A Few Realizations about Growing Old *ahem*…UP

Ok, I’m 42 now.

(…Geeze what a HUGE number. How’d that happen, anyway?)

At this ripe (a nicer way of saying gray and saggy) old age, I’ve finally learned some long-overdue lessons. Even though one of the things I’ve learned is that you can’t tell people anything (they have to figure it out on their own), I still have this urge to share.

So here goes…

(Before I start on the lessons and the things I’ve learned, it may be helpful to understand my position on religion and philosophy.)

My philosophy about God

As I recently explained to my eldest son, I do believe in God. I also believe in free will. I am now fairly certain that we are doomed to repeat the lessons we don’t learn… even if it takes multiple lifetimes.

With that said, I think we have the free will to select from all our options at any point. I don’t think God punishes us, I think he’s too busy. Besides, we do most of that ourselves with fantastic success.

I’m not big on hell — other than the one we create for ourselves by making said stupid decisions over and over again and being required to live with the natural consequences. (I’m a big fan of that hell, apparently. Maybe I should start a fan club.) Said consequences may or may not be readily apparent to the person enduring them, but the most disinterested bystander can usually identify them at a glance.

God is forgiving. He forgives us basically anything. Historically, I preferred the image of the Old Testament, vengeful God, with a huge ego and big demands. It seemed somehow sexier to me in my youth. As a parent, and as a middle-aged woman, I realize that God is simply too busy to get angry every time one of the children screws up. Parenting is exhausting. Being God must be infinitely more so.

God’s job, in reality, is to continue to give us the opportunity to do the right thing, make the right decisions and go the right way with our lives.

If we choose to veer too far to the left or right, he lets nature take its course, then gives us another opportunity to learn the same lesson in the near future.

The failed lessons get harder with each exam. For instance the first exam may be likened to a simple addition quiz. If we flunk it, the next one is the addition of  several numbers and an averaging of the sum for the mean and median. So, if you are a fast learner, life is pretty easy.

If you are a slow learner, your life will be a bit more challenging. (I’ve experienced the equivalent of multivariable calculus equations a few times. Either I’m a painfully slow learner, or incredibly stubborn. I’m not sure which one is worse anymore.)

So, we bumble along and God places opportunities DIRECTLY in our path. Stay on the “straight and narrow” and you 1.) make the right choices 2.) pass that exam and 3.) move on to the next grade level. It’s just that simple. Dodge the lesson, take a wrong turn, screw it up… you get another chance, and another and another with compounding complexities and additional variables.

I have determined that God must love me very much to have showered me with so much attention and so many opportunities to learn a few simple lessons. I must be an extremely trying child.

You Can’t Tell Anyone Anything

You really can’t teach people their life lessons. You can (as a parent) position their “pre-independent decisions” in a way that exercises a child’s decision making skill set, but you cannot ultimately expect anyone to learn from your lessons… not even your own children.

I wish I could.

I recognize myself in my grown boys and I wish I could save them the heartache and the pain of learning what I’ve learned. I can’t.

Instead, I have to remember to tell them that I love them, that I know they will make the right choices (eventually), and that I’m sorry life is difficult for them at that particular moment. Oh, yeah, and to listen to their gut… and be safe.. (then I have to remember to shut up an let them live their own lives.)

Control Freaks Are Dangerous (To Themselves)

They are also annoying to others. Being a natural control freak, from a long line of control freaks, I feel adequately experienced to say that being a control freak sucks.

We, as a group, feel that our only way to guarantee our own freedom is to control everything around us. That includes our environment, our family, our friends, and anyone that comes into our ever-expanding realm.

It’s exhausting. It’s bad for your health. It causes stress-related issues.

Controlling vs. Being Controlled

The lesson to be learned here is not how to control everything and it’s not to determine what organizational method will finally make this impossible task more manageable. The answer is to realize that the easiest way to gain freedom is to let go of all that… and make the personal decision to not only quit trying to control everything, but to simultaneously ensure that no one controls you.

A Basis in Fear

I think control freaks are mostly just scared of being controlled. In response to this fear, we try to control everything. This, of course, is an impossibility and is naturally doomed to failure. Failure cranks up the control freak and makes them even more fearful, more controlling, and more out of control. It’s a horrific cycle.

On a personal note, realizing that I didn’t need to control anyone else, means I have more time to determine how to keep myself free from being controlled. I’m more happy-go-lucky than I’ve ever been. The only real change is this realization. And, I think I annoy others less.

Control freaks also have natural tendencies to be:

Fixers – We are great at fixing other people’s problems. It’s soooo obvious what they need to do. So we tell them. We are lousy at doing anything about our own problems and we aren’t so great at listening. We are busy solving the problem, we can’t be bothered to listen to our friend tell us the whole story. We forget that sometimes people simply need to be heard and loved.

Empathetic – We are those people that have “the look” — you know, the one that makes the lady in the checkout lane at the grocery store tell you her long, sad story about her health problems, her ungrateful children, her financial woes. We are also the people who have this compelling desire to remedy at least some of those issues, preferably on the spot.

Giving – We will give you the shirt off our back. We will do anything to help, including self-sacrifice. We are GREAT at self-sacrifice. (Of course we are also pretty darn good at being martyrs afterward, but you won’t know it, because we won’t say it. We also never forget it — or forgive you for it.)

Organized – We don’t rid ourselves of stresses, possessions or difficult situations; we collect them. To prevent any resulting incapacitating mental illness, heart attacks and the like, we must find a way to manage our collections. It never occurs to us eliminate all the “stuff” — instead we spend our lives finding creative ways to organize it all. We are MASTER organizers. Everyone is so jealous at how well we can multi-task and juggle everything. We are the first people asked to help with new projects, events, and impossible undertakings.

Want something done? Ask the control freak, s/he will get it done and make you shine. Go enjoy your round of golf and quality time with your family, we have it UNDER CONTROL! A control freak on the team will guarantee your success. Isn’t that special?

Drama Queens – we aren’t just drama queens, we are drama kings and knights and the whole blasted Round Table. Personally, I’ve walked around most of my life with a drama magnet lodged in my posterior. For years, I thought everyone had that kind of drama. Then it became so overwhelming that a few months ago I had to stand back and say aloud “Is this REALLY my life?!?” I had to repeat it several times.

My magnet was one of those neodymium, super-magnet varieties. You know the kind… they have a warning on the package about mishandling causing bodily harm. My drama magnet attracted the most bizarre situations and people. All of whom I felt the need to fix, adopt, organize or marry (and sometimes ALL of the above).

Sad. It really is. Drama magnets CAN be extracted, but they have a tendency to regrow if you don’t meditate, pray or smudge the house regularly with cleansing sage brush or some such. I better go do that now…

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Angela is currently in a self-led 12-step recovery program for control freakishness. She still has difficulty discerning the things over which she has no control, and an even more difficult time resisting the urge to grab control of some situations, but she is working it out. She reports that it’s going extremely well but does claim to have recent, resurgent cravings to smoke, despite being smoke-free for many years.

She is enjoying a more simple life, a less stressful daily schedule, and the ability to enjoy the particulars of each day. Until she is farther along in her program, she has decided not to spend much time outside the house. By the middle of August, she plans to re-emerge from her cocoon. ..like a butterfly.

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