Recently I was listening to an NPR broadcast and during the program they told a story that really captured my attention. It was about a plane that was on a long international flight headed out across the vast ocean. Once their altitude was reached, the course set, and all the instruments were reading the accurate information, the captain set the plane on autopilot. As is normal during the course of a long flight the pilots took turns sleeping while the other remained in the cockpit to monitor the plane. Halfway across the ocean, while the co-pilot was taking his turn in the cockpit, it seemed to him that the plane was approaching some rather severe weather. The co-pilot became convinced that some sort of evasive action on his part was needed. The co-pilot was of course completely qualified to handle the situation, he was well trained, and he had read all the manuals. The problem was—he took matters into his own hands and did not rely on his training. Instead of trusting the autopilot, the instruments, gages and above all what he had been taught, the co-pilot switch off the autopilot and took over the controls. He determined that the best route would be to avoid the looming clouds.
For some unknown reason according to the reporter, the co-pilot proceeded to put the plane in such a steep climb to rise about the storm clouds that he caused the plane to stall. The plane paused for a moment and then began to drop in a free fall towards the ocean. The senior pilot rushed into the cockpit, but unfortunately nothing he or the co-pilot did to restart the plane worked. Hurling toward the ocean within minutes the plane hit the water like a pancake, killing everyone on board. The expert investigators determined if the co-pilot would have left the plane on autopilot the crash would never have occurred—if he would have trusted the autopilot and his training, the plane would have been absolutely fine continuing on the predetermined route. Instead the co-pilot caused the very thing he was afraid of in the first place.
The story mulled around in my head for a few days as I thought about why the co-pilot did what he did. Why didn’t he just trust? Why didn’t he just let the autopilot do its job?
Then I had to ask myself—why do I always grab for the “controls” in life? Seriously, I do it all the time and it has become abundantly clear that this is a big problem for me. An obnoxious and insufferable character defect of which I was completely unaware I had until I started working the 12 Steps.
It seems to appear most often in the area around relationships—all relationships. Mostly it occurs when someone is not being who I think they should be, or it could be a perceived threat that I think will change the relationship, or perhaps something occurs as small as feeling lonely or not loved. Whatever the present situation may appear to be, in reality the root of it all is self-centered fear. I’m afraid that I will not get something I want or that I will lose something I have; so my immediate reaction in life is to grab for the controls. What ends up happening? Just like that airplane, I crash every time. Just like the co-pilot, I end up actually creating the very thing I was afraid of in the first place.
The 12 Steps didn’t just allow me to discover this about myself; the Steps also provide clear and precise directions of what to do about this tendency of mine to grab the controls and it also shows me how not to crash and burn. I have been given the manual, I have the instructions, I have many amazing captains who have years of experience they are willing to share on a daily basis and I have a spectacular “Autopilot” in my life to do all the flying. Now it is up to me to simply use what I have been given, to trust the process and above all—keep my hands OFF the controls!