How a fearful, control-freak found her way back into life through illness.
Control-freak was only one of the many names that people used to describe me. The top 5 were: camp director, know-it-all, woman on a mission, back seat driver and the one that I try to forget, little Hitler (Ouch!). The truth is-they were right. It had gotten so bad that I would get annoyed with the way people ate, talked, or even breathed! I always thought that I could do it better, faster or simpler. How did I become so fearful of the future that I made myself and everyone around me miserable? At the time, I had no idea and quite frankly, I didn’t think I had a problem. That was until my relationships started to fall apart. I even lost a friend of over 13 years because of my control-freak ways. But even that wasn’t enough to change me. It took a near death illness to knock me off my feet and force me to look inside to find a better way to be.
Before my illness, it appeared as if I was living a dream life. Any stranger looking in saw that I had it good. Only, I wasn’t happy. I constantly chewed at my cuticles and bit at my lower lip to release some of the anxiety that bombarded me. I was a mess, yet my life from the outside looked so rosy. Luckily, I became extremely ill, very quickly and my perfect life crumbled down around me from all sides.
Life knocks you down no matter who you are. For me, my knock down was a wakeup call because I believe that I create my own reality. So when I began to get really sick after having a hernia repair surgery, I had to dig deep to try to figure out why I had brought on such a miserable illness. My symptoms were nausea, diarrhea, shakes and major detoxification; I wasn’t digesting my food and my nervous system was on hyper speed. After 1 year of doctor visits and tests I still had no diagnosis and I was down to 90 pounds. Simply put, I was dying and modern medicine couldn’t figure out why. So instead of being a victim, I chose to grow.
I started with acupuncture, but my acupuncture sessions weren’t enough to heal me and I realized that I would have to go beyond just my body to heal, so my practitioner referred me to a therapist/healer. I booked my first appointment and figured it would be the same as the other therapist I saw; I would tell them my life story and they would listen and take notes. I sat down on the comfy couch and started to ramble on about all that was going on, my sickness, my family woes, etc. It was then that she stopped me in my tracks.
“Slow down a minute and tell me what you’re feeling right now,” she said.
Tears immediately filled my eyes. How I felt? I wasn’t prepared for that question. It had taken her less than 5 minutes to see that I was living outside of myself and covering my tracks with a bubbly personality that wasn’t working for me.
“I feel anxious. My stomach is in a knot,” I replied. “Come to think of it, my stomach is in a knot all of the time.”
It was no wonder I was so ill and my stomach was the symptom. The years of worry and anxiety had caught up with me. And now an extreme illness had forced me to slow down and take a look at how I was living my life. In order to understand this, I needed to go back to my childhood. Most of my insecurity with life stemmed from my unstable childhood: I had experienced my parents divorce at the age of 7, my mom being raped while I was in the house at age 9, moving from house to house (26 different residences by my 26th birthday), my mother’s unstable and abusive boyfriends and a father that wasn’t present in my adolescence. However, I’m not a grudge holder and I don’t blame my life on others, so I grieved these unfortunate happenings and decided to learn a new way to be so I could relax and enjoy the moment.
Changing my ways wasn’t easy. My every cell wanted to control every situation and my illness made things even worse. Anxiety is a symptom of intestinal distress, so I felt like a drug addict who couldn’t get a fix. This exacerbated my control-freak ways so much so that “little Hitler” was an understatement. If I was a passenger in a car, I had to tell the driver he was going too fast or hold onto the handle for dear life. I would ask my husband for help with the dishes and then tell him he was loading the plates wrong. I would point out other people’s mistakes and tell jokes at the expense of others. So how could I change this deep rooted fear that made me act in horrible ways? The first step and most crucial was realizing that my emotions didn’t control me and that I could learn from them instead. I was taught to become aware when the rush of anxiety hit me and to stop and analyze my situation to see what was going on before I started to feel out of control and say hurtful things to cover up my anxiety. It sounded simple and yet I had never done it before. I tried it right off.
I was at birthday party with my 4-year-old daughter and all of the mothers were talking. One mother tends to take over the conversation and repeats herself to no end. I always tried to avoid her, but I was cornered.
