Just the words “letting go” might produce an internal response to some who read this. It often comes with a negative connotation of some type of loss, giving up, or defeat. It might feel counter intuitive or even impossible to those of us with a history of trauma. When we were not in control of our environment and being hurt, the brain will try to compensate and protect us by taking control of whatever it can. This might look like someone outwardly trying to control others or, turned inward, might look like an eating disorder or OCD. It may feel as though these frantic efforts to control something actually work at times and the thought of “letting go” sounds terrifying.
In recovery, we learn in step one what we do not have control over. Admitting powerlessness is often daunting for people until they come to see how paradoxically admitting powerlessness creates some ability to maneuver our lives in a new way and better navigate our disease. In step three, we learn to “let go and let God” or a higher power as we often forget how we may struggle with control over the littlest things and don’t have to do it ourselves! In step four, we learn all the various ways we have struggled with control and how this shows up in our lives, affecting others and ourselves. Our egos or defense mechanisms had been grasping at straws at any perceived sense of control, as control equates to feeling safe for trauma survivors. Control, however, is an illusion as we come to accept the only things we have control over are ourselves. The tighter we grip and cling to something, the more elusive control becomes.
If we are willing to accept this new truth and brave the uncharted territory of letting go, we come to see the freedom on the other side. Letting go of the need for others to approve of us, validation, acceptance, achievement, or any other external thing that we used to put on a pedestal and allow to dictate our happiness, brings a deep sense of peace. The amount of effort and energy put into trying to control these external things is exhausting and fruitless. When we focus this energy on accepting ourselves, validating and loving ourselves, we suddenly connect with an internal sense of control through peace.
Zen Buddhism teaches, “Attachment is suffering”. Not that as humans we should want nothing, but we can learn to allow the ebb and flow of life that allows the coming and going of things that we may outgrow, end, or die. Meditation and mindfulness allow the mind to relax the nervous system and allow room to observe patterns in which we may still cling to outcomes or externals for our happiness. Living life on life’s terms takes courage and openness, but the payoff or promises are beyond worth it. May you be inspired to loosen the grip on anything you might be clinging to and relax into the beauty of letting go.
Julie Jones, LPC-S, LCDC, Specialty Therapist | BRC Recovery