A bird cannot hold down its perch and fly, likewise, humans cannot grasp anything and be free. As humans, it is our natural instinct to grasp on to anything that is safe and familiar. We hold on to old thoughts, behaviors, outcomes in our personal and professional life, and old beliefs. Attachment to these old ideas and routines may leave us feeling safe, but they don’t allow for growth. Letting go of the old to create room for the new, means taking a step into the unknown. This can be terrifying and requires us to put our energy into faith versus fear.
Although it seems really simple, and I have heard the saying millions of times in yoga classes or in books I have read, “let go of what doesn’t serve you”, the literal act of loosening our grip can leave us paralyzed with fear. Some of my greatest lessons in life I have learned from tiny humans, specifically my nieces and nephews. I recently coached my 2-year-old nephew in the act of letting go and trusting he would be safe. He has a fear of pulling books off a bookshelf, which developed from a past trauma of grabbing for a book and having multiple books fall on him. As one can imagine this would be pretty traumatic for a toddler. Anytime he wanted to read a book he would make his Mom get the book, when she would try to encourage him to do it himself, he would wail and repeat “I can’t, I can’t!” It was easy for me to encourage my nephew that he can still take books off the bookshelf and books won’t always fall on him. I would encourage him saying, “Yes you can!” However, when I look at my life, I am just as afraid of taking that book off the shelf, in a much less literal sense.
As a person in active recovery from both addiction and a longstanding battle with an eating disorder, I struggle on a daily basis to let go of old beliefs. I cling to the idea that if I stay small everything will be better and my life will be in control. Or if I keep achieving and being “productive” I will be protected from tragedy, or god forbid having to feel my emotions. (emotions, YIKES). All of these actions stem from an immense fear of not having control. Over the years I have learned that grasping on to these old beliefs only keeps me stagnant, and a bystander to my own life. By numbing myself from pain, I was also blocking any ability to experience joy or love. I was never living in the present moment because I was too busy trying to control outcomes. By attempting to protect myself, I found I was significantly harming myself. My fear was in the driver’s seat and the results were an isolated, anxiety-filled existence.
Ironically enough, I have experienced a chunk of time in my life where I did practice the act of letting go completely, surrendering to whatever life was ready to serve me. This was during my first full year of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. I was 25 years old, and between my addiction to alcohol and drugs, and struggle with an active eating disorder, my life was in shambles. I couldn’t make it through a day without being self-destructive and I saw no purpose in life. The more I tried to instill willpower in an attempt to control my life circumstances and addictions, the more imprisoned I became. Thankfully, I found the program of Alcoholics Anonymous where one of the first things I learned was that my self-will was causing the majority of my problems in life. “Letting go and letting God”, became a phrase I lived by during that first year of sobriety. I worked with a sponsor who encouraged me to give up control and trust I would be cared for. Initially, I thought she was crazy, how could I give up control and be OK? I was desperate to change, so I doubtingly and probably grudgingly took her advice. I prayed and meditated daily for the ability to let go and trust that in doing so, all will be well. To my surprise, it worked, and it did so almost immediately. I felt as though a weight had been lifted, when I wasn’t spending my time trying to control everyone and everything, life became brighter. I had more energy to be present in my life and engage with people. I was completely taken care of when I let go of my need to control, jobs fell into place, I remained sober and was accepted into a Nursing Program of my choice. Even more importantly, I was no longer living in intense fear and crippling anxiety that kept me from living my best life.
Letting go is a lifelong process, and a far from perfect one, at least for me. Life is messy and today I still try to control, predict outcomes, and hold on to my fear-based beliefs. Sometimes I do this more than I would like to, and I won’t let go until I am in a place of desperation. The only difference today is I don’t give up, and if I sense fear, I pray that love will replace that fear and I move forward regardless. Although fear can be a useful tool, it does not have to control your life. I am grateful I have learned and will continue to learn this lesson, one day at a time. Next time you’re afraid to take that book off the shelf, or take a step into the unknown, remember what lies on the other side of fear is often freedom. Take the leap.