It sounds almost poetic, doesn’t it? Let it go. Letting go. Let go.
Let = allow.
Go = move now.
Letting Go = Allow yourself to move now.
Despite how it sounds, there’s no part of letting go that is easy. If there was, I wouldn’t be asked how to do it at least a handful of times per week. If it were easy, I would have a set of neatly-boxed instructions for you. A list of those obvious things that you assume everyone must know but you. The secrets to letting go and moving on that you must have missed somewhere between your parental and academic influences growing up.
I’m sorry. I really am. Because I’m about to disappoint you with the lack of instructions to follow.
There are reasons for this:
- There was no dedicated subject called “Letting Go 101” in my eight years of university training;
- There are a million things from which you might be seeking release, and you are not a robot, and therefore, no one set of instructions will suit every experience or every person; and,
- In learning how to let go for myself, it’s been a complicated and lengthy process of clinging and unclinging and I’m sure it’s ended up looking different each time. Yep, I’ve had to let go more times than I can count – I was once a Clinger: Expert Level Chewing-Gum-in-Hair.
So, here we are. You and I and our mutual desire to stop carrying weights on our shoulders that no longer belong to us, serve us, or are relevant to our present lives as they stand.
Here we are, seeking to acknowledge our pasts without living inside them.
Here we are sitting in the middle of holding on and letting go, wondering how to get from one side to another.
Here we are, some of us convinced we are hostages to our past, and some of us acknowledging that really, we are the captors. And still some others, simply stuck, perhaps feeling like they are both holding on and being held (not in a nice way).
Without patronising you with a Prescription for Letting Go, here are some things I know and some things I don’t about this fragile and universal task of being human:
Letting go does not mean getting over it
It’s a definition thing, and I can promise you that my personal and professional definition includes nothing about “getting over” The Thing. Sure, some Things are short or less intense in their impact. They lose their capitalisation after a while to simply become things that were once a part of us and are now not. But they are not The Things we need to let go.
Those Things are scar-making, memory-shaping, path-creating Things. They stay with us, not to be forgotten. Letting go means acknowledging that we do not get over them, but instead we take them with us without being beholden to them.
The past doesn’t have fingers, chains, or barbed wire fencing.
I’m not doing either of us any favours if I sugar-coat this. If I did, I’d be lying to myself (and I try to keep my Intuition’s eye rolls toward me to a minimum these days, so lying’s not an option), and I’d be kidding you into thinking you don’t have to look in the mirror.
Okay, you don’t have to. But if you want to let go (and you’re here, so I know you do), then get your Windex out because that mirror is where it starts.
The past is not holding you. You are holding it. The past has no need for you anymore. It lives in your memories. It literally lives in another time that is not here. It doesn’t need you in it, and it certainly has no power to hold you back there. Which leaves only one conclusion: you are holding yourself there. You are the captor and the past is your hostage. The key is in your pocket. Letting go might be the choice you just haven’t made yet.
I know. This is the stuff of lemons when you read over it. Like all Big Truths, it’s bittersweet and not at all palatable on the first swallow. There’s no lemon meringue pie in sight. Yet. Stay with me, I’m going somewhere worth going here.
Clutching the past only keeps you stuck.
Not the person who hurt you. Not the people who didn’t/don’t believe you. Not the justice system. Not the people who should have suffered but didn’t. Not the people who supported you but have now “gotten over it” (and are suggesting that you should, too).
No. Your grip doesn’t keep anyone or anything in their place until it’s fixed. It doesn’t change what happened or give it a better chance of becoming right*. It doesn’t deprive anyone else of freedom but you.
*I’m not discouraging you from pursuing justice through appropriate legal channels; or starting charities in the name of a person or cause; or seeking personal, community, and/or global change where there are unacceptable standards, laws, attitudes, behaviours, or social and cultural bearings toward any human being. To do any of these things requires action in your life now, rather than staying stuck. What I am say is that clutching to the past without taking action, simply hoping it will change, is a sticky place to be.
Letting go probably means doing things you don’t want to do.
Like forgiving. Or grieving. Or being kind to yourself. Letting go will take pain and effort and probably won’t fit with your expectations because it will be messier and more confusing and more confronting that you would ever usually sign up for.
Let’s face it: Forgiving, grieving, and self-kindness are entire topics in themselves – because they are hard. And human beings have brains, and brains don’t like hard. They like automatic. They like simple. They like one-off.
Brains don’t like practice. Or awareness. Or building new neural pathways because the existing ones keep us playing a record from decades ago. And yet, they are malleable and rewiring them is an option whenever we choose to take it – as long as we choose to take it over and over again.
We can move into forgiveness. We can process grief. We can be gentle on ourselves. But doing each of these things only once is the equivalent of fitting a single lightbulb in your kitchen and expecting your entire house to be lit up from here onwards.
It takes more lightbulbs. And they need to be switched on regularly. And sometimes they’ll need replacing with a new one.
I don’t know exactly how YOU let go.
I don’t know if you’re the ritual type, or the letter-writing type, or the run-away-overseas-for-a-while type. I don’t know if “time heals all things” for you. I don’t know if an apology (yours, because unfortunately we can’t control other people) is the bridge for you. I don’t know when courage and forgiveness will stop just visiting and move in permanently with you.
I do know that letting go will also be called acceptance and that acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to like, want, or approve of what happened.
I do know it will be called acceptance and that means you will find a way to acknowledge your past for all the pieces that merge into the mosaic that is your life, including the ones with sharp edges and dark colours.
I don’t know what the other side will look like for you.
I am not the one to define your freedom. I am not the one to describe your feeling of weightlessness as shoulders go unburdened. I am not the one who can predict the blessings and opportunities that will come to you as a result of letting go (I’m a psychologist, not psychic.)
But I do know it will be beautiful. I do know it will bring about transformation that is only possible from the kind of growth that is life-altering. I do know it will be worth it. And I do know that you can do it.
But I don’t know if you can let go by yourself.
I couldn’t. I needed help from people who loved me. I needed help from someone who could see me in a way I couldn’t see myself. I needed help because chewing gum in one’s hair is mostly unfixable without a significant hair cut. For me, I needed help shaving my whole head.
And without all that help, I would still be stuck, trying to get chewing gum out of my hair and making it worse in the process.
Perhaps your situation is not quite that sticky and reading this is enough to point you in the right direction. But if it’s not, you’re like most people, okay? And you need help to prise your fingers off of what’s not yours to hold anymore.
Now’s the time. Go find your people. Therapists, doctors, loved ones, mentors, those who have been through it before.
And let go, one finger at a time. Lemon meringue pie awaits.