Life is hard. It’s a test and most of us are failing. We’re failing to move on, to learn from our mistakes and so we keep making the same ones again and again. Sometimes that one lesson, the one that really took everything out of us, stays with us for years. We just can’t let it go. We relive it over and over in our minds and it becomes a fungus that spreads to all areas, rotting our lives and hardening our hearts.
The Buddhists believe that all our struggles stem from attachment and that attachment is the cause of all our suffering. While I’m not Buddhist myself, I do believe that.
We attach to people, places and circumstances or feelings because it makes us feel good. We experience joy, love or excitement and want to contain or control it. But here’s the thing about life, change is inevitable. So, sooner or later, something is going to change. Nothing lasts forever.
And when it changes, we experience loss. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, uncontrollable. Sometimes, it’s a blessing in disguise, like the ending of a relationship where you didn’t get the respect or honesty you deserved. Now you are in a position to find a partner with whom you’re more compatible. You won’t see it in the moment, but in hindsight, it’s clear as day.
Maybe you can relate. Perhaps it was a love that ended suddenly, abruptly and without warning. Maybe it was a marriage that fizzled out after years of devotion and foundation. Maybe it was the death of someone close to you that left you feeling lost and angry and depressed.
Maybe it was an accident that disfigured you and you have never mentally gotten over it. Maybe you were teased in high-school and to this day, you carry that burden of insecurity around with you and with everyone you meet.
People say, ‘get over it’, like it’s nothing. It’s the desperate plea of someone who has lost patience with our suffering. They don’t understand what you went through. They can’t handle the level of emotion that you’re emitting. They don’t want to see you suffer anymore. It probably makes them feel bad or feel helpless. Soon, they’ll start to avoid you altogether.
But it just won’t go away like that. We wish we could erase the event from our minds and especially our hearts. We want to move on, but we can’t. We know that the next relationship we have will be tainted by this. All future relationships will be tainted by this. Maybe we resign ourselves to never being loved again. To being alone forever.
I lost my younger sister when I was 15 and a boyfriend when I was 23. All my grandparents have passed. My first love cheated on me with my friend. To this day, my friend still talks about being bullied in high-school and I know a couple who have broken up after 40 years of marriage.
I know the deep dark hole that you’re living in. You try to make sense of the world again, but it doesn’t make sense. It’s different, crueler. You’re confused and vulnerable. The situation may have happened years ago, but your mind is keeping you trapped in it, like it was yesterday.
It’s up to You
The problem is, we’re attached. Attached to that person or that situation or that feeling. We’re emotionally attached to what happened, have mentally moved in and set up shop. We have infused ourselves with that moment of time.
But here’s the thing about attachment, we have the tools inside of us, to detach ourselves, whenever we choose. We can move on. We have the key.
What I realised, after years of avoidance and pain, is that no one can help you out of that hole, but you. Only you can change things around. Although it helps to talk things out with a psychiatrist or stranger, at the end of the day, no therapist is going to be able lift you out of that. You can try everything to feel better but until you’re ready to change your thinking and put it all behind you, you’re not going anywhere.
You need the strength and the desire to move on from this. You need to want to break free. Without that, nothing anyone says or does will help you.
Why We Can’t Move On
You might be thinking, of course I want to move on from this, but I can’t. On the outside you may want to rise up from this, but subconsciously it’s another story. Sometimes we’re so used to feeling like we do, it becomes a security blanket for us. We use it as an excuse for why we aren’t living our lives or reaching our potential. That one event ends up defining our lives or lack thereof.
We use it as a crutch partly because we don’t want anything more to change. Look what change brought us to begin with. We don’t want any more of that. So we hold tight to something that will always be true, as painful as it is. Something we know and are now used to, that one event, and we push back change and progress and life because we don’t want to hurt like that again.
Along with the desire to move on, you have to first accept what happened and release control over it. You might say, I had no control over that situation. Ok, maybe you didn’t, but you’re trying to control it now. You’re making it a focal point and building your life around it. You’re holding on to it like it’s part of who you are. It’s not. That event happened to you, it wasn’t you. Disconnect and release.
When you’re ready, and that’s going to be different for different people, but when you’re really ready and you mentally disconnect and release, you’ll feel different instantly. Like a weight has lifted off of your shoulders.
For me, I was on a train from Belfast to Dublin in Ireland. I had just spent an awkward few weeks at the parent’s house of the guy who had passed away. He was from Belfast and was buried in a cemetery there. I was getting the closure I thought I needed.
On that train trip leaving Belfast, I was on my own. I was 24, and had no plans in my life. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I didn’t know anyone in Dublin. I had a return ticket home, but I wasn’t ready to go home just yet.
Even though I should have been the most fearful and anxious in my life, I wasn’t. I felt free and happy. That weight had lifted and I felt that everything was going to be ok. I was moving on and I was going to be ok.
