|The fridge of an anal compulsive. The magnets match. The edges line up. If you come over and mess it up, I'll wait till you're not looking and make it perfect again.|
I've always used control as a way to try to hold things together. Attempting to control my environment, my life, has been a little like keeping all the delicate pieces of a shattered eggshell together. It's so easy to lose focus and allow the pieces to fall apart. And once that happens, who knows how I'll ever be able to fit all those fragments together again!
It's reflected in my physical environment. I like things just so. Living with another human being for as long as I did helped me learn some flexibility with this one, but now that I live alone again, my drive for order and neatness has resurfaced, full force. There is just something about my space getting cluttered and messy that makes me feel out of control. The moment I can get the clutter under control, I feel myself relax. All is right because that which I actually have direct control over is under control.
And wow, how helpful it's been to have everything lined up just perfectly. Obviously, the fact that every drawer is perfectly organized has really made life so easy for me! Wait...life hasn't been so easy. Oh.
It shows itself when I leave my home. I compulsively go over a list in my head that ensures that nothing terrible happens while I'm gone. Stove? Off. Candle? Extinguished. Door? Locked. Sometimes I head back to my door after walking away, to try the lock, just in case I forgot to lock it. I can't fully relax until I've convinced myself that, when the tragedy comes, at least it won't be directly my fault. I imagine that the next terrible tragedy is around the corner, waiting for me. All of this has been really effective in warding off terrible events. Oh, wait. Dave died anyway. Huh.
It reveals itself in my relationships. There is a part of me, always readied to shut down in anticipation of abandonment or rejection. I replay things I've said and done in the company of others and try to pinpoint the behavior of mine that will end up being the final straw for them and cause them to reject me. I give people I really like being with "off ramps" as my good friend has termed it. Off ramps are when you give someone lots of chances to do what you are just waiting for them to do eventually, anyway, which is reject you. It works like this. Instead of saying to someone "You and me. We're spending some time together soon. So there," I am more likely to say "Do you want to hang out? I understand if you're too busy, so it's fine if you can't." There's your off ramp to make it easy for you to say no, because I expect rejection anyway. The lovely part of this one is that I probably come off seeming disinterested when, in reality, I'm so interested that I'm afraid of being rejected. That might not be working so well for me. Hmmm...
So, if these super rational and productive ways of life aren't helping me and in fact are making me a little bit cuckoo, why do I keep doing them? I think I've struck upon the reason. Of course, part of it is that they're ingrained. Everyone knows how hard a habit is to break. But the other reason is that when I can't control something (life), I desperately search for something I can control, and direct my energies to doing so.
Little by little, I'm learning to let go of the death grip I have on my eggshell. I'm watching the pieces fall apart and noticing that the world didn't end when they did. I've watched as people didn't reject me outright (or if they did, I was better off without their influence in my life anyway). I've watched as I jumped into the unknown and uncontrolled world of this new life of mine and I didn't fall flat on my face. I landed relatively gracefully and carried on. Even when the pieces were all over the place, never to be put back together in the same configuration again.
We can't control a damn thing and when we think we can, it's an illusion, anyway. It may feel comforting to control little details, but these rituals don't ward off bad things.
I'll probably always prefer a zen, orderly home. I'll probably always fear rejection. I'll probably always check my stupid lock three times before I leave. But all of that was true of me before tragedy struck and my life as I knew it was completely upended. Lots of help THAT was!
To that end, I will make an effort every damn day to let go of some of the unhelpful control and let the pieces fall where they may. Let love in. Let mess in. Let risk in.
There's something strangely freeing in knowing that the shit will hit the fan no matter what I do, so I might as well loosen up and free up some space in my life to just enjoy the ride as much as possible.
Just don't judge me if I line up the books on my coffee table so their edges are perfectly parallel with the table. It makes me feel better.