Why I Re-defined “Letting Go”

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You need to stop worrying so much.

You need to let this go.

You need to move on.

It’s something that I’m told often, but on the outside don’t seem to be very good at. I always thought it implied forgetting that it ever happened and never talking about it again, at least not in the presence of the subject of conversation, or others involved.

But what if there’s a different way? What if we’ve been actually been going about it all wrong?

Somewhere between Christmas and New Years last year, I helped mediate a difficult but necessary conversation with my immediate family. Thoughts and feelings were boiling over, people were lashing out, and hard things needed to be said. I went back to my grandparents emotionally drained, no longer lividly angry, but unsure how to feel about what had taken place both that weekend and over the last several years.

“You don’t have to decide anything now,” my grandfather said to me after I explained what had transpired. “Feelings are feelings, and they change all the time.” I’d heard this before, but it was clear and gentle coming from him. For the first time in a long while, somebody else’s advice actually made sense. Almost a year later that thought process is still taking shape:

It’s not forgetting the situation entirely, but putting it into perspective.

It’s not never talking about it with people, but changing the way we talk about it.

And instead of forcing the pieces together in order to understand, let the pieces come together on their own.

It is possible to grieve, process, and ultimately feel while still moving forward. But we do so without wrecking our brains over the “why” of everything. Why doesn’t this person want me/accept me/love me? Why did this happen, and in this way? Why won’t anyone tell me what the [blank] is going on? And on and on it goes, as the stress levels rise and sleepless nights turn into haggard mornings, until one day we don’t recognize ourselves anymore.

It’s human nature to want answers, especially when something is unexpected and painful. I once spent many years chasing (and longing for) answers, apologies, and at one point I wanted to inflict the exact same hurt that someone had inflicted on me. I wanted relief, and as much as I hate admitting it, sometimes I wanted to be the one to have the last word. None of it ever came to be, and in the long run I don’t think I would have been satisfied. I wanted those that hurt me to be the ones to heal me, and most of the time it never goes both ways.

Maybe it’s easy to say now because I’ve become comfortable with not knowing, at least at this moment. Maybe I’ve been through enough where I’m confident that no matter how gut-punching the past is, and how terrifying the future is, I will always get through it. It might be by the skin of my own teeth, but I do.

I don’t want to ever completely ignore what once was, because I would be denying how it shaped me as a person, and what I’ve learned from all of it. I don’t want to forget how to accept people for who they are, how to have compassion and show compassion. I don’t want to forget what it feels like to be mistreated, so I don’t treat others the same way. Ultimately I want to remember how far I’ve come, so that I can be a light for someone else who’s walking a similar path.

Despite what’s argued otherwise, I do believe that it’s possible to tell a story purely for the sake of providing context, rather than throwing a pity party. Acknowledging where a problem began is not the same thing as holding a grudge or calling out a person’s faults. And reflecting on an experience does not necessarily mean you’re stuck in the past. If I didn’t reflect or think about things, I wouldn’t be a writer.

Rather than “let it go,” I choose to let it be. I still feel and have my opinions, but I ultimately choose to keep going in order to keep living. Sometimes appropriate boundaries are necessary if I’m trying to move forward from toxic relationships or periods in my life. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it definitely helps. Counseling is a beautiful resource, and I will never stop advocating for it. Feeding does more than fixing ever will. And slowly but surely, good things start to happen: you feel lighter, stronger, and more self-aware. But it’s always one day at time, one foot in front of the other.

I came to better understand all of it when I ran into an old love at the end of this past summer. It was after a mutual friend’s funeral, and I’d actually had a dream/premonition a night or so prior that we would see each other again. He hugged me and exclaimed that it had been a long time, never mentioning that it had been three years without any sort of contact. We caught up on life and I got to meet his little girl, a mixture of sweet and awkward and feeling seventeen again. For a few brief moments I wanted him to take me aside and hold me the way that he used to, but I think that was just the grief talking. Life had just been turned on its head a week prior, and I was completely overwhelmed to the point where I couldn’t think straight.

I debated on reaching out to him on Facebook afterward to thank him for taking care of me all of those years ago. In the end I had decided against it because I didn’t see the point in disrupting the boundaries that I’d set or the progress I’d made. I’d come to terms with the ending of our relationship long beforehand, but seeing him was definitely a positive bookend and confirmation. He had served a meaningful purpose, and I was content with that.

It truly is different for situation. Additionally, it’s extremely important to note that mourning the end of a physical life is extremely different than mourning a season, phase, or relationship. You might experience triggers, dreams, and moments every so often, which may or may not mean anything. In some respect, certain events and times in your life will always have some impact, and that’s okay. What matters is how you choose to use it for good, and whether you allow it to drag you down or build you up.

There is life again. There is love again. There is beginning again and re-purposing the pain. See it, choose it, and pursue it. One day at a time.

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