We must let go in order to grow.
~John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You
I don’t know about you but this has been one of the more resounding themes in my life over the last few years, and yet, it’s only in the last few months that I’ve really started to get it.
When I first got sober, I heard it constantly: Let it go! And I nodded along, desperate to do so, without a clue how. There was all this stuff that began bubbling to the surface when I stopped pouring alcohol down my throat—grief, confusion, anger—you know, feelings.
Problem was, I didn’t know the first thing to do with them, that is if I could recognize the emotion to begin with (and this was a struggle onto itself). It’s only in the last two years or so, for instance, that I’ve even begun to get in touch with my anger. It was an unallowable emotion growing up and so instead, my anger was directed inward. Hello depression and self-loathing.
Today, it’s a different story. I’m much more inclined to recognize a feeling when it arises, let it marinate, learn the lesson, and move on. But I didn’t get here overnight and because I’m in the midst of letting (still more) stuff go, I thought I’d give you a peak into my process. It’s really rather simple, when I get out of the way.
1. Allow yourself to feel it. All
This has been a big one for me. I’m an expert at suppressing stuff: it’s my mind’s outdated method of protecting me from my own pain, at least until I’m capable of dealing with it. Let me give you an example. My parents got divorced when I was 12 years old and up until about 6 months ago, I would have told you that event did not impact my adolescence.
The hell it didn’t!
But that’s what I said: it was the healthy, mature, right choice and they always handled the separation (as well as one another) with dignity and grace. And this is all perfectly true, but it doesn’t change the fact that it hurt, a lot.
But because I couldn’t handle this emotional avalanche at 12 or 16, my mind didn’t let me experience it. Now that I’ve allowed myself to grieve, the letting go has occurred relatively quickly. I guess what I’m getting at is: it’s not so simple to let something go when you don’t fully know, feel, and experience what that something is. Allow yourself to go there, cry and scream until it feels as though your heart is on the floor, and you’ll find solace sooner than you might think. And if it takes 16 years, allow that too.
2. Let it go!
This one’s pretty straightforward; it’s the action step. And it can accomplished in a variety of ways. The best methods I’ve found are prayer + meditation (there’s some great guided ones that facilitate this process), using a god box, burning stuff (!), and most important,sharing with at least one person who understands your pain and wants to help you heal.
This can be a therapist, life coach, pastor, etc. While friends, lovers, and family members can also be valuable sources of strength and support during this process, I don’t suggest laying it all out there on someone so close. You’re unlikely to get unbiased, subjective feedback on your family of origin issues from a family member for instance. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you to pieces; they’re simply too close. And the best part is, doing this work with some sort of professional naturally improves our personal relationships. Go figure!
3. Leave it alone.
If you’re tempted by control, like I am, this can be an especially difficult step. But once you’ve done the work—you’ve written, prayed, burned, ritualized and theorized to your heart’s content, move on. Why is this important? For one, your sanity.
I don’t know many people who enjoy obsessing over the past to the point where it fucks with the present.
Not consciously anyway, but that’s what the first step is all about: bringing whatever it is into sufficient awareness so that you can do the work and move on with your merry life. So assuming you’ve got that part down and you’ve committed yourself to the action, there’s nothing left to do—leave it alone.
And the good news is: if it is something that requires your further attention, it will become apparent, so long as you’ve committed yourself to a path of growth. Look at the patterns that keep repeating in your lives: this is where you will find your greatest lessons.
One final thing—if you are obsessing about something, and simply aren’t in a place where you’re able to let go, not yet—be ok with that too. I’ve found that it’s never my emotions or my momentary circumstances that cause me the most pain, but my resistance to them. So if you’re bursting with anger or in a heap on the floor, love yourself there too. The letting go and the healing will come; just be where you are.
And if you’re looking for some added inspiration or tips or simply want to share part of your letting go process, let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you! Oh and give the following a listen, it will make your heart happy: