If a twelve-step program were a journey-and it is certainly a vertical one-then letting go can be considered the threshold to its climb. Cast in a parent’s tarnished mold, an adult child must understand what formed it and then “undo” the detriment, distortion, and detour it caused, cognizant, if he has his own children, of how he may be reapplying that mold to them, even if he has already begun this rise to wholeness.
Letting go, however, is not necessarily an easily defined task, since it is multi-faceted and may mean different things to different people.
It can, for instance, signify the “let go and let God” philosophy. It can imply the release of a person’s true self, so that he can more freely express himself and reconnect with his intrinsic worth. It assuredly must entail the relinquishing of past hurts and injustices until they have been understood and processed.
He may have to realize that, because the brain always seeks to finish out on others what it itself experienced, that he has most likely bestowed these infractions on to them in his life (and consequently will need to make amends somewhere along his path).
It involves the realization that his brain was forced to rewire itself in the midst of childhood instability and anger for later-in-life survival, resulting in the adult child traits, such as isolation, reaction, and people-pleasing. It may mean the discontinuation of his fruitless attempt to fix and change others, allowing them to be who they are, despite their denial and derailing actions, eliminating any never-realized expectations of his own.
It may be a tiny release of a negative emotion or resentment, achieved in a “baby step” process, or entail the willful walk-away from a person who will only cause anger or retrigger.
It may vary with circumstances and take different form, depending upon the plateau reached in the person’s twelve-step climb.
Finally, it entails the neuron-connected neuropathways, whose links become ever stronger with every emotional reaction, but always lead to the same solutionless dead end.
While Step Three-“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him”-certainly bespeaks of this surrendering or letting go prerequisite, it also implies that it is an instantaneous, single-time act. Yet for those whose very abandonment-fueled survival depended upon self-sufficiency, it is no easy task. It may, in fact, be a perpetual struggle, even if a person has already begun to pursue a recovery path.
Doing so, first and foremost, requires the realization that the Higher Power to whom he is surrendering is not a carbon copy composite of his abandoning, blaming, abusive, and condemning earthly parent, but is infinitely loving and forgiving.
It secondly requires a spiritual, not an intellectual, relationship with that Higher Power.
It also entails the relinquish of the progressive, treadmill-equivalent thoughts and feelings that always return the person to the same fruitless origins.
“Al-Anon has shown me that the answer lies not in letting go of people, but in letting go of my outworn, painful thinking patterns,” according to a testimonial in Al-Anon’s “Hope for Today” text (Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 2002, p. 111). “I can replace them with honesty, openness, and willingness to change into a more positive person… Applying the twelve steps… to my daily life, as well as sharing and receiving experience, strength, and hope in meetings… helps me replace worry and control with the serenity that comes from letting go and letting God take care of anything where I have no power.”
That control, however, may prove one of the most difficult forces to release. Like a seesaw, alcoholic, abusive, and dysfunctional homes either place the child on the lower, losing side, as his parent acts out his own unresolved upbringing in a bully-mimicking dynamic, or he sits on the higher side and subconsciously turns into one later in life, since this provides the perception of mastery-and thus safety-over others. Fear, needless to say, fuels either end. Nevertheless, it can become a person’s very method of survival throughout life.
Another necessary release is that from the person’s home-of-origin. Yet there is a paradox to the act: while he very much needs to detach from and relinquish this retriggering environment, his destructive upbringing may have arrested his neurological, emotional, and psychological development, leaving him without the tools and resources necessary to do so and locking him into a false sense of security. Immobilized, he is both unable to remain and unable to leave.
Letting go is not necessarily a single-sided act. If a person releases fear, he may have to replace it with something, such as the understanding of its origins and trust. And that substitution may be the key to the process. Relinquishing requires the helping hand and support of a part of him he may no longer be aware he has: God or a Higher Power of his understanding, who is the ultimate replacement for what he still may not have. However, there is a ratio to this relinquish, which is why it cannot necessarily be accomplished at once.
The more a person dismantles the wall of defenses that stands in the way of him and his inner child, which is his authentic self, the more he is able to surrender to and reconnect with a Higher Power, because that inner child is the essence of Him. The more he unearths his fears and traumas, and understands why they were once necessary and inevitable creations, the more he frees himself from his past, regaining trust. That trust, in turn, fosters increased Higher Power surrender and connection. And, as he does so, he dismantles the neuropathways that led to his defenses, enabling him to perceive God as understanding, accepting, forgiving, and loving, properties he will soon realize that he himself shares with Him.
“… Letting go is like a tree shedding its leaves in autumn,” “Hope for Today” continues (ibid, p. 111). “I must let go of them to grow and produce even more beauty the following spring and summer. Letting go of what I truly do not need-whether it be old thoughts, things, or behaviors-makes room for new growth in my life.”
In the end, letting go of the past enables the person to fully experience and develop in the present, and function as an extension of his Creator.
“Hope for Today.” Virginia Beach, Virginia: Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., 2002.