Friday, December 13, 2013

Letting Go

I find it really easy to scoop up new things - possessions for sure, but also friends, ideas, activities, volunteer projects.  It's so easy to add to my life when the world is full of interesting things to do and I refuse to sit and just let them pass me by.

Letting things go is much harder.  Actually, it's easiest to let possessions go: I like nice things, for certain, but I've never been a shopper the way some people are.  I actually wish that my house could magically fill with the perfect items but that I never had to step foot in a mall again.  In the past few years I realized that I had everything I needed - a fully functional kitchen, plenty of chairs to sit on, extra blankets, etc. - and I've really focused only on replacing what breaks or wears out (it happens) or on adding hand made pieces.  (One day, there will not be a single print hanging on my walls, to be replaced by all original artwork.  Not sure when that day is coming. ;-) )   I love going on a de-cluttering streak, and I've constantly got a pile of stuff in the attic in the "Goes to Goodwill" area.  (Where does all that stuff COME from?!)

But letting go of ideas is harder, and letting go of people is the hardest of all.

This year, in addition to adding to my life - work, running, volunteering, hiking, backpacking - I have had to let things go.

I've never really had a hard time keeping my house clean and tidy: I grew up in a home that was a disaster zone, so perhaps my rebellion is keeping the towels in tidy stacks in the cupboard, the newspapers in a special basket next to the chair (but not all over the sofa), the kitchen sink clean and ready for the next batch of dishes.  Rebellion can come in mysterious ways. ;-) This year, I had to let go of some of that.  I don't know how many times Katherine asked me for an item of clothing and I said, "I dunno.  Have you looked in the laundry baskets?" because getting things folded and put away simply hadn't happened yet.  I used to vacuum practically daily - I have a large, hairy dog - and I've all but given up on ever having clean floors again, vacuuming once a week now.  I cringe a bit to write that - maybe I could vacuum before bedtime daily? or right before dinner? - because it IS nice to have clean floors....but forget it.  I am letting go, and the result is that I have more time to do things I *do* care about, like talk to my daughter.  My house is less clean than it's ever been, my garden (which used to be lovely and filled with abundance) is all but abandoned, and I have accepted that.  It is what it is right now, and at some level, I'm okay with it.  We're not slobs by any means, but I've let my cleaning standards fall in my single mom life, and I think it's the right thing to do.

I've had to let go of the idea that I could do everything that interests me, everything that I value.  I loved having a vegetable garden - interspersed with flowers - and delighted in telling Katherine to go pick "a tomato, some lettuce, and some radishes for salad" and having her say "I'm going to pull a carrot for a snack, too!" at dinnertime.  My home made strawberry jam (made with strawberries from my garden) is to die for - the best you've ever tasted - but I don't know when I'll make that again.  I no longer serve on committees at church.  Actually, I often skip church, because there are so many things to do and time is so short.  (It's hard to leave town for the weekend AND be at church, for example.)

I've had to let go of people, too, and that is some of the most difficult letting go.  I can not rescue every person who comes into my path, for one, and sometimes in the past year I've had women who are going through divorce approach me and ask for my help.  I'm very willing to give that a degree.  I am not willing to give up my life to become an (unqualified) therapist...and I'm not willing to help people who do not want to be helped, at the cost of my own sanity.  Plenty of women going through divorce say to me, "You're so successful at your divorce, and you're so happy, and I want what you have!" and so I tell them how I do it, and then they say, "That is too hard" and "But my ex is unreasonable!" and "But I want to do it my way!"  I'm having to let all of that go, and to learn how to smile and wish them well, but refuse to be a part of it, wishing them well from the sidelines but not an active part of it. I'm also learning not to second-guess myself about my decision not to be involved - I really would like to help save the world, but something I know now is that you can not save someone who doesn't want to be saved. 

And the person I can not save, that I tried the hardest to save, is my ex.

You might think that I let that go when I asked for a divorce, but the process has actually been much longer than that.

