Now that I’ve spent two of my longest letters thus far writing about how I hope you learn how to share yourself without losing yourself, and learn how to hold onto yourself in the face of challenges you will face, please bear with me as I turn all of this on its head.
I also hope you learn how to let go- unabashedly, unashamedly, and unreservedly.
“How does that work?” You’re probably asking at this point.
My answer is that, absent the previous exercise in getting to know yourself, learning to share yourself, while holding onto yourself . . . I don’t think it can.
Absent these steps, I think you end up where I was when I graduated college: Completely burned out to the point of depression and physical illness from trying to be so much, for so many, for so long.
I didn’t know how to let go.
Because I hadn’t gone through the exercise of knowing myself, I hadn’t figured out what that core of my being was – the core that is worth holding onto at all costs because it is what makes me, me.
Because I didn’t have that, when I shared, I wasn’t sharing myself . . . it was more like I was reflecting back whatever the person I was sharing with wanted to see, never quite sure what was me and what wasn’t.
And it was exhausting.
So as you’re learning to hold onto the things that make up your self, I hope you can also learn to let go of the things that are not.
I feel a need to clarify what I mean here on a couple of points: What letting go is, and what sorts of things need to be let go . . . at least in my personal experience.
To the former, when I talk about “letting go,” I don’t mean “cutting off” . . . at least not necessarily. When it comes to “letting go,” I tend to think of it as something akin to differentiation, as mentioned above. Sometimes – particularly when it comes to letting go of things, that might look like physically separating from them. But at other times, when it comes to letting go of a place, or a memory, or a person, I think it looks more like simply becoming at peace with the role that place, memory, or person has in my story . . . in the construction of my self . . . and no longer giving it the same psychological grip on me that it once had.
That might, in some cases, involve physically separating myself from it . . . the way recovering alcoholics must physically separate themselves from that which tempts them. But it might not. Some sorts of fusion and enmeshment are akin to an addiction, but there are other forms as well . . .
. . . which means that “letting go” might look different for you than it does for me, and “letting go” of one thing might look different than “letting go” of something else.
That brings us to the second factor :What sorts of things need to be “let go.”
Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that anything and everything is disposable. You will find many things – and particularly, many people – in your life that are worth holding onto and guarding carefully and sacrificing for. But you will also find many things – and even some people – who need to be let go.
For me, the key to knowing how and when to let go of something has been connected to the process of learning how to self-empathize. The things, and places, and memories . . . and people . . . who have most often needed to be let go are the ones who make that process impossible, the ones who are connected to places in my story that bear deep amounts of shame and self-condemnation, who trigger recurrences of that shame and self-condemnation with each interaction, and who lock me into the same messages I’ve been hearing with each recollection of those circumstances, preventing me from learning what I can from them and moving on.
Again, I’m not saying that means (necessarily) to cut such things – or people – out of your life. But I think “letting go” has to mean finding a way to coexist peacefully with them.
And that can look different for each one. It might mean throwing away an old possession or letter that has painful memories associated with it. It might mean creating new memories in a place that triggers older, more shameful ones. It might mean sitting down with a friend and spilling your heart out about something in the past between the two of you . . . or alternatively it might mean having to put some distance between you if the other person involved isn’t willing or able, for whatever reason, to move past the old wound.
Whatever it looks like, though, for the pieces of your individual story, I hope it’s a skill you learn much quicker and much better than I have. I tend to be something of a physical and emotional pack-rat, hoarding things and memories for their sentimental value in ways that are not always healthy, and which occasionally get in the way of my own self-care and growth.
I wish I was better at following the advice I’ve shared with you here, in this letter perhaps even more than elsewhere in this series.
So as you hold onto yourself and the things that help you grow, I hope you will learn how to let go of the things that hinder you.
I love you.