Letting Go Isn't as Easy as it Sounds

Photo credit: Bettina Vass

Just let that sh*t go. We hear it all the time. This simple phrase meant to be a symbolic releasing of our problems. Surrendering our worries into the universe and trusting it will all work out.

I was one of the people that said this so often. It was a motto I thought I lived by, but when I actually thought about what I've "let go" of in my life, it was way more complicated than just a single moment of release.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some things that if we could just let go of we’d be much better off. Little annoyances throughout the day, someone cutting you off on your drive home, the cashier at the grocery store being rude. We can actually gain something from keeping the let go mindset in the forefront in these types of situations. But, what about the bigger issues? What about instances that happen over and over again, others who use and abuse us, trauma that’s happened? In these circumstances, I think asking others to just let go can be incredibly harmful.

Trauma as a result of abusive relationships and instances of sexual violation have by far been the biggest challenges I've had to overcome. And, by no means was the process a single moment. It took years of therapy, healing, self-exploration, relearning ways of thinking and being in the world. It was just that...a process. 

I remember instances where others either hinted or actually said that I should just let go of the past, move on from what had happened. I had had enough time to “get over” the abuse and shouldn’t be triggered by people or situations in my present. This effectively created internal shame where I became angry with myself for not being healed yet. I put such an expectation on myself to get over the past that I would enter therapy, work my ass off to heal, then end prematurely. Then, when I inevitably would find myself in a triggering situation, I would be filled with anger and shame about why the trauma was coming back.

The thing is, in order to let go of all that's happened in the past I had to step out of the victim role. No matter how much I hated to say it out loud, I was a victim of abuse, and I played the role well. Playing the victim is such a safe, comfortable place to stay. For years, I held onto this identity, a survivor of abuse, and subsequently was able to blame a lot of my behavior on the trauma I had endured.

When I treated others poorly, or had a panic attach, when I broke down from a trigger I could always explain away what was happening with being a trauma survivor. I get triggered and lash out because I'm still pulled into survival mode during those moments. I have a full-blown meltdown from a moment that reminds me of my abuser and need to go home from work.

My symptoms afforded me a shield with which to hide behind and actually kept me stuck in this helpless state.

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

In order to truly let go and heal from the past, I had to step out of that comfort zone, the familiar role, and own what had happened. I had to own the responsibility of my current behavior, regardless of what was causing it. I had to be my own savior, and that transition was terrifying. So scary, in fact, that I convinced myself several times throughout my therapy sessions that I was healed and ready to move on from all that was in my past. I fooled myself more than once into stopping therapy and sure enough, it was only a matter of time before I had another episode and sought out an outside savior to come to my rescue.

Eventually, I got it... at least, I think. I stopped fooling myself into a false competency and truly allowed myself to open up to healing. I gave up the belief that at my core I had permanently become this person because of the trauma. Allowing myself the time and facing the fear of changing my identity has allowed me to become stronger than I ever thought imaginable, but that doesn't make the process any easier. I had moments throughout my healing process where I wanted to give up, where I regressed and once again fell behind the victim shield.

Because I was literally changing a part of my identity, letting go took years, a ton of work, and plenty of set backs along the way.

If you're someone who wants to heal and take back control of your present and not remain chained to your past, give yourself the compassion and space to stumble and fall throughout the process. There will be moments where you want to throw in the towel, where you'll lash out or have another panic attack. But, all of these are moments meant to teach you how to grow and change for the future. 

And, please, do not fool yourself into believing that letting go is a single moment. Understand that letting go is a process that takes time, a lot of hard work, and patience. 

Sending all the energy of courage to be your own savior,