I watch my ex struggle.  He struggles with his whole life: friendships, family relationships, work, health (depression, high blood pressure, cholesterol) and weight.  He has trouble managing his money, and accrues debt easily, always living paycheck to paycheck.  He also struggles with parenting, and relies heavily on television and junk food to reach our daughter's heart.  I have wanted, even in divorce, to make him the parent that I want him to be.

How foolish of me.  If I couldn't influence him in marriage, what made me think I could influence him by divorcing him?!

When Bryan told me that he wanted to have our daughter on an every other weekend schedule (with two hours on Wednesdays), I was dumbfounded.  So little?!  But he told me how much he loved her, how the idea of living apart from her was a nightmare to him!  I have had to let go of the idea that she will have a dad who seeks her out, and offers his whole self to parenting.  I have had to let go of the idea that there is another member of my team willing to drive around purchasing school supplies, or getting poster materials for the science fair.  Nobody else is going to check to see if her homework is done, or sit at the table to help her work through her essay.  Nobody else is going to say "When was the last time you ate a vegetable?!" and nobody else is going to say "Hurry up and eat your breakfast, honey, or you'll be late for school."  Nobody else is going to talk to her about dating, or drugs, or college.

I've had to let go of a lot of expectations with my ex.  Letting go has been painful, because I deeply believe that if he behaved differently, he'd be a better parent, a better person, and actually a lot happier.

But it's out of my control, so I'm letting go.

Letting go does NOT mean sitting here seething as I write this.  That's not letting go, that's holding on to anger and feeling powerless.

I have chosen to feel powerful in every aspect of my life, but my power is not over others, it's over myself.  I refuse to be ashamed of my less-than-clean floors, and I refuse to live in anger because my ex is not who I wish he was.

I feel powerful because I recognize that I have a great deal to offer our daughter, and that when he left all of the heavy lifting of parenting to me, he gave me not only the responsibility but also the gift.  I feel powerful because I know I'm capable, and that I can do a good job.

I can let go of my ex's behavior because holding on to the desire to change him doesn't serve anyone.  I have decided that four days of junk food and television per month won't kill Katherine, and I've learned that it's a good idea to serve a vegetable AND a fruit with dinner when she gets home from her dad's place, because she arrives with an upset stomach (and pockets full of empty candy bar wrappers).  I've learned that it's pointless to waste time hoping that they'll go to the pool, the park, hop on a bike, go for a hike, or spend any time moving their bodies when they're together, because that is just not what he does.  I've learned that the advantage of being the only one to have the tough homework conversations, the "big stuff" conversations, is that I know I am thoughtful in my approach and I have the tools to be successful, so I can control those conversations better, I can teach the homework skills (discipline, topic sentences, whatever it may be), and I have the opportunity to be the primary influence over her values, because I'm the only one talking about them.

I am getting better at letting go.  It doesn't come easily to me, as I've spent the majority of my life trying to control every possible outcome, desperate to make things okay.  Realizing that I'm okay even without controlling everything is, well, a huge relief, but the unexpected consequence of that is that when I recognized that my ability to control people is limited at best, instead of feeling like the world was spiraling in a scary way, I feel more grounded than ever.

It turns out that letting go is one of those leaps of faith that has to be felt to be believed.  I have held on tenaciously, desperately, to my old ideas of how things "should" be, only to feel the world unravel, crumbling in my grip.  For years and years, I tried to make my marriage something it was not, and the desperation in that holding on was painful beyond description.  When I "let go" of that was when my life started to come together, when I actually started to feel the peace that I'd been so anxiously seeking.  It turns out that there is a lot of letting go that needs to happen in my life, even post divorce, and that perhaps I will have to spend the rest of my life letting go of Bryan, and of what I wished he could be for Katherine.  I do this letting go imperfectly, but I am seeing the value in it, and that the only way I'll ever feel true peace is if I embrace it.

I believe that only by letting go of what is outside my control can I truly create the life I want.  Maybe that is one of the gifts of my divorce: by giving up the thing I fought so hard for, I found that other gifts came to me, perhaps even more valuable than what I had tried so hard to hold onto.


What have you had to let go of?  What is it that you try to control, that actually controls you?  What gifts have you received by letting go of what no longer serves you?

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