grief

Letting go is one of those things that make us human. We have to do it at some point or another. And most likely, we won’t like it.

When you have suffered a great loss in life, whether it is the death of a loved one, a broken relationship or displaced part of your identity, the advice is often the same:

“You must let go of the past.”

“Let go and move on with your life.”

“You need to let go and leave it behind you.”

Letting go, leaving the pain behind, focusing on the future and moving on with your life. Everyone has the same advice, yet nobody seems to be able to tell you exactly how you are supposed to “let go”. Such a trick is difficult to figure out on your best days, much less during the times when you are mired in pain and grief.

While there are no ruby slippers and you can’t just click your heels to climb out of the valley, there are concrete, tangible strategies that can help you to let go and move on. If you are hurting, if your heart is broken, if it seems like the pain will never end – learning to let go is a process that you must undertake. The only way out of fear is through it.

1. Create a list of your accomplishments and achievements. Update it weekly, and read it often. Don’t overlook small victories that are only meaningful to you. You may also want to start keeping track of compliments that you receive, from the mundane (you have a nice hat!) to the momentous (you inspire me!) – particularly if the loss has battered your self-esteem.

2. Set nighttime limits. The dark evening hours are often the worst for those in pain. Activities wind down and loneliness descends. Set a hard and fast rule for yourself: absolutely no thinking about [fill in the blank] past 9PM. Stick to it, and it will become easier and easier to handle painful thoughts at any time of day.

3. Love yourself. A horrible loss often comes with a sidecar of guilt, failure or frustration. You may wish to take it out on yourself, with negative self-talk or even worse, by trying to destroy your body and future with alcohol and drugs. Literally put your arms around your body and squeeze. Often. Hug yourself and say out loud how much you love you. It may help to envision yourself as a child. Would you say or do anything to hurt that child? Of course not. Treat your current self just like you would a five year-old version of you: with love and care.

4. Do jumping jacks. It is very difficult to cry and do jumping jacks. When you can’t pull yourself together, hop up and start doing jumping jacks. You can also blast the music and dance, go out for a jog or sing a song in a silly voice. The action will hijack your brain from your negative thoughts.

5. Write down what you have learned. Even the most horrendous experiences offer life lessons, though they can be hard to see when you’re submerged in pain. It may several attempts and some time to figure out, but seeing what you’ve learned written down will help you to come to terms with the good that resides inside the bad.

6. Plan a trip and go. Whether you can only manage a weekend getaway or want to take that foreign vacation you’ve always dreamed of, changing up your environment is a crucial element for getting out of your head. It’s also a reminder that you still have some control over your life, and a wake-up call that the world is wonderful. Go alone, go with friends, go with your mom – but just go.

7. Stop searching for closure. Closure is bullshit. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and it’s quite possible that there will be a small sliver of pain lodged in your heart forever. But that’s okay. You are human, and this is normal. The last stage of grief is acceptance – not acceptance that the painful event occurred, but acceptance that the pain has changed you. You’ve traveled to a deep, dark valley and are still alive. You’re already stronger, though you may not realize it yet. Hang in there and keep climbing.

8. Ask for professional help. Therapy is expensive, but the cost pales in comparison to losing years of your life, embittered and battling against yourself. Insisting that you’re fine when you’re not has its limits. If you’re in a nosedive and can’t pull yourself out, asking for help is the strong choice.

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image: the djudju beast