I think more of us would be doing it if we knew how – how do you move on?
The past few days on Facebook a friend has been posting about her journey to recovery and healing in her life. While everyone else has been going nuts about getting their Ashy Bines Booty Challenge in to gear or some naked yoga thing happening in Brisbane, she was sharing instead about her decision to choose healing. I wish stuff like hers got half the attention the other crap on social media gets. I’m sick of seeing Evil Kermit memes garnering more interest than the realities of the people in our lives.
To help seal the deal on her healing, she posted a video about an exercise that is quite common for people in the healing process, and that was to write down every trauma and hurt in her life, and then throw the pieces of paper in a fire. It’s an exercise that helps you flush out the pain inside of yourself, and allow yourself to watch it be extinguished as you make the decision to move forward into freedom. Other people I know write a letter addressed specifically to the the events that have happened in a particular circumstance, and then burn the letter.
That really got me thinking about how many of us truly struggle with one of life’s greatest challenges, which is whether you should try harder, or walk away. We all know stories of people who gave up too early and missed seeing the breakthrough they were hoping for, and we also know stories of people who remained at the gravesite of their dreams for the rest of their lives. People who die too early, but continue living.
All of us in life face many, many moments where this choice presents itself. Many of us continue to hold on correctly, but there are also many times where there just comes a time to let it go. Or that we should, anyway.
And a lot of us know we should. But a lot of us don’t. Inspired by my friend who bravely decided to let it go when she needed to, here are some thoughts I had addressing the question that death and loss bring into our lives, and that is “How do you move on?”.
Let it hurt
I think one of the most underrated exercises in modern society is mourning. For as progressive as we are, we seem to think we’ve progressed beyond a basic human need when faced with pain, loss, trauma, uncertainty – whatever it is you’re currently making a decision about.
It has to hurt.
We don’t like hurt. The simple reason is because it feels bad. It’s tormenting. Your sleep is screwed, your vision is impaired, you are consumed with anger, bewilderment, doubt, hope, regret, celebration, sorrow… all at the same time. The nights are darker, the mornings are harder.
But all loss in life has to hurt. As long as we keep denying ourselves an opportunity to properly grieve a loss, we’ll never fully be over it. Not to ignore it and get annoyed at ourselves when it sneaks into our lives, but to actually stop and give all our attention to letting the pain take its course.
Journey towards acceptance
Kubler-Ross spells out the five stages of grief – I’m sure you’re likely familiar with these. Denial, aggression, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Acceptance is the desired end state. If you’re reading this, chances are you may not have arrived at acceptance yet. That’s okay. Don’t freak out. It’s normal.
But we do have to make the brave decision that that is where we’re going to end up. Many of us stay in denial – we’ll keep ignoring reality. We hide in distractions, lucid relationships, destructive vices, even something as innocent as a TV series or a video game. It could even be your career that’s your vice of choice. We can’t stay in denial forever, though.
We can’t stay in aggression. It’s normal to get angry when you’ve lost something, or losing something. It was important to you, how dare anything take this from you! That’s the thought at least, isn’t it? That’s okay. Don’t stay here though. People who stay angry usually become other people’s reason to enter the stages of grief.
We can’t stay in bargaining. Our land of “what ifs”. What if I did this, what if I did that… more on this one later.
And as important as it is to grieve, we can’t stay in depression. In another psychological model which uses a grief curve, depression is the bottom of the pit, and it’s a climb back out of the pit from there. It does need to happen, but we have to decide within ourselves that we’re not going to stay here. The Hebrew leader Joshua, after the loss of their leader Moses, was reaffirmed that Moses was dead, and they needed to stop living their lives like it just happened and they had no leader. They did have a new leader, and they did have a chance to start again and move forward, but they just wouldn’t accept the loss of what had been before. This one is much easier said than done, and a few of the other points may help flesh out where to go from there.
It’s likely you’ll never fully be over it
I think there is an incorrect notion out there, particularly in the area of relationships, that we need to get rid of all our emotional baggage before we can successfully connect with others. The truth is that all of us carry emotional baggage with us for the rest of our lives, and will be in a constant process of addressing it, and working out what happens when new bags appear. You carry them, and I carry them. You don’t just “get over it”.
