When You Can’t Control It

I never played sports as a child. The closest I got was the athletic type of stuff your PE teacher makes you do.  Many of these experiences were humiliating for chubby Little Brandi.  I have one incredibly vivid memory of playing kickball one hot afternoon. I was one of the last kids chosen for my team (as usual) and every time I got close to being kicker, my heart started beating out of my chest. I didn’t understand it at the time, but my depth perception issues and clumsiness made it way too easy to miss every kick at the ball.

But that day, one pass at the ball actually connected. I took off, running for first base as hard and fast as my little legs could go. And then I tripped. I fell hard, sprawled in that dusty field with my arms and legs spread out in awkward positions – muscles stretching and straining from the brutal end to so much forward motion. As I lay in that dirt, dust rising around me, all I remember is laughter. The sound of an entire field of children, laughing at me.

As an adult, I look back at that memory and hope that not everyone was laughing. That my anxiety magnified the sound, until it completely overtook me and it was all I could hear. It’s horrific to imagine two dozen of your peers all laughing at you and your ugly fat body. But that’s exactly the feeling that stayed with me as I picked myself up and hobbled to the bench behind home plate.

Oh how I wish a teacher had been waiting at that home plate, a person who understood that all children are unique and beautiful.  A person who cared about me enough to point out that while I might be clumsy on my feet, I had a brilliant mind for reading and writing. Someone who could point out that I was special because of my ability to be kind to my classmates, when other kids didn’t know how to be.

But memories are a crazy thing. I have no idea who my teacher was during this gut-wrenching experience. If you asked me what grade I was in, I couldn’t tell you. No clue about my favorite song or movie. But that experience on the dusty field of an elementary school has shaped my life in more ways than I ever realized. For example, I have a fear of hiking. I love the idea of a challenging hike to a picturesque peak. I envision myself snapping the perfect photo, finding an inspiring quote to go along with it, posting those babies to Instagram and instantly gaining 50 more followers.

In reality, I’m scared to death of hiking. Those little bits of gravel that slip and slide under your feet as you’re headed downhill are a nasty reminder that I might fall at any minute. I’m convinced that the people surrounding me in that moment will laugh and point at the chubby chick who looks ridiculous hiking.

I see paddle boarders on the rivers of Portland, and I’m in awe of how free and empowered they look. I hear it’s a great workout, and I’m tempted to try it. Then I think of the “climbing on” process. I’m scared I’ll be seen as an awkward tub of lard climbing onto this graceful apparatus, and what the hell am I showing my body for on this river where only beautiful people deserve to be?

There’s a poison that lives inside of my thoughts, and the root is this kickball incident from 30 YEARS AGO. I refused to participate in team sports after that. When I climbed on the diet bandwagon though, I had to find some method of exercise.  It’s part of the formula, you know? Calories in must be less than calories out but you can earn more calories the more you sweat! In order to start sweating more, I decided to become a runner. I’d always of “being a runner” – ever since junior high when I was taunted for consistently coming in last during the group mile run.

It turned out that running was effing hard, but at least it allowed me some semblance of control. After all, running is just you and your body… no crazy bats or rackets or balls to deal with. Running let me be in total control of each move, and I quickly became addicted to the rush of a finished run and the extra calories that came along with it. I controlled the hell out of my body/runs, from a 5K to a half marathon.  I had to shift from running miles at a time to 90 minute elliptical sessions, when I got pregnant and was too high risk for the high impact of running. It wasn’t until my back gave out that I realized all cardio and no strength training was ruining me.  I pulled back on the cardio and worked on building my core strength, obsessively counting calories the whole time. I finally decided to take a break from exercise until I could have a healthier relationship with this important element of self-care.

It was during this break that I realized the extent of my controlling behavior. I would notice personality flaws about my amazing kid that might be off-putting to potential friends, and figure out ways to fix these flaws so she could have more friends. I’d notice hurtful habits of my husband’s and research support groups for him to join. I’d work with people who were “under-performing” and scheme about ways to neutralize them so the right work could get done.

You guys, I never saw myself as a monster. I actually thought I was pretty nice and lovable. I loved my family. I loved my work. I wanted the best for all of us. I could see the path to getting there, and I knew the people to talk to who could make things happen. But all of a sudden I started wondering if these things were actually in my control. I began learning about this idea of being “in flow.” The place where you understand your purpose, you have a sense for your path, and you trust that a greater power is carrying you along and taking care of all your needs. There’s no need for control when you’re in the flow. You. Just. Are.

But there are these quirky little things in the world called triggers. They’re lake land mines right on the edge of your path, waiting to trip you up and derail you. When I get triggered, I all back into behaviors I picked up from more than a decade working in PR – the twin towers of power called Influence and Control. These concepts are keys to success in the world of PR – and industry founded on the ideas of crowd psychology and psychoanalysis.

Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, is known as the “father of public relations.” He was named one of the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine. Bernays showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking products to their unconscious desires. In Propaganda, a book he released in 1928, Bernays argued that “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

This sounds a lot like domination through Influence and Control. Now, I get that Influence and Control can be used for good. But here’s the thing about Influence and Control, loves. They are an illusion that can shatter at any moment. They are twin towers that can be brought down by crazy people in jet planes. They might inspire pride, or rage. They can bring you glory and riches, or ruin lives.  I’m pretty sure I’m not interested in that business, man.

So here’s what I ask myself every time I get triggered. It’s definitely not “can I control this?” Because I know how to control more than I should. No, my question is “Who do I want to be in this situation?” And here’s my secret answer.  The one that drives every beat of my heart.

I want to believe in miracles. I want to observe them. I want to participate in them. I want to revel in them. And I want them for you, darlings.

Because I believe that each and every one of you is unique and beautiful. There is a bright light shining inside of you, just waiting to come out through the lens of your experiences and perspectives.  There is a power in this world that is greater than yourself, carving out a path of joy and meaning and love. And there are miracles in every day, just waiting to be noticed. 

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