On control and powerlessness
When we don’t live our light, our shadows step in. One of mine comes in the form of eating disorders, which I have struggled with since I was 15. Depending on my life situation, they are a more or less dominant part in everyday life. I am only now understanding in what ways they have served me.
I have always been terrified of that part of me. Not only did it seem uncontrollable, it seemed to be controlling me. I used to try and fight that part, not understanding that it was no accident that that only made it worse.
What I know now:
1. The eating disorder kicks in when I feel like I am not in control of things – more specifically, when I cannot accept that feeling of not being in control. Suppressed fear of control results in actual (self-induced) loss of control. Sounds simple but I could not see that connection until recently.
2. There is no winning in fighting. I can only lose if I try to wage a war on myself (or anyone else for that matter). As long as I hate that part of me that seems so out of control and destructive, it will control me. That is not winning.
3. Only when I allow myself to see that this dis-order is the (misguided) attempt to serve an actual need, am I able to find ways to truly fulfill that need without self-destruction. When I started to search for a way to live with myself, to live with my eating disorder, that was when it started to loosen its grip on me.
That meant accepting two things: 1. I am not in control of everything (and sometimes of nothing at all), 2. I am terrified of that feeling. Yeah, it’s the second one that is the biggie. What happens when I binge-eat is that I try to suppress and mollify those feelings. At the same time, this creates (more) suffering. In that sense the destructive nature of this habit is doing the exact same thing that I am trying to avoid: forcing me to face my truth – the fact that I am full of fear of not being in control.
The fear of not being in control naturally comes from experiences where my own powerlessness seemed to threaten my life or at least my well-being. My childhood like many others was full of those experiences (I also believe this is a theme we all have spent numerous lives exploring). Who does not have a memory of a situation where you found yourself at the mercy of others who were unable or unwilling to use their power over you with kindness?
The truth is this: there is nothing we could have done in those situations. That is the real misunderstanding, the origin of this need for control: the belief that if only we had done this or that, things would have turned out right. When it comes to abusive relationships where one experiences being at the mercy of the other, there is in fact nothing one can do right within that relationship. As a child we can hardly walk away from that. That’s what second chances (karma) are for.
As an adult I drew a work situation into my life that gave me a chance to re-live that feeling of complete powerlessness, of not being able to deal with a person who did not only not care about my well-being but who was perfectly willing and capable of throwing me under the bus if it served her agenda. When the scenario in my mind was at its worst, I felt like Alice in Wonderland who didn’t know whether the Queen of Hearts was going to invite her to a round of cricket or call her henchmen to decapitate her. It took me a while to get through the panic and see that my life was not in fact threatened. That my mind was reacting to an echo from the past. That this time I could in fact walk away, and that that was the only thing I could do right.
As I wrote in my post on How to deal with conflicting emotions:
Our ego is a lot less in control than it likes to make us believe. When I look back at my life, I was hardly ever aware of the significance of the events that really shaped its course. The things that seemed important, which I worked myself up over, turned out not to be. The things that were, were never entirely up to me. In fact, I could even “mess them up” and “somehow” they worked out anyway – because that was the way things were needed to be for me to stay on my path.
For the most part of my life, I have poured my energy into all the things I had no power over: the milestones that were already set, the situations and people I could not change. It’s only in the recent past that I began to see where my power is truly effective and needed: that it’s all the little things in between, the ones that aren’t the game changers but the ones that „fill out the space“ between the big events. I’ve come to believe those are my life. Or rather, they determine what kind of life I am leading, whether it’s happy or not.
With all that in mind, I’d like to re-adjust what I said about acceptance of not being in control. I don’t want to accept the fact that I am not in control of parts of my life. I want to embrace it. I want to enjoy the fact that a burden has been lifted from my shoulders – because that is what this really is, when you walk around thinking that you have to fix the big stuff all by yourself. One false move and you’ve ruined everything! Who wants to live like that? Not me.
So what to do with all that freed up energy? Put it into making sure all the small stuff in between is as light and happy as possible.