By Dr. Ken Larsen
This is one technic for catching monkeys. Hollow out a large gourd, leaving a small opening at one end. Inside the gourd put a piece of fruit that monkeys like a lot. Then anchor the gourd securely and move on out of sight. Soon, a monkey will come along to check out the gourd. Finding the tempting piece of fruit inside, he reaches in and tries to pull it out. But the opening in the gourd is just big enough to get his hand in. Once he grasps the fruit inside, his hand is just too large to pull back out of the opening. Not wanting to let go of the fruit, the monkey is trapped with his hand in the gourd.
All the monkey has to do to get free would be to let go of the fruit, pull his hand out of the gourd and scamper up a nearby tree.
I wonder how often we grab and hold on to something that we think we want and need in spite of the harm it’s doing to us.
Some of the more destructive things we habitually hold on to are resentments. Something happened to us in the past that was harmful or hurtful. Sometimes the memories of these hurtful events haunt us and we play them again. There are many reasons for “playing the old tapes” and none of them are good. Each time we revisit those old resentments, the old feelings come back. We need to let go. Forgive the offender and make a conscious choice not to linger in those painful past places. It takes some effort to do this, but life today will be better if we let the past stay past.
All too often the psychic/emotional pain caused by re- feeling these resentments leads us to looking for relief in a behavior or substance. We feel bad and want to feel good and the cycle of resentment and pain can lead us to some wrong places to find the good feelings we want so badly. Those “wrong places, can be behaviors or substances that are addictive. We cycle from feeling bad to trying to feel good only to come back to feeling bad. We are stuck and don’t know how to let go.
Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between a true addiction and just a bad habit. The one distinguishing characteristic that answers the question for me is “use despite harm.” If we’re doing something or using something and it’s doing us harm and we can’t just stop, I think “addiction”.
“Use despite harm” can cover behaviors, substances, even certain relationships. The key to letting go is to recognize that we are holding on to something that is harmful to us and then getting the help and support we need to let go and get free.
By Dr. Nancy Buck
Watching yet another television commercial about depression, and how it hurts, I suddenly realized “This is me!” I had always watched these commercials with disdain and superiority. If these people would only get off the couch and get into action they could help themselves. Stop complaining, get into action and get over yourself.
But suddenly it hit me that I was one of those people. I now understood the reality of depression. How could I possibly follow my own advice and get into action? I could barely put one foot in front of the other.
I was horrified to discover that I had become “one of those people.” I, who was the queen of pulling myself up by my bootstraps, taking charge to make my life better, and the champion of action over wallowing couldn’t do anything. My life hurt! My heart hurt. My soul hurt.
Over time my husband stopped trying to talk me out stopped trying to cheer me up. And no matter how many times my sisters told me to go to counseling, go to therapy, I was not going. I knew what the therapist would say. I already knew what I needed to do. How was a therapist going to help?
I knew I had to do this myself. And I believed I had to do it alone.
Over time what I discovered were two GIANT steps that got me going in a better, mentally healthy direction.
- Admit to myself – I finally realized and admitted to myself that I was in trouble. I stopped justifying my blues away and pulled myself up by my boot straps enough to admit that I was not just going through some kind of temporary adjustment.
- Admit to others – I started sharing with other people what was happening to me. Of course I didn’t go into intimate details because that’s just not who I am. But I did stop my self-imposed isolation physically and emotionally. What I discovered is that there are many more people than I knew who are also struggling. Apparently I was not the only good actress in my neighborhood.
- Get a good night’s sleep – I actually started swallowing a natural non-prescriptive sleep aid rather than just carrying it around in my pocket. I finally listened when someone told me sleep deprivation significantly contributes to depression. I also started walking regularly. My life experience taught me that increased exercise helps me have a good night sleep.
There are still days when I struggle. And happily there are more consecutive days I can now label as good days. I also realize when I make better choices about eating in ways that nourish me, continuing my walking regimen, and connecting with important people I like I struggle less.
Ultimately what I learned is that I have to do this myself. . . but I don’t have to do it alone.
(Story told to me by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous.)