Life, they say, is complicated. Have you found yourself wondering how to let go, come to center, end the emotional roller coaster? Ever wonder who “they” is, and how the rules of life are set? Really, the right, wrong, should, should not, happy, sad….it is all very complicated until you learn the word boundaries. Lots of people seem to need them, but have no idea how to put them in place. I know the feeling from days in my life gone by. I’ve been sorting through the email responses and questions for THM….today a reader asked a question that I get pretty often. “How do I let go?”
Today’s email circumstance includes the true hardship that comes with alcoholism. She is married to an alcoholic in recovery. Don’t let me lose you there if that’s not your deal; to be honest for those of you who are in relationship with a person with any type of compulsive addiction or disorder, there is little difference in the word “recovery.” If you use the words “addict,” “crazy,” or think them, this might matter to you.
It’s a tough road, no matter if your man/woman is a substance abuser, a sex addict, compulsive gambler, manic depressive, borderline, narcissistic or even addicted to religion or work. The truth of many of these outcroppings in the psyche is a deep, dangerous version of codependency that boarders on a loss of reality, becoming much like the personality disorders we read about all the time. Great, you think. You’ve lived through the fire of a person that is unable to meet your needs, and probably learned how to ignore your own needs for so long that you’re the living result of codependent circumstances.
Yes, that means that you, too, will need some recovery time.
Chin up, if you’re not a fellow emotional addict, the recovery for a codependent person can be kinda fun.
You get to learn self care, soul care. As it turns out, he/she/it is not your responsibility...and your desire to “let go” is simply seeking sanity after what can be a lifetime of enabling or love addict behaviors. Your self esteem might be in the toilet. You may be enmeshed in a life that you’re not sure how to manage, in debt, over extended emotionally, with dependent people like children to worry about. First step: It’s admitting that we are powerless over another person’s life, and that our responsibility is to learn and live our own lives.
Here is an important note: YOU ARE NOT POWERLESS. You have everything you need inside you with the help of God and your support system to come out of this whole, happy and well. It is not over, and you have life to live.
First of twelve steps. Admit that you’re powerless to change the situation, and that you need the help of God, a community of friends and trained individuals…and that you’re worth the time and effort. I know that it’s terrifying, even if all you have is a few weeks of relationship and the gold fish that he won you at the fair. I empathize from my own place in the grandstands. Here is what I have for your question: you let go by recognizing the situation for what it really is.
Letting go Questions:
Am I willing to experience detachment from this person? Are you more focused on who they are, what they need and preventing the next episode than you are anything else?
If not, why? Do I honestly believe that with billions of people in the world, they are the only individual that magically can provide companionship and love to me?
Do I understand what I really need? Key: not what they need, not what he/she gives but our own internal need, which we actually must meet on our own. People don’t really meet our needs.
Do you feel like “if only they would change” you would be happy? Do I need to control the circumstance of life around me to feel secure? Do I need to have his/her control? Am I enmeshed?
Do you feel like you’ve invested to much time in covering/fixing life because of their addiction that you have become “owed” a better outcome?
When was the last time you said no or did something nice to/for yourself?
We’ll leave their condition for the professionals an focus on us for the time being, mainly because this article is for you, not them.
Are you a love addict? A love addict, according to Dr. Pia Mellody, is “someone who is dependent on, enmesh with, and compulsively focused on taking care of another person.” Love addiction is a really tricky thing to deal with. It looks a lot like codependency, however, remarkably different. They both begin in the same way. Love addiction (sometimes called relationship addiction) and codependency begins with the family of origin. We are the people who did not learn early bonding, or had a significant dysfunction in our family that disrupted the learning curve. We may have had a parent that was abusive and one that was needy, experiencing abandonment or engulfing need. The avoidance person starved our desire for affection, but the needy parent absorbed every bit of emotion that we were able to produce, as they too were most likely love addicts.
Without pointing the finger to harshly, many dysfunctional families today appear healthy on the outside when in all truth, the relationship of the parents is strained, filled with tension, avoidance and toxicity. Many are teammates that have no real love for one another, but coexist. When I speak of abandonment, it is not necessarily because Mom or Dad left the family unit. It is more a mental check out that leaves a life long search for meaning in a child. Dr. Phil says that “it’s better to be from a broken home than in one.” On this, he and I agree. So how do you fix what is going on with you?
