Learning to Let Go

So, I kind of hold onto any tangible thing associated with a good memory that I can…and I kind of always have! In fact I think I can trace it back to age 10. Around then, I received a corkboard from my parents and I immediately started covering it with every single memento possible.

Just one section of a very full bulletin board! I think those plastic roses are from a corsage my mom made me for my Tea Party themed 7th Birthday Party!

Just one section of a very full bulletin board! I think those plastic roses are from a corsage my mom made me for my Tea Party themed 7th Birthday Party!

Glittery “kiss” sticker from a boy named David that I received in 4th grade? Check. Pin up of Christian Slater? Check. Picture of me holding my first driving ticket? Check. Love letter from my first boyfriend in high school? Check, oh check! Oh yes, any small thing I could save I saved to help me savor my favorite memories, to help me savor what made me happy, what made me smile, what made me laugh, to help me savor all that was wonderful in my life.

Some might have called this a fleeting childhood hobby. But it wasn’t. As I headed off to college without my board, I started saving mementos in shoeboxes. As I graduated college, I continued saving mementos in shoeboxes but this time the boxes weren’t titled by year, they were simply title “Love Letters from my boyfriend” which soon became “Special Memories with ‘my man.’” Then of course I married my man and a shoebox wouldn’t hold all the memories from our wedding weekend so I took my parents trunk they had when they first married and filled it. I filled it with our “welcome to the hotel bag,” my bachelorette veil, my rehearsal dinner bouquet, my wedding day slippers, my “Bride-to-be” sweatshirt, our wedding favor and the newspaper from that day. Oh yes, I filled it with everything I could stuff in there because I didn’t want to let go; because I wanted to savor it all as long as I could and I feared I would somehow forget a detail.

I hadn't open this trunk until I took this picture. As promised, it brought my immense happiness.

I hadn’t open this trunk until I took this picture. As promised, it brought my immense happiness.

I locked the trunk back in 2004 and I haven’t opened it since. I haven’t needed to. Just knowing it is there brings me safety, brings me happiness and memories and besides, I have been busy filling four new mini-trunks with mementos from my boys’ lives. From first ultrasound pictures to hospital bracelets, birth announcements to birthday cards, birthday invitations to pre-school graduation invitations, first drawings to first writing samples, I have filled my son’s memory boxes with anything I thought they might want to see when older. Who am I kidding; I have filled their boxes because anytime I have something to add to them and I need to open them, I am filled with such incredible happiness and pride and gratitude and love that I can’t imagine NOT saving such things. Oh I just want to savor it all over and over again because despite the tough moments I share with my boys, there are many more incredible moments. So much so that a mini-trunk doesn’t do it all justice, but it is something. It is something to hold on to.

Just like my bulletin board doesn’t do justice to all the wonderful memories of my childhood…but it’s something. Fortunately for me, my parents never tossed it when I officially moved out. Instead they wrapped it up when they sold our house and it is now is in my attic, on top of my box of Barbie dolls and Cabbage Patch Kids and my box of “Little House on the Prairie Books” that I saved “in case” I had a girl. I pass my board, my visual timeline of my crushes and my interests, my childhood turned what I thought was adulthood (at the age of 18!,) every time I have to get to a box of hand me down clothes, a box of college photo albums, a box of childhood toys I want to share with my boys, or a box of achievements from my working days. And just like my wedding trunk and my son’s memory boxes, whenever I see my board, I think “oh I am so glad I held onto it.” I never once think, “Oh I should just toss it and let go of the memories.”

Why? Why don’t I doubt holding onto such things that I have had so long? Why do I ignore my husband when he tells me it is time to perhaps let go of some of the boxes in the attic (eh hem the box of wedding magazines and books from my era of I am going to be a wedding planner)? Because holding onto these mementos brings me happiness, immense happiness and brings me up and who wants to let go of a good thing?! The mementos that didn’t bring me up: breakup letters from my high school boyfriend, clothes from when I was overweight, letters of rejection from college and job offers, those I readily let go of because they bring me down. I know holding on to them will just make me upset if I have to see them again.

Which begs the question, then why oh why do I struggle to let go of mental memories that bring me down and not up? Just because these mental memories don’t have a tangible item to be tossed, does that mean they don’t deserve to be tossed or can’t be? Of course they deserve it…of course they should be because holding on to them doesn’t do me much good!

In fact, I have learned that holding onto “bad” memories does me no good. Good memories? Oh lots of good, hold on and savor away Orange Rhino. Bad memories, toss them away Orange Rhino, toss them away and let go! I know many people have said that holding on to “bad” memories does no good; I know this is not an original statement and yet, I didn’t really embrace it until I started The Orange Rhino Challenge.

When I began looking at why I yell and I started tracking my triggers I learned VERY quickly that my inability to let go of “bad memories,” bad experiences, bad conversations, bad weigh-ins on the scale, bad interaction with my kids, and most notably bad yells was at the top of the list. Oh I so quickly realized that my inability to let go so often pushed me to yell.