I’ve recently been seeing a counselling again, which is always helpful in negotiating those bigger things in life, and he’s been running me through the concept of limbic lag. I’d never heard of this before. The limbic system is essentially the place in your brain that processes emotion. The thing about this system is that it has no awareness of time. It just processes things that enter it as if they are happening right now. Have you ever been having a good day, and had a bad memory come to mind, and it’s completely sucked up all your joy? That’s the limbic system processing an old memory as if it just happened.
Life leaves its scars. Sometimes you’ll never walk the same again. And that’s okay. You can be healthy and whole, and still have moments where a painful memory of something or someone you loved long gone comes to mind. That’s okay.
Accepting you’ve done all you can… or making sure that you have
I think it’s hard to impossible to move on from something if you haven’t done everything you can about it. A lot of us sit there saying, “Oh I wish I could’ve done this or that”, when you still have time and opportunity to do so. You can’t move passed it because you haven’t done anything that leads to closure on the issue.
Have you done absolutely everything you can about this situation? Have you made the phone call? Have you made an opportunity to go see them? You can’t wait for opportunities like this, because they don’t just happen. You have to make them happen. Have you sent the letter? Have you put all your cards on the table? Have you taken a chance?
I think that’s where the next set of reality needs to kick in. What happens when you actually have done all you can? What happens when you’ve given your best, over and over, made your peace, said your bit, tweaked your resume, forgiven the behaviour, talked to the boss, whatever it may be, and you still have had to watch the door close in front of you?
That’s probably when it’s time to decide to move on.
TD Jakes said something very bold on this subject where he described our behaviour in these situations as spiritual necrophilia. Don’t Google Image search that. Affairs with dead things. Digging the body up from the grave and trying to love it back to life.
The tragedy of life is that sometimes the dream dies, and sometimes resurrection doesn’t come. And we have to leave it buried.
The importance of friends
I don’t think it can be overstated the importance of friends when you’re going through a tough time. One couple very close to me in my life the very instant they heard about a hard time in my life dropped everything and said, “Right, we’re all going to dinner right now, let’s go!”. Cancelled their plans, moved things around, just to make sure I was okay. And when they found out I wasn’t, they just sat with me.
I’ll never forget that moment.
King Solomon tells us that two are better than one, because if one falls, the other can pick them up. But woe to the one who falls alone.
We need each other. In the book, The Art of Not Disappearing, Dr Van Shore writes about his traumatic childhood experiences involving murder in his family causes him to want to just hide away and forget the world. But that would’ve never healed him. In the same way, let us make sure we resist the temptation to vanish away, because our healing is in community.
It wasn’t supposed to happen
I think when we’re trying to work out if we should move on, our deepest thought is that “Hey, this shouldn’t have happened”. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this”. Especially it comes to our big dreams, we fail to comprehend the injustice it is that we now have to watch our deepest desires die before our very eyes.
May I submit to you, dear friend, that it wasn’t actually supposed to happen.
You weren’t supposed to lose that friend. You shouldn’t have had to face that injustice. You shouldn’t have to lie awake at night in tears because of something someone did. I’ve known many families who have lost children far too early. As if something like that should ever be something that was “supposed” to happen.
But it happened.
“Well what’s the lesson I’m supposed to learn here?”. Maybe the lesson is simply just that life sucks sometimes.
Moving on changes our focus from “why did this happen?” to the more important question for you now, which is “What do I do now?”. You can worry about that other one later, if at all.
Discovering the new you… the true you
Finally, we fail to move on because we can’t answer this question:
Who am I without this in my life?
We can’t let go because we got our identity from what’s about to be lost for what feels like forever.
If I let go of this, who do I become?
But you are more than a job at that company. You are more than that friend. You are more than that relationship. You are more than that dream. You are more than what you do, what you did, what you will do. You are more than what happened to you. You are even more than your pain.
And that means it’s okay to let it go now. Because that’s not who you are. It may have been who you were. It may have been something you wanted more than anything else. It may have been the reason you got up in the morning. But now a new sun rises on you and the thing you need to move on from is starting to diminish and fade away. Don’t fade away along with it.
One of my pastors routinely says that the end of an era is not the end of a destiny. It may have ended… but you didn’t.
So let it go. It’s okay. You are allowed to move on.
And now you’re free to discover the new you. At the closing of a chapter, a new one begins. This is a chance to discover, or rediscover, who you really are, who you were born to be, and the love that you’ve been surrounded with this entire time.
Moving on is one of the hardest things any of us will ever have to do, but it is achievable. How about you? What are some of your experiences or struggles with moving on?