“It’s not a matter of letting go—you would if you could. Instead of ‘Let it go,’ we should probably say ‘Let it be.'” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
When I was in my twenties, I went to see an acupuncturist because I’d been through a bad breakup and felt uncertain about my life path and purpose. “Went” is a kind way of saying it; I was dragged. I didn’t want to go, but my family was going and thought it might be supportive with all that I was going through.
I was dealing with a lot of rough emotions and felt like I was on a daily roller coaster of lows. The ride took me from anger, to sadness, back to regret, and to general disappointment in myself and life. I felt so angry that life had taken me down that path and that I hadn’t seen the breakup coming.
I continued repeating this mental narrative for months, and my biggest trigger was thinking about the mistakes I’d made—starting with choosing a relationship that looked good on paper because I’d been hurt in the past when I’d followed my heart.
It was a whirlwind of an unhealthy relationship, and when I looked back, I wasn’t sure how it happened, but I knew that I was untrue to myself and to others.
It felt like my boyfriend wanted me to change and didn’t accept me. When I started the relationship, I felt confident in myself and shared my opinions and ideas openly. Over time, I got quiet and began to take on his opinion of how I should be. Whether it was my style of clothing, weight, or even sense of humor, I felt so afraid that I would lose him that I tried to change myself to please him.
I now realize that his controlling and manipulative behavior stemmed from his own insecurities and fears of losing me, but at the time I had no idea. I thought it was my fault and that there was something wrong with me.
About a year later, when I went to the acupuncturist for the first time, I was surprised when she wanted to talk to me about letting go. I told her I didn’t know how, and she put a bottle she was holding in my hand and told me to let go. This, of course, led to the bottle dropping on the floor.
I needed to let go of all the emotions and thoughts of the past and how things didn’t work out the way I wanted. I’ve realized that, contrary to what the acupuncturist suggested, letting go is easy to say and hard to do. Letting go isn’t a one-time thing. It takes time.
Looking back, I see that there were many layers in letting go, including: seeing the situation from a different perspective (realizing we all want love, so it makes sense we sometimes stay in unhappy relationships), forgiving myself and others (because we’re all doing our best), taking space from the world and spending time alone, and directly working at releasing my feelings through movement.
There were a lot of emotions to process, and it helped to talk about it with others, write unsent letters to say what I needed to say, and eventually, dream up a healthier future so I could experience a new present.
However, none of these actions provided instantaneous relief. It wasn’t the same as opening my hand and dropping the bottle. It was more like shedding layers and discovering new ones as the old ones disappeared. It was like seeing myself through new eyes and discovering more about my heart and soul.
Letting go wasn’t about getting over it or feeling nothing at all. It was about learning more about myself and pulling at the seams, which took time. It wasn’t about not caring anymore because some pain never fully goes away, but it does evolve.
I see now that this is true for many of life’s painful experiences and learnings. They often repeat themselves, and each time I get disappointed that I am in the same space or frustrated that I haven’t let go of something that hurt, I remind myself that evolution, growth, and expansion aren’t one-time things—they’re constant.
If there’s something important for me to learn, it’s likely to take time and include many elements.
If you, like me, have a hard time letting go and want to move forward, remember that many streams lead to the sea. And remove the thought that there’s an end point or that letting go is instantaneous so that you can embrace your learnings and move on from the past naturally, one tiny step at a time.