When to Say When

Letting go is hard. Changing direction can be difficult.

We make commitments. We make plans. We don’t want to give up. We don’t want to fail.

What will people think? What does this say about me? What if something changes? What if I could do more?

We ask these questions related to relationships, work, hopes, dreams and more.

I recall asking my mom about an abusive relationship I was in, “How will I know when it’s time to be done?” Clearly, the logical part of me knew that things were unhealthy and it probably should have ended a long time ago, but my heart was still hopeful for change. Instead of laying out all the logical reasons in front of me (like we typically do in these situations), she simply said, “You’ll be done when you’re done.”

When I asked her what that meant she said, “At some point you’ll decide that it’s not worth the pain and heartache any longer and it will be over. Only you can decide that.”

This powerful lesson has been coming up a lot lately as we grieve the loss of loved ones, process the loss of hopes and dreams and end relationships that have fallen into an unhealthy pattern.

We are never prepared to say goodbye to those we love when it is their time to leave the Earth. That same hope that kept us strong and faithful during the fight keeps us tethered to all the “what if” and “what about” circumstances that prolong the suffering for ourselves when they leave us.

When things don’t turn out like we had planned, the hope for what it could be that provided us the courage to do it in the first place leaves us stuck in mourning all that it was not. We are unable to appreciate what it actually was and grieving for what might have been.

When our expectations and commitments in relationships are compromised or come up short, we are frustrated that what it is does not line up with what we had hoped for, the fairytale we had in our head.

So do we just walk around with no hope and no expectations so we won’t be hurt? That would be a cowardice and boring way to live. We would stay in these unhealthy relationships and situations far too long or forever. I see people make this choice everyday. We make excuses and numb out instead of doing what is best for us or for the world. “It’s too hard. It’s too big. There’s nothing I can do.”

It takes courage to fully live and fully feel…and it’s the only way to live a life true to who you are because fully living and fully feeling is the only way you’ll give yourself permission to “be done.” It’s the only way you’ll know when to say when.

The people I admire most are those who have high hopes and big dreams and big love. If you have the courage to live that way, you know that with all of it comes the deep grief and big feelings. Such is the beauty of life. We can’t have the good without the bad. We can’t have life without death.

A friend and I recently shared our own experiences where we had to say “when” and call off what we had hoped and dreamed for to go another direction. We agreed that if we want to fully live and stay true to who we are, we have to figure out how we better move through those let downs because we can’t prevent them.

As we processed this together, we learned some powerful lessons. First, we have to be willing to be honest about what we had hoped and dreamed for. Let yourself be honest about everything you wanted. Second, we have to be honest about all the sadness, anger and grief we feel and what it means to us. Many of us don’t know how to hold that space for others, to let people say all the things out loud that we typically avoid. Do not try to fix it, redirect their feelings or try to affirm them in another way. Just sit there in the pain of it all, validating that their feelings are real…because they are real to that person even if they don’t make sense to you. This is an incredibly powerful part of the healing process that we all need to learn.

In these situations the person enduring the pain often feels like they’ve failed even if it is obvious that they have done absolutely everything they could have to make it work. No amount of you sharing what you see and feel, trying to change their mind, will change how the other person feels if they aren’t ready. That healing comes with time and with their own recognition. You can fill them up with positive affirmations at another time, but while they are sharing their deepest feelings with you, do not try to tell the person that what they are feeling isn’t real by pointing out all the reasons they shouldn’t feel that way.

My friend and I agreed that there will come a point when we each accept our realities for what they are, and then we will be open to learning the lessons that this circumstances presented for us. We will change our focus from “why did this happen” to “how did this change me” and “what did I learn.” The truth is always that we can’t change the circumstance and so staying stuck in the “why” is not healthy…but sometimes we have to allow ourselves to go into that dark place and release those feelings of rage, anger, sadness, etc. to get some relief. Allow yourself to go there, just don’t stay stuck there. “Why” will keep coming up and sometimes the best thing to do is to take it off like a backpack and lay it down. We have to make a conscious choice to keep laying it down and decide we won’t entertain the question because we will never know.

As I turn my own corner from “why” to the lessons, I find it helpful to reach out to others for feedback and encouragement. These situations can rock our confidence and give us tunnel vision so we can’t see all the thousand times we succeeded…but only that one time that it didn’t work out as planned. It takes courage to reach out for support and even more courage to fully accept what comes back to you. To sit in it with equal openness and willingness as we do all the bad things. That is tough. Allow the love and truth to wash over you and plant in your heart and mind.

Many of us are too afraid to ask for help or support for fear of being perceived as weak, yet it is the strongest and most courageous thing we can do. Many of us don’t want to ask for support because we don’t believe we deserve it or don’t feel worthy of it. I see you. That is my wound. I continue to practice opening myself up and letting myself be cared for by others. It has strengthened me in ways that I cannot explain. Each challenge or adversity I face gets easier as I strengthen these muscles because I am confident that no matter what happens, when it’s time to say when, I will have everything I need to make it through.

I am no longer working so hard to prevent losses or failures, and I have more courage to do the hard things because I have faith in knowing I can choose to accept whatever might happen. I know I can move forward changed for the good. Is it time to say “when” to something in your life? Only you can know. Stay true to you.

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