Acceptance, Grief, Support, and Forgiveness
In this fourth article in our series on letting go, you may be thinking that letting go of old stories is easy for a person who has had a relatively happy life. Perhaps that’s not you. Maybe you’ve battled alcohol or drugs. Maybe you’ve dealt with abuse, violent crime, or the death of a child. These stories can be particularly difficult to release.
One of the reasons old stories, especially dark, painful stories, can have such power over us is because actions and behaviors in the past have long-reaching consequences. For example, adults who experienced child abuse may have difficulty developing and sustaining close relationships; they may spend a lifetime battling depression or suicidal thoughts. Children often think they are responsible for the things that happen to them, and, even when they become adults and know they weren’t responsible, those old feelings can stick with them.
Those experiences shape you and inform who you are, yet it’s important to let go of the story by finding ways to make peace with your past.
Accept your past
Accepting the choices you made or the things that happened to you means you no longer spend time dwelling on those events. You recognize that you can’t change what happened or go back in time and improve the situation. For example, if you lost custody of your now-grown kids because you were an alcoholic, you can’t go back and fix their childhood.
If you made poor choices, acceptance might look like facing what happened without making excuses. I call it owning your story. If necessary, acceptance might mean owning the story and making apologies to those you hurt. You might say to your children, “I’m an alcoholic, and I wasn’t around for you when you were little. I’m sorry for the choices I made and the pain I caused you.”
Let yourself grieve
Accepting your past doesn’t mean forgetting what happened or what you lost during the darkest days of your life. Perhaps an abusive parent stole what should have been a carefree childhood. Maybe you realize your alcoholism stole your marriage and your family.
Once you acknowledge what you’ve lost, allow yourself time to grieve. You may experience different stages of grief: anger, bargaining, or depression. It’s healthy to grieve a loss whether it was the loss of a person you loved or the loss of what your life should have been.
Not only is it natural to grieve your losses, you probably need to express everything you feel about the situation. Have you let yourself experience your anger? Have you really let yourself feel your sadness over what happened? If necessary, find a licensed counselor who can help you through this process.
Surround yourself with support
In addition to a counselor, recruit supportive friends and family to help you work through your emotions. You never have to do it alone.
Here are some things you can try: write an angry letter that you never intend to send, talk through your old story with a counselor, or re-enact a difficult event with a kind friend.
Forgiveness is the final (and for some the most difficult) step you need to take before you can truly let go of an old story and start a new one. Understand that accepting your past means you acknowledge that no one’s perfect. Letting yourself grieve is about processing what happened.
Forgiveness is about releasing the person who hurt you, even if that person was you. This doesn’t mean the person who harmed you shouldn’t have to face the consequences of their actions. It also doesn’t mean you must allow the hurtful person back into your life. In fact, part of letting go of the old story and telling a new story is setting boundaries with people so that you can keep yourself safe and mentally healthy.
At its core, forgiveness is refusing to limit your future because of what happened in the past. You might say, “I forgive my father for his verbal abuse. I release these events and I embrace a new beginning by surrounding myself with men who treat me well.”
If you have a tight grip on an old story, maybe it’s time to drop it. You deserve to live a life filled with new stories that bring you joy.