The first step is to realize that you’re most likely seeing the person through what I call “wish vision.” It’s sort of like laying a mask of the life that you dream of over the face of a person that is unable to do or be what you need for any consistent length of time. We dream that he’ll get off the couch and become what we know he could – and now that he has, the monster that he was is worse. We imagine that she is going to stop drinking, spending, exploding, hoarding. We imagine that he’s going to come to reason one day and peace will become the norm over the chaos we dread every day. What we don’t understand is that an addict or a compulsive person will always keep the chaos close at hand because it is the familiar pain that they live in. Without treatment, they will live in the pain that they know. If you’ve been enabling this behavior for years, there is going to be natural resistance to your letting the addict/compulsive person experience their own consequences. I assure you that as long as you are controlling and adapting, you are preventing his/her higher power from being able to bring realization and life to them. It’s a bad widget to be in. Get out of God’s way and let them discover that life is….life.
Instead of learning healthy boundaries at an early age, we learned how to be chameleons to a certain extent. We live in the vortex of their spending sprees, drinking binges, other relationships, losing jobs, changing from one person to another in front of our eyes. Every time they change, our chameleon self adapts to either become more “addicted” through being controlling or needy or for the codependent, to fix everything. Both individuals wind up very angry afterward.
If you want to talk the first step: detach. Look at the person for what they really are. Be honest with yourself about what you need in your life. Yes, every day that you live counts, too. Can you imagine yourself walking free, without that horrible pain in your chest, without the hand wringing anxiety, without the days that are stressed to the point of insanity? Can you imagine feeling confident and whole within yourself? Detach. Physically if you have to, mentally absolutely. Pull back and ask yourself where this relationship leaves you in five, ten, fifteen years if all things that are present now continue to develop at a normal rate? How does that resonate with your realistic dreams and plans for life?
Detaching allows you to step back and breathe. Are you REACTING? This never helps. Act in grace, act in truth, act in self love, but do not react. Think. Pause, breath and count the cost of how you are feeling. If all was perfect, this would not be the article you took time to read; instead, you’re wondering how you get back to center, to stop the emotional pain and wander back into the light of life. Hard truth: You will not die from the loss of a relationship, although if you are a love addict, you’re going to go through withdrawals a whole lot like those of a drug addict. You’re going to have to fight through them, see a counselor, coach or life long friend. Turn off the phone, kill the Internet connection and do not indulge in alcohol or drugs. Go outside, work out, build a fence, write a book, scream until your voice is gone…but detach. Let go by holding onto yourself, seeking your faith and finding yourself again. While losing a toxic relationship will not truly end your life, staying in one that never improves or changes through healing will eventually make you ill through stress and anxiety, as well as at risk behaviors.
Healthy relationships have characteristics. They have realistic views of the couple between them; they know the truth of the other person and find that they still, miraculously, love them. Communication is open and welcome, not stagnant or focused on the kids, the dog, the house, the job. Communication includes feelings, growth potential, fears, boundary issues, etc. Each person has goals and dreams, and they take responsibility for growing as a person and a couple. Both people have to want to do this, not one pushing the other to participate. In a marriage relationship, mature couples have an abundance nature, more than enough love and confidence in themselves to share with their spouse. They don’t require but desire the love of their mate. Neither person indulges in fantasy of life without the other person being the ideal paradise; this is a sure sign that there is a fundamental breakdown in the relationship.
Earnest Holmes writes about the moment that you know you’re ready to finally let go: it will come in time. Take the first step, cry the tears, then get up and find life again. Holmes writes:
“She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go. She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go… She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.” – Ernest Holmes
I am praying and mediating for you today, for me, for all of those broken hearts that are littering the landscape of our world, largely silent. They’re the hearts in front of you in line at Starbucks, the person behind you at church, your preacher, your mechanic, your day care provider. Your CEO may be crushed inside, and that movie star that you idolize? Crushed on the floor with the same pain that grips you.
Start by knowing that you’re not alone.
Take a deep breath.
Journal, paint, crayon, work out, plant something, go outside.
Repeat after me…. “I am worthwhile. I am loved. I am precious.” Say it until you hear God echoing it back to you, welcoming you back to the place where you can climb into your faith and wrap yourself in the love of being a child of grace.