Control Freak

Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.


I like to use reverse psychology on Jesus. I know it doesn’t actually work, but it gives me the illusion of control and my brain finds that comforting. An example, you say? But of course.

I noticed that at any churchy event that involves food, Christians are deferential when it comes to getting in line for food, to the point that no one will actually get in the line and we are all standing around awkwardly looking at each other. I can’t speak for everyone, but if I had to guess, I would think it comes from the parables that end with “the last shall be first.” The idea is to be servant-minded in all things, apparently including a buffet line. This is not a bad thing.

And yet, someone has to go first, otherwise we will all starve to death waiting.

In these moments, I decide to fall on my sword and go first. It of course has nothing to do with the fact that I am hungry and impatient. It is my own act of service. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Ironically, by going first, I have allowed my friends to go last, meaning that they will be first in the Kingdom. And yet, logic dictates that by making that “sacrifice,” I have in fact made myself last, which means that I will ultimately be first.

Since everyone knows that the Kingdom is a system to be gamed, my logic holds water and I win. *cue lightening bolt from heaven for this sass* Sorry, Jesus.

One of the myriad of problems with this logic is that I am only, at the heart of things, serving my friends so that I will benefit… which is kind of a deal breaker when it comes to service.

This is something of a silly example that I use mostly in jest. I cannot pretend, however, that I do not use this sort of logic or system-gaming in all sorts of facets of life, all to convince myself that I am completely in control of my life and my actions and how things affect me. I am often tempted to try to control the people in my life, mostly without intending to, and with my derpy brain providing the absolute best rationalizations for my actions.

No matter how much evidence I gather to the contrary, there is something in my sweet, sweet brain telling me that if I just work harder, if I’m just more perfect, I won’t have to feel anxious or powerless ever again. If you’ve been alive for more than about a minute, you probably understand that the realm of what is in our control is minuscule almost to the point of nonexistence. Cancer doesn’t care how much money you have. Hurricanes don’t care how smart you are. A fire doesn’t care how successful your business is.*

Fun pep talk, right?

There are habits we develop over the course of our lives, both behavioral and habitual thought patterns. Some of the habits are good, like brushing our teeth or looking both ways before crossing the street. Other habits can be less helpful, like my obsessive delusion for control. These habits become reflexive and are learned through any number of experiences.

But some habits, like biting our nails or smoking cigarettes, can begin as a response to something unsettling on a soul level such as anxiety or stress, loneliness, etc. And then when we try to kick said habit, we can find it difficult to the point of impossibility. Our brains have reacted and adapted to our surroundings, and those precious brains are not going to give up those neural pathways without a serious fight. Judith Grisel in her book Never Enough says, “I’d sought wellness and became sick; fun, but lived in a constant state of anxious dread; freedom, and was enslaved.”

In hyper-fixating on controlling absolutely everything about my life, I am seeking freedom, wellness, and peace of mind. The only problem is that I will constantly be confronted by what I cannot control, digging a pit that I cannot get out of. And so even though I want to trust that God is with me and for me, I tend to do so with a plan of my own and a way to game the system.

Paul (the one from the Bible) also writes about this sort of phenomenon as a struggle with “sin” or “the flesh.” Romans 7:15 says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Maybe you’ve found yourself wrestling with a bad habit or a personality quirk that might be harming your relationships. Maybe you’ve tried to will your way out of said habit and maybe it isn’t working as quickly as you’d like. Richard Rohr describes it like this: “Self-made people, and all heroic spiritualities, will try to manufacture an even stronger self by willpower and determination–to put them back in charge and seeming control” (Breathing Underwater).

I know all of this conceptually, and yet I still wake up in the morning believing that maybe today will be the day I get it all together. No matter how hard I try, this is my default.

The thing about humans is that we will largely continue on our default trajectory unless someone or something disrupts the pattern and wakes us up to the flaw in our logic. We have to reach a point where we are confronted with the reality that whatever it is isn’t working anymore.

And that’s where the magic starts to happen.


First Step Prayer: Dear Lord, Help me to see and admit that I am powerless over my addictions. Help me to understand how my addictions have led to unmanageability in my life. Help me this day to understand the true meaning of powerlessness. Remove from me all denial of my addictions.


*It must be noted that money, power, and privilege are factors when it comes to how these types of out-of-control situations are experienced. People experiencing poverty often face a disproportionate number of these instances, and often the consequences are even more devastating. For example, a person without health insurance working minimum wage jobs cannot afford to get the type of health screenings that those who experience the privilege of wealth and a job with benefits are able to get. With diseases such as cancer, early detection is vitally important, but is not an option for many. Wealth and privilege does not make one immune to disasters, but it can dampen the physical effects in that people not experiencing poverty have more options and resources in terms of recovery. This is not to compare difficult or traumatic experiences, as that only adds guilt to the emotional toll. It is merely something that needs to be stated, acknowledged, and processed.

**For resources that I have used for my research, CLICK HERE**

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