4 Ways to Embrace the Freedom of Letting Go

 

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This week, I made this illustration for the "Freedom" prompt of the 2017 Gratitude Challenge, and it really got me thinking about how freeing the act of letting go really is. But it's also really difficult to do — at least for me it is. I'm pretty picky so when I let a person / thing / experience / idea / behavior into my life, I find it challenging to let it go (even when I know for sure it's no good for me). But, as I say often, it's often the most challenging things that are the ones worth doing. 

Hanging onto the things you no longer need might feel comforting, but consider what would happen if trees clung to all of their dead leaves? Come spring, the brand new (alive!) leaves would have a pretty tough time finding room on the branches. Same goes for us. When we cling to what's no longer enhancing our lives, we block off possibilities for new things to flourish. 

Releasing our own dead leaves isn't always a smooth and effortless process, the way it seems to be for the trees, but that doesn't mean we can't do it. If we want the freedom that comes with letting go, it's up to us to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of letting go. Here are some of the best ways to get started: 
 

  • Determine what you value most. When you take a step back and think about you truly value in your life, you'll realize that much of you're holding on to isn't as essential as you might've thought. What's essential is being healthy, positive, mindful, and living your life to the fullest (or maybe some other things that matter most to you!). If you are clinging to things or people, you're not experiencing true freedom. You're restricted by beliefs that aren't allowing you to thrive the way the trees do in the spring. Stepping back and assessing what really matters to you will make letting go a lot easier.

  • Reflect on what you're really receiving. We often hang on to things or people because we believe they're add value to our lives, that we're receiving some benefit from them (or providing it to them). But is that actually a fact? Are you actually benefiting from the clutter (emotional or physical) in your life, or do you just tell yourself you are because it's easier than choosing change? Reflecting on whether or not a person / experience / etc. is making your life richer can provide you with a boost of motivation to let someone or something go. Of course, not everything in life is about what you get from it, but if something is taking more than it's giving, it might not be worth clinging to.  

  • Take note of what you're overvaluing. Are you placing high value on a person or thing you're holding on to unnecessarily? Are you giving something way more value than it truly has? More often than not, we idealize people or things and tell ourselves that, for whatever reason, we need it/him/her. Needing something is kind of prison; it keeps you trapped in situations that aren't necessarily beneficial for you. If there's a voice inside you saying "let go," it's a pretty good sign that you should let go. What you truly need in your life is never going to be accompanied by a voice that urges you to let go. Listen to that voice — not the one that overvalues what's no good for you as a way to keep you feeling the false comfort of not experiencing freedom. 

  • Be strong enough to release your grasp. It really does come down to two little words: let go. No matter how hard it feels, no matter what obstacles appear to stand in your way, if you want to experience true freedom, you have to be brave and release your grip. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but, honestly, taking action really is the only way to access freedom and make room for new growth. You owe it to yourself to be brave and release what you no longer need. And keep this in mind: the hardest part is the release; once you're brave enough to take that first step, you'll soon see that you're fine without those dead leaves clinging to your branches. 
     

As you're learning to let go, also keep in mind that, deep down, you know what's best for you. If there's a voice telling you to let go, listen to that instinct. You won't hear that voice when you're doing what's right for you, when you're with people who bring you up, when you're connecting with the very best parts of yourself. It's hard to listen to the voice telling you to do the hard thing, but not listening often makes it harder — you'll either remained imprisoned by what you're clinging to, or you'll drag out the letting go process, making it even more challenging when you finally release that grip. 

Let the trees inspire you, and look to them way they let the dead leaves drop motivate you to release what you no longer need. When you let go, you might go through a tough time — a bare-branched winter, like the trees — but that pain will pass, and you'll have made room for the bright, lively leaves of spring when they arrive (and they will!). 

