Holding on is believing that there’s a past; letting go is knowing that there’s a future.
—Daphne Rose Kingma
The first time that someone said something positive to me after high school, it sent my mind into a tailspin. “Of course you can be a writer, because you already are,” this anonymous e-mail buddy wrote, from across the world. That sentence was followed by many paragraphs of encouragement in an e-mail that ended with, “Here's to dreams!”
And that with that e-mail began the questioning. I had quit writing in sixth grade, because my teacher had explained, in great length, how I could never make a living as a writer, and that I should be a teacher instead. So off to teacher college I went, and after graduation I found a position that I held for 10 years.
And it was in that 10th year that I started the blog. At that time it was called “Our So-Called Life,” and I entertained my readers with tales of our unconventional lifestyle and sailing. In the summer, I was featured on Miss Minimalist, which brought with it some new, encouraging readers. Suddenly, my old dreams of becoming a writer didn't seem so far-fetched.
That e-mail from my British friend filled me with renewed hope and passion, as I realized that my teacher may have been 100% wrong. A world was beginning to open up to me, and I wrote about it on my blog.
In response, another blogger wrote this: “Have you read Linchpin by Seth Godin? If not then you must. You are a linchpin and knowing you through this blog is an inspiration.” I read the book, which led to a cascade of questioning. Was I really all that I had assumed myself to be? All that I had taken for granted that I was, all the limitations within my mind, came up for questioning.
Through this process of discovery, I developed a close friendship with this person I had never met in read life. And with the closeness, came panic. Something else from my past, some other assumptions and fears within my mind, came knocking on the door.
Then, on New Year's Eve, the floodgates opened. The emotionally abusive friendship in high school. The constant fear of abandonment. The scars on my arms that I kept so well hidden. My fear of trusting, and my fear of who I was.
In the end, I wrote about all of this on my blog in one long story, concluding it with, “I am loved. But I am not whole. I have resisted my husband, and set up strong walls against anyone else, ever since then. I have frequently sabotaged myself, because I was not comfortable being anything but the me that she convinced me I was.”
I was convinced that sharing this story would free me from it, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. Addressing the experiences that led to my self-doubts had opened my eyes to the fact that the pattern was repeating constantly, in nearly every situation of my life.
My friendship with this person became punctuation with fear of abandonment, neediness, sacrifice, and more neediness. I noticed that in my job I overgave, never stood up for myself, and was constantly stabbed in the back. Everywhere I looked, this toxic friendship was repeating itself.
No matter what stage I stood on, the same play was repeating itself. My character was always the same: damaged, vulnerable, weak. I observed that a lot of my old behaviors were resurfacing, and that my responses to fear were the same that they had been in my friendship back in high school.
Oddly enough, the role of the “friend” was always the same as well. They always built me up, helped me to feel confident. And then they were scarce, which led to the same fear and panic that I had always felt. I clung, I “mail bombed.” Which drove them away further.
I tried everything I could to let go of the past. I saw that this friend was everywhere, and I wanted to be free from her, free from my old patterns, once and for all. I Googled and Googled, read every self-help book I could get my hands on, and did everything I could to try to loosen my hold on the past.
Why was she following me? Why couldn't I let go of my old assumptions, my old behaviors? Why couldn't I just stay in the present moment and be free from all of the nonsense?
I tried meditation. I tried affirmations. I tried focusing on staying in the present moment at all times. I tried telling my mind that thinking of the past was “not useful.” And all that I accomplished was that I thought of the past even more.
Working with my life coach, I told her, “I'm seeing her everywhere, in every close relationship. And it's actually been worse since I was able to forgive her. I no longer see her as a monster, so she could be anyone.” She replied that I am not seeing her, I am seeing the lessons that she “taught” me.
So the process of letting go began with my looking at those lessons. What did I think to be truth, based on my experiences? What was true about others and what was true about myself? I learned to question and redefine all of these beliefs.
The process of re-examing the past was painfully slow at times. I was not able to simply let go and move on. But I was able to reframe it and look at it differently. And through doing this, I was able to break those old patterns and discover a new world and a new way to love myself.
Are you ready to finally let go of your past? Here are some ways to get started:
1. Know that the past doesn't really exist.
It isn't actually the past that you are trying to let go of. It is simply the interpretation that your mind has given to old memories. There is no accurate record of what really happened, and what you are seeing as absolute truth, is only the meaning that your mind has assigned to memories that may not be completely accurate.
2. Know that other people's intentions rarely have anything to do with anyone else.
We've all been hurt by others, but it is important to realize that those people were probably not trying to harm us. They were acting out of fear, seeing their own skewed interpretation of the world. My high school friend was trying to gain something from knowing, manipulating, and trying to “help” me. And her perceived need for this had nothing to do with me at all. Her actions meant nothing about me.
3. Look for ways you are limiting yourself, based on your past.
Look at your dream life, your current situation, and the assumptions that you are making about yourself. What is the basis for these assumptions? They are likely rooted in the past, in the meaning that you have subconsciously given events that have happened to you and mistakes that you have made. By looking at these events in a new way, you can learn to stop the past from limiting you.
4. Look for repeating patterns.
Are you always the victim? Always being backstabbed? Always having to fight for what you believe in? Repeating patterns are a sign that the mind is stuck in the past, and basing its thoughts and actions on assumptions made from events that have happened. When a pattern repeats, ask yourself when it first happened. Then work on changing your assumptions surrounding that first incident.
5. Be patient with yourself.
It takes time to change habits of the mind. Letting go is not easy, and breaking stubborn patterns does not happen overnight. Be kind to yourself when you can't stop thinking of the past, and observe your patterns without judgment. Self-attack only lead to more misunderstanding.
For help in letting go of the past and moving forward in order to overcome your fears and create the life you've imagined, consider a low-cost, confidential e-mail, chat, or video session.