• Shona Dee

How to Let Go When All You Want to do is Hold On


Like most women who have been left by their significant other, I took it hard. Extremely hard. It came as a complete shock – I had thought that we were happy. We had been together nineteen years and the thought that we wouldn't be together forever-more never really entered my consciousness. Maybe I took a lot for granted – I don’t know.

I acted crazy for a time. I phoned and texted when I knew he would be with ‘her’. I felt deeply and personally offended when my kids expressed a desire to spend time with him. I kept myself awake at night with torturous thoughts. In short (in my head at least) I refused to let him go. I didn't know how to let go.

Once the grief began to loosen its deathly grip (who knew it was possible?) I began to realise the obvious – he wasn't coming back, and I had to let go. And so began the arduous, yet somehow rewarding task of rediscovering myself. Of constructing a new ‘story’ of who I was and where I was headed.

Some days, I didn't know if I could do it. It felt so much easier not to do it. On my bad days, the temptation to remain stuck in the grief and as a ‘victim’ was very very strong. But, I stuck at it. I stuck at it NOT because I knew it was necessarily the right thing to do (I didn't at that stage) but because ruminating on all that I had lost was getting too damn painful.

I wanted a new story. A story of a girl who was happy, free and single. Of a woman who could dream of a better future; who could be a sole parent and thrive whilst doing it.

My husband left me three years ago; in this time I have learnt a lot. I have learnt how to stand on my own. I have learnt that no matter what happens to me, I will be OK. I have learnt how to let go.

Here is what I have learnt about letting go – when all you want to do is hold on:

You must be realistic about the state of your relationship

Grief can be a cruel mistress. My marriage, in reality, was not perfect. There were days I felt stifled and bored. Days in which my husband and I argued over the things that all married couple argue over; days in which I would fantasise that I was not married. I can admit this to myself now.

Yet when he left, my mind very conveniently ‘forgot’ this reality. My mind would play cruel tricks on me – it tortured me with images of our early days together. The carefree days before mortgages and children. The courting days when neither of us had a care in the world; when choosing which restaurant to go to that night was the biggest stressor of any given day.

It was painful. It was as though I had been handed rose-coloured glasses with which to view our relationship and it made the process of letting him go that much harder. That is, until the day I realised what was happening. Until I actually did some research on grief and its effects. That’s when I learned that what I was experiencing was completely normal. That ruminating on the ‘good old days’ and completely bypassing the harsher, more realistic aspects of the relationship was something that unfortunately happened during the grieving process.

How did I get through it? By very consciously telling myself to be realistic. By reminding myself that grief was doing funny things to my head. By telling myself, OVER AND OVER, that the man – and the situation – that I was missing and pining for was long gone. That what I was missing and pining for was a fantasy – NOT the reality.

You need to stop - or limit - contact with your ex

If you and your ex do not have children together, I would recommend going no-contact, at least during your grieving period. How long does this period at last? There is no definitive answer to this as we are all wired differently. However, I recommend women give themselves at least six to twelve months of recuperation and recovery before seeing each other again – if at all.

If you have children together, there will obviously need to be some contact. I found it terribly painful in the early days of my separation to see (or even speak with) my ex, as each time I saw his face I was harshly reminded of the fact that he had moved on with his life and I was no longer a central part of it.

So, I did my best to limit our communication. I would only contact him when I needed to discuss matters relating to the kids, house and finances – and I tried to limit this to email and text message. In time as the pain lessened I became more comfortable in his presence, and today he and I are on good terms.

I have no doubt that the reason I can now be around him without being reduced to a grieving, quivering and angry mess is because I allowed myself ample time to get over him – to get him out of my psyche and emotionally detach from him.

If you feel the need to spend time with your ex to help with your loneliness – do your best to resist. Remind yourself that any ‘comfort’ you gain from spending time with him will be short-lived, and may even delay your recovery.

You need to work at gaining acceptance of what has happened

This will, of course, take time. But that is OK – nothing needs to be rushed. In fact, the more you resist the way you are feeling and rush yourself to feel ‘better’ – the longer it will take for you to move forward and TRULY let go – of both your old life and your ex. You absolutely must go through the grieving process in order to move forward and let go – there is no escaping it!

As best you can, remind yourself each day that what happened, happened for a reason - even if you have no inkling yet as to what that reason is. Stop yourself from wishing and hoping for things to be ‘different’ – this will only prolong your pain. Remind yourself that nothing is permanent in life – good or bad. Situations and people naturally evolve and change over the course of time. This is life.

Work at gaining acceptance of your new life and situation and in time you will absolutely be able to let go of your ex, and move forward into an even better life than the one you had before. I am living and breathing proof. Good luck!

Do you have any more ideas or strategies on how to let go? Tell us in the comments!

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