The Wisdom of Letting Go

I have had the occasion over the past few days to talk to several people who are in pain. In one case, a parent is worried about an adult child who is having serious issues; in another, a friend is worried about another friend who is terminally ill. Worry is the operative word here.

Worry is defined as “giving way to anxiety or unease.” Often, when situations are beyond one’s control, it is natural to feel anxious and uneasy. Who doesn’t want to fix a problem that clearly needs a remedy? Who doesn’t want to step in and make it right again?

The rub is, of course, life is often comprised of problems that are not that easy to tackle. In fact, in the two cases above, the parent of that adult child and that friend of an ill friend simply do not have the power to make everything okay again for these people. These issues are out of their sphere of influence. They can be concerned; they can care, but they can not fix it. The situations are too complex. In fact, in the case of the terminally ill person, the truth is the situation is unfixable. This person isn’t going to become miraculously well just because someone who loves her doesn’t want her to suffer.

In Alanon, which I have attended in the past since I am from an alcoholic family, one of the primary concepts that is discussed a lot is recognizing the tendency to jump on a white horse and go in to fight the battle. One of the most powerful phrases I’ve ever heard is called the 3 C’s: “I didn’t cause it; I can’t control it; and I can’t cure it.” This is an invitation to step off the horse and to recognize one’s need to turn the problem over to a Higher Power. That is great advice whether or not one is dealing with alcohol or drug issues. In fact, with the parent of that adult child and the friend of the dying friend, the 3 C’s apply. Neither of these people caused the problems that their loved ones are facing; they can not control the problem, nor can they cure it. Again, the primary invitation here is to admit one’s powerlessness and to turn this over to a Higher Power, whether that is God, Nature, the Universe, or whatever else makes sense depending on personal belief systems.

At this point in my life, I need a reminder of the 3 C’s in reference to problems that are outside my sphere of control. I still want so badly to get the saddle down, toss it on that white horse and head off with a battle flag flying. I often erroneously think that I have better answers than those who are actually facing the problems. I am working on that misconception. That is called co-dependency. It is not only detrimental to the other person, but also to myself since I will take on someone else’s problem rather than dealing with my own issues.

I am aware that aphorisms can be annoying and some people find the AA and Alanon slogans to be a little worn out. The difference is, however, that despite sounding a bit hackneyed, these phrases are true words of wisdom. They invite a different way of tackling problems; they encourage a surrender of control and the development of trust that individuals have the capacity, with the help of a HIgher Power, to deal with their issues themselves.

So, here are a few of the Alanon words of wisdom that I have found helpful over the years. I hope my friends will find them helpful, too. After all, we all face problems that we can’t fix. Sometimes it’s great to have a short phrase to keep life in perspective.

Happy Sunday. I hope you are all looking forward to a healthy, happy and productive new week.

TOP 10 Al-Anon Sayings

THINK is it..?: Thoughtful. Honest. Intelligent. Necessary. Kind.
“If only I can learn to quiet my mind before I speak! I do not want to act with impatience and hostility, for I know it will react on me. It is a mistake to think this requires self-control; patience can be acquired by learning to let go of self-will. Jonathan Swift said: “Whoever is out of patience is out of possession of his soul. Men must not turn into bees who kill themselves in stinging others.” (One day At a Time in Al-Anon pg. 20)

HALT if you’re… : Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired.
Be aware when these four physical or emotion conditions arise. When these do arise we are in a vulnerable position to have a severe emotional react.

FEAR: False. Evidence. Appearing. Real.
“In Al-Anon, the answer to “What if? Is: “Don’t project! Don’t imagine the worst; deal with your problems as they arise. Live one day at a time.” I cannot do anything about things that haven’t happened; I will not let the past experiences make me dread the unknown future. “It is a vain and unprofitable thing to conceive either grief or joy for future things which perhaps will never come about.” (One day At a Time in Al-Anon pg. 193)

HOPE: Happy. Our. Program. Exists.
“The first gift a newcomer receives from contact with Al-Anon is hope. Seeing how other rise above their problems, listening to situations worse than their own, absorbing the atmosphere of love and goodwill, send them home with a new lease on life.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.94)
NUTS: Not. Using. The. Steps.
“When I read a step and think about it deeply, I find it opens the door to new insights. When I read that same step again, it reveals new spiritual ideas. They seem to dig into our consciousness and unearth for us the wonderful potential for good in all our relationships with life.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.141)

DETACH: Don’t. Even. Think. About. Changing. Him/Her.
“How can I best help the alcoholic? By not interfering when he gets into difficulties. I must detach myself from his shortcoming, neither making up for them nor criticizing them. Let me learn to play my own role, and leave his to him. If he fails in it, the failure is not mine, no matter what others may think or say about it.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.29)

HOW: Honest. Open. Willing.
Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are the three primary principles in laying down a solid foundation for recovery. Honest with oneself. Being open to Power Greater than our selves and willing to take certain steps.

STEPS: Solutions. To. Every. Problem.
“If we have Al-anon, there is no need to stand in our own light and try to solve our problems in darkness. The ways and means that Al-anon offers have lighted the way for so many thousands of despairing people that no one can question their power. “When I am faced with a problem that seems impossible to solve, when I feel trapped in a situation and can see no way out, let me ask myself whether I am standing in my own light. I must find the vantage point where I can most clearly see my difficulty as it is; then answers will come.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.297)

QTIP: Quit. Taking. It. Personally.
“When the guilt of the alcoholic explodes, I must realize that it is always aimed at those nearest, and often dearest. I want to remind myself that such outbursts only reveal the drinker’s own unhappiness. I will not make the situation worse by taking seriously what the alcoholic says at such times. (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.55)

LOVE: Let. Others. Voluntarily. Evolve.
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” (Thomas Merton: No Man Is an Island)

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4 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Letting Go”

  1. Powerful piece.
    About 23 years ago driving home crying in blizzard I finally said ok god you got me here I trust you get mo out of it. since then I lead my life that ways. doing what can and then letting go. wrry only intensifies the stress when the 3c;s are being avoided. thanks for the reminder.

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