There are simply thousands of dandelions in my yard. They line the driveway, dot the patches of grass, and spring up through the gravel. At times I can find love in my heart for the little yellow flowers. When they emerge, I know it’s spring, and spring is my very favorite season. When they turn to puffballs, I delight in making wishes upon them with my baby girl. However, if I let the dandelions be, there is only hell to pay. They swiftly colonize the yard and replace soft, lush grass with rough, flat salad makings. My only choice is to wage war, and I derive immense satisfaction in the battle. I love the feel of the root getting snipped underground and the look of the vanquished and dangling invader as I pull it from its dark and cozy home. I can spend hours at a stretch making holes in the earth and piling up the bodies. When I get on a roll, I am positively bloodthirsty. Then I stand, waiting for my body to regain its equilibrium after so much crouching, and survey my work. Inevitably, all I can see are the legions of enemies I did not slay.
Recently a friend reintroduced me to the idea of surrender. I’ve been partial to the notion of acceptance since becoming a DBT therapist some years ago, but surrender is something different. Acceptance implies a kind of peace we make with our own inability to control everything, while surrender suggests it was never within our control in the first place. Acceptance gives a wry and knowing look, saying Yes, ok, I know I should have been able to control this, but I failed. Surrender is a much cooler customer. Surrender knows that the notion of control is preposterous full stop.
When did my career as a control warlord begin? I know it wasn’t when I became a mother and believed, truly, pitifully, that I would be the world’s first perfect one. It could have been when I was in the backseat of a yet another car, driven by yet another drunk, counting the light posts that lit the path home. It might have been even earlier. Maybe when I saw my mother in a pile of tears on the floor, moments after my 13 year old sister drove away in Dad’s truck, saying something she thought was grown up, about how, together, they just weren’t a good fit. My parents had just divorced and, with her Elektra complex not properly resolved, she found life in my mother’s house stifling and preferred the house in which she would never be treated like a child again. I stood in that living room, not crying, but raging and fearing and plotting and planning. I would be perfect, I would not cause problems, and, no matter what, I would never be the cause of her loneliness.
Perfectionism- so right in theory and so wrong in practice - is a harsh master. Perfectionism is to contentment as a miter saw is to dirty glass. Yes, the glass has to be cleaned, but somehow we’ve leaped quite far away from the point. Perfectionism looks at a task and says, if this is too much to be done perfectly, then the only other choice is to not do it at all. Perfect is the enemy of good and I am most definitely my own worst enemy.
Although I didn’t have a classic OCD presentation as a child, I know now that I was riding that very thin line. I wasn’t much for checking behaviors, such as returning several times to make sure the door is locked or having rituals before leaving the house, but I found a lot of comfort in counting. Counting letters in words and sentences, counting lines of text on signs, searching for symmetry absolutely everywhere. I would have conversations with people after which all I had gleaned, information-wise, is whether the letters in a word or sentence they used ended in an odd number (terrible) or an even one (essential). The symmetry craving led me to do small tic-like behaviors equal numbers of times on both sides of my body. Having symmetry did not make me feel good, per se, but it did mean one less thing to worry about. In my adult life this behavior still crops up in ways that only I would notice, but now it’s informative rather than despairing.
I don’t think I’ve ever surrendered to anything, really. On the day before my wedding I gave my family little tasks to complete from my to-do list. When one such task was not completed to my satisfaction, i said, out loud, in front of all my friends, “this is what happens when you don’t do everything yourself.” Even then I knew it was cringeworthy but now I can only look back in mortification. Surrender seems almost impossible to me- something for other people to do. Let them find peace. I’ve got closets to organize. The very thought that I am not in charge of every aspect of my life is almost too abstract to grasp. I typically meet my failures with a resolve to grip tighter next time.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am a lazy neat freak. You will not come to my home to find everything in order. In fact, you would be surprised to know that I clock every smudge and notice every bit of refuse. I tend to remedy these matters when I have time to go all out. Otherwise, I am just an ordinary slob. I do not put together a perfect appearance - daily, or ever. I just stew inside of the resentment I carry against my own self for not achieving greatness in any given arena, in any given moment. In this way, the dandelions are inside me. I live on both sides of this battle line.
I’d love to wrap this up neatly (of course) by telling you that this was all before I found God, started meditating, committed myself to yoga, etc.…but I can’t. I can’t even say where I am with the concepts contained therein. In some moments I am open to these ideas, while in others, I doubt the credulity. The math doesn’t compute. My cynicism is dogged. Yet, to the degree that I can imagine a higher power, I imagine this omnipresence as entirely amused by my many absurd attempts at control. I imagine that God looks at me running around like a nervous rat in the same way that I look at the kid on TikTok who tries to drink a whole can of seltzer without burping and ends up, in the span of eleven seconds, drinking half the can, regretting his decision, grasping at his stomach, asking whoever was standing there, “what do I do?”, releasing an enormous belch, and running smack dab into a three-quarters-open garage door. That notwithstanding, I do at least know that I am not God. I am not in control.
Still, I’m taking out the dandelions.