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TINY WISDOM: On Letting Go Of Painful Memories...

Posted by Jeevan ॐ Mirthu Gupt on July 8, 2011 at 9:00 PM

“The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that.” -Eckhart Tolle

     Today I read that Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped in 2002, is going to join ABC as a correspondent, covering missing persons.

     In case you haven’t followed this case, Elizabeth was only 14 when Brian David Mitchell abducted her from her Salt Lake City home. Her parents had previously hired the homeless man for a day’s work, something they did often to help people who were down on their luck. And yet for nine months he hid Elizabeth, subjecting her to daily cruelty.

     In response to her new position, ABC News spokeswoman Julie Townsend said, “…her contributions will be focused on looking ahead, not looking back at her own story.”

     As I read this, I thought about how easy it would be for her to let that story define her and her life. People have done it with far less traumatic events.

     She could wake up every day bitter and guarded. She could take comfort in a victim identity, expecting other people to take care of her. She could rehash what happened over and over again to anyone would listen–and we would understand. After all, she’s been through so much.

     But when you focus on all the bad things you’ve been through, it’s nearly impossible to recognize when you’re going through something good. It’s even more challenging to create something good with what you have.

     The stories we tell and wrap our lives around can easily limit who we become if we let them. The alternative is to let go of that pain identity. To stop dwelling on how you’ve been hurt. To decide that, right now, you have choices, and you’re not going to let your fear and anger make them for you.

     Today if you find yourself rehashing a painful past, remember: It may help to talk things through, but if you want to experience real happiness, at some point, you need to let go.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Lori Deschene is the Founder of Tiny Buddha.  Follow her on Twitter @Lori_Deschene.



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Reply Jeevan ॐ Mirthu Gupt
11:57 PM on July 9, 2011 
Hi Karen,

As someone who has experienced trauma in my past, I can relate to your perspective. Letting go is by no means easy. It's not a one-time choice; it's something you do over and over again, day to day, minute to minute even. And it does involve a process of healing.

What I noticed with me is that I used to justify my inability to move forward with, "I've been through so much." It was as if I thought there was a direct correlation between the severity of an experience and the ability to move past it. It was an amazing insight for me to realize that, even though my feelings were valid, I could feel a lot less pain if I decided that I truly wanted to let go of the stories.

For a long time, I didn't. I was afraid of losing an identity that felt familiar and even comforting. I didn't want to lose the compassion I thought my stories earned me (which felt even more pertinent since I felt so unloved in my past). So while it did take a process for me to heal, the process never really started until I decided that I truly wanted to let go. It took me almost a decade to decide that. Until I did, I did not start healing.

Thank you for adding this comment here. I generally keep this "Tiny
Wisdom" posts short, to hopefully act as small seeds that inspire
thought and action, but this is obviously a complex topic. And I wouldn't want anyone to think they are somehow failing because they can't instantly let go and become happy, like switching a light on. My intention was to suggest that we can only be happy when we decide we truly want to start fresh from right where we are (even if that's not easy). ---Lori Deschene
Reply Jeevan ॐ Mirthu Gupt
11:56 PM on July 9, 2011 
Great advice. However, I have to say that "letting go" is not as simple as this article implies. Yes, it is simple to CHOOSE the action and work towards that action everyday, but those of us who have experienced trauma will constantly deal with triggers that bring up a tremendous amount of anxiety and pain. We're not in control of those emotions when they come up, but we can choose how we react to them. I'd just like people to understand that it's just not as simple as plastering on a happy face and moving forward. Most people I know who "move forward" truly aren't. Instead they are still putting a band aid on the pain by numbing themselves with drugs, alcohol, food, etc. The only way to truly "let go" is to go through the grieving process and that involves seeing yourself as a victim and realizing that you had no control over what happened. Once you've acknowledged that you have been a victim, then you can move forward. People do get stuck in "victim" mode and an article like this is helpful for them to move beyond that stage, yet I would hesitate to tell someone who's never dealt with their pain to just "let it go." It doesn't work that way. I've tried it. The pain just kept coming back and I kept hurting people until I realized that I was a victim and needed to deal with the past. You can't just push it aside as if it never happened. ---Karen
Reply Joyan Tharakan
12:33 AM on July 9, 2011's not that easy...