A new year is upon us, a time when many of us make resolutions to do things better or differently, or to be better or be different — whether to start exercising or eating right or living more in the present. Despite all our good intentions, many of our New Year's resolutions eventually seem to be forgotten — or at least not paid attention to — as much as we'd planned.
But if you're newly divorced, or even if you've been divorced for a while, there's one resolution that you might want to make and consider keeping — learning to let go.
Granted, this is not easy. When we divorce, we are forced to let go of a lot of things — maybe our home and sense of security; companionship, sex and a partner; time with children, family, friends and community, as well as hopes, dreams and expectations. The physical and material things can often be easier to let go of because they can typically be replaced, but emotional things are a lot harder. Sometimes, divorce leads to a sense of relief, but often it's an emotional stew of fear, sadness, regrets and perhaps anger or bitterness.
So, why let go?
"Holding onto regrets and bitterness will only keep your life from moving forward," psychiatrist and The Intelligent Divorce author Mark Banschick writes in Psychology Today. "Is your inner voice working overtime with all the "what ifs" and "if onlys"? This is normal for a period of time, but ask yourself — are these thoughts serving me or helping me feel better? Will thinking about them over and over again change anything?"
That makes sense, but how do you even begin?
Nothing can start without first allowing yourself to grieve.
"When you go through divorce, it's like a death of love. Even if you're the one who initiated the divorce, you will still grieve. This is because you are not only mourning the loss of your marriage, you are also grieving the loss of your hopes and dreams — the belief of what you thought your life was going to look like," writes divorce coach Cindy Holbrook in Your Tango.
That could take a few months, a few years or more depending on who wanted the divorce, how happy you were or weren't in your marriage and a lot of other factors.
If you've made it through the grieving process, great. But how do you get from there to a place of acceptance and then empowerment?
"The process is unique for each person and each relationship," couples therapist Danielle B. Grossman writes on Psych Central. "There is, however, a series of steps that can guide the love-stuck forward through the pain and into the freedom of being truly over it."
Those include identifying the behaviors, thoughts and emotions that are keeping you stuck, and moving past them; learning from the relationship and taking responsibility for your share of the problems; being patient and compassionate as you grieve; and coming to a place of acceptance. Only then will be you able to be open to planning for and embracing whatever comes next.
In the meantime, however, be gentle with yourself.
"There are a lot of reasons why you might feel averse to letting go of your ex and your marriage. Don't criticize or judge yourself harshly for any attachment you still have," write relationship coaches Susie and Otto Collins in Your Tango. "For right now, just considering the notion of moving on and what that might mean for you is an important step."
Take baby steps at first, they suggest. Taking on too much at one time may feel overwhelming. Then, slowly start to let go — but with intention of where you want to go.
"Try to stay as conscious about the choices you are making as you can. Too many people walk around clouded by intense emotions or in a dulled haze and they end up making mistakes that add even more difficulties to their lives," the Ottos write. "Get creative and start to make the shift from being past-oriented to present- and future-oriented."
And that is what letting go gives you — a chance to reinvent or reclaim yourself, redefine the roles you've played, step out of your comfort zone, and reset priorities and expectations.
Ultimately, letting go is freedom.
As the great mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell once said, "We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us."
Vicki Larson is a divorced mom of two young men. She is a longtime journalist, author, writer, editor and freelancer, whose work can be found in numerous places — websites, magazines, books, newspapers and here. Vicki is the co-author of "The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels." You can learn more about Vicki at omgchronicles.vickilarson.com .