Why do we hold so tightly to things that no longer serve us? Why do we refuse to move on from the things that bring us pain? Toxic relationships, bad habits, resentments… why do we cling so desperately to the things that do us harm, over and over and over?
People say that it is impossible to make the same mistake twice, because by the second time it becomes a matter of choice – not ignorance. This may be true in some cases, but not when it comes to addiction or codependency. Jim has lost his job, his wife has filed for divorce, and his son has gone to live with her, somewhere out-of-state. Maybe New Hampshire – he can’t remember. He has a total of four DUIs to his name, so he walks to the liquor store down the street every morning and every evening. When he is sober enough (which is rarely), he rides his bike. His doctor told him long ago that it was in his best interest to stop drinking… so he stopped going to the doctor. Jim has lost just about everything he ever held dear. Still, getting sober is not an option. Booze is all Jim has left – besides, he would not even know where to begin quitting. The notion seems insane; an impossibility. Jim cannot let go of the drink, despite the ruin it has caused him. He is unwilling to part with his oldest and most steadfast friend.
Addictions, Resentments, and Toxic Relationships
Maria has lost most of her friends, because they can’t stand being around her obnoxious, disrespectful boyfriend. She doesn’t mind (or at least, she’s convinced herself that she doesn’t). Ben, her boyfriend of six months, is really all that she needs. Sure, he calls her names and says mean things, but he doesn’t really mean them. They’re in love, after all. They break up over and over again (usually it is him that pushes her away), but they always wind up getting back together. Maria feels absolutely lost without him – she has forgotten who she is; who she was. Now, she is Ben’s girlfriend… not much more than that. One night, during a particularly aggressive confrontation, Ben gives Maria two black eyes and a bloody nose. Her neighbors call the police, and he is taken away to jail. She swears that this will be the end of it. She’s done with him for good. She calls up her friends and tells them what happened. “I’m done with him. I know I deserve better.” Three weeks later, Ben is released… and Maria picks him up from jail.
When Alex was very young, his father struggled with a pretty bad gambling problem. His mother and father had put away some money for his education soon after he was born. In the midst of his addiction, his father had tapped into those savings. He almost entirely depleted them, in fact. By the time Alex was old enough to understand the implications of compulsive gambling, his father had sought professional treatment, and was working very hard to maintain his recovery. His father always strived to be a big part of Alex’s life. He was present, supportive, and authentically devoted to the best interest of his son. Still, Alex was unable to forgive him for tapping into his savings. He all but shut him out, clinging to an old resentment rather than welcoming his remorseful father back into his life. For whatever reason, he just couldn’t get over it. He wouldn’t. He didn’t even try.
Why We Cling to the Things That Harm Us
We cling to things because they are familiar. Because they are comfortable; because they are all we know. Some things become a part of us; overwhelm any pre-existing sense of self-identity, and eventually inhabit our entire being. Jim is not longer a man with a drinking problem. No longer a husband, a father, or a successful business man. Jim is an alcoholic. Maria is no longer a young, optimistic woman with her whole life ahead of her. She is no longer a star volleyball player, a straight-A student, or a talented artist with personal goals and aspirations. She is one half of a dysfunctional relationship. She is Ben’s girl. Alex is not the son of a man who worked hard to overcome a devastating addiction. If you ask Alex, he is not the son of any man. He is a stubborn boy who refuses to let go of a tired grudge. He is fatherless.
When we are born, we are innately complete. Whole, unbroken, and uncorrupted. During infancy and early adolescence, if our inherent needs are not adequately met, we are liable to lose a small part of ourselves. Perhaps our father works late and our mother battles depression, leaving us to fulfill the role of caretaker. We care for our mother, raise our siblings, and essentially raise ourselves. We grow up missing the part of ourselves that understands and believes, “I can be taken care of, too. It is not my responsibility to take on the burdens of my loved ones. It is not my job to keep everyone afloat.” Perhaps our step-father resented us for taking time and attention away from his new wife. He called us names and put us down, and even became physically aggressive from time-to-time. We grow up missing the part of ourselves that understands and believes, “I am worthy of love. I am not a burden; I am a good person, and I deserve to be treated with respect.” These misguided beliefs settle in the core of our being, and become our personal truths. We speak them over and over to ourselves like a disillusioned mantra.
Of course, we believe whatever we tell ourselves. If we grow up believing that we are unworthy of healthy, fulfilling love, we will either remain alone or attract partners that put us down and beat us up – just like our step-father did. In order to truly move on from the things that hold us captive, we must change the way we speak to ourselves. This is the first step. We don’t necessarily need to believe what we are saying, but we still need to speak to ourselves with a newfound kindness. “You are capable of recovery. You are worthy of love. You deserve to forgive and be forgiven.”
Healing is Possible
We hold the tightest to the things that are not meant for us, because (on some level, maybe deep down) we understand that they are not – and were never – ours to begin with. We have adopted these things as a part of ourselves over time, but they are not a part of our authentic selves. In order to get in touch with our authentic selves, we must heal old wounds. Once your ego is adequately subdued and you come to realize you have been holding onto something that is killing you (emotionally, spiritually, or physically), you will be able to begin the healing process. Healing takes time, seeing as the wounds we have suffered are often so deep and long-standing. It is hard work. It is important work. Crucial, in fact. We were not put on this planet to drag around rusted chains; chains that hinder our potential contentment and prevent us from making the most of the short time we get. Ask yourself, “What is it that I can’t seem to let go of? What is it that is keeping me from moving on?” Even after reading this, the notion of letting go might stir up feelings of dread and helplessness. “I’d be nice if I could,” you might think to yourself. “It would sure be nice if I could.”
Well, guess what? You can.