Thursday, July 28, 2011

The art of letting go

One of the biggest lessons I've had to learn over the past several months was learn how to honestly, truly and completely let go.

My entire life, I felt this general sense of anxiety. Whether I fully realized I was doing it or not, I internalized stresses and frustrations and they sat in the center of my chest like a toxic ball of lead. I never stopped to consider whether the things I was worrying over were worthy of my anxiety, whether they were even items who's worry was mine to have, and this struggle I was fighting was keeping me from truly enjoying the more important facets of my life. It was keeping me from enjoying the "right now" because I was so focused on the "what next?"

I see this now. But letting go was something I needed to learn to do on many levels -- and is something I still work on almost every day. I had to learn to let go on what I think of as an "ideological" level, an emotional level, and a physical level.

The physical was easy. When I realized my relationship with my husband was for sure coming to an end, I started to look at apartments. When I signed my lease, it hit me, "Oh my God - am I going to have enough space for all our stuff?" I've never been a person to have to have things, but all the same I'd spent a lot of time and money making our lives as comfortable as possible.

But when my husband cancelled our satellite service and without even a heads up to me wiped out all the shows on our DVR? Yeah, I was peeved. For about 20 minutes. And then realized that I had actually been stressing out about watching all the shows I'd recorded before I moved out.

SERIOUSLY? Who the hell stresses out about watching TV?

Me. I did.

And that was SAD.

And so I let it go.

Did I really need to watch all those shows? No.

Was I really missing out on anything important? No.

Would most of that crap be available online or in reruns? Yes.

Twas no big thang. There were more valuable things I should have been doing with my time anyway.

And then I began to pack. I went through the linen closet and realized, "Holy shit we have a lot of towels."

I packed six. (Plus the boys' beach towels.) Six bath towels are more than enough for three people.

So as to be fair, I packed half the glasses in the dish cabinet. And then I put some back. I realized we'd accumulated so much STUFF over the years that I didn't even need half of it. I hand-selected which pots and pans I'd really need. How many cookie sheets and other baking pans. I left far more behind than what I took.

Plus, because the house is on the market waiting to be sold, most of the artwork was left on the walls, leaving the walls of my apartment blank slates for me to fill with just those things that are truly important to me. (But that's a topic for another post.)

So once I got going the physical was easy, and now I have a cozy little living space that isn't packed to the gills with stuff and I can completely clean it in less than an hour's time. Ta da. (And my DVR is still almost completely empty.)

Emotionally? Not so easy.

I struggled for a long time emotionally, flipping and flopping between, "OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO BE A SINGLE MOTHER AND HOLY FARK ON TOAST WHAT ARE PEOPLE GOING TO THINK?!?!?" and "I don't care what people think, this change is going to be good for me and my kids and I'm the only person who can make that decision."

I come from a very large and rather close family, most of whom are still married 20 - 30 years in. We're a religious family, and I was raised Catholic. People just don't get divorced. What was my family -- a group of loving, fun, boisterous, great people -- the people who taught me the importance of and how to care about others -- what were they going to think? Their opinions matter most to me, but still they didn't see what happened in the real, honest-to-goodness day-to-day of my life. They didn't see the fights and the name calling and the loneliness and the lack of anything between us.

I slowly realized that my family loves me. This may not be a popular decision, but in time, I was sure that for most of them anyway, that love for me would win out.

And the rest of the "world"? In the end, those who really care about me will still be there. Those who don't and want to judge me based on something they don't know anything about? I don't want them hanging around anyway.

Probably most of all I had to let go of my own self-imposed theories on where I should be in my life and who I should be.

Did you get that? Looking back later the way I am now, I see that most of the stress I was feeling I put upon myself. It existed in my own head and nowhere else. As kids we're taught that you meet that special someone, you fall in love, you get married. Maybe you buy a house, you have kids, the end. But life doesn't always work that way. It would be great if it did, but often times it doesn't. And that's OK. That doesn't mean that if you do these things out of order, or retrace some of your steps that you've failed.

Letting go of that sense of failure was DAMN HARD for me.

So I let go of things, I let go of this emotional crap I was hashing and rehashing in my head. I've come a long way, baby, but now I'm dealing with things that are probably harder than even the emotional ones.

I am a first-born child. I have three younger brothers, we grew up poor and our parents got divorced when I was about 11. I was the built-in baby-sitter. When my Mom was at work I took care of my brothers -- feeding them, making sure they did their homework and went to bed on time. I somehow became responsible for taking care of a lot of things for them...making sure they were in certain places at certain times, making sure they acted certain ways in certain situations. I played middle-man almost my entire life, communicating what one side of the family needed to say to the other. Basically, as a very young kid I was responsible for a LOT.

But now I find I'm in a new situation. Not only do I not have to worry about my own kids as much because they're getting older and can do many things for themselves, I no longer have them in my care every waking moment.

Let me pause here -- I went from working full time and being with my children every. single. moment. I wasn't at work and doing everything with them on my own to working full time and having my children about 60-75% of the time.

I have days without children and *WITH* FREE TIME.

While this is GLORIOUS in a lot of ways (sleeping in! grocery shopping alone! 10 minute intervals without anyone shouting "MOOOOM!") its also hard. I can't control where they are or what they're doing when they're not with me.

I have to let go of the idea that I'm the only person responsible for their safety. I have to let go of the fact that I don't know if they're eating well or brushing their teeth or going to bed on time. I have to accept the fact that my ex may take my kids somewhere and one may have his face bitten by a dog. These are my children -- my very reason for doing everything that I do -- the sources of so much of my joy and the first things I think of before make any decisions in life, but


It simply means I am at peace with the fact that its not in my hands. I have to have faith that their father loves them just as much as I do and will eventually learn what's important, what's not, and whether or not its a good idea to have great big parties with lots of drinking while the kids are there.

I'm learning to let go of control and oh my hell if that isn't the hardest thing for me EVER. Before the house could be listed for sale we had to have a new roof put on. To save money and because of this big supportive family that all regularly help each other out, the soon-to-be-ex told me he'd handle rounding up volunteers to help with the roof. Only I know him. Well. I knew damn well there'd be issues with him being in charge of making those arrangements. Shingles had to be ordered. Volunteers needed to be rounded up. Information had to be communicated to all those involved.

I could have stepped in and handled it. God knows I've done just that a hundred times. But I didn't. When none of my brothers knew of the project a week before I could have thought the worst. When I asked how many people were coming to help out and he said, "Oh, three, I think," I could have let him visibly see my eyes bulge out of my skull. When I volunteered to make food for the workers, strap on a tool belt and climb up on the roof myself or simply keep the boys out of the way and he didn't respond with what he wanted me to do? Well, I decided I was going to take the boys to the zoo that day and then I left him to it.

In the end the roof was done in a day. Enough volunteers were scrounged up, and due to the amazing support of friends and family -- many who just saw a need and stepped in last-minute -- it all worked out OK. There wasn't anything for me to have worried about anyway.

But really what's the worst that could have happened? The house would have been delayed going on the market, but well, so what? Its done and I didn't have to worry about it.

I can now recognize that tight anxious feeling I still sometimes get in my chest. But I know for a fact that the results and benefits of letting go of whatever I perceive my current issues to be will far outweigh whatever it is I think I'll get out of holding onto them.

I often have people these days ask, "So how are you? Really?"

And I can honestly reply, "I'm good. REALLY GOOD."

Because when I say I've experienced a sense of peace in my life over the past few months like I've never known before its for these reasons.

Letting go doesn't mean giving up.

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