 

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Seeking Sobriety? 9 Tips for Getting Started


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A little while back, a friend reached out to me and said she'd reached a point in her life where she thought it was time for her to seek out sobriety. She was wondering if I had any advice for her, and, as I was replying to her an email, I realized I was basically writing a blog post (I surprised even myself with how much I had to say on the topic just off the top of my head!).

If you're trying to get sober or even just considering the idea, here are some things I think are really important to know as you're starting out. And if you're not seeking sobriety, these tips still might be useful for you if you're trying to break a bad habit (or even just trying to live a positive and present life!).

 

  1. Surround yourself with people who get it and are encouraging. A lot of people won’t get it, won’t think you have a problem, won’t be very supportive. It’s often because they know that if they say you have a problem, that means that they also might have a problem and they don’t want to deal with that. When I first got sober, I was really lucky to have a partner in my life who gave up drinking in solidarity with me. I honestly don't know if I could have done it while living with someone else who was still drinking. The people you're around make a huge difference in getting and staying sober. 

  2. Don’t put yourself in tempting situations, especially at the beginning. Avoiding parties and social gatherings wasn't too tough for me at the beginning, since I'm pretty introverted by nature, but I did have to learn to pay attention to when I felt most tempted to drink and avoid those occasions. At the beginning, I had to turn down a lot of invitations because I knew I would be way too tempted. Because I started drinking so young, I had to learn how to socialize without alcohol, and that was (still is sometimes) tough, but avoiding temptation is key at the beginning. 

  3. Find something to take up your time and energy. For me, this ended up being Positively Present. I was able to fill my weekends with writing and creating the website, which made it a little easier to not be out drinking. I never would have been able to focus on Positively Present if I'd been hungover, so it became it's own reward, accomplishing something (a blog post) each week that I wouldn't have been able to do while drinking. Distraction and filling up your time with positive, non-drinking activities is essential to avoid not slipping back into old patterns. 

  4. Take it one day at a time. Yes, I know this is the most cliched thing in the world, but it's stuck around because it's true. Whenever I would think about never drinking again, my mind would go into a panic. But if I told myself, I'm not going to drink at this party, it was much easier to cope with than I'm never, ever drinking again. Sometimes I even broke it down further (I'm not going to drink for the next hour / 30 mins / 5 mins, etc.) It sounds silly, but taking that "never ever ever going to drink again" idea away made it so much easier for me. 

  5. Know you’re likely to slip up or have a relapse. Almost everyone I know who has given up drinking has had a relapse. I was eight months sober and then my sister's wedding came around, and the back of the limo with all of that champagne and excitement (and nervousness about my maid-of-honor speech) was just too much for me. It was awful to feel like I lost all of that progress in one night, but the key is not to use a relapse as excuse to give up. I woke up the next day and decided I was going to start over again, and here I am, seven years later! 

  6. Consider going to meetings, like AA, or therapy. It wasn't until I found the right therapist, one with alcohol and addiction expertise, that I realized I had a problem. Because of my environment, I thought my behavior and the repercussions of it were normal, but the right therapist showed me there was a totally different way to live. I also tried AA, but as an atheist, it was a little too god-focused for me, but I know a lot of people who find that community really helpful. 

  7. Make a list of things you’ve done while drinking that were unhealthy. This was one of the first things my therapist had me do, and it was a game-changer for me. When I saw, in writing, all of the ways my life had been negatively impacted by my drinking, it became really difficult for me to justify mixing another drink. Almost every single bad thing that had ever happened to me was a result, directly or indirectly, of alcohol consumption. Once I saw this clearly written out in a list, it became really hard to rationalize my old ways. 

  8. Understand that it’s gonna be really hard at first. Especially at the beginning, it feels really bad. It feels like you're not having fun, that a whole big part of your life is missing, but, I promise, if you stick with it, it gets so much easier. I can't say it's ever easy (there aren't many days when the thought of a drink doesn't cross my mind), but every single time I say no to that impulse, it gets easier. This probably won't be too much comfort in the beginning, but it's always good to have hope that things won't always be as hard. 

