28. Letting Go. An Introduction.
Letting go isn't something you just do instantly.
Yesterday we examined the idea that while we think that we are protecting ourselves from anxiety, panic, and fear, we are likely unable to do that, and are really just hanging on. We adopt a strategy designed to keep anxiety and fear at bay. Then we delude ourselves into thinking that we are succeeding when in reality we are doing nothing more than holding on tightly because we are terrified of the consequences of letting go.
To be certain, the idea of “letting go” is a difficult one for most people to cozy up with. We hear about letting go all the time. As general life advice designed to teach us to not sweat over details and small stuff, it makes sense. But when confronted with what you see as a real threat to your life or your sanity, letting go is not exactly going to be at the top of to your to do list.
Nobody starts the recovery journey intending to totally let go and let the chips fall where they may. That seems patently absurd at first glance.
But it is not. Letting go and allowing the worst to happen is exactly how we take our first tenuous steps toward recovery. We let go, we stop trying to hang on, and we resign ourselves to allowing the worst to happen. When reality shows us again that the worst never happens, and that we are always capable of moving through that fear to wind up OK, things start to change. This is the essence of recovery. This is how we do it.
If you could just decide to let go right now, we wouldn’t have much to talk about, would we? If it were that easy, everyone would just stop fighting and recover six days later. Clearly this does not happen, so we need a plan. We need a plan for how to let go. How can you learn to do this insanely scary thing? How can you learn to let go?
You can’t hang on for dear life all day long as a matter of standard operating procedure, then expect that you will be able to let go when fear is at its peak during panic. You can’t go from tightly wound with a death grip on everything to totally letting go when you fear that you are about have a psychotic break. That will never work. Instead, you need to practice.
You can practice letting go in small bits. You can exercise and strengthen your “letting go” muscles by experimenting in smaller situations where much less appears to be “on the line”. The odds are high that you rarely practice letting go, so you will likely suck at it when you start this, but that’s OK. Practice makes progress. If you can work on letting go on a smaller level, the idea of fully letting go when in the grips of extreme panic and fear starts to sound less absurd over time.
Tomorrow we’ll talk a bit more about the concept of letting go as a practice.