"I don't wanna rule the world
Just wanna run my life"
(Janet Jackson, 'Control')
Control is an important element in my life. If you know me at all personally, you'd probably think "there is a pretty in-control person", and to some extent you would be correct. If fact, the phrases "wrapped too tight" and "rigid" have been used in the past to describe an extreme view of how this plays out in dealing with me. However lest anyone thing that the control I'm talking about is over others, then you'd be absolutely. positively wrong. I actually I want control over no one.
Scratch that last sentence; I just want control over one person actually: myself.
In a lot of ways, the biggest struggles I have had in life to date have been those over personal control, where events, situations and things seem to have this ability to exercise a level of control over my behavior that I find appalling to the point of causing depression. No where is this more apparent than in two areas: alcohol and eating.
D.I.T. (drunk in training)
As a normal course of business, I don't normally drink alcohol (well more on that later). In fact, I basically stopped drinking for all intensive purposes around about 1988 or so. I have had a relapse or two over the years, but by and large I can look back and see only three days or so over the past twenty years where I've let alcohol get the best of me. Why? Why is this such a big deal, after all people go out all the time and have a drink or two over dinner and are fine (this happens all the time when I am traveling by the way)? For me, it's pretty simple: I learned in the late 80's that when it comes to booze I effectively have two switches: None and Drunk. Simply put, it's very difficult for me to be able to drink in moderation. As a concept, moderating never came into the picture when I was "learning" to drink. This is in part, I think, because I was and (to a lessor extent) still am an extreme introvert. Think about it: Booze became the "magic potion" that made all my introverted inhibitions simply go away. Who wouldn't want that? It was a real "Jeckel and Hyde" kind of thing. Couple that with an alcoholic father and you get someone who is never more than a few cases of beer away from dysfunction.
So what happened?
First, I somehow realized that it really, really stunk when I would wake up feeling like I had to vomit into a garbage can at 6:30 in the morning (after not having slept all night). Simply put, the consequences were horrible. Clearly, my body was telling me that this stuff was poison and that it needed to be removed at any cost and through any available passageway.
Second, I realized that the "magic potion" that tamed my introversion was in fact turning me into something I was not. The alcohol molecules had this ability to direct my words and actions. It took control. Pondering this, you realize just how frightening that thought really is: this is MY body and MY mind, yet I am turning it over to this THING that will MAKE ME DO things?
The is an epilogue to this part of the story: I haven't been what I consider to be drunk in a long time. I have, however, re-learned (I think, hope, pray) to be able to have a glass of wine with a meal or in the evening every once in a while and, surprisingly, leave it at that. It has gotten to the point where I control the alcohol, instead of the alcohol controlling me.
Food, Glorious Food
The second biggest control problem I've faced in life surrounds food. To give you some perspective, looking at my life as an adult (from age 18 onward), my 6 foot 3.5 inch frame has weighted anywhere from 178 to 262 pounds. Growing up I had the metabolism of an elephant shrew, eating (mainly the wrong things) constantly, but always remaining a very thin guy. When I graduated from high school I was a rail. As I got into my twenties, my metabolism began to slow down but my eating didn't. In fact, I probably ate worse the older I got, if that's conceivably possible. At my worst, my weight was so bad that I was having blood pressure problems and I was faced with the choice of either losing weight or going on B.P. medication for the rest of my life. I wisely choose to loose the weight, and eventually dropped down to about 211 pounds.
The story doesn't end there though.
I remember when, after loosing weight for the better part of a year, I "jumped the shark" and started to gain it back. I was on vacation in South Carolina, it was a night, and I was depressed at the thought of paying all this money for a vacation but yet being miserable. I was all alone, wandering around the boardwalk and decided to go into this greasy restaurant. I ended up ordering a hamburger, fries, a diet soda and this enormous ice-cream & chocolate cake thing for desert. It tasted good, but it also marked the back slide on all the work I had done to drop over 50lbs. Eventually my weight went back to about 255lbs. So what happened?
Surprisingly, control had a lot to do with it.
When I was losing the weight, there was a personal event happening in my life that left me feeling completely out of control. Because this thing involved someone else, there was only so much I could do to impact the situation, which left me anxious, depressed and longing for at least something I could control in my life. That something became food. Dieting...and in retrospect that's what I was doing...became this substitute thing in my life that I could control and it became very comforting. While I told everyone at the time I was losing weight to lower my blood pressure, and on one level that was true, it wasn't the whole story. No, the more important underlying reason was I desperately needed to be able do to something positive to control some aspect of my life, as so many others were outside of my control.
Things do come full circle though.
Events this year have once again brought me back to the point where I realize that it's important to me, as a person, to be able to control what happens to my body. I feel this way not out of depression, anxiety or some notion of vanity, but rather because I've found that gives me peace of mind to know that I, and only I, decide what I put into my mouth. I listen to my body and how it feels, and I make better choices about what I eat, which my body in term reinforces as a good choice by helping me to feel better. Right now I'm back to losing weight, but I highly doubt that I will ever get back to 211 pounds. No, this time I'm focusing on changing my eating habits, eating at a clip to lose weight when I can, and always asking myself how I feel before I decide to put anything into my mouth. I'm not perfect at this, I will not rapidly lose any weight, and I sure as hell have no illusions about having the ability to maintain this level of control constantly. I do know this though: I now realize that I control what happens when it comes to eating, and that makes me feel much better.
I don't really understand what brought me to this point...I really don't. Much like the weather, there are probably a thousand individual cause-n-effect elements at play here, with the sum total being far too difficult to model, predict or explain. I do know and understand this though: I enjoy being in control of me, and that includes continued sobriety and making food decisions that make my body feel better. There isn't enough enjoyment in this world, so this is a very good thing.