Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Letting go without loosing yourself.
We are entering the season of retreat, of letting go, of hibernation. This month there is a lot of remembrance going on, between Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving, we may be spending more time reminiscing. The world around us is loosing it's color, and often the skies are gray.
If you follow the cycles of the year, we are looking at culling, at what we are releasing as we get ready for the time of rest and look towards the fresh start of the new year. Often, this time of year is a mess of family events and holiday planning, and we can feel completely overwhelmed.
Letting go can be extraordinarily healthy. We can't cling to every thing we have picked up or become over the years, because life is constantly thrusting new things on us, and eventually we have to let some go. We have to set boundaries and say no to things, sometimes not because we don't want to, but because we don't have the capacity to do them on top of all the other things we need or want to do. But sometimes we have to say no because something truly doesn't serve us, even if it has been a big part of our identity for a long time.
Letting go can be really hard. The longer you have held onto something, the harder it is to let go. We are sometimes forced to let go of things that we consider a part of us, a piece of the puzzle that makes us who we are. And when we no longer have that piece, we feel hollow, as if we are missing a part of ourselves. We may struggle with our sense of self and have to figure out new ways to embrace our lives.
In the best of worlds, we control our transitions and boundaries. We are the ones in the driver's seat, we are the ones deciding what and when we let go. This allows us to prepare, to take on that transition in our own way, whether we prefer a slow adjustment or a quick walking away. We can mentally prepare, and do some of the work ahead of time, so that when we let go, we have tempered ourselves to the process and it's not so much of a shock to our system.
But other times, we have no choice, and we are just pushed into things and we have to do our best to adjust. This can be really disorienting, even if we knew that a change was on the horizon, but more so when it takes us completely by surprise. The rug gets pulled out from beneath us, and even if we manage to keep our feet, we have to fight to regain our balance.
Our most primal instinct is to try to rebuild ourselves, to clutch all the pieces remaining and to try to keep on going as we had before. But we no longer have the same pieces, and we may find ourselves torn between the impulse to pretend everything is fine, and to go on with pieces missing, where we are slowly leaking every day, and someday something will happen that will shatter us completely, or to just drop everything and fall apart, because if we can't be the same person, then we don't know who we are.
But there is always a new piece, a new thing that you can use to rebuild yourself. You might already have it, sitting right there at your feet. If you are leaving a relationship, you can now embrace your single life. If you are changing jobs, there may be a new job or there may be more time to explore your hobbies while you look for a new one. Sometimes we really have to look for that piece, especially when loss hits us hard.
When we loose someone near and dear to us, especially someone that fundamentally changes how we refer to ourselves (a spouse, a parent, a child), we may feel like we can no longer claim the titles of daughter/son, wife/husband, mother/father. For some people, moving on requires accepting that and embracing the new status. They never forget, but they find their joy through new freedoms and experiences. For others, they find their piece by keeping those ties and adjusting to the new way they manifest.
When these kinds of changes hit us, often we withdraw. It is so intensely personal that we feel like no one can understand what we are going through. And on some level that is correct. No one can tell you what YOU are feeling about a change or loss, but on another level people who are going through a similar loss can empathize, they can talk about what they are struggling with, and even if your struggles are different, you feel a little less alone because you know that someone else is facing something similar.
I find that getting things out of my head is really key. For me, most of the time, it is enough to get the words and emotions out on paper. I can journal or write things out and that forces me to get them on paper in words. Or I can do some kind of related art project for things that I feel are not well expressed in words. Sometimes I need to talk about it, with other people. I don't always need people to give me advice or even share what I am going through, sometimes it is enough to get the words out and be heard.
I think one really key point is to keep coming back to the question "Who am I"? We often want to define this in terms of our relationships to other people, or what we can do/accomplish. We use words and titles like mother or artist or friend or salesperson, and those aren't always things we are, they are things we do.
I am a mother, but what does that really mean? We often see the reminders that it isn't biology that makes you a parent, so what does? I see my motherhood as wanting to guide my son to be a good person, to protect him from harm and yet allow him room to grow into his own person, I want to do things that show that I care, and to make sure that he knows he is loved. And while our relationship is changing, as he is stepping more and more into the adult world, many of these things will never change.
I am having to learn how to step back and allow him to make his own choices and mistakes, and to be there in a less active way. I am still there, and if he has questions or needs advice, I am happy to help. But more and more I am focused on giving him tools to help himself rather than giving him answers or doing things for him.
When I sit and think about who I am, I will always be a mother, but mother is not an active role in my life. Caring is and always will be, and for me, at the heart of mothering is caring. I see myself 'mothering' other people in my life, because I care for them and want them to be well and happy. And caring is something that is a core part of myself, so even though I am loosing the part of me that is the daily ins and outs of being a Mother, I will always take care of the people in my life, because that is who I am.
Interestingly, the other place that loosing the daily routine of being a Mother hits my life is in the daily routine part. With a child, there are some fairly specific patterns that are in place. There are school times and bed times and holidays and weekends, and the child forms the rhythms of your life, and you build around them (because often, as a parent, you have little say in some of these times). As a no longer parent (even though son is still at home for the time being), my days have become a lot more freeform. I can sleep and wake when I want, I can eat (mostly lol) when I want, and I can organize my days however I see fit.
This has been a bit of an adjustment for me, because I do well with structure, and left to my own devices I tend to do things in huge clumps. I might get busy working on something and forget to eat. I will definitely be up at 3am. I do keep hubby's work schedule in mind, but other than that I have so much freedom that it sometimes comes back to bite me. I have had to become more strict with my own planning so that I don't completely forget the stuff I have to do.
No matter what type of letting go you are doing, coming back to your sense of Self, to the question of "Who am I?" allows you to have that anchor that keeps you grounded. It gives you that core that you can build around. The stronger your sense of Self, the more you look inside and whittle away all the titles and descriptors and get to the essence of YOU, the more you are able to flow with change, to let go and still keep strong in who you are.