Life, controlled

I love lists. To-do lists, short-term, long-term, lists of accomplishments, lists that track data or statistics… oh I love them and I know I’m not the only one. Most of us who are like this don’t necessarily talk too much about it though, we know we’re the minority and it’s almost a closet passion. I’ve met a few kindred spirits though and learned that there are incredibly similar reasons behind our love of lists. Our gathering and tracking (and yes, sometimes hoarding) of information and data makes us feel secure and grounded – safe. They make a person feel like they can clearly see, assess, measure – control – everything in our reach and even those things beyond our current reach. Goals and dreams for the future even factor into the never-ending compilation of lists and spreadsheets. So does looking back and tracking where we’ve come from in so many areas of life. From work performance and tasks to personal activity, health and fitness tracking and goals to budgets, it can all be sorted and tracked and analyzed – almost obsessively so. “Archive” is a word that gives people like me the warm fuzzies – but we’ll almost never admit that, except to another like-minded spreadsheet-loving freak.  I am not exaggerating when I say I have budgets archived from at least 10 years ago and I can tell you exactly how much I spent in a coffee shop in October 2003 ($41.85). Want to know what the postal code was for the apartment that I lived in for a few months in 1990? I have that too. What was my body fat percentage in March 2013, just one second while I pull that up. This goes beyond the usual grocery list on the fridge type of behaviour that is what most people limit themselves to – and I know that. Being in control and task oriented is a good thing, even necessary depending on how you live your life. Yet what I’m looking at here is something other than what would be considered “normal”. An easy analogy: having a drink with friends when you get together is all good; secretly drinking alone every night until you pass out is not healthy behaviour. Same idea but without the alcohol….

So why is it that some people are so bound by lists and the need to collect and track information? Any behaviour that is habitual must serve a need to be continued. The question then is how is it serving a need – and more importantly – if you want to change it – what is that need?

Some introspection this past week has me pondering the reasons behind it all. It’s not the first time that I’ve thought “what would happen if I just stopped?” Would the world stop spinning if I chose to “delete forever” from my drive? Would my ability to function within my safety net of knowing everything be affected? It’s these thoughts that drive me to peruse the “why”. It’s actually something I contemplate every time someone in my life points out that these lists and compilations aren’t always the healthiest of behaviour patterns for me.

Breaking it down, It comes down to two very separate and distinct motivators. From the people who I’ve encountered, and my own experience, these reasons exist with very blurred lines of separation and aren’t mutually exclusive.

The first is control. The control that a person has over their lives, or the illusion of control, serves a massive need to feel secure and stable. It is personal safety 101 and it is one of our most basic, primal needs that we search to have met. If you grow up experiencing life with trauma, abuse, neglect, instability or a feeling of not being secure – this is where it can manifest from. From a sense of not being able to control even the most basic of your needs like personal safety or stability in your environment we learn coping mechanisms. Some people put up walls so thick and high that their own internal space becomes the only space they need or want to feel that security. They dissociate, find a secure place inside of themselves and hunker down for the long haul, sometimes for life. Others turn outwards, looking to obsessively control any aspect that they can. For these people, when they start to have control over some areas of their lives, they exert it stringently and with an iron fist. Welcome to homes that are never cluttered or untidy, bookshelves arranged by colour or author or book size, closets that are micro-organized. Lives that are lived scheduled to the minute and smartphones that are linked to every calendar imaginable for cross referencing. This type of behaviour is something that can be a healthy characteristic to possess. It’s when it creeps into needing to control other people’s actions (or reactions) that it can get messy and toxic.  In teen years, or even younger, this control shows up as eating disorders and other forms of self harm. You can’t control if someone is abusing you but you sure as hell can decide to not eat or to secretly hurt yourself with blades. You exert dominance over the one thing you can; your body.

Which brings me to the next option for “why”. Closely linked but different.

You grow up, move out and get away from the external influences that you sought to wrestle control from. Now you are competent and in control and perfection in action… Unless you aren’t. Instead of your mother or father or society inflicting the hurt or telling you that you aren’t good enough or you are a failure, you learn to (outwardly at least) shake that off and be strong and independent! Yet the firmly entrenched and expected feeling of being not good enough or “wrong” somehow is – sadly – a comfortable way to feel. As dysfunctional as that sounds, it’s what is the most normal and it’s been the most consistent feeling in your life for so long that it actually feels better when you feel badly. Messed up, but not uncommon unfortunately. So, what better way to punish or hurt yourself (and create that familiar, if unhealthy, feeling) than by being the one to set up the parameters for how you measure up? This is an easy one to hide from even yourself though. It very often masquerades as “good” and “healthy” to the person doing it, even motivational. These types of behaviours are routinely even praised and encouraged by others. You feel accomplished and organized and you are the envy of your friends who can never find the tax papers they need or who run out of socks because they let their laundry pile up in the corners of their cluttered rooms. You give yourself a big pat on the back for having it all so together.

Looking deeper though, you’ll see the patterns of reactionary behaviour that go with this type of behaviour and tracking and list making. You know the exhaustion that comes from always needing to be perfect and the need to have everything around you perfect. You know that holding onto those spreadsheets of weekly or monthly goals not quite met sends you into an emotional spin. You know that every time you analyze what you consider a failure to meet unachievable goals (that you set for yourself…see the loop here?) you feel badly. Yet you still do it. You have become the abuser and the abused, and in some twisted way, you know this and it’s better than it was because now at least, you are in control of it.  You are the only one who can stop the cycle and be, ironically, in control of ending the cycle that eats away at your self-image and self-love. But how about instead of you being the one to control the hurt, you chose to stop it instead?

