We’re always told that we can control what happens in our lives: our diets, our experiences, our spouses, our children.
But in reality, we as humans can actually control very little. And in my experience, the more you try to control what happens in life, the more stressed and anxious you become. Wouldn’t it be nice, you think, to let things go? I can tell you it’s possible, but it doesn’t come easily. Let me share my story.
As a young child, I can recall wanting everything to be perfect. I would panic if I missed just one question on a test and was incredibly hard on myself when it came to school work. I even had a particular order for everything in my room.
I had tied my self-worth to the things I thought I could control, and felt if I was perfect, that I was worth more as a person. This obsession with controlling everything even led to me developing an eating disorder in high school.
Outside, I may have looked perfect, but inside, I was suffering and miserable, struggling so hard to hold onto some semblance of control that I was too blind to realize I had completely lost it.
After going to therapy and working through some of my control issues, I realized there was a more relaxed, enjoyable, and carefree way to live —and that was to release some of my control.
I made a choice to give it a try. I journeyed through my late teens and early 20s as a recovering people pleaser, trying to let go of the rigid rules that had indeed ruled my life for so long. I thought, “Wow, this isn’t too hard, this whole letting go thing,” but old habits die hard.
When tough situations would come up, I’d default to what I knew best: rules and control. Each time I’d beat myself up and wonder if I would ever truly relinquish control and learn how to let things go. It wasn’t until I got pregnant that I learned what this would indeed mean.
Read next: How to Overcome Perfectionism and Love Yourself
I’m 32 and was lucky enough to get pregnant pretty quickly in May 2019 after only trying for a few months.
Everything started off pretty routine: all tests concerning the baby came back normal, and when we went in for our 20-week ultrasound, the only thing on my mind was finding out if we were having a boy or a girl. We were elated when we found out we were expecting a boy. As the ultrasound tech looked everything over and sent us on our way with pictures and congrats, I didn’t think I could feel any happier.
All of that came crashing down just a few days later. I received a call from my doctor, in which she described my baby’s lower spine as “looking weird.” No words anyone, especially a first-time mom, want to hear. After getting us set up with a specialist and having another ultrasound later that week, we received the news that our baby may have a slight structural abnormality in some of the vertebrae in his lower back, called “hemivertebrae.”
This hemivertebrae may be benign and give him scoliosis later in life. Still, when we initially received this diagnosis, the doctors weren’t sure if it was isolated (best case scenario) or part of a larger association of disorders that could affect his overall quality of life.
Only time would tell us, they said. We were crushed, confused, and scared. They scheduled us for another ultrasound five weeks later, in which they said they’d have more answers and would be able to tell us with more certainty if it was isolated or something greater.
Those five weeks were the hardest I’ve ever experienced. The only thing I wanted to do was to fix what was wrong with my son, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I oscillated between optimism and despair, wondering what would happen if it wasn’t isolated, and even if it was, why this was happening to us.
And then it hit me: This was it. The lesson I’d been looking for all along.
Pregnancy is all at once magical and terrifying because if there’s one thing you learn, it’s that you Can’t. Control. What. Happens. No matter how hard you try.
There was nothing I could do to control the situation we were now in, except for one thing: how we reacted to it. I could sit there and make myself (and my baby) sick with worry, or I could make a conscious decision to acknowledge what was going on and then let it go. Just let it go, and trust that whatever happens, we will make it through. I decided on the latter.
The power and relief I felt letting it go and giving it up to a higher power was palpable not only in my mental health but physical as well. Five weeks later, we got the news: it was the best-case scenario, and his spinal condition is isolated. As we anticipate his arrival in January 2020, we are excited about the future. We know that whatever happens, our son will be happy, healthy, and so very loved.
Now I’m not suggesting you get pregnant, or even experience hardship, to learn how to let things go.
I only suggest that you ask yourself this when faced with something difficult: Will holding on and asserting control help the situation get better? If the answer is yes, then by all means, do what you need to do.
But more often than not, I think you’ll find the answer will be no. Controlling a situation will do little to change it or the outcome—the only thing you can control is how you react to it. The more mindful you can be of your reactions, the more you will experience the freeing effects of relinquishing control and truly letting go.
Read next: The Secrets to Finally Overcoming Perfectionism
Is it easy? No. Is it worth it in the long run? Yes, because you’ll be living life truly at the moment, instead of in the past or future. I know it seems hard, but give it a try. It might just change your life like it changed mine.
About the contributor, Stephanie Small
Hi, I’m Stephanie! I’m a Seattle native, living in the suburbs with my husband, dog, cat, and soon-to-be son. When I’m not writing freelance articles or marketing writing at my day job, you can find me doting on my houseplants, enjoying a walk in nature, or trying out a fun new recipe in the kitchen.
Check out my website for more examples of my work.
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