Chronic illness and chronic pain are synonymous with loss. As chronic illness sufferers, we seem always to be "letting go" of something- careers, friendships, hobbies, activities, life trajectories, hopes, dreams, etc., etc., etc. #soannoying
For me, change and letting go are two of the most challenging topics in my life. I have always said that I love the people, the places, and the things in my life like the "Velveteen Rabbit" - in other words, so much so that I will hold on until something or someone is ratty, dingy and well past the point of its purpose. For much of my life, I assumed "holding on" was a good thing- a safe thing... until I realized "holding on" can actually cause more pain, more struggle, and more fear.
Letting go. According to Webster's Dictionary, letting go means 1. to allow someone or something to escape or go free. 2. relinquish one's grip on someone or something. Oof. Letting go can also mean to surrender, accept, or be at peace.
But what does it mean exactly? Well, "Letting Go - The Pathway of Surrender" written by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. (a book I strongly suggest if you too are struggling with letting go), states that "Letting go is like the sudden cessation of inner pressure or the dropping of a weight. It is accompanied by a sudden feeling of relief and lightness, with an increased happiness and freedom. It is an actual mechanism of the mind, and everyone has experienced it on occasion." When discussing grief and letting go he says this: "The loss of that which is important frequently brings up a feeling of rage, which may be projected onto the world, society, individuals and ultimately, God, who is held to be responsible for the nature of the universe. Anger results from prior refusal to accept the fact that all relationships and possessions in this life are transitory. Even the physical body, which is our biggest attachment, eventually has to be relinquished, as everyone is aware." He goes on to say, "We feel that what has become important or comforting to us is a permanent attachment. Consequently, when that illusion is threatened, there is anger, resentment, and self-pity, feelings which can result in chronic bitterness.' Yikes.
As a chronic pain/chronic illness sufferer, I joke around and say that I have an Olympic Gold Medal in loss and grief, but the reality is, it's not really funny at all. The truth of the matter is that chronic pain/chronic illness sufferers lose a lot, typically, in a short amount of time, and if we're not equipped to handle that loss, grief, and change from the start, it can get really effin ugly.
I am a fighter by nature. I will always fight for that of which I love. I even have the song lyric from "The Fighter" by Gym Class Heroes ft. Ryan Tedder, "This one's a fighter" tattooed on my body - evidence that this is my ethos in life. But when do you decide to fight or let go? How do you know when it's time to write the end of the story and begin penning a new one? How do you know when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change?
One word will always be the primary catalyst for change; Pain. Pain forces us to push ourselves past our perceived limitations. Pain forces us to make decisions. Pain (regardless of mental, physical, or spiritual pain) forces us out of circumstances and into others. In other words, pain is what dictates when we are ready, willing, and able to let go, change, and move forward.
I can "credit" pain for some of the most terrifying changes I've ever made in my life. Breaking up with my high school sweetheart, consenting to seven surgeries, moving on from my divorce and the sudden death of my father, enrolling in the chronic pain recovery program I attended in 2013, beginning or ending employment positions, deciding that my two little pups were ready to cross over to the next life, launching my first company; The list goes on and on, and I bet, yours will too if you give it some thought.
Author, David R. Hawkins makes it abundantly clear in the quote above that attachment is at the root of our suffering. As humans, we falsely trust our attachments in this world. We assume that the past is a predictor of our future - my spouse has never cheated on me - I've been at my company for 10-years - I've always been financially secure - I've always been a healthy person...but affairs happen, layoffs happen, stock market crashes happen, random, accidents happen...
Anyone else have that pit in the middle of their stomach too? It's normal...because the truth is, when we start challenging the illusion of security...we freak out.
When you really think about it, false attachments are at the root of every "surprise" Life has to throw at us. So what do you do? Develop cat-like reflexes? Become apathetic and numb? Hide under the covers just waiting for the other shoe to drop? Nope. Trust me, I've tried them all, and they're completely ineffective...and make you a little weird. The answer is simple (and yet, very annoying)...
You. Learn. To. Let. Go. (Tolda it was annoying.)
Don't know how? Here are my personal top five tips for practicing the art of letting go.
1. Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance.
Acceptance is one of the hardest things to face sometimes. Accepting that a relationship has run its course, accepting that a period of time has come to an end or accepting that we no longer have our health the ways in which we used to is extremely hard...but downright necessary to move on.
David R. Hawkins says, "Acceptance should be our ultimate goal and looks and feels like harmony." He goes on to say this about acceptance: "We feel as though events are flowing. We feel secure. We can be of services to others without a feeling of self- sacrifice. There is the feeling: "I'm okay," "You're okay," and "It's okay."
Acceptance doesn't mean becoming apathetic or despondent. Acceptance doesn't mean sacrifice or settling. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Acceptance means that you understand the reality of your situation, and regardless of liking it or not, you also understand that this life is a journey, made up of millions of experiences, and each step, each experience, gets us to the next; A higher level of consciousness. Acceptance means there is hope for a future full of wisdom, peace, and understanding.