  9. Think about your future self. Whenever I'm really struggling, I remind myself that I’ve never once regretted not drinking, but I sure as hell have a regretted drinking many, many times. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling, remember that you'll never wake up regretting that you didn’t drink. Of course, I try my best to stay present, but looking out for your future self — the one who will be waking up and dealing with last night's repercussions — can be really helpful. 


Staying sober is really hard work, but I've always found that the work always pays off. If you're looking for more insights on staying sober, check out the Sobriety section here on Positively Present or my 6 Lessons from 6 Years Sober video. And if you have any questions about how I got and stayed sober, feel free to leave them in the comments below! 

 

    

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For the First Time: A List of Things to Try

 
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Is there something you've always wanted to do (and probably could) but just haven't done? This week I was presented with the awesome opportunity to do one of my want-to-but-never-have things: a tarot reading! The lovely Kerry Ward, aka Tarotbella, Cosmopolitan's tarot expert, reached out to me and offered to do a reading for me, and it was eye-opening, filled with wisdom that I definitely needed to hear! Most importantly, it led me to ask the question, Why didn't I do this before? It was something I'd always wanted to try, and could have, but just never did. 
 
Like so many of us, I tend to stick to what I know and love, even when I'm deeply curious and intrigued by newness. It's often not until something pushes or pulls me out of what I know that I explore new experiences. Like with the tarot reading — it literally had to land in my in-box for me to take action! 
 
It's hard to try new things, especially if that's not your inherent nature. I totally understand the discomfort that comes with trying something unfamiliar, of being vulnerable in a different environment or experience, but I highly recommend pondering these questions: 
 
What things have I always wanted to try but haven't?
What's on that list that I could actually do this week? 
 
This is a great starting point for getting outside of your comfort zone because you're looking to things that are already appealing to you. (Which is different than, for example, trying something recommended by others that, yes, you'd probably enjoy if you gave it a chance, but that doesn't necessarily excite you right off the bat.) In addition, if you identify something you can do right now (or this week), you'll be more likely to actually do it! 
 
Trying new things increases self-awareness, stimulates creativity, helps overcome fear, increases confidence, provides wisdom, and allows you to see the world from a different perspective, but I know how hard it can be for some people (like me!) to do new things. This week, try to do something you've always wanted to, and see how it makes you feel! Here are some ideas for things you could do this week... 
 
  • Eat at a restaurant you've never tried before
  • Drive down a road you've always been curious about
  • Write an email (or letter!) to your favorite author
  • Sign up for a dance / yoga / photography class
  • Learn about the trees and plants around your home 
  • Apply to volunteer at a local organization or charity
  • Get a tarot or palm reading in person or online
  • Find a clear bit of sky to do some stargazing
  • Try out that Pinterest idea you pinned ages ago
  • Start a handwritten (gratitude?) journal 
  • Take photos of a beautiful thing you want remember
  • Learn to cook a meal you really enjoy eating
  • Tell someone about how you really, truly feel
  • Hang a string of fairy lights above your bed
  • Watch a tutorial on a skill you've wanted to master
  • Speak up online for a cause you fully believe in
  • Go to the library and check out some books (for free!)
  • Send flowers to someone you love just because
  • Chat with that cute stranger you've seen around
  • Donate money to a charity you'd like to support
  • Look up the answer to a question you've pondered
  • Adopt a dog or cat (or any other kind of creature)
  • Create something you've never made before
 
These are just a few ideas that came to my mind, but hopefully they'll remind you of something you've been wanting to try but never have. It's never too late to try something new, and, after getting that tarot reading last week, I realized it doesn't have to be something major. (And it's also really easy to do if it's something you've always thought about doing!) Get out there and do something for the first time this week! If you do it, let me know in the comments or on social media. I'd love to hear about what you tried and how it went!  

    

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