“Can you believe that I can’t eat sugar for at least a week,” she says to me, as if her world might end. “I just love my chocolate. Don’t you? I mean, how I could go a whole week without sugar is beyond me!”
I start to bite my cuticles. My heart races a little.
“I told her that my family will probably move out if I go a week without sugar,” she puts her hand on my arm to exaggerate her point.
Doesn’t this woman realize that she is talking to someone who has been ill for over a year and hasn’t been able to eat sugar, wheat or fruit in forever! Then it dawns on me that I’m really anxious and I feel like holding my ears and screaming, but here I was nodding and smiling like I cared.
I took a deep breath asked myself, “Why are you feeling like this?” The answer was simple, “I don’t want to listen to her.” So instead of suffering through the conversation like I normally would, I excused myself and walked away. As soon as I left, I wasn’t feeling anxious anymore. I know this was a small incident and it doesn’t change a life, but it was a start.
Once I became aware that my emotions were triggers that alerted me that something was wrong or right, I wasn’t a slave to them anymore. I could step back and see things for what they were. This slowly evolved into something even greater; being authentic. You see, it isn’t enough to just know your emotions; you have to act on them. For me this was the hard part because I was a pleaser. I avoided conflict and confrontation like the plague, but his would have to change.
The most significant incident where I had to speak my truth was with a celebrity client that I had. I was his personal trainer and had helped him get fit for over 8 months. During this time, we would chat about our lives and he would confide in me about his troubling business and personal matters. I had connections that I felt might help him and referred them to him. One of which was my husband. His dealings with the referrals were not what I had expected. He was always honest and generous with me and I expected him to be the same with everyone else. However, he didn’t conduct his business dealings the same as our relationship and treated my husband with great disrespect and very unprofessional behavior.
One day while I was training him, he started with the same conversation regarding his troubled business. All the while my blood was boiling and I was crawling out of skin knowing that I had to say something about his behavior. I was at a cross roads. I valued him as a client and I wanted our business relationship to continue, but I knew I couldn’t stuff my feelings like I used to, so I chose to speak up.
“I value you as my client, but I need to say that I’m not happy with the way you treated my husband,” I finally blurted out. I knew this was risky because I’ve had celebrity clients before and I know how they can be.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
I told him my thoughts and tried to be diplomatic; all the while my heart was beating out of my chest. He said he understood and later that day he called my husband to apologize. The next week he cancelled our sessions due to illness and week after week the excuses became lamer. He eventually disappeared and he was no longer my client. Being authentic had lost me a valued client, but my husband got his apology and I was very empowered by standing up for what I felt was right. I realized that being who I was had consequences, but the people who had real integrity would appreciate my candidness and the ones who weren’t would no longer be in my life.
By this point, I had made great progress with my illness. I ended up going to a naturopath and through some allergy tests I was diagnosed with a condition called leaky gut. Because my illness had extended so long I had a lot of tissue damage and my road to health was going to be long and arduous. But even though I was still unwell, I felt a deep sense of well-being. Learning to be authentic was very empowering because I was finally beginning to be who I am. However, that also meant that I would really need to know who I was. For me, this was where I faltered.
Who was I anyway? I had been ill for so long and no longer held the titles that use to define me. I had been told I was this and that. But who did I think I was? Was I the control-freak who wouldn’t listen and bombard others? Was I a fearful woman with no gumption? Or was I a woman who was healing and brave enough to endure a horrible illness without blame and with courage? Was I a giving, warm hearted person who had never been taught to trust life and to let things just be? I went with the latter.
Being authentic and honoring my emotions is a practice that has served me well. I am constantly learning who I am because by being authentic I am forced to make choices and these choices add up to who I am and what I stand for. I’ve had to be brave and speak my truth when I wanted to suck it up. I’ve had to learn how to watch situations and not jump in to save the day. I’ve kept my mouth shut when I so desperately wanted to butt in and take control of the situation. But now that it’s been three years since I began my journey, the need is less and I find myself simply content to observe and learn from the situation. I have been living my authentic self and have lost the need to control everything. I am no longer defined by control-freak or little Hitler, I am Dawn and nothing else and I have found contentment in that.