One very common trait of people in general, but especially those who deal with addiction, is the desire for control. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) describes it well in Chapter 5 - "How It Works, pages 60-62."
"Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest, and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish, and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.
"What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still, the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?
"Our actor is self-centered—ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired businessman who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?
"Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.
"So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic [sex addict] is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics [sex addicts] must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid."
Several times in the years since I recognized that I'm an addict, I have heard the first bolded quote in support groups. Every time it hits me really hard personally. I'm one who LOVES to be in control - even while I fully understand that it's a wrong way to live. The other bolded quotes describe me during the tale I'm about to tell.
It describes it so perfectly... in other words, life would be so wonderful if everyone and everything would line up to what I want.
This past week I had a big lesson in releasing control. I dropped my phone on tile and, even though it had a shockproof case on it, it hit in such a way that it immediately died. As I am a freelancer and I call my phone my "external brain," it was a huge issue that needed to be resolved asap.
After researching various phones, I finally decided on the one that was the best balance of performance and cost and got it ordered. At first, I was optimistic about getting a new phone quickly, thinking that the one I ordered would be delivered the next day.
I looked at my receipt, waiting to see an estimate of when it would arrive. It just said "processing." Since I didn't know what that meant, I called the company to ask for an estimate.
My stomach dropped as I heard the words that it took a couple of days for processing and 3-5 days to ship it. WHAT?! I would have to go a WEEK without a phone? How would I work? How would I relax? What would I do?
I went into troubleshooting mode, trying to figure out a temporary solution. I knew with enough time and effort I would figure it out and fix this issue. I gathered up old phones I had and asked others if they had old phones I could borrow. For different reasons, nothing worked.
Racking my brain for other options, I finally realized that a pre-paid phone was the way to go, though not a cheap one. The only place I could find one in a store that was still open was across town, but my boyfriend was willing to go and get it for me. Knowing that sometimes it takes a while to port a number, we activated it together with me using a borrowed phone (not my number) late that evening, fully expecting it to work the next morning.
Whew! I had made it through the day without my phone and my phone number. I was really proud of myself.
Boy, was I wrong. This next morning, I met my boyfriend at his office to get the phone. When I turned it on, it didn't work. I got home and began the many, many phone calls and online chats to various customer reps about what was going on.
By that evening, I gave up on this phone. There was nothing I could do. Apparently, there was a defect. I returned the phone to the store and got a refund on the service, planning to buy one from a different company.
Because I didn't find a good deal on another phone, had already made it two days without one, and was trying to be optimistic that my new permanent phone would come sooner than promised, I went into Wednesday knowing I wouldn't have a phone at least one more day.
I can't remember how I realized this next issue, but it was even more stomach-dropping... Because I had canceled my service plan the night before, I possibly lost my phone number permanently. I have had this phone number for over 20 years and now run a business with it. I can't even imagine how many hours it would take to inform everyone about a new number and how much business I could lose every day until I had fully switched over.
Spending another day working on this issue, I was able to figure out a solution to hopefully keep my phone number, but I wouldn't know for sure until I activated the new phone. I bought another pre-paid phone to get my account going again as soon as I could.
Trying to activate it for the first time Wednesday evening, it didn't activate immediately. Again, there was nothing I could do about this part of the process. My stomach had been in knots all week but I was exhausted. Somehow I was able to get to sleep.
I woke up about 4am, as I often do (though I usually go back to sleep relatively quickly). My first thought was to check my new phone and see if it had activated. It hadn't. So, I went to my account for the permanent phone to see when it would arrive.
I almost threw up from anxiety when I saw that the order had been canceled. As the company didn't open until 8am, I had 4 hours to worry about what was going on. Needless to say, I didn't get back to sleep.
Calling at exactly 8am, I then found out that the service with this company wasn't available in my area. Nothing in the ordering process mentioned that it wasn't in my area - or that it was something I should even check on. There was again nothing I could do about this issue... I had to start over researching and buying another permanent phone.
To complicate matters even more, the pre-paid company I was using had issues with both phone and chat in their customer service department on Thursday morning and I couldn't even check into why the second phone wasn't activating. Once AGAIN, there was nothing I could do.
I moved into the mode of finding another service company and another phone. It was a lot harder this time as I had already been burned by several wireless companies over the years and wanted one with inexpensive plans and phones as well as good customer service (a hard thing to find). Finally, something I could control!
However, I still couldn't control the fact that my pre-paid phone still wasn't activating. I couldn't control that it would now be Monday before I got the permanent phone. I couldn't control if I had, in fact, lost my phone number and would have to deal with the complications of getting a new one. I couldn't control that, because of dealing with this issue, I had lost almost a week of work.
I finally surrendered to the situation (at least partially) Thursday afternoon. I didn't stay on the phone and/or chat (yes, I did both at the same time occasionally because I got different answers about what was wrong from almost every rep I talked to) like I had been doing all week. I still checked into the issue, but I tried to move on and recognize that this issue wouldn't go on forever.
Friday morning I had peace about it. I woke up and checked my phone and, once again, it still wasn't working. I waited patiently for the call center to open up and checked into it again. Still nothing. However, I was assured that the problem had been found and I would have service by 6pm that night. I was able to do some work that day, with exhaustion from the stress of the past week now affecting me more than anxiety about the future.
At 6pm when the activation still hadn't happened, I called again. This time I got someone who saw the real problem and fixed it. WOO-HOO! I had a phone again... and I got back my original number!
My happiness was short-lived as there was a problem with my service plan. I spent another hour or so on the chat and phone trying to figure it out, finally talking to a supervisor.
This is when I knew I had really surrendered. Instead of arguing with the supervisor about how unfair this ordeal was and how I was still dealing with it, I calmly explained the situation and accepted her solution (though I still don't feel it was fair).
I have no doubt that this entire week was a lesson in letting go of control. I didn't even go into every problem that I dealt with during a workweek without my phone (things like having one photography assignment I had to get done and still being on the phone with a service rep when I needed to get ready and leave). There were too many coincidences in things happening with the worst timing possible for me not to recognize that it was a chance maybe set-up by my Higher Power, or at least used by my Higher Power, to work on my character defect of having to be in control.
But, even though it took a week of stomach-churning anxiety to get there, I was able to eventually get to the point of surrender (at least this time) and realize a taste of the serenity we are promised if we work the Steps.