I’m Done Living in the Past

Susan Tolles, thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. We love your website, Flourish Over 50, and love having you as a guest blogger at Mindfulpathways.

I’m Done Living in the Past
by Susan Tolles

One of the hardest parts of taking a giant step forward when experiencing a midlife crisis is letting go of the past. For most middle-aged women, our identities are wrapped up in our children, home, volunteer work or career. We hold on to our past hurts, grudges and anger and allow them to permeate the very fiber of who we are. The “If only’s” swirl in our minds and feed our negative thoughts. We live in the past, afraid to let go because of habit, not because it is particularly where we want to be. Hanging on to those “idols” can be like an anchor holding you back from an adventure that is rich and fulfilling.

For me, I had been my children’s mom for 24 years, and I had embraced that role with gusto as I threw my entire life into raising them. From breastfeeding to seeing them off to kindergarten to high school graduation, my life revolved around making sure they were healthy, happy and active. But when my youngest went off to college, suddenly it hit me: Now what? My role as mother was finished and it was time to move on. Was it possible that they didn’t need me anymore? Who was this woman looking back in the mirror going to be the rest of her life? I had reached the empty nest, and I knew I had to let go.

As I have traveled this journey over the past two years, I have also realized that there were many other things in my life that I had to release to really move ahead. I was a master at holding grudges from years ago, and the tumultuous relationship I’d had with my mother who died just after my son graduated from high school had eaten at my conscience. There were friends I’d had over the years who seemed distant now, and no matter how much I thought I wanted to remain close, in reality we just didn’t have much in common any more. I had to come to terms with letting those relationships go, with the expectation of surrounding myself with a new circle of friends who were more like the “new me” I was trying to create.

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~Lao Tzu

Letting go isn’t easy. You don’t just say “I’m finished with that,” and the pain vanishes. The midlife crisis doesn’t just go away on its own. There is a certain amount of ritual that needs to go along with the emotional break-up, a symbolic release of the past to allow it to exit your body and mind, both physically and spiritually. I’ve had several “letting go ceremonies” over the past two years, giving me the freedom to move forward without guilt or sadness. Here are a few you might try, too.

• Praying— It is essential to me for a spiritual cleansing of the past before I can declare myself free to take that next step. In my daily quiet time, I have asked God for help in letting go, and also combine prayer with the other methods below. Often, this is combined with meditation when I visualize my letting-go ceremony.

• Go to the Art—In my article “The Mother Connection,” I described a ritual that used art to help me visualize my Birthmother during a time of reflection. By casting aside my doubter and left-brained self and allowing my creative juices to flow, I was amazed at the artwork that was created through watercolors and acrylics. At that event, I witnessed people using dramatic colors in anger, reds and blacks for pain, and a myriad of symbols to help them overcome roadblocks and conquer emotions that held them back from making progress in following their dreams. Try it! You might be surprised, too, at what happens when you just let your hand go with the flow.

• The Rock—Write your obstacle on a rock, or just imagine that it contains a whole list of things you want to let go of. Then throw it in a lake or river, or off a mountain top. Heave it as far as you can, releasing the burden you feel to the wind. Imagine your hurt leaving your body and soaring through the air, never to be seen again.

• Burn It Up—Write a letter to the person or thing you need to release, then burn it (in a safe place, of course!) Let the ashes symbolize those that give rise to a phoenix, and allow yourself to emerge a new woman, more beautiful and stronger than ever.

Whatever you need to release, let go knowing that the past cannot be repeated and there is nothing you can do to restore it. The only thing you can change is the future, from this moment on. Embrace the journey that begins today with a renewed sense of freedom and anticipation about what lies ahead. Trust that your children are going to be fine—they are adults now. Let go of the anger that has been eating at you for way too long. Know that with personal growth comes the need to make new friends and let the old ones go. Don’t hold on so tightly to the past that the future slips through your hands.

Here are a couple of articles I’ve written that might help you out, also:

In the Empty Nest, Spread Your Own Wings!

My Birthmother Connection

Have you let go of the past? What steps have you taken to give you the freedom to move forward from your own midlife crisis? Please leave a comment below.