Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Art of Letting Go

Calvin - my philosophical hero
One of the most important (and therefore obviously most tricky) things I’m trying to figure out is how to deal with stressful situations now I’m no longer smoking. I think that a lot of us use external substances in some form or another, to some degree or other, to help us deal with stress, and it’s only now those substances are no longer part of my life that I notice how much I did just that. I’m having to re-learn how to handle stress by really letting go, rather than covering it over with a smoky band-aid. 

Letting go is an art, and right now I’m definitely no Michelangelo. I’m more at the finger-painting level, maybe working on the odd macaroni-picture, but still very much in my Stick-Figure Phase. But recently I had the opportunity to up my game, and put into practice everything I’ve been learning. I hope that by sharing what happened and how I tried to deal with it, you might find something that will help with similar situations. 

A few days ago my backpack was stolen from the van. In it was my passport, drivers licence, bank card and all my cash, including all the money I earned at Boom. We were in the van, watching a movie with the door open, and I had left it near the front without thinking. In fact, I think it’s clear from what I’ve just written that ‘not thinking’ features heavily in this story. I have travelled for years, had things stolen before, and I know that you don’t keep all your money in one place, you don’t keep all your important documents together, and you don’t leave your van door open in a city. It’s amazing what you ‘know’ in hindsight, isn’t it?

When I realised it was gone, I was devastated. I was furious with myself for being so stupid, and frustrated at losing money I had worked so hard to earn. I had to spend hours at the police station reporting it so I could cancel my passport, and it’s going to be an epic pain in the arse to replace my drivers licence and bank card from Germany. 

Sadness - feeling those feelings like a champion

It’s fair to say I was Pissed Off, and I spent a good part of the day blaming myself for what happened, and then beating myself up for being upset instead of instantly accepting it in the manner of a Zen fucking Master. Finally, too exhausted to keep playing that game, I just gave in, and instead of suppressing my emotions or trying to find someone (like myself) to blame, I allowed myself to feel. I cried, I was angry, and I really really wanted to smoke a joint. Throughout this emotional rollercoaster I tried to observe what was going on in my mind (mostly “Fuck fuck fuck I want to smoke this is rubbish shit shit shit”) and in my body (knotty twisty stomach ooo hungry knotty twisty), and this actually helped to take me out of the spiral a little. 

Later that day, on the drive to Berlin I found that my mind kept going back to the same thoughts - berating myself, getting upset about the money, and every so often remembering something else important or hard to replace that had been in my bag (ugh, even my damn mooncup!), and I found myself getting worked up again. So now it was time for stage two (because feeling your feelings is a good thing, but driving at 50 mph through a veil of tears is not.) I thought of everything I was grateful for. Here’s some highlights from that list:

I’m grateful the van keys were hanging up by the bed and not in my backpack.
I’m grateful nothing in the van was damaged.
I’m grateful we are safe.
I’m grateful I had friends to help me report it to the German police, who didn’t speak English, and that I didn’t have to go through this process alone.
I’m grateful that I’m travelling with a partner who can lend me money and help me until I get back on my feet.
I’m grateful to still have my home.

It wasn’t easy, but I just kept going, thinking of everything I was grateful for. Once I got to ‘I’m grateful to be alive’, I had things more in perspective, and we got to our camping spot without crashing. 

Our return to Berlin was not exactly the joyful and triumphant event I had envisioned. First of all was a trip to the British Embassy to report my stolen passport (“I am grateful that process was infinitely more efficient than I had anticipated”). Then it was time for some serious self-care. This is important, because by this point I felt pretty drained and down, and if anything even remotely upsetting or stressful were to happen I knew I would dissolve into a gibbering wreck in seconds. So, we ate a lot of greasy delicious food with no regrets, drank lots of tea and curled up in bed with some feel-good movies. This morning I got up early and did some yoga. The sun is shining, we’re back in Tempelhofer Feld, and a vegan pizza is in my immediate future. Life is actually pretty good. 

If this had happened to me six months ago, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be feeling like this two days on. I would still be fuming and frustrated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sad, and every so often I feel little waves of anger, like being kicked in the stomach. But I have realised that I can either carry on