Clinging to the Past and Letting go of the Uncontrollable

By Ken Wells - 01/25/2022


Series Two: Blog Ninety-Nine

The real differences around the world today are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it. Between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past. Between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” -Bill Clinton

Last week I traveled to my hometown in east central Illinois. While visiting, I always take time to drive through my old haunts where I grew up. I drove by the house where I was raised. I visited the baseball park where my mom played baseball in her day and where two of my brothers got into a fight with each other that triggered my older brother who coached the younger brother to trade him in mid-season. It was the ballpark where I played my little league baseball. The memories used to always trigger pain and shame until I was able to work through the hurtful memories of disappointing experiences.

During the tour I began to wonder what it would be like if I lived now where I grew up.  At almost every intersection there were memories of things that happened. As I went through the rolodex of memories it seemed as though past events and relationships were still alive inside me. I had honest feelings of sadness and longing to revisit and recreate past experiences even though I knew it could never be.

Nostalgic memories become glue that keeps people stuck in yesterday.  People don’t like change and hang on to the past.  When you get older, yesterday always seems better than today. Some people create lore and legend from how it was when they grew up. Things weren’t better, kids weren’t better and life was not better yesterday, just different from the present. No matter how bad or good it was, the past is over. The old blueprints that created happiness and fulfillment yesterday won’t work in your present circumstance.

Addicts struggle with letting go what could have been different. It is tempting to try to resurrect relationships by clinging to how things used to be before trust was broken when addiction took over your life. There is no going back and erasing hurtful, destructive behaviors that severed trust and damaged hope. Clinging to yesterday prevents you from letting go what you cannot control and embracing what you can control today. How can you let go?

  1. Let yourself feel all your emotions about losing people and moments you loved and cherished. In order to let the past, go you must grieve. You must embrace whatever feelings you have – nostalgia, sadness, longing, loneliness, anger, etc. Embrace them all and then let go. Be present today. Certainly, there are past relationships that no longer exist. Long for them and grieve them, then release them to the past. Life wasn’t better back then than it is now. It’s only an illusion that you are tempted to wallow in.
  2. Take time to realize how connected you are to the world around you. Experience the connection that you have with all living things in the present moment. Others’ experiences — the birds, the insects around you and all plant life — share the same life force. When I walked among the Sequoia trees in the Calaveras Big Trees Forest there exuded a powerful life force awareness and connection to the trees and all living things.  Part of letting go is understanding how you fit into the universe. It helps to let go when you recognize that you are a part of the universe and not separate from it.
  3. Take note of things that signal an ending. Nothing lasts forever.  Friends come and go. Even, families come and go. Cherish the moment by realizing it will change and look for signs that tell you it is so. It will prepare you to let go. When I retired from my work of 28 years, during the past 3 years, I noticed that my long-term relationships were going to change. Some would end. All of them would change. I would need to forge a new way of relating to others. The old would no longer be and I would be on my own, seeking a new frontier of relationships and life experience. It doesn’t always mean all things will go away. It does mean that all things will change because life itself is permeable. Are you paying attention to the signals that tell you of an ending?

Recovery invites you to let go of what you cannot control. The \ only thing you can actually control is the decision to let go. You are a spiritual being having a human experience. Your life contains a mixture of bitter and sweet, success and failure, and highs and lows. Clinging to any of these experiences will keep you stuck in the past. Letting go is your ticket to exiting a lifeless past into the only power we experience, which is in the here and now.

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