Step Four: Letting Go
The fourth step to recovery is releasing ourselves from the hold the memory of what happened has over our lives.
When the unthinkable happens and we are thrust into the hell that life becomes, the struggle to overcome can seem never-ending. Over time, we learn to deal, to cope with the everyday, to no longer be surprised when we snap at the smallest things, or find ourselves curled up in a ball sobbing at the end of the day. We might learn to move on, move forwards, build a life. And yet, it can still seem that this thing, this event, this trauma, is following us around, our shadow, our secret, our shame.
We want to let go. We want for it not to be there. But it follows us around. It makes us yearn for the days before we knew the world was like this, it makes us feel broken and fragile, and weak. Forever hiding a part of ourselves, we feel less than, our light is dimmed, and the baggage is interminably heavy.
There’s definitely a pervading belief that we will be forever changed, we will never be the person we were, we must adapt to the struggle. And to this I say, that does not have to be true. It will be true if we believe it. And if we don’t believe it, there is the possibility of it not being true. I prefer not to believe it.
Some of the clients I have worked with have been holding on to this belief, and to the hurt it causes in their lives, for decades. Literally, twenty years. Thirty years. For the victim, the sentence for rape can seem like a life sentence.
It doesn’t have to be.
It is one of the most beautiful things in the work I do that I might be surrounded by the pain that rape has caused, but I am also able to guide my clients towards the place where they are able to let go of that pain, that shame and self-blame, that feeling of forever broken, to see what happened in its context: a paragraph in a chapter, in the book of their life. And not the book of their life.
The story we tell ourselves has so much power. I love what Cheryl Strayed said, “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves. And so I chose to tell myself a different story.” And when we are in the place that we can observe what happened, without being in what happened, then we can not only change the story, we can change the ending, and we can put it in the context of what came before, as well as what came after. As one of my clients said, she had no idea that working with me to release the hold the traumatic event had on her, would also release the hold previous hurts had also still had on her. Coaching is powerful that way. Coaching, combined with the NLP toolset, very powerful.
To let go, we need to consciously release our grip over something. But actually, the reason we’ve not been able to release our grip is that it is not us who are gripped onto it. It is gripped onto us. So, what we have to do is change the form of the thing that is wrapped around our core, like a boa constrictor, releasing the grip, until it just up and slithers away. And then we notice, it’s just not there anymore.
This step of the process towards living a ReConnected Life can be one of the more protracted, or sometimes it can take no time at all, for when the right key is found, it can turn the lock very quickly. My clients have been surprised that they have not needed to go into detail about their ‘thing’, that we can work around it. We don’t need to take it and examine it closely, it doesn’t need to be centre-stage. We work around the edges, loosening it, shaking it up, looking at the underlying self-beliefs that control the power it has over us, rather than it, itself. When one of my clients, who had been living with this for almost three decades came to me, she said she did not believe it would work, even though she wanted to try; over the years, she’d tried various form of counselling, hypnotherapy and other modalities. Three months later, she was free of its hold.
The trauma that is done to us is severe. It has deep consequences, on our sense of the world, on our ability to trust and connect with others, on our ability to associate into our body. We cannot, and it should never be expected of us, to be able to just shrug it off and move on with our lives. Yes, some do manage that, quickly. Everyone responds differently. But, eventually, if we do the work, we can still get to the place where we have mended some of those fissures, where we have re-built some of our neural pathways, and where we can simply notice it is no longer holding on. It has let us go.
I used to want to live in the world of the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I wanted to not remember. I resented the memory, it seemed like it was the break-point in my life, that certain things would now be known as before-rape, and other things, after-rape. I looked at pictures of me from before, and did not recognise the girl that looked back at me. I hated her smile, that idea that in the past maybe I had been happy. I knew a lobotomy wasn’t possible, but I yearned for one. To be released from the memory. To not think about it every day when I woke up. To not know that he might be waiting for me in my dreams (nightmares). For it to be gone. I didn’t think it was possible. Seems sometimes what seems impossible, is actually very possible. The memory is still there. But it has no power.
The fourth step in the path to recovery, en route to living a ReConnected Life, is releasing the strangle-hold the memory of what happened has on our psyche, on our body, on our sense of self, on our connections and relationships, on our world view. The fourth step in the path to recovery is removing the power that memory has, little by little, bit by bit, until it has no power of us at all. The fourth step in the path to recovery is realising that it has let go from us, it is no longer holding on, we have let go, we are no longer holding on, and we have re-written our story from disempowerment to empowered. We let go of shame, we let go of self-blame. We let go of fear. Memory has no power, and we are free.