Friday, July 20, 2012

Conquering the Control Freak Demon

The following is a piece I wrote for another purpose, so it may read just a bit more formally than my usual shtick. It does fit the theme of the blog, so please have a go! :-)

I’ve been doing yoga since I was 16. I’ve done therapy, studied meditation, and worked with other anxiety-reducing techniques. Though the benefits are many, there’s one demon I am not even close to conquering: I'm a control freak. 

“To relinquish the futile effort to control change is one of the strengthening forces of true detachment and thus true love,” meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg writes. “Relinquish the futile effort to control change”-- That's beautiful stuff. What a lofty goal to work toward. I'm going to get on that one--right after I take an hour nap, followed by a 45-minute swim, a dinner during which I have one glass of wine, a cheeseburger with onion rings, and then a few pages in Peter Mathiesen's The Snow Leopard before turning the lights out by midnight.

The tight schedule above is a bit of an exaggeration, but in all honesty, the desire to control is a driving force in my life. Bikram yoga, with its rigidly outlined series of postures, feeds into my control freakiness. I like the consistency: 26 postures, two breathing exercises, taught with virtually the same dialog. I'm also enough of a control freak that I don't mind it when my boyfriend plans to cook our pizza and I end up doing most of the work. I like doing it my way!

I could do a cognitive reframe on this, I suppose. Perhaps I'm simply organizationally inclined. But that label wouldn't take into account my most recent, desperate attempt to control the universe. 

About a month ago, my boyfriend and I decided he would move in. Everything had been going swimmingly between us, but the week before the move, the impact of the change on the horizon hit me. I had lived alone for almost four years. Before that, I lived with my father in a giant house, and we orbited each other, interacting only infrequently. It became apparent how wedded I was to my personal space. Although I loved my boyfriend and knew the move was the right one, I was anxious. 

The boyfriend and I had decided that Saturday was to be the big day. The boyfriend, completely at ease with the whole move thing, dropped his stuff at the house in dribs and drabs. (To be fair, he didn’t have much stuff. Like, at all.) With each load and trip to IKEA, my anxiety mounted. Instead of being able to address my anxiety head-on, encompassing the complex (and understandable) emotions that come with such a life change, I funneled it obsessively into one tiny avenue: the bed

Now, to say I'm a light sleeper would be an understatement. I've wrestled with sleep issues since I was old enough to remember. Going to bed is like going to war: I equip myself with ear plugs, and eye mask, a queen bed, and a bedtime routine that would have a normal sleeper in a coma 20 minutes in. And now, a man was going to enter this precious space? I was terrified. 

I made the bed my focus in the week leading up to the big day. What would I do if I couldn't fall asleep? Would I toss and turn, risking waking him up? Would I relegate myself to the guest bedroom to ensure we both got a good night's sleep? After a yoga class that week, I stopped at a consignment store nearby and thought I'd found the answer to my prayers:
Ugly chaise

This sofa (a chaise, if you want to get technical) is ugly as sin. I figured, well, I could put it in the bedroom, have it set up, and then if I couldn't sleep in the bed I would be just across the room. Everything with this move in would now be OK! And all for only $110! And all I'd have to do to get the thing to my house is borrow a friend's truck, get my boyfriend to take a couple of hours off work, and find some way to get the thing down into the bedroom.

The boyfriend, bless his heart, was very supportive about the whole thing, and arranged to take the time off work. Upon glancing at the couch, however, he said, “OK. Fine, but you're not sleeping on that until you get it cleaned. It's filthy." He was right. It was filthy, ugly, and would be a pain to get into the house. But still I pressed forward, on an exhausting journey involved our carrying the chaise around the entire building, as well as a $65 cleaning bill.

At every step, my yoga and meditation honed insight told me to relax, that this couch thing was completely unnecessary. I knew I was taking a leap into the unknown, and this was scary. At the same time, though, I was fueled to move forward with the move because it felt like the right thing. This is love, isn't it? Why can't I relax into this? Why must I try to control this change? 

It’s now been a month since the couch was moved into my house. It sits, ugly as ever, covered by a sheet, dominated by my three cats. I’ve yet to sleep on it. 

We take many steps in our journey toward mental well-being. At times, we manage face our doubts head-on and are able to prevent our anxieties from getting the best of us. At others, they do get the best of us, however, and giant, lumpy reminders stay with us, reminding us to that we need to keep working to abandon those “futile efforts to control change.”