Alice’s Story: The C Word

After years of attending one of the 12-step programs, I have come to think of control as the C Word. To compensate for having no control in one area of my life, I tried to control just about everything else. I was frazzled, pushy, cranky, and difficult to please. I was also a big manipulator, and the things I manipulated most were my own moods and energy level. My tools were coffee, cocoa, candy, bread, cookies, and wine. The automatic choices I made were all about seeking comfort for an outrageously uncomfortable body. Every day started with a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate served to me in bed by my husband. The jolt got me going. From there I raced through the day, trying to set up play dates and TV time for my kids for the moments when I wanted to sequester myself with a treat or protect them from my foul mood. I had no tolerance for noise or even too much light. The slightest stimulation would set me off.

“Come here!” “Don’t do that.” “Close the door!” “Pull down the shade!” “Turn that off.” “Stop whining!” I was always barking orders. And if they didn’t cooperate I became mean. This went on for years. It never occurred to me until I heard about appropriate control that a healthy person could control their children in loving and effective ways. Maybe I could too, once relieved of the grip of food on my mood.

There was only one way to do it: change. I had to observe how I felt on each of my favorite mood manipulators and decide if it went on my “never” list or my “sometimes” list. The way I knew which list to put it on was how hard I had to control myself if I had a little bit, in other words, I had to distinguish treats and triggers. I warned everybody I knew that Cold Turkey Day was coming. I stayed off everything for a week and managed not to kill myself or anybody else. And then the testing started. If a sip or a bite led to ten, it had to go. If I enjoyed it but I had no big reaction it was OK. The big players turned out to be anything with corn, caffeine, white sugar, white flour, and chocolate. These things made me nutty for more. Over time, the healthier I got, the sicker I felt when I cheated and ate them. It was nice that I could have some ice cream and wine, and I was able to cut them in half without feeling sorry for myself.

The big difference these eliminations made in my life was that I wasn’t trying to control everybody else into maintaining a quiet, bland, stimulation-deprived environment for me. I didn’t have to; I was sleeping better and my personal biology no longer required it.

I’m still cautious about the C Word. I never want to go back to the rigid, frazzled person I was. Now when I yell at the kids to turn down the blasted music, it’s because they’re teenagers and it really is too loud.