How to Let Go and Move On
Here are some steps to try to let go. Remember, you first have to be truly willing to move on before attempting these or they won’t work. Pick and choose what feels right for you. Don’t disregard one because it feels painful. That may just be the one that can help you get through this the best. Face the pain and go through it. You got this.
You may get there through meditation, just feeling, accepting and promoting more calmness and peace in yourself instead of the struggle and suffering currently manifesting. Don’t attach any kind of stigma or intimidation to the word meditation. It’s just a way to calm your mind from dwelling on the past things that don’t serve you. Thinking of nothing is better than thinking negatively or on things you can’t change.
Be mindful of where you are and what you’re doing every time you feel sad. Mindfulness will bring you back to the current moment whenever you try to relive or think about the past. Make this a habit and you’ll soon start living in the now.
A trick to being mindful and stop your brain from overthinking and running away from you, is to narrate what you’re physically doing in your head, as you’re doing it. Don’t think too much about why, or how, or where, … just what you’re doing in it’s most basic form can help you focus on the now.
Alternatively, closing your eyes and just listening to and acknowledging all the sounds around you currently, is also a great way to be present. Practice this often for calmness and peace. Eventually you’ll be spending less time in your doom and gloom mindset and appreciating more where you are.
3. Be inspired
Read books about buddhism, meditation or mindfulness. You don’t have to attach any religious belief to read these materials. You don’t need to convert or feel guilty about reading them. Accept the wisdom for what it is and be openminded enough to appreciate a different point of view about life.
Or read about other people in your situation, who have managed to move on from it. It might help you get perspective of someone who’s been there. You can find good biographies or autobiographies through Amazon or just articles online. Maybe there’s someone out there that can speak directly to you.
Imagine yourself physically detaching from the situation or person. If you can’t physically get the closure, then mentally get it. Have that conversation that you perhaps can’t have with that person in real life. Say all the things you want to say and how you feel about the loss and end it with both of you accepting the situation the way it is now, apologising and letting go of each other amicably.
If you can’t imagine it in your mind, write them a letter that you don’t ever have to send and no one else has to read. Express yourself through writing, let it all out and then burn the letter. Imagine the disintegration of that letter is you letting go of that event.
5. Talk it out
Talk to someone if it helps. You might not want to burden someone you know, but that’s what therapists are for. Let it all out, the frustration, the anger, the helplessness, the loneliness. Cry it out, break down if you need to. Letting it all out is better than holding it all in and is all part of the process of eventually letting go.
Some people like to imagine their own deaths. This helps them accept the impermanence of life and how fragile and limited time really is. It puts life in perspective when we realise we’re all going to die at some point, some unknown, possibly random time and life really is too short to be living in the past. Don’t waste it. It’s shorter than you think.
Start focusing on improving your situation and your life. Make goals and keep focus on new ideas and new beginnings. Having something to look forward to, to work towards, something that excites you and your passionate about will help you out of your hole. Create big life goals, but also add in some attainable small goals where you will see progress quickly. Create projects, make things, challenge your mind.
8. Help others
This is a great secret that those who have come out of depression know. When you help others, maybe in the same situation as you or someone you can relate to, you’re not only doing them a world of good, you’re doing yourself a world of good. Focusing on others helps us deal with our own feelings indirectly.
When we direct our attention and focus and connect to someone else’s suffering, we want to do what we can to help them heal. In time, we also learn to take our own medicine. Dealing with a situation from the outside looking in, or one which you have no real attachment to, helps you see another perspective that you can’t see when you’re in it. So pass on the healing and help each other.
9. Self Love
If we focus on love than we can’t be angry, upset, hurt or depressed. We let go of all those things that keep us down. We forgive because that’s what love is and what makes everything better. Love is part of the process of moving on.
If we have love for ourselves, than we would understand how much suffering we’re putting ourselves through, how negligent we’re being with our lives and we would stop. We would see that we’re causing more hurt to ourselves than the situation ever did, by holding on so tightly to it.
Love is necessary for release. Rediscover love for yourself. Be kinder, more gentle and accepting of yourself and you’ll soon breakthrough.
This is one that you probably won’t find in any self-help book, but it’s personal to me. I found travel was my medicine. Getting out there and putting yourself in unfamiliar territory, in a place that doesn’t remind you of what happened and instead makes you see the beauty in life and how big the world is and how many people are in it, is therapeutic.
Again it gives you perspective and value of life that was difficult to see at home surrounded by people who know what happened to you. You’ll start to appreciate life more and the world in which we live. You’ll grow from the experience and your problems at home will seem small compared to the big picture of our lives on this planet and seeing how others have it just as bad and perhaps worse than we do.
Loss and suffering and struggle is everywhere and people still get on with their lives. So can you, if you’re ready. So get closure if you feel you need it, be in the right headspace to accept what happened. Detach from the loss and release. You know when you’re there because you’ll feel free and at peace.
Then it’s time to crank up ‘I’m a Survivor’ on repeat (cause the rebuild needs a soundtrack) and move on. Like a phoenix coming out of the ashes, like a train trip to the unknown, now it’s time to rise with life anew.