This is nothing fancy. Letting go of grief is natural, that’s what tears are for or wailing wells, funerals and rituals of all kinds that encourage us to feel, to release pain and renew ourselves.
The point of grieving is in fact to let go. But one thing that happens when we have been deeply involved with addiction is that we fear letting go. We fear that we’ll let go only to be blindsided… to be hurt again then we’ll feel like we let our guard down too soon. We develop the habit of hypervigilance. Unconsciously we see hanging onto our pain as some sort of weird way to inoculate ourselves from further hurt. We associate letting go and trusting life with being hurt. All of these can be in the way of letting go of pain.
Clearly the sense the unconscious is making is rooted in self-protection. But is it really protecting us? Do we have to be this afraid all the time, do we have to feel a low level of tension most of the time to keep from being hurt some of the time? And is there a way to let’s say…intelligently let go? To let go with a kind of wisdom that life can and will inevitably deal us painful blows but that weakening our resilience by hanging onto pain, by being overly defensive only closes us off the daily beauty that life is always and equally inevitably sending our way? That the price of not letting go is much higher than the price of letting go and being hurt again?
Because we will be hurt again. But if we are stiff and brittle, if we’re bitter and closed to life, we will have weakened our best defense in dealing with the further “slings and arrows” that all “flesh is heir to”. We will have undermined our own strength and resilience through our own fear and negative forecasting.
“Ours is a disease of attitudes”. This alanon slogan has been particularly useful to me over the years. It reminds me of the powerful inheritance of negativity that comes from living with addiction. Addicts who want to stay sober have to deal with this legacy if they want to stay sober, they have to adopt a “new design for living”, new ways of thinking that keep them out of trouble so that they don’t relapse. In this way they are better off than the children and spouses of addicts who go on feeling justified in our negativity, who feel that being a victim is our right. And it may well be. But it will be our children who pay the price for this one. If we as children of addicts were unwitting victims of someone else’s use and abuse, then they are unwitting victims of our “disease of attitudes”. We owe it to them to let go. And we owe it to ourselves. Because it’s not only the legacy of addiction that needs to end, it’s the legacy of this “disease of attitudes” that mints new addicts, depressed and anxious kids and non thrivers.
So let go in layers. Find peace in the present. And thrive.
Dr Tian Dayton
Senior Fellow at Meadows Behavioral Health & Director at The New York Psychodrama Training Institute.
Dr. Tian Dayton is a senior fellow at The Meadows and Director of The New York Psychodrama Training Institute, author of fifteen books including, Neuropsychodrama in the...