An unavoidable part of being human is undergoing emotional hurt. We have all been wounded at one point or another. Perhaps we experienced a painful and tumultuous breakup, perhaps we lost a loved one to a chronic disease, or perhaps we experienced some form of trauma early on in life. Yes, we all feel hurt from time-to-time – but what we do with those feelings will determine how intense the hurt is, and how long it lasts. Some of us choose to dwell in a place of suffering, clinging to self-pity and resentment. Some of us choose to ruminate tirelessly over past occurrences, wondering ‘what if’ and thinking ‘if only’ and torturing ourselves with ‘why me, why me’. Some of us, on the other hand, might choose to embrace the pain we are feeling – accepting it, allowing it, and employing healthy coping mechanisms as it runs its course.
Of course, when we are actively drinking or using drugs, we lack the coping mechanisms necessary to handle pain in a healthy and effective way. We are experts when it comes to blowing things way out of proportion, blaming people, places, and things for our inability to get a grip on reality, and residing somewhere in the perverse and gloomy caves of the past. These are things that we excel in. We know how to dramatize and accuse and linger. But ask us to resolve our pain in an efficient way, and we are at a complete loss. Letting go is a skill that most of us will need to learn.
Blame is Easy – Acceptance is Difficult
It is human nature to initially blame others for our hurt. We may blame our lovers for leaving us, God for taking away our sick loved one, or our abuser for putting us through hell at an early age, and seemingly damaging us for life. However, blaming someone else for our pain often backfires, leaving us feeling more powerless than ever before. We may boldly confront the person that we believed wronged us and say to them, “You wronged me, and here is how. I think that you owe me an apology.” They may say, in return, “No, I was justified in my actions,” or, “So what if I did?” Then we are left with a heaping pile of resentment and frustration, and no resolution. When others invalidate our feelings, it may feel like we are being hurt all over again. It is important to bear in mind that all of our feelings are valid – and more importantly, that they are not interminable. When we allow ourselves to experience pain fully and then let it go, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to move on with our lives. Choosing to nurse the wound indefinitely will likely keep us stuck in a never-ending cycle of reliving the experience, the loss, the heartbreak. When we relive a past experience over and over, we become totally enslaved by events that have already elapsed. Our chances at a contented present and a bright future begin to dwindle.
The only way that we can truly welcome new joy, bliss, and happiness into our lives is to make ample space for it – and this means letting go of all of the past emotional clutter we have been clinging to.
5 Steps to Letting Go
- Make the conscious decision to let go.
Letting go does not just happen naturally – especially for those of us who have dedicated years of our lives to nursing our harms while drinking and drugging to excess. We must make a commitment to move on! When we make a decision to let something go, we also accept that we have a choice in letting it go. Before, we may have felt entirely bound by our pain. Now, we recognize that we ourselves decide the course of our own lives. Of course, making a decision is only the very first step – and it is essentially futile when not backed by action.
- Acknowledge and accept the pain – and your part in it.
Find an effective way to move the pain through your system. This may mean journaling about it, talking it through with a close friend or trusted support, or allowing yourself an hour every evening to walk alone on the beach, meditate, and cry. Addicts and alcoholics tend to live in a world of extremes; everything is either black or white, good or bad. While we may not have had any part in the specific event that harmed us, we certainly bear some responsibility for allowing it to consume us for so many days, months, years. Ask yourself – what could you have done differently? Are you a helpless victim, or an active participant in your own life? Has your pain become your identity?
- Reclaim your life – you are not a victim.
Playing the victim is somewhat rewarding, and of course it is! When we play the victim role (and many of us do it well), we are never at fault, we are never to blame; everything happens to us, and we bear no responsibility. The truth is, however… no one really cares who is to blame. Everyone will go on living their lives, and you will be stuck in a small corner, moaning and complaining and changing your dressings. No amount of rumination has ever solved a problem. This is fact. Rather than continuously putting your well-being into the hands of another, reclaim it. Reclaim your happiness and your life, and choose to be a survivor rather than a victim. Choose to take responsibility for your own emotional state.
- Focus your attention on the joys of the present.
Life can be truly beautiful, and by dwelling in the dark corners of the past, you are disallowing yourself the opportunity to take full advantage of the present moment. At this stage, it is time to honestly and permanently let go. Thank the past for offering you valuable life lessons and opportunities for personal growth, and say goodbye. You cannot edit or undo the past – but you can make today the best day of your life. Of course, it is not realistic to expect that your subconscious mind will be completely rid of past events. Thoughts are bound to creep in from time to time. Acknowledge them, and then gently reel yourself back into the present moment. When our minds are crowded with old, threadbare memories, we have no room for the potential bliss of the present.
- Forgive others – and yourself.
Sometimes we get so involved and stuck I our own pain that the concept of forgiveness seems entirely unfathomable. Though we may not ever be able to entirely forgive the actions of someone who has wronged us, we can at least consider the possibility that this person is very sick, and pray for them to get well. This might also seem to be an impossibility. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, and it certainly does not mean that we condone the events that have transpired. But we will not be able to experience true joy or fulfillment until we truly let go of what has been weighing us down, and forgiveness is often a crucial component of moving forward. In some instances, we may blame ourselves – thus, self-forgiveness is also often vital. Stop beating yourself up. You made a mistake; accept it, learn from it, and move on with your beautiful life.
Letting go is never an easy process, and it will certainly not happen overnight. However, holding on to something that is limiting your ability to live your life is far, far more painful than letting go ever will be. Reclaim your life, and let go of the pain of the past.