By: Marilyn L. Davis


Giving Up the Illusion of Control

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

The idea that I have control over anything other than myself is an illusion. Sometimes, that illusion comes into focus, and I can clearly see that I have to change some aspect of myself if I don’t like the situation. Other times, I’m still creating the illusion that I can control outcomes, and frankly, I can’t. 

Relinquishing the control freak mentality takes work in our recovery. 

When I first got into recovery, I accepted that I had no control over my employment. I’d gone from the fair-haired child on campus to schlepping mail in the mailroom. Not only was it a come down, but my boss was a work-study student who I sanctioned when she lived in my dorm. She made every attempt to put me in my place, and only with the help of my sponsor did I realize that her actions were simply a reaction to when I’d had control over her. 

For me, the lesson in that exchange was that we could not empathize with someone else until we’ve been on the other side of the issue. We eventually reconciled our problems, and she supported my recovery. I also had an opportunity to make amends. I’d sanctioned her, not because she was guilty of breaking a rule, per se, but because she challenged me bringing alcohol into the dorm. 

It’s Like Being a Kid Again

After treatment, I also had to live with my parents, and they wanted me to be home by 9:30 PM. My meetings ended at 9 PM, and many people went to a local restaurant for coffee afterward. When they would invite me, I would not admit that I had a curfew at 40 years old, so I always had to make up some excuse why I couldn’t go. I probably seemed rude or like I didn’t want to socialize with members of my NA group but owning up to my situation was too embarrassing. 

Even when I explained the situation to my parents, they wouldn’t budge on the curfew, which set up resentments. 

Resenting people who control our actions is a fairly common reaction to being controlled, but it’s unhealthy. I finally had to realize that the reason that my parents had control over my actions was a direct result of my actions and that more than resenting them, I was mad at myself for needing treatment in the first place. Again, working with my sponsor, I started appreciating my parent’s position. They had an orderly life – dinner, dishes, watching the news, playing a game of Cribbage, and bed at 10 PM. 

If I weren’t home by 9:30 PM, they would worry, and as my dad said, “We’ve worried about you for years, and we’re just too old to do that now.” 

Is There Anything I Can Control? 

Taking Steps helped me with my control issues by forcing me to look at myself and my life when I thought I was in control. It didn’t run smoothly, people were disappointed by my decisions and actions, and outcomes were typically negative or got me adverse results. 

Like many other people, I ran 180 degrees to the opposite side of the issue. I decided to let everyone else control my life. Family, friends, sponsors, employers, and students. I still wasn’t in balance on the control issue, just on the other side of it. 

One day in a meeting, a successful business owner started sharing about his control issues. He said he controlled his employees through intimidation, threats, raises, or withholding praise, and when his marriage started crumbling due to his drinking and using, he tried those tactics with his wife. She left him. But it was a wake-up call for him about how he treated people, his attitudes, and his outcomes. 

What Fueled My Issues? 

I admired his honesty and thought about whether I’d ever used those same self-defeating behaviors or character defects on people. See, that’s one of the benefits of meetings – people share their life experiences, and we get an opportunity to review ours. 

The 10th Step at night is a time for reflection on our attitudes, behaviors, and actions during the day. So, I looked at intimidation and threats, and although I couldn’t find where I’d used them, I saw where my being controlled by my ex, who used intimidation and threats, could make me overreact when I didn’t feel in control. The problem with that logic is that we aren’t back in that situation, and we’re probably overreacting to the current influences on our lives. 

What I had to acknowledge I’d done with my ex was exert control over when he could see our children. So, once again, when I looked at my behaviors, they weren’t that great, either. 

In My Recovery, What Do I Really Control? marilyn l davis from addict 2 advocate

What Can I Control? 

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.”― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Learning that I wasn’t in control wasn’t hard. I had multiple examples in my early recovery. But I wanted to feel better about myself, which meant that I could control my recovery or relapse, emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. Here were five areas of my life where no one controlled me. 

  1. Recovery or Relapse: I had one simple rule – do not use. 
  2. Emotions: An old-timer talked one day about controlling our emotions. He said it was like driving a car. We didn’t just sit behind the wheel, hands in our laps, and gun the engine. No, we controlled the direction the car took, how fast or slow, and when we needed to apply the brakes. That made perfect sense to me. So, when I felt angry, I hit the brakes. When I felt happiness, I speeded up. I avoided conflict in one and enjoyed the ride in the other. 
  3. Thoughts: Managing and controlling my thoughts were more challenging. I spent a lot of time thinking about what a loser I was. Failed marriages, giving my children back to their dad, a drug addict, and alcoholic. Then one day, a woman talked about how self-esteem wasn’t something others gave us; it was what we thought about ourselves. So, since my self-esteem in early recovery was so low, I recognized that only I could change and control it. Wow! Simply by changing my thoughts and actions, my self-esteem increased. It also increased with every chip I picked up. I started accepting praise from people at work instead of dismissing their comments. These things altered my thinking and put me in control of my thoughts about myself. 
  4. Behaviors: Controlling my behaviors was more straightforward, although they started as thoughts. If the idea was impulsive or acting on it would cause harm to others or me, I didn’t do it. 
  5. Attitudes: I started asking myself one simple question, “Is this a positive or negative attitude to have about the situation or the person.” When I got my answer, I also looked to see if there was any control aspect that I needed to work on with that attitude.

Less Control, More Recovery 

“How would your life be different if…You stopped worrying about things you can’t control and started focusing on the things you can? Let today be the day you free yourself from fruitless worry, seize the day, and take effective action on things you can change.”― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Today, I’m in control of myself. I know what I can control, and it was back to the same five things from my early recovery thirty-three years ago—recovery or relapse, my emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. But I’ve added others over the years, too. 

  • The thoughts I choose to dwell on
  • Who I allow into my heart
  • What I put into my body
  • What I choose to say or not
  • How I respond to others 

What Is Still Outside my Control?

I don’t buy into the illusion that I can control any of the following, making my life more manageable. 

  • What others think or say
  • What others feel
  • Decisions that others make
  • How others respond to me
  • My family, friends, others in the program
  • God
  • Death
  • Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
  • Any politician

Yes, we can influence some of these, but we don’t control them. 

What Are Your Issues? 

Have you abandoned the illusion of control over others, circumstances, and situations? Have you looked beyond the facade of control in your life? Are there things you can control, and if so, what are they for you? Please leave a comment and let’s start the conversation. 



Bio: Marilyn L. Davis


Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.  

For editing services, contact her at 

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