On Self-Control

On Self-Control May 12, 2011
(photo source)

As it happens, I’ve been doing a bit of ruminating lately on the virtue of temperance. I know that I wrote a post earlier this year about resolving to cultivate temperance in 2011, but so far, I haven’t made it as much a priority as I ought.

It isn’t that I’ve ignored it entirely. I really haven’t. It just hasn’t been my constant companion, there in the back of my mind, informing all my choices, the way I had intended for it to be.

Yesterday, I added bearing’s blog to my blogroll. I’d clicked over there before to read this or that post, but never had a chance to sit down and explore her blog, which is what I like to do before adding anything new to my blogroll. Several years ago, bearing lost a significant amount of weight and has kept it off. She’s written a bit this week about maintaining that loss and all the anxiety that accompanies it

Reading her posts have gotten me thinking about weight loss and what goes into it. It’s no secret that I have quite a few pounds to lose. All my life, I have had a terribly unhealthy relationship with my body. Like most teenage girls, I would look in the mirror, hate what I saw, mentally berate myself for being such a fat pig, stop eating entirely and begin obsessively exercising for about two weeks, get down a few pounds, feel so much better that I would eat whatever I felt like and only do the bare minimum required at volleyball and cheerleading practice, and put the seven or eight pounds I’d lost right back on.

In college, my steady weight moved up about ten pounds when all the early-morning and after-school practices ended. It stayed there for a while, and then dipped dramatically during my struggle with addiction.

After Sienna was born, my steady weight moved out of the healthy range into the overweight range. I was steadily about twenty-five pounds heavier than I had been in high school, when my weight was really quite fine for my height and build. My dieting tactics hadn’t changed at all, though. I’d go through the same cycle, over and over, taking weight off and putting it back on with no true, real change.

After Charlotte was born, I started something new. I started running, every single morning. Amazingly, I took the baby weight off quickly and was well on my way back to a healthy weight without really having to undertake any change in my eating habits. Then, nine months later, I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant and despair and chocolate ensued.

After Liam was born, I kept looking for a time to take up running again, but it just hasn’t happened. We’re busier these days than ever before, and I can’t seem to make time for a simple run. I miss exercising. I loved running. I just don’t have the time.

Also after Liam was born, I began to feel more mentally healthy than I have in a long time. I’ve made peace with my life as a wife and a mother. I’m happy to be here. For so long, that was the only area of crisis in  my life that I was able to tackle. Now, I’m ready to tackle another area. 

It’s time to get serious about self-control. Not just on the weight loss front, but on other fronts as well. Remember how I just said that I don’t have time to run? Well. I have time to read just about every blog in the blogosphere, so actually, I do have time to run. It’s just a matter of managing my time effectively. Of having the self-control to sit down, write a post, read some blogs for a half-hour, and then get on with my day.

Yesterday, the children were absolutely out of control. I was patient. And patient. And patient. And then I lost it. A few minutes later, when they were in their respective time-outs, wailing loudly because I’d yelled at them, I thought to myself, if I had more self-control, that wouldn’t have happened. 

I used to think of self-control as a virtue. Just one. One among many. I had other virtues, so the fact that I didn’t particularly have this one wasn’t that big a deal.

But it is. Temperance is less a single virtue and more a…master control, if you will. When my patience is exhausted, temperance, if properly cultivated, will step in to pick up the slack and keep me from losing my cool. When dinner was really good and the gluttony monster wakes up and sniffs the air and says, “seconds?”, temperance will be there to slay the beast. When I’m tempted to ignore the pile of laundry and the dishes in the sink to read just one more blog post, temperance will be there to remind me that I must have moderation in all things.

As I was writing this, it occurred to me that although I like the sound and look of the word temperance better, I prefer to use self-control. Self-control. Control of the self. It’s a bit of a blow to the pride to admit that I can’t control myself, but there it is. Like a two-year-old who can’t quite make it to the potty on time, it seems that I just can’t quite stop myself before shoving that whole Cadbury chocolate bar into my mouth. I just can’t quite stop myself before screaming at my children to calm down and get ahold of themselves. I just can’t quite stop myself from clicking on that interesting-looking blog and losing another half-hour to the internet.

But the thing is, I’m not two. And I can control myself. It’s just that I choose not to, most days. And that needs to stop. Sure, I’ve managed to be slightly more temperate than I was this time last year. I’ve managed to take off some weight, be much more consistent in my dealings with my kids, and keep the house a bit cleaner. But it’s time for self-control to stop being that virtue I happen to cultivate a few times a week when I’m feeling particularly conscientious and to become my constant companion.

After all, as Aristotle said, “What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.”

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