAMS I had worked up in my mind!
Daily, I thought up all the clever digs that I wanted to spew out, but then choked them all down, because I knew I could control that much. And to those offensive coworkers, I just looked like a calm robot from the outside. Does any of this resonate with you?
Anyway, I promised to let you know how I ended up in the emergency ward.
So my toxic coworkers didn’t hear my screams… but my body, my brilliant body gifted from God, certainly heard the directions. And it followed those directions to-a-T!
You see, I repeatedly told my body to choke down my words when I felt that rage, when my blood pressure spiked, and when I just wanted to scream. I gave that direction, and I gave it repeatedly.
And then the craziest thing happened.
My body manifested an automatic reaction to choke randomly, and all on its own!!
I would find myself suddenly not able to swallow, and then BOOM – my throat muscles constricted and choked me! It felt as if vice-like, invisible hands were strangling me, and it FREAKED The Hell Out Of Me!
Which only made the situation worse! I would panic, and go into a full blown anxiety attack, which made it really hard to breathe!
Let’s recap this horror story:
The spontaneous choking of my throat muscles caused a panic attack,
which would cause my throat to constrict further,
making it difficult to breathe,
which would freak me out further,
causing a bigger panic attack… and I just looked like I was bat shit crazy!!
(and that really upset me, because it was important for me to control how I came across to others!)
It was like a Catch-22 of a Catch-22!
And finally there was that time it me hit really hard at the office, right in front of EVERYONE!
I couldn’t get myself to breathe, and so I got rushed to the emergency ward.
The doctors in the ER didn’t know how to help me. But they did advise anti-anxiety drugs.
Meaning, they thought it was all mental.
But I knew it was also physical! I mean I could feel my throat muscles physically choke me!
My body was acting on its own, and against me!
(try saying that to an ER doctor, and not getting admitted to a psych ward!)
Anyway, I thanked them for the advice, but I rejected the drug route, and instead decided to try acupuncture. I had heard that it can help with pain, and more importantly, help with anxiety.
To my relief, the acupuncturist knew exactly what I had.
(btw- I Love my acupuncturist. If you are in LA, and are curious about acupuncture, please message me, and I will give you details. He is the definition of wonderful.)
In Eastern Medicine, my condition is called Plum Pit Syndrome, which means the throat acts like it has a plum pit stuck in it — meaning you choke, and it it very stressful. And it is brought on by emotional AND physical stress! Like for instance, when someone repeatedly tries to choke down real rage, and it becomes too hard to swallow!
So I started a regular practice of acupuncture to ease my mental and physical anxiety. And I LOVE it. The beauty of acupuncture, is while the therapy helps your physical apparatus, you lay on a table and can meditate. I’m a huge proponent of meditation, and will talk about that in later posts… but let me just say that my time on the acupuncture table for this Plum Pit situation has been quite enlightening!
While the acupuncture needles did their work to soothe my blood and energy flow and calm my physical system, it was on that table in meditation that I realized I had put myself there by directing my body to choke. Yeah, from all of those times I had told it to choke down the rage. This was all a response from my twisted interpretation of controlling my reaction to others!
I don’t think I would have realized this if I hadn’t spent all of that time on the table in meditation.
For that alone, I am so grateful! (I’m also grateful that my anxiety is down, blood pressure is normal, and I’m no longer spontaneously choking)
It was also on the table in meditation, that I started to see a better way to interpret that sage advice:
The only part of life you can control is your reaction.
What I realized is that it’s not about mapping out how people and situations should be or play out, and then controlling how you react to your disappointment when they don’t act the way you expect them to.
No, that’s not the way.
That will put you in the ER!
Rather, the key to this whole control thing, is about expecting people and situations to be EXACTLY HOW THEY ARE.
It’s about letting the chips fall where they may, and then the only thing that you should choose to control is WHO YOU ARE in response to these situations.
And guess what?
You can choose to be JOYFUL. You can choose to be LOVING.
I admit that it takes some practice to react with Joy and Love.
And if you find yourself still getting mad at first, PLEASE don’t stifle it. Question it instead.
Question why you are getting mad, and see if you can’t just take your focus off of the “wrongdoer” or “wrong” situation, and just LOVE yourself right in that moment!
Choose LOVE. And give up on control!
I have had this post mostly written as a draft this week, and now at publishing, my home state of California is currently being ravaged by massive fires.
Communities very close to me geographically, and very dear to my heart emotionally have already been been engulfed.
People have lost their homes. People have lost their lives.
As of this posting, the fires have not been contained.
And because of the dry climate, and the Santa Ana winds, more destruction is imminent.
Talk about having No Control!
But it’s during these disasters that we are shown how all that we truly have control over is our Humanity.
This is currently a devastating situation.
But even still, I am so heartened to see people come together.
Heroes have risked their safety for their neighbors, and for the animals in danger!
Movements have already been mobilized to look out and care for the heroic Firefighters who are bravely trying to Rescue First – and then – Control this Beast.
I’ve seen people use social media for good over the last couple of days, calling out to offer shelter to those displaced, and also posting where to send care packages for the brave men and women Firefighters who are fighting against exhaustion and the elements.
We cannot control when or how these disasters will strike us.
But we can control how we respond.
And I’ve seen my community respond with Love.
I pray for my State. I pray for my community.
I’m grateful for the heroes fighting to protect us, and am so grateful for the demonstrations of Love that I am witnessing in people’s reactions.
We will prevail with Love.
There is much Love here for you.