Many years ago a therapist told me, “life is not about control, but rather, it is about surrender. “ While I was moved by the sentiment, deep down I wasn’t ready to surrender myself to anything. I held on to control the way a drowning person clings to a life jacket. The more I tried to exert control, the less control I seemed to experience (one of life’s many ironies). You might be thinking, what kind of ‘control’ is she talking about? There are many ways, some subtle and some blatant, that I attempted to control a situation. Bribery; if you do A for me, I’ll do B for you. Threats; if you blah blah, I will blah blah. Guilt; how could you do this to me? Enabling; I’ll do it and I’ll do it my way which is actually better than your way. Rescue; I will rescue you from a consequence but just this once and next time I will blah blah blah. Honestly, there are so many options. The controller isn’t a bad person; the controller is someone who wants a certain outcome and who is convinced that, without their interference, the outcome is impossible to achieve. I recognize this doesn’t put me in a very positive light but I doubt that I am alone.
While the obvious means of control usually involve money, housing, favors, treatment or transportation, it is meted out with underlying anger and manipulation. It results in one or more of the following: shame, helplessness, resentment, deception, or fear. Controllers tend to be a bit judgmental and self-righteous, though we will deny it to our graves. Deep down we think we know what is best. I know I did. There is no trace of love or acceptance in control but there is desperation. Love and acceptance are about how we view and treat another person; control is about satisfying our own needs. My controlling behavior was about my need to fix my son. I was the handyman. I’ll bail you out of jail or out of debt. I’ll solve your problems. I’ll rescue you from unpleasant circumstances. The interest rate is high. It leads to codependency where neither the addict or the enabler can survive without each other. It was painful to look in the mirror but it was time. Control was exhausting and completely ineffective. I needed to find a new C word.
How about Compassion? What exactly is it? Compassion is associated with words like caring, empathy, tenderness, and kindness. I wanted to feel compassion for my son rather than being angry and disappointed. I wanted someone to feel compassion for me. Where would I find it for myself and learn how to offer it to my son? Somehow I sensed that compassion would begin with understanding. Education: I wanted to develop a deep understanding of the disease of addiction and all that goes with it. Professional Help: This wasn’t something I could do on my own or by going to a support group. I wanted people who based their practice on current research in the field of addiction. They would need to listen to me, to let me tell my story, to answer my questions and provide me with feedback. Tools: I wanted to know what to do. I needed to develop new skills to respond to situations. How could I learn how to interact with my son and with my husband in a positive and loving way? How could I be compassionate without being an enabler?
I had done the three-day parent/family weekends when my son was in inpatient. I had already read a lot of stuff on addiction (books, blogs, research). I knew my facts. I’d gone to Al-Anon. But I needed something more. Even though I am not much of a group person, I started attending the Wednesday night family meetings at Lighthouse Recovery Center. I listened and I learned. I kept on going. I finally had a lifeline and I wasn’t going to let go. I decided to hang around for a long time. I dove in. Enough searching for a quick fix. I was opting for the long road because I finally realized that the short road is, in the end, a lot longer than the long road. I hate to admit this, but I surrendered. I have no regrets!