Whether it’s about control or self-harm, unhealthy actions need to be changed. It may sound simplistic and it is. Simple, but not easy. Being aware of the “why” is sometimes the first stop on the road to making changes. From there, you’re in control, in a good way.

Advertisements

So badly wanted.

For years I had wanted something so badly, I craved it more than I can ever remember wanting anything else. It wasn’t a singular item or want exactly. It was something that I would daydream about though. I would make plans about what I would do with it when I had it and I would imagine what it would be like to have it. Oh, you can bet I dreamed and wished and planned for the elusive, but certain, day when I would have it. When it would be mine.

What was it that I wanted so badly? Time. Time was what I wanted. Not just any old kind of time though. I wanted time to myself. Time that was just for me to use as I wanted. Time that was for my pursuits and dreams and needs – and wants. Selfish time that had only one focus, me.

You see, back then, when that was what I wanted more than anything else, time was a valuable commodity to me. I was a single parent, I had young (and numerous) children and work outside of the home and my own business. Oh, and attempts at a social life in there somewhere as well. Volunteering, community and school commitments aplenty and all of the late night hours that went along with those. My time was given freely and readily to everyone else in my life. I didn’t begrudge the fact that this was my life, in fact I loved it. I thrived on the pace of it all and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

But time for myself just was never there. Each day when everything all was done, I would fall into bed exhausted and imagine what it would be like to have even just a couple of hours to myself that I could do anything I wanted with. Even getting to enjoy a bath without knocks on the door and voices asking me questions and wanting to know when I would be done was unheard of back then. I craved solitude and silence. I couldn’t even grasp the concept of what entire day or weekend just for me would be like. That was beyond even my imagination!

Now though, I have that. I have time to myself. I have crafted my life after a change in circumstances into what it is now, and that life includes time for me. I have hours to myself. Days even, all to myself. I still have work and other commitments but the demands on my time that used to fill the other hours are no longer there. Silence and solitude is the standard for this new life of mine. So what is it that I do with the time that I so desperately wanted and that I now actually possess?

Nothing, for the most part. I wanted it more than anything and now that I have it, I don’t use it.

Do I spend hours writing and creating like I always wanted to, but never had the time for?

No, barely ever.

What about those imagined hobbies or interests that were going to be sought out “some day”? Still waiting on those.

What about me seeking out the little dalliances that pique my desires to explore?

Not a single one delved into yet.

What about spending indulgent days doing nothing and feeling amazing about it?

Nope.

The one thing that I have ever wanted the most is mine now, and I don’t even use it – and it’s time that changed.

Propelled and Paralyzed

Seeking

  1. to go in search or quest of: to seek the truth.
    2. to try to find or discover by searching or questioning: to seek the solution to a problem.
    3. to try to obtain.
    4. to try or attempt.
    5. to go to: to seek a place to rest.
    6. to ask for; request:to seek advice.

 

Trying to even come up with a word for how I’m feeling the past while was hard. Seeking seems to fit though.

I find myself feeling lost in a sense. Roles and actions that used to be a part of how I identified “me” are no more. They have changed and with that change has come a sense of being adrift. A sense of feeling unknown in a way but at the same time, acutely aware that the core of me is very much clear and there. A dichotomy that leaves me feeling propelled and paralyzed.

Instead of lamenting what has been lost or what has changed, I am trying to look simply at what is now and what I want for the future. Looking back can only do so much for guidance moving forward and the truth is that what’s past is past; what’s gone is gone. Done, now what?

I came across a show the other day that had this thought in it: Our “issues” are gifts. While that is hard for me to swallow on a few “issues”, I get the sentiment and actually do embrace it. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the experiences I have had to get to this point. Things I have lived through and and with (and still do) have shaped the facets of who I am. Definitively, without a question, they are what made me, me. So where does that leave me in my seeking and what exactly is it I am seeking?

Simply, freedom. Release. The ability to move forward and to express what is deeply and authentically, me. I’m the only one who can give myself that and I am, slowly, recognizing that. It is sad and exciting to realize that the only thing standing between myself and how I want to live and things I want to do and achieve is me. What stops me from doing all of those things that I say “I know, I know” when my partner points out actions? It’s me. Just like it is for all of us.

We vent and express and talk about changes we want to make or things we want to do and if we are lucky enough to have someone who listens – and offers ideas or directions – we sit and nod and say yes, I know, I will, I should, I am going to…. We even say it to ourselves when it’s just our own voice that tells us what we already know we have to do. So why don’t we? Why don’t I? There’s the question; and only I know the answer. Just like it is for all of us. Only I can find what I’m seeking. Only I can make happen what I want. That thought is what has propelled and paralyzed me for so long it feels like. Not anymore though.

Life has a way of flitting by. Each day is so filled and busy and so just “life” that it goes by almost without notice. There has come an awareness lately for me that is raw and hard to live with. The awareness that time is not on my side. The years have slid by so fast and I have found myself grieving a life that I wanted to live that I haven’t. Experiences that have always been “some day”. The freedom to live true to who I am finally realized but it feels so late and like so much of my life has been lived small and that so much has been unrealized. The weight of what I haven’t accomplished or expressed or tried or experienced is so much more of a burden to bear than what I have – and that’s not the way I want it to be. So the time to change that is now. Now, because I am done being paralyzed. I’m done being held in place by the sheer feeling of being suffocated by regret and fear of “what if”. Propelled, not paralyzed is how it needs to be.