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Letting Go of Your Past Suffering to Feel Peaceful and Free

“Letting go give us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I stood alone in what had been my childhood bedroom, staring at the dresser with a familiar discomfort. My fingers clutched at the handle of the second drawer from the top and pulled hard, straining from the weight of its contents.

I reached in with both hands, the drawer with its quarter inch plywood base teetering dangerously on the edge of the frame, and lifted them out, one by one.

Unicorns, fairies, rainbows, mystical maidens, all disappeared as I placed the journals into the cardboard box I’d asked my mother to bring to me.

She watched wordlessly as I carried it through the house and to the front door, then said simply, “I have to say, I’m not sorry to see those go.”

In that moment, my mother was keenly aware of something that had eluded me for most of my life. And now, at the age of 28, I was ready to let go of something I had always been attached to, something that had caused me so much pain throughout all of the years I had been writing in those journals: my former self.

Writing has always come naturally to me. As an only child and a classic introvert, I found it far less intimidating to share my thoughts with a blank sheet of paper than with another human being. 

I began to journal actively at the age of twelve, filling page after page each night with my tales of prepubescent woe.

I continued this practice until I was halfway through college, dedicating over a dozen spiral-bound volumes to a verbose body of work seeking to prove my hypothesis that my existence was pointless and that nobody loved me.

My writing habit was far more destructive than therapeutic. It was much easier to validate my own negative emotions than it was to challenge my perceptions, ask others for help, or work to make meaningful changes in my life.

The more I wrote about my problems, the more I allowed them to consume me. My suffering became my identity, and I didn’t know who I was anymore without it. 

During high school, I sunk into depression and surrounded myself with other deeply unhappy people. For four years, we alternated between bonding over how miserable we all were and turning against each other in predictable cycles of emotional manipulation and abuse.

Every night, I sat alone in my room committing all of the day’s events to paper. I chose to not only relive these painful experiences, but to continually remind myself of them.

Mercifully, high school is designed to end. When it finally did, I cut off connections to my high school friends, but the shame that had allowed me to form those friendships followed me to college.

It graduated with me, accompanied me to work every morning, and multiplied exponentially after the end of my first long-term relationship at the age of 25.

It would take three years of therapy and endless support from the loving souls I now choose to surround myself with for me to realize just how much of my own suffering I have caused.

For the better part of my life, I have chosen to view the world through a negative lens. I have resigned myself to feeling like a victim of my circumstances, instead of applying that energy to changing my perception of them.

That night, I carried the box of journals home with me, ripped the pages from their bindings, and fed them to my shredder in small digestible stacks. I forced myself to avoid the temptation of rereading what I had written, and returning to the past.

Watching the brightly colored words slowly disappear between the blades, I felt no remorse, only a deep sense of freedom. Ten years of writing filled four garbage bags, and their last measurable impact on me was the trip I had to take to the dumpster.

It took me 28 years to release the attachment I felt to my journals, but I’d like to share what I learned from the process:

Release the judgment you feel toward who you were in the past. 

I no longer judge the young girl who worked so hard to define herself on the pages of those journals. I wish I could write to her now and tell her that she is loved, and that she does not have to wait for things to get better—that she already has everything she needs to be happy.

I wish I could show her all that she has to be grateful for, and tell her that I am proud of who she is, and who she will become.

Know that you are not betraying yourself by moving on.

I have often been afraid to stop talking or thinking about the past experiences that caused me suffering because I mistakenly believed that they were a part of me. I have to keep reminding myself now that my desire is to live in the present, not the past.

While those experiences—along with the ones I remember more fondly—have helped to shape who I am today, they are not my identity.

It is unnecessary for me to feel any more guilt releasing them than I do giving away a shirt that no longer fits me. Remember that you are more than the sum of your thoughts and experiences, and that while you do not need to judge them, these are things that often tie you down from being in the present moment.

Share the experiences that cause you shame with people you love and trust.

I have not always found it easy to trust other people, and in the past, when I was not burying my emotions in my journals, I was putting my trust in people who did not treat it with much care or compassion.

However, I am grateful for those experiences because they allow me to recognize that I am truly fortunate for the loving and compassionate relationships I have today. I have become friends with people who encourage me to share myself with them, who do not judge me for the things I think and feel, and who support me through the process of release.

In a world where it is all too easy to form superficial connections, I encourage you to take the time to cultivate your real-life relationships. Focus on sharing raw, human emotions with a friend or partner, and on listening to them with all the passion you desire when you are sharing.

In addition to helping to build trust between you, the courage you show in being open and vulnerable may allow your friend or partner to release one of their own burdens. There are very few things that are more rewarding and life affirming than being present in that way for someone you love.

Photo by @Rayabi

About Faith Antion

Faith Antion is a marketing professional, a survivor of both art and business school, a photographer, daydreamer, and aspiring beekeeper. She posts some of her longer thoughts to her blog, The Sound of Swarming, her shorter thoughts to Twitter, and her visual thoughts to Flickr.

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