My inability to let go kept me pre-occupied. My inability to let go kept me thinking about my “bad” situation instead of focusing on the present moment and making it count. My inability to let go made me snappier and less present and wasted a lot of my time. My inability to let go consumed me way more than I ever wished. So I started practicing letting go of things that bothered me. I started saying over and over and over again “Let it go. You can’t change what happened. Don’t focus on the negative. Move on.” And I over and over and over again forced myself to engage in a happy action when I found myself not letting go; I looked at baby pictures with my boys or I started a dance party. And I over and over and over again made myself stop talking about the “bad” memory. I stopped indulging my mind in the conversation and stopped calling friends to relive the frustrating moment. Did I make an initial call? Sure. But I practiced letting go and not dwelling by over talking.

Was it easy to learn to let go? Um, NO.

It wasn’t even close to easy. It still isn’t easy, but it is easier.

The other morning I woke up to see all the people that had read my “I Yelled At My Boys” post and I immediately felt disappointment and sadness again that I had indeed yelled. My heart filled with crappy feelings and anger at myself over my “bad memory.” It didn’t think of all the good memories stored in my brain to bring me happiness, gratitude and determination when I was down – the comments from all of you, the flowers from my family and friends on my 365th day, the random emails and gifts from all of you. Nope, I immediately went to bad memory lane.

So, I read my post again and inhaled it. “Orange Rhino. You wrote about letting go. You know you have learned to. You know letting go has been one of your favorite lessons learned. LET GO. LET GO of the disappointment. LET GO of the sadness.” And then I inhaled all the supportive comments from everyone and I locked them away in my memory bank to never be let go of, to be held on to as tightly I have held on to the fake rose I got in 3rd grade that made me feel loved and special and brought me so much joy that day.

And I let go.

Oh, I have learned to let go and I have gained so much in return. 

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8 thoughts on “Learning to Let Go

  1. I think it takes a lot of courage and tenacity and patience to let go.

    Working out your triggers was brilliant and then literally changing tack really helps.

    I have a friend who told me that when she starts getting really crappy with herself she laughs out loud!

    The laugh stops the gerbils in her head.

    It’s really hard keeping the negative comments at bay. I have to literally tell them to Shut The Feather Up.

    One thing I do is to ask myself to take the same amount of time I just spent kicking myself and explore the good things I am and do.

    Well done you.


  2. Hey! I’m so inspired by your blog and by you! I don’t know if you believe in God but I do. I believe in a loving Father in Heaven who cares deeply for us and is completely aware of each of us and our situations. And I truly believe that He sees a mother like you…one who is determined to be in control amidst the chaos and craziness, one who is loving and selfless despite the challenges life is throwing and He must feel grateful and relieved. To know His children are being taken care of by someone so loving and incredible. Someone who sees their weakness and makes it a strength and then continues to inspire countless others. I hope you know how much you are loved by Him. And how grateful I am so have found your website. My family thanks you and I thank you! God bless you!

  3. Glad I’m not the only one who has a hard time letting go of the “souvenirs” of my life. I, too, had a bulletin board in my room when I was growing up. Now, my children have bulletin boards in their rooms, although they don’t really understand why! My shoebox collection of memories has grown to accommodate 4 large plastic storage tubs. My kids each have two storage tubs of their own, but could care less. This is all amusing, but what really got me with this post was that it had never occurred to me that I could let the bad memories go. What a great thought! Keep the good, forget the bad. I’m going to start trying that!!

  4. I didn’t read this post when it popped up just had skimmed it then went on to have a really horrible day. Grocery shopping with my 2 kids was a nightmare, tantrums and yelling matches filled the day kids getting hurt and not listening just pushed me over the edge. I told my kids to be quiet because I didn’t want to hear their voices. I nagged and yelled at them so many times I was tired of my own voice. And then at 2am I can’t sleep so I go in the bathroom and cry for about 15 minutes telling myself I am most certainly the worst mother on the face of the earth. So I remember I had skimmed through something about letting go. I go back to the post and here you can have it. Today, the whole freaking day!! I am letting it go because I love and care about my kids and tomorrow is another day.

  5. omg, I love this post, and I love what you are saying, and it’s SOOOO hard to let go.
    I am so afraid to let go. I know I need to let go. I don’t know if I can let go. I want to let go. and then I don’t think it’s safe to let go….and on and on and on. Thank you for posting. I think you are really amazing. And I feel grateful (but still afraid.) Will keep reading, and keep on getting inspired, and will keep trying. To. Let. Go.

    Thank you.

  6. I just started following your blog recently. Thank you so much for your post today. It is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Letting it go is definitely a lesson and technique I need and will start working on IMMEDIATELY! Thank you for being so honest and real!

    • I, too have just started following you and it’s like you are answering all my questions directly. I’m so grateful I’ve stumbled upon you when I googled “How to stop yelling at my kids”

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