7 Insights into How I Learned to Relinquish Control and Embrace Serenity

Issue 82. July 5, 2024 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since doing the 12-step recovery, I now have the ability to look back at my life before recovery and see it with crystal clarity in a way that was just not possible before. I’m frequently able to look back at various situations and see: here’s what I was thinking, here’s what I was doing, and here’s what my motives were. Meanwhile, at the time it was happening, I was completely blind to all of it.

One of the things I can see now is that the extreme desire I had to understand things was rooted in my need to control outcomes. I wanted to know all the facts, the context, and the variables that contributed to something. I can see now that that extreme desire to understand things was because I thought if I knew everything that was involved, I could manipulate the variables in such a way that things would come out the way that I wanted. In other words, I could control the outcome.

When it came to romantic relationships, I wanted to understand why “he” (whoever “he” was at the time, since I date men) did that or why he keeps doing that. I felt that if I got that, then I could get him to stop doing “it” (whatever “it” was that I didn’t like). I did all this without having any conversations with him, of course, since I didn’t know how to directly and clearly communicate, nor was it an option for me. I didn’t know that was a thing. This is an important reason why I frequently resorted to manipulation and control. Direct and clear communication is key. For example, “Help me understand what you meant by that” rather than filling in the gaps with your own story and making their actions mean something that they don’t. Get clarity.

There are many ways I’ve let go of control in my life because of recovery. Some of that came from the fact that I didn’t even realize that was what I was doing. As they say, awareness is the first step in any change process. I also became aware, on a deep level, that the only thing I can control is me: my thinking, my feelings, my attitudes, and my behavior. 

Another big shift that has allowed me to let go of control is that I became willing to let go of outcomes. I do the footwork, then let the outcome go to God. Even though I was a pretty spiritual person by the time I got into recovery, I wasn’t using God the way I do now. What I mean by that is I now seek guidance from God. I turn things over to God (i.e., give the outcome to God). I ask God, “Show me your will for me and give me the power to carry that out). 

This has changed everything. I no longer feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I no longer feel like I have to have an answer for everything or know everything. I now make sure I stay connected to my Higher Power because I truly believe that my HP power knows better than I do. I trust in the inherent goodness of the universe. I know that even if things don’t look that good, ultimately they will be.

I was hyper-focused on things coming out my way and I’m no longer invested in that. This shift was aided by the fact that I came to understand that my way isn’t necessarily the right way or the best way. This was news to me when I did the 12 steps! It was the process of doing the 12 steps that revealed that to me.

Something that’s come to the surface of my consciousness about all this is that I’ve really gotten the message that I don’t get to get my curiosity satisfied all the time. I used to always feel like if I was curious about something, then I somehow deserved to get my curiosity satisfied. It felt like I HAD to have my curiosity satisfied.

Now I understand that I can just be curious and am able to live with not having it satisfied. I’m able to not get closure on things. I can live with things sort of “hanging open” and it doesn’t flip me out the way it used to. Of course, I like to get closure, but it’s not required for my peace and serenity. 

This brings to mind two sayings about understanding. One of them is:
“When you understand, things are as they are.
When you do not understand, things are as they are.”

Meaning: the facts don’t change with understanding.

Another saying that contrasts with that is: 
“There could be something, the knowing of which, changes everything.”
I lived in the second saying. The facts may not change, but our interpretation of what those facts mean could change if we knew just one other little piece of information. I always thought that if I just understood some additional piece of information, then everything would make sense to me. Understanding would fall into place, and I could move on to the part where I could control the outcome. 

I think that partly my need to understand things came from growing up very confused. I didn’t realize how confused I had been my whole life until recovery. There wasn’t much direct communication in my family. My family didn’t talk about a lot of things, we were just expected to know things or figure them out. 

A very basic example is that I was told my whole life, “You’re going to college” but never given any information on what, exactly, it means to go to college. What do I need to do to prepare (besides getting a good grade, I got that part!). But I never got any help on how to get good grades beyond, “try harder.” So, when I first landed in college, I dropped out mid-way through my second semester. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I felt completely lost. I was there because my parents told me to go.

That’s just one rather mundane example from scores of subjects in my life where I was just expected to know things. And the option of asking questions just didn’t seem possible. I can see now that I often didn’t understand what was going on, and what things meant, why are we saying we do this in our family when we actually do that? And why are we saying we don’t do that but we actually do?

I think that confusion or lack of clarity partly drove my need to understand things. Now I don’t NEED to understand things like I used to. I’ve really internalized that I don’t get to get my curiosity satisfied, partly because I’m no longer attached to outcomes and no longer feel the need to control people, places, and things that are outside my control. I focus on myself, my thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors because those are things I can control. I also know how to directly and clearly community with people, which has radically changed my life.
I wanted to turn my partners into emotionally available people, turn my boss into someone who followed through on things and change our education system into one that equitably distributes education and resources to urban districts just like in wealthy suburban districts.

By taking an inventory of my life in recovery I realized that none of my efforts to control such things was working. Despite all my efforts to manipulate and control, I wasn’t making things come out the way that I wanted. Attempting to do that was draining me and robbing me of the peace and serenity which are my birthright. 

I was trying to control the uncontrollable (people, places, and things). Because I had all my focus and energy out there, I wasn’t focused on myself and what was going on internally (i.e., the things that I could control) so as to make my life even more manageable. 

When I’m attached to outcomes, it means I’m using my teeny tiny little Barb Nangle perspective rather than allowing God to use the perspective of the entire universe to figure things out. And that never worked!

As a recap, here are the seven insights I shared from my own personal experience on letting go of control.

  1. Awareness of the Need for Control: Recognizing that the extreme desire to understand things was rooted in a need to control outcomes.
  2. Letting Go of Outcomes: Becoming willing to let go of outcomes and trusting in a Higher Power.
  3. Control Over Self: Understanding that the only things you can control are your own thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors.
  4. Living with Unanswered Curiosities: Accepting that you don’t always need to have your curiosity satisfied and can live with things being unresolved.
  5. Trust in a Higher Power: Seeking guidance from and turning outcomes over to God, which has alleviated the pressure of having to know and control everything.
  6. Realization of Ineffectiveness: Recognizing that attempts to control others and situations were draining and ineffective.
  7. Focus on Internal Control: Shifting focus from controlling external factors to managing internal ones, which are within your control.


My Phone Case

I drop my phone all the time. I’m shocked at how much abuse it can take without breaking, malfunctioning or cracking the screen. The engineering on this thing is incredible – even when I drop it face down, it’s still protected!! This particular one is not only pretty, but it’s compostable! Yup. It biodegrades. It’s from Pela, in case you’re interested.

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