2. Understand the things you are holding on to.
Stephen Covey says it best: "Seek first to understand (then be understood)." Understanding what it is that you're holding on to is an essential preliminary step in letting go. Most of us don't even realize that we're clinging so tightly to something that's expiration date is severely overdue.
My subsequent relationship after my divorce is one of the best examples I can draw from. We had a relationship with lots of highs and lots of lows. We were intense, magnetic, and ignitable - we were like fire and gasoline - beautiful, mesmerizing...and dangerous. We both knew it...but chose to override every warning alarm that went off in our systems. It took years for us to finally separate...and then years for me to untangle my emotions.
When my friends would ask me why I stayed, I kept saying, "It's safe, I won't have to start all over again, we know one another so well, etc., etc.," One day, one of my friends said, "You keep saying it's safe...but is it really? You are constantly getting hurt or upset; you both have trust issues with one another...what's so safe about it?" Ouch.
Her comments swirled through my head for weeks. Maybe she was right. Perhaps, all of this time...it was perceived safety and comfort. Seriously?! But, I couldn't "unsee" it - she was right. So what in the hell was I holding on for?
A lot. We knew each other and our lives so well- the relationship we had with our family, we knew one another's friends, each other's jobs and co-workers- we knew how to get a reaction out of the other and how to make the other feel safe, loved and secure. I held on to who we wanted to be and who I thought we could be. I held on to the fear of dating again. The fear of someone not being able to fill the same shoes. I realized I was holding on to this crapfest of ideas...all in the name of love.
Until I read two Biblical scriptures:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 - Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 John 4:18 - There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Love means loving the way my little chihuahua, Guch loved - unconditionally, whole-heartedly and selflessly. Holding on to my relationship wasn't love - it was fear. And once I realized that I dropped the rope.
Digging down deep to the root of loss, grief, and change isn't easy - it's a metamorphosis but a worthwhile one in being able to let go of what's holding you back finally.
Being grateful is more than just acknowledging the things that have gone right in your life. Gratefulness is about being thankful for the good, the bad, and the ugly because it is only then that we grow, change and reach a better understanding of ourselves, of others and the world that we all share. This kind of gratefulness doesn't come naturally...or easy for that matter; It is a learned behavior that takes practice, patience, and time. However, gratefulness is an imperative step in change, loss, and letting go.
I remember the first time the practice of gratefulness was introduced to me. I was grieving, depressed, anxious, angry, scared, and completely lost. Nevertheless, I was asked to watch a video that I now highly recommend from Brother David Steindl-Rast. Seriously. It's the best way to spend 5-minutes and 32-seconds of your time because it instantly shifts your perspective. I remember watching it intently while my eyes welled up with tears. I suddenly realized that the way in which I was trying to live life wasn't working - and I had a choice: to keep doing what I was doing...or change; I chose to change.
It's been 7-years since that day...and gratefulness is still a practice that takes... practice - in fact, it always will. However, committing to it will allow you to see the beauty in everything and let go of the things that Life needs you to so it can bring you something new, different, and growth-provoking.
4. Make a list.
Write down what holding on provides to you. What is the benefit of holding on? What purpose is it serving? Perceived security? Familiarity? Unfulfilled hopes and dreams? Give this process some much-needed thought because there is some kind of payoff you're receiving by holding on so tightly.
Then, write down what letting go will provide to you...even if you're just taking your best guess. A healthier relationship? Understanding? Wisdom? Freedom? Peace?
Taking the first step into the future unknown is absolutely terrifying. However, when you have the chance to finally look back and see how each of the puzzle pieces have fit together to bring you to a more advanced existence, it seems silly that you ever hung on that long to the past.
5. Develop a mantra as a reminder.
When I had to make the decision to put my "two boys" down within months of each other, I thought my heart would break in half. Due to my illness, I can't bear children, so for all intents and purposes, my two little dogs were my children. I had no idea how I was going to get through it...let alone, move on. As I approach their one-year memorials, I still cry for them weekly. When I think of the days leading up to their passing, I wince from the emotional pain.
The only thing that brings me peace is knowing that they are no longer in any pain, they are together and happy, and I fulfilled my duty as their mother with all that I had.
On the days that I find myself distraught over their loss, I repeat the above sentiment: "They're no longer in any pain, they are together and happy, and I fulfilled my duty as their mother with all that I had." As I repeat it, I feel my heart become a little lighter, tears, ease, and an immense sense of peace. "The Boys" and I had our journey together. We were all blessed for it. We brought each other happiness and love. I am grateful for our time together, for their eternal life and our eternal love. That's unconditional love. That's acceptance. That...is letting go.
I apply this concept to all of the tough parts of life like, the untimely loss of my father, my unwanted divorce, my illness and my career...and...you can too. Unwanted, untimely and unwelcome endings are awful- there is no denying that fact - no one is going to take that away from you but by reminding yourself of the good that can be drawn from the person, place or thing will help you finally let go and finally move on.
Christina H Chororos founded Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching in the fall of 2017 after obtaining her Integrative Wellness Life Coaching certification from the Integrative Wellness Academy.
She is a decade-long deep infiltrating endometriosis sufferer, speaker and, suicide prevention + chronic pain patient advocate.
For more information, please visit kairoschronicpain.com