The Confessions of a Recovering Control Freak

The Confession of a Recovering Control Freak

Gosh, this is hard. I have trouble admitting I’m a control freak.

No, not because I like to imagine I’m not. I know I am. Even as a kid, I was pretty high strung. I liked things “just so,” and I was willing to put in a crazy amount of effort to make a vision reality. I am driven and committed and passionate, and that’s a good thing…until it’s not.

The reason I hate to admit that I’m a control freak is because it’s vulnerable. Because, at the core of me is a fear that I am not enough. That’s why I control.

As a first time mom, I really began to notice my tendency toward control. (What I called wisdom and others called anal retentiveness.) I wanted to be organized. I wanted to have “it” together. I wanted to be fit and happy and showered and well-dressed and creative and energetic and exactly what I’d been before I gave birth and more. I wasn’t ready to admit that life had just flipped upside down and things were never going to be the same again.

And then my dad died, and my desire for control became a need. An obsession.

I felt alone, thousands of miles from my nearest family member, my childhood friends. I was an only child who had just lost her father, and I had two young children of my own who depended on me for everything. I was so overwhelmed by that responsibility. I felt inadequate. I was quite certain I didn’t have what it took to be so completely responsible for something so important. And I had no one to help.

Yes, I have an amazing husband. Who is awesome and devoted and incredibly helpful. But for much of the day (and for a very intense 18-months at work, most nights and weekends), he wasn’t there. I wanted a friend, a sister, or my own mother so badly it was like having a constant stomachache.

I needed someone to see me. Not just in the evenings or once in awhile, but on a daily basis. To tell me that what I was doing mattered.  That what I was sacrificing was worth it. That what I was losing was nothing compared to what I was gaining. To tell me if I was doing it right or how to do it better or how to let go and let good enough be good enough. But I didn’t have that. And it scared me.

That’s when I had my first bout of Postpartum Depression. That’s when I started to control, well…everything.

Meals had to be planned out months in advance, preferably frozen in large batches. Because I was quite sure something would happen and then how would we eat? Ordering in? Fast food? I didn’t give myself those options. Too expensive, I told myself. Not healthy. Frosty + French Fries = Failure!!!

Homeschool needed to be streamlined and planned out in it’s entirety by June. And we could not get off track. Sick days? Pshaw! If for some reason my brilliant agenda did get derailed, I was reduced to tears. I’d convinced myself that if we did not make it through each day’s math lesson, then the next and the next and the next would likewise go undone until we reached the point where the government would be forced to intervene.

I had to keep the toys, laundry, and house cleaning under control. All the time. If anything went off track or off schedule, I was certain I would never manage to get it back together. Spilled milk was a very legitimate reason to cry. Like a baby.

I was waging a one-woman war on entropy. And I felt like no one saw, no one understood, no one cared.

It took years–literally years of prayer, reflection, and conversations with good friends for me to realize that my attempts to control were never going to stop the chaos.

Life with four little kids is messy. Homeschooling is messy. This big, beautiful life I live is messy and intrinsically disorganized. I think I am finally at a point in my life where I’m okay with that.

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These days, I’m taking it day by day. No, scratch that. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. When the world is caving in and everything is off course, I have to stop and say to myself, “Give it twenty minutes. In twenty minutes, it will be better.” And, nearly always, it is.

These days, I’m waking up later if I need to, and if school doesn’t start by 9:00…or 10:00…or 11:00, I don’t give myself a hard time. I just sit down in the middle of our mess and get started. And you know what? We finish the work just fine.

I don’t plan my meals out weeks in advance anymore. Some nights, I have to scrounge around the cabinets and see what we’ve got. It’s been fun, actually. I’ve been less “with it,” but I’ve been more creative. I serve dinner later than I used to, but I do it with a smile.

These days, I’m baking more cookies, playing more games. Yeah, the windows are streaked with fingerprints and the bathrooms only get a quick once-a-week scrub, but we’re hardly on the health department’s hit list. The house isn’t spotless. I never vacuum as often as I want. But it’s good enough. And the joy that’s going on under this roof? Bigger and better and noisier and more than it’s ever been.

These days, I’m happier than I’ve been in years. Don’t get me wrong, things aren’t any easier. I’m just more accepting of the fact that, no matter what I do, this life wasn’t meant to be easy. And hard can still be good. Hard is full and challenging and, yes, messy, and that’s not a bad thing. Even more important? Hard is the path to holy.

I still have to fight the fear, the compulsion to control, but I am getting there. Because the fact is, I don’t need to be in control. I just need to stay close to the One who is. I can’t possibly plan around what He will send each day, but I can choose to accept it, humble, broken, and open-handed. Day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, I can choose to seek him in gratitude–in joy–in the midst of my mess. Fearless and free and smiling.

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