Letting Go

Isn’t it strange how difficult a seemingly simple thing like letting go can be? Even when we know someone is there to catch us, it’s hard. Even when the thing we are holding on to hurts us, it’s difficult. Sometimes what we would gain in letting go is much greater and sweeter than whatever we’re clasping in our figurative hands, and yet we’re still resistant.

As a creature of habit, letting go—even of something I don’t want to hold on to—can be challenging for me. There are things I feel obligated to carry. It’s difficult for me to put down a responsibility, even if it doesn’t belong to me. Guilt is sticky. I try to let go of it, but it clings. I’m uncomfortable disappointing the people I love, even when it’s necessary or healthy.

I’ve had to learn how to let go of many things: relationships that are mutually destructive or benefitting neither party; dreams; worries; misplaced anger; counterproductive jealousy; friendships that are waning (or dying); expectations and ideals that are unhealthy. When my mother passed away I had to let go of deeper things. That’s a different type of letting go—mourning.

Letting go can be challenging. It’s admitting that the steering wheel you’re gripping with both hands isn’t attached to anything. It’s that moment in rappelling down a wall when you have to sit back into nothing. Letting go can feel impossible and scary. So many of us are afraid of failing, falling, or changing.

As a recovering perfectionist and chronic control freak, for me letting go means trusting that someone else will do something the way I would—or that they’ll do it a different way and nothing will implode. When I got married, in addition to letting go of certain freedoms that are linked to being single, I had to let go of expecting everything to be done/cooked/cleaned to my specifications in my—our—home. My husband came with a set of habits and preferences all his own. Sometimes letting go means compromising—navigating a roiling sea of needs and wants with another person.

When my husband and I lost almost everything we owned in a fire, I learned new lessons about letting go—especially of material possessions. We were fortunate in that we were able to save a lot of sentimental things (photographs, letters, my first teddy bear). We also didn’t loose any important documents (diplomas, passports, marriage and birth certificates). But we did loose a lot of commonplace stuff—furniture, clothes, electronics, and linens. Oddly enough, some of the things that survived I wish had been destroyed. At the top of that list is my wedding dress. It’s something I have no use for, don’t want to own anymore, but can’t seem to let completely go of. (It hangs in the basement at my in-laws.)

Life after the fire in our building was a seminar in letting go. I had to let go of certainty, privacy, comfort, and control. We spent ten months living like nomads. Each stop had its perks. Some had their disadvantages. In some spaces we had privacy, in others we did not. Sometimes we had space, other times we felt like we were living in a closet. We slept on a futon, the floor, an air mattress (that one our cats eventually punctured), and a twin-sized bed. And each time we moved, we had no idea where (or for how long) we’d live next. I could not control the amount of time we’d be displaced. We didn’t know it would be ten months at the onset. I had to let go of my impatience as home became a moving target.

I’ve had to learn how to let go of stuff. A lot was destroyed in the fire, and living nomadically meant paring down what remained of our belongings to the portable necessities. Options were a luxury. As we began the process of replacing our lost possessions, with no permanent home, we put most things in storage. I had to let go of being sure where anything was or when I’d see it again. Some things went to a professional storage facility; other things went to the homes of friends and family. Where any specific thing was at any given moment was rarely known with a complete certainty.

I’ve learned some important lessons through letting go. It gives me a better perspective from which to see things for what they really are. Sometimes bad things seem good when I’m holding on to them because I’m too close to see their flaws and negative consequences. Other times letting go of something good has reminded me that I can survive and thrive in the midst of loss or change. It prevents me from making any one thing my everything. A few times letting go of something good has made room for something even better to takes its place. Letting go of something good can free me up to reach for something great.

I can’t say that I’m particularly good at letting go now. I’m a bit less attached to stuff, but I’m still a creature that finds certain changes grating and most habits comfortable. I resist letting go of my routines. I like to sit in the same seat at church and any place I go regularly. I eat one of three things for breakfast most mornings.

I hope I’m better than I used to be (and keep improving) at letting go when it’s necessary, healthy, or right for me. I don’t want to cling to things, habits, or people that are damaging. Hard as it sometimes is, letting go is a natural part of life. Change is the only constant I can find.