The Art of Letting Go...or something like that

It’s a February evening in Ohio and, as one might expect for this time of year, it’s snowing. I listen to my youngest sister lament about how they haven’t had a snow day yet this school year, but she is excited because both students and teachers are predicting a school cancelation the next day; it’s about time because she will be “highly upset if we go through my entire senior year in high school without a snow day.”


I then launch into a (not-so-serious-but-still-true) story about how, during my senior year, “We had zero snow days, which was a bummer of the highest degree, and I have held onto that since graduating and will continue to hold onto that for the rest of my life!”


We laugh and part ways so she can get ready for a school day that might or might not take place the next day.


Meanwhile, I think about how, eight years later, I am actually bitter about not getting a single day off from school during my senior year…


What?


But…what?


Why?


I find it a rather funny story – akin to the classic tale about how our grandparents used to walk five miles to school, uphill, in the snow, both ways – and overall in life, I don’t think about my snow day deprivation, but I wondered why I still held onto it at all.


I don’t hold onto much because I’ve worked hard to develop the skill of letting go. As I have learned to let go of things, I have come to notice how holding on and letting go impact my life.


The experiences to which I hold firmly become more than simply memories or anecdotes to share – they become moments that define me and my story. The ‘Year of No Snow Days’ plays a (small, albeit memorable) part in the story of my senior year in high school. While it makes for a humorous tale, it isn’t necessarily something that I want to define my high school experience. Why would I want to, when I could just as easily characterize my senior year with my leadership positions, academic achievements, and theatrical and artistic growth? This is how I choose to look back on my high school experience now, but that hasn’t always been the case.


Historically, my senior year in high school was defined primarily by the intense bullying I underwent, especially in my leadership position as field commander of my high school’s marching band – a position that I loved, but it came with significant peer antagonization. By that time, I had been bullied for almost ten years; it had already become a substantial part of my life narrative.


After I graduated from high school, the bullying decreased considerably, but the memories were still fresh and raw, and they became the principal way I introduced myself to others. I was a ‘Bullied Kid’, a sensitive little girl who never received the manual on how the social world worked, but who had made it through anyways.


The more I defined myself by my bullying, the more stuck and hopeless I felt. The outside circumstances had changed, but my internal story had not – my bullies were out of sight, yet my feelings remained as in-my-face as they had ever been. I couldn’t move forward and thrive because I was continually replaying a narrative that wasn’t actually present anymore. Instead, I continued feeling hurt, depressed, and hollow because I was still emotionally and mentally living in a hostile social world. None of it was really happening to me anymore, but I kept holding onto it as if it was.


After several years of sinking into the mud of my disempowering perspective on my life, I started to understand what holding onto this story was doing to myself and my life. I began seeing a therapist and studying counseling psychology, which allowed me to start cranking the wheels to push me out of that pit of stuckness. In a slow process that has gained momentum over the past couple of years, I have learned how to let go. Letting go of that painful narrative and healing the opens wounds it inflicted has empowered me to rewrite my story, propelling me onward and upward into a life that is defined not by bullying, pain, and others’ beliefs about me, but by joy, confidence, love, and my belief in my own value as a human. Letting go helped me prioritize those old bullying experiences: they are each a story, but not the story.


Letting go taught me to forgive my peers for the pain that their actions caused me. I have learned how to have compassion towards them and understand that their actions towards me likely stemmed from pain in their own lives that I knew nothing about. This doesn’t mean I let any of my bullies off the hook; it means that I let myself off the hook so that their stories about me no longer have the power to keep me trapped. Their stories about me came from their perspectives and experiences; that doesn’t mean that they’re the stories I should believe about myself.


Letting go also doesn’t have to be immediate. Some events and relationships take time to process before finally reaching a place of letting go. I still feel the sting of betrayal, the fracture of heartbreak, the weight of grief, and the waves of anger regarding events that happened months, or even years, ago. I don’t particularly enjoy reliving intense feelings towards people or situations that are long past, but sometimes, my body just needs to keep processing those emotions when they’re triggered. This doesn’t mean that I’m stuck again; it simply means that my heart, mind, and body just need a little more time. As long as I can recognize the emotions for what they are and give them space to flow through me, I know I won’t get stuck again.


At the end of the day, letting go is about loving myself enough to keep moving forward. I am an imperfect person who has made mistakes, and will make more mistakes in the future, but I refuse to let others use those imperfections and mistakes to define who I am for me. I choose to define myself by my strengths, joy, and radiance as a vibrant human being who loves to keep growing and expanding.


It was certainly a bummer that I missed out on the happiness and excitement of getting an unexpected school cancelation during my senior year, but that just means I had the maximum amount of time rehearing for our theatre productions, spending time with friends and great teachers, and making the most out of that last year in school. I gained some significant accomplishments that set me on the path to where I am today; that’s the story I choose to tell.


With love and gratitude,


Kate




(Cover image photo credit: Almos Bechtold from Unsplash)

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