I had planned (and have been working on) a longgggggg blog post about my recent trip to New Mexico and Colorado, and what I learned on the four plus mile hike back down the trail my friend and I had taken up to Lost Lake. And this wasn’t one of those blog posts where I bang the bad boy out, view it, and then hit publish, all in under an hour. This bad boy is one I’ve been working on for a week now, complete with having one of my lovely editors weighing in on. It means that much to me.
In truth, I had planned on finishing it today, and having it go live tomorrow morning sometime. But you know what they say about plans, right?
This morning, while waiting on my coffee to brew, I was reviewing my “On this Day” app on Facebook. Scrolling through what I’ve posted over the years has become a daily pleasure for me– not even a guilty pleasure, because I enjoy the hell out of it, and I’m not one to apologize for things I enjoy, whether it’s the books I read, the food I eat, how I spend my free time, the music I listen to, the people I share time and energy with.
Scrolling through this morning, I came across a meme I’d shared back in June 2012, and again last year. Seeing the meme, my mind flashed back to what I was dealing with in 2012 and again in 2017 that made it so relateable to myself that I chose to share it. “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.”
Feel free to roll your eyes at what I’m about to say. Or stop reading. Or call me a tree-hugging hippie. Or, continue reading. The choice is yours, and I won’t be offended whatever you do next.
A year ago, I released “Practical Life Advice… or some $#!+ like that”, a collection of musings that came from blog posts I’d make on or around my birthday each year. The blog posts were entitled “X Things I’ve Learned in X Amount of Years of Living”, the X being the birthday I was celebrating each year. Taking each list for the ten years I wrote it, I carefully went through and combined those musings that were similar.
The musing that got the greatest response, both on my website and within the book was this: “You are not responsible for other people’s actions; you are, however, very responsible for your own reactions.”
To put it in layman’s terms? If you punch me in the face, I have a choice: to punch you back, or to walk away. At around age thirty-five, I stopped punching back, and walked away. I had found that while it felt great momentarily to punch back, to pay back, it felt better and the healing was more complete if I simply just forgave and walked away.
But it needs to be said: Forgiveness does not equate with forgetting. Recently, I had to end a friendship after several months of fighting and anger between myself and a long time friend. Repeatedly, they’d do something that was both painful and minimizing, and after asking them to please be more kind, more compassionate, please think before they spoke in anger, saying things that were harmful and knee-jerk. Sitting down with them in person, I did the adult thing and was upfront: After months of asking them to treat me with respect and kindness, and after months of them falling back into borderline abusive patterns towards me, I was ending the friendship. “But you said you had forgiven me!” was their response.
If every time you wore a pair of shoes, you tripped and fell, scraping up your hands and knees, you’d stop wearing the shoes. You’d still love the shoes, you’d not want the shoes to be in pain or sad, and you’d hope they’d be a better match for another set of feet, but you’d let the shoes go. And you’d remember, if ever the opportunity to wear those shoes again came up that they’re not a good fit for you, resulting in pain.
But I’m not just talking about the end of relationships (whether platonic, romantic, or familial). I am talking about life in general. Let’s face it: life is tough. It’s hard. It’s not fair. You can be dealing with a shit heap of negative experiences piling up all at once: a sick friend or family member, employment issues, someone you were really into ending things with you. It happens. And feeling angry, hurt, sad, whatever you feel, that’s natural. You should be upset. You should hurt. You should be sad. If it hurts, that’s how you know it meant something to you.
But past a certain point? By not letting go, by holding on, by continuing to feed those negative emotions, we’re simply just causing our pain to continue on. By holding onto hurt, seeking to inflict hurt upon those who have hurt us via revenge (in any form), by holding onto our anger and not letting go, we’re not achieving anything except giving power to those people and those experiences that have hurt us. Those experiences and those people who were unkind, lacking compassion, painful, hurtful, they’ve already taken enough from us. They’ve already taken our time, our energy, our emotions. Why give them any more when they weren’t able to give us the respect of kindness and love in the first place?
And do not get me wrong, when those hurts come up in my life, when my heart is hurting, when I’ve cried, when I’ve wondered why something turned out the way it did, when I wonder why someone left, I’m angry. I’m spewing out creative cursing in such a way I’d shock the most prolific of cursers (“are you fucking kidding me?” is one of my favorites). But then I pause. And then I cry, I talk to trusted friends. I let it hurt, I let it bleed, I let it heal, and then I let it go.
I wasted so many years of my life, wrapping myself in the blanket of past heartbreaks, using that as a reason to keep up walls and not let people in my heart. Did I prevent future heartbreaks? Yes, and no. I kept individuals from hurting me, but at the end of the day, my attempt at avoiding being alone and lonely failed incredibly: I had kept the hurt out, only to allow a different type of hurt in, that of isolation and missed experiences.
When we are faced with loss, with failure, with the ending of relationships, with death of loved ones, of health issues, of job loss, of not securing a job we really want, we have a choice: let it stay with us and let ourselves be defined by those loses and hurts, or we can choose to move forward, taking what lessons we’re being given by each experience.
While that essay about my recent trip is still on my metaphorical desk, waiting to be finished, I’ll tell you this much about it: I hiked fourteen miles one day on the trip. The day after, my right knee was throbbing, and I had to stop and purchase a compression sleeve, stretch repeatedly and take several doses of ibuprofen to get through the day. Despite that pain, despite the after effect of the seven miles to the top of a mountain to view an incredible site, hidden away in nature, it was worth it. Every time I stumbled over rocks on the path, every time my fear of heights kicked in, every time the muscles in my legs were crying out for me to just stop and go back to the trailhead, it was worth it for those moments, sitting on a rock by the water’s edge, watching the water lap gently against the rocks surrounding the lake.
My life hasn’t been easy, and it’s fair to state I’ve survived more than most people could face. But I’ve survived those hurts, those heartaches, those losses, by not allowing the people and experinces that caused those pains to rule my life. I don’t define myself by my abusive adoptive mother, my abusive first husband, the people I’ve loved deeply who have died, by my extensive health history. Instead, I define myself by what I learned from those experiences: I am kind, compassionate, loving, understanding, and whole. I am human, I hurt, I heal, and then I move forward and let go of that which does not serve me any longer. Our hurt, our anger, our hatred? That does not bring anything to us but pain. Our love, our kindness, our open hearts, our compassion? That brings us light and warmth, and it echoes out into those who we interact with.
I’ll leave you with these words: when faced with hurt, when faced with heartache, when faced with loss, simply let it hurt, let it bleed, let it heal, and then let it go. And then open your arms and heart up for the beauty of the rest of your life, for the beauty of experiences yet to have, ones you’d miss if you were closed off to the potential of hurt. Because while there may be potential for hurt, there is still the potential for beauty, light and love.
Love yourself, and love others,