One of the joys of writing is simply trusting that an article, a movie, or even a snippet of a conversation can be the spark to ignite the creative impulse that lies in wait. I am getting better at staying attuned to its arrival no matter from what unlikely source it may appear. Today, a friend posted a question on Facebook from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. “What are you willing to give up, in order to become who you really need to be?” Elizabeth Gilbert went on to say that she is posing this question because “everything good I've ever gotten in life, I only got because I gave something else up.”
For me, there is so much beauty in this paradox of having to let go in order to receive. I started thinking about how this has transpired in my life, and more importantly, whether I’m still willing to “let go”. I have fond memories of my time as an English Lit undergrad and being exposed to the work of Joseph Campbell, one of the preeminent experts on mythology. Campbell believed in the universal human experience and the role of symbols and archetypes that unify us across cultures and throughout generations. His philosophy can be distilled in the phrase follow your bliss, and he said in order to do that, “You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”
I decided to compile a list of “three things I’ve let go”, “one thing I’m in the process of letting go”, and finally, “one thing I’d like to let go.” I invite you to compile your own list, and if you feel comfortable, maybe you would like to share it so that we can generate a discussion on Elizabeth Gilbert’s thought-provoking question.
Three Things I’ve Let Go
By today’s standards, I got married young, and we had our son when we were the ripe old age of 22. While most of our friends were traveling and playing with disposable income, my wife and I were amassing more and more debt and trying to survive on one salary and a student loan. Deciding to become a parent meant that I had to “let go” of my freedom, financial security, and an unmapped future. What I gained in return was a sense of accountability and an unbreakable bond that will attach me to my wife and son for the rest of my life. I grew up with a very weak and distorted notion of “family”, so it’s not surprising I was eager to build connections as soon as possible.
Almost 17 years ago today, I “let go” of my security blanket that I clung to as a means to weather the chaos of my mind—I finally admitted that I had a serious drug and alcohol addiction and that I needed treatment before I lost everything dear to me. Not a day goes by where I don't think about picking up a drink or a drug, but I know that even my worst day sober is better than my best day drunk. Like every addict, I used my addiction to numb away the discomfort inside of me, but the cruel reality is it is impossible to selectively numb only the bad feelings. As Jonathan Safran Foer says, “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
The third thing I have “let go” of is my relationship with my mother. As I’ve gotten older, my relationship with my mother hasn’t so much “evolved”, as “dissolved”, and I would even go as far as to say that there is no relationship whatsoever today. It’s almost heresy to admit that my feelings towards my mother have gone from mistrust, detachment, apathy, loathing, to where they are today, benign neglect. I blamed her for walking out on us when I was 9, and I unjustly found her culpable for not protecting me, and subsequently leaving me open to the childhood sexual abuse that entered my life after she had left. Part of my healing journey has meant that I can no longer hold on to anger and resentment because they are both toxic and are insurmountable obstacles to my growth. My relationship with my mother no longer tethers me to my unhappy past because I have made a conscious decision not to continually feed that relationship with my anger. I’m learning to accept that some things in life just can’t be changed, can’t be improved, and can’t be fixed.
One Thing I’m In The Process Of Letting Go
As I mentioned above, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I only disclosed this fact to family and friends a little less than one year ago. For more than 35 years, I harbored this secret in the pit the pit of stomach, and it tempered everything in my life through a lens of shame, inferiority, and anger. Like Aladdin, now that this secret is out, there is no putting the Genie back in the bottle. I’m slowly, and painfully, trying to rebuild my sense of self worth, but there are many days when I don’t feel I have the fortitude to keep pushing through the discomfort. I feel as though I’m in uncharted waters, and even my closest relationships feel out of alignment. Now that I have “let go” of this secret, it cascades around my every thought and even invades my sleep through reoccurring night terrors. I’m assured by other survivors of childhood sexual abuse that this is all part of the process, and that the journey back to your “voice” is worth the travel—At this point, all I can do is have faith.
One Thing I’d Like To Let Go
Routine and predictability have always been my “sanctuary”—my refuge from the turmoil in my mind that I couldn’t control. The rigid schedule encompassing what I eat, when I sleep, when I train, and even where I go to work, used to be my anchor, but now these feel like manacles trapping me in a life that no longer feels comfortable. I’m not sure if I’m ready to let go of this predictability yet, but I know that it is a huge obstacle in my way to growth. It’s getting harder and harder to silence that urge to purge.
I’d like to end by saying I no longer believe I’m looking for something—I now am certain I have it, but my journey is to chip away at the veneer that has been dulling my inner light’s ability to radiate as brightly as it is meant to be. I can think of no better person to articulate what I’m feeling than the venerable Henry Miller. “Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”