I am a dweller!
I admit it and am not afraid to declare, my name is Kim and I dwell on most things.
I dwell on thoughts I have had, thoughts I should have had, things I said, things I should have said, decisions I have made, should have made or shouldn’t have made. I dwell. I dwell on it all.
For those of you who are dwellers, I’m sure you know what I mean when I describe it as a merry go round of disastrous “what ifs and should haves”—a tightness in the stomach and frustration over not being in control.
When I was 14, I lost myself in tragedy. My dad suffered a brain hemorrhage at the young age of 42 and was left severely disabled with limited speech and mobility. He didn’t die, but the dad I once knew and the life I once had vanished. At such a young age, I didn’t know what to do with my grief so I held onto it and stuffed it in. I dwelled on it for years. For 19 years to be exact, and by holding on to it, I told myself stories about the experience. The hurt, the cruelty of it, his suffering, our love for him, what I could have, should have, would have done differently.
He passed away after 17 years of fighting to be here with us, and I continued to hold on. Dwelling.
The tough thing about dwelling is that it told me mostly sad stories. Deflating stories. Stories about how I wasn’t good enough. I would hear these stories often enough and I started to believe them. Worse still, I started to become them.
When I was 33, I was given a gift: I learned what it felt like to let go—and then I learned how to keep doing it. It was like someone flicked a switch, and after almost 20 years I was off autopilot, no longer living in the past. Learning to let go allowed me to release the pain of this experience and all the stories I had told myself in dwelling since, finally accessing the present.
We have all heard about letting go. I am sure we have all attempted it, maybe laying awake at 2:00 a.m. and wondering what could help. We have probably all said it to someone, or to ourselves: “You need to just let it go!” as we are tightly holding on.
This gift changed my life. It changed my relationship with my husband, family, loved ones and with myself. It changed my life’s work, my path and in every way imaginable, my perception of my surroundings. Steven Covey said, “We see things not as they are, but as we are. Our perception is shaped by our previous experiences.” Don’t I know it.
I learned the hard way that it is not easy. Letting go isn’t something you just do. It is a process that takes intention, effort and time. Though it might not be easy, we need to know and remind each other when we’re stuck in dwelling that it’s still possible, we can let go. We can release ourselves from the chains of our dwelling thoughts and experiences.
My life opened up and is better than I could ever have imagined because I was ready to start living in the present. I was ready to receive this gift and I feel it is a gift worth passing on so here it is:
First off, I was asked a question:
“What are you holding onto, and why?”
I had to understand the relationship I had with my experiences.
Why was I was holding onto my experience so tightly in the first place? It was important for me to take the time to explore the memories I had with my dad and the reasons they were taking up so much space in my present moments. Although the experience was sad, it was beautiful too. I realized that I could keep my experience and not be gripped by it. I could let go and still keep my memories. Letting go didn’t mean I would forget.
We hold onto so much in our life. Good and bad. People, relationships, memories, material things, beliefs, thoughts and so on. I would never be able to let go of any of it if I was not willing to understand my relationship with it and acknowledge that it was impacting me.
I realized that my dad wouldn’t want me to live this way, and this was the breakthrough I needed. He was a person who lived passionately in his experiences. He was once an avid dancer, motorcycle rider, musician, tradesman and just happened to live with a severe disability. Though he could no longer engage in life the same way we do, his experiences before or after did not define him. He was enough.
It hit me like a bolt of lightening. Letting go is a choice. I had a choice.
Secondly, I was taught that:
Letting go is a process to be practiced.
I learned that I can honour my experiences and let them go at the same time. They can still be there and not rule me. I can still love and remember my dad without living in the pain any longer. I can draw from our time together to build me up and make me better, rather than dwelling and cutting myself down.
I found that in order for me to let go of something, I have to perform a physical act to represent my intention. It is deeply personal and letting go is a sensitive endeavour. It took time, patience and practice to find the right ritual that fit.
One ritual that I repeat often is writing. I find a quiet spot and write down on a piece of paper everything that comes to mind. I don’t think, I don’t dwell, I just write. Then I either burn it, bury it or tear it up. I write every time the “merry go round” of dwelling presents itself. This ritual helps me access the present moment, helps me focus on what matters.
Lastly I learned that:
Committing to the life long journey of letting go is never perfect but always honest.
Letting go gave me my life back.
Dwelling still occurs daily for me, but what I do with that dwelling is what makes the difference. Letting go had to be something I would invest in for the rest of my life. With every experience, conversation and ever-present thoughts, there will always be something to let go of. So I added it to my routine, just like brushing my teeth.
When I catch myself in the spin, I take a step back and think. I think about what I am grateful for, I think about what I am dwelling on could teach me, I think about what could shift my perspective. Sometimes I think about my dad and what he would say if he could.
Over time, the spin has gotten slower and slower. Eventually, when I have thoughts that I know are not productive, I easily acknowledge them and move on. By investing in letting go I have trained my brain to refocus my energy on what matters to me.
The greatest gift I received with my letting go journey is the fact that I can look back on my experience with my dad and appreciate it. I allow myself to feel sad sometimes but it doesn’t take over my life as it once did. I am living in the present moment more than ever. Letting go taught me how to honour my experiences, how to learn from them and what it means to be present.
Author: Kim Standeven
Editor: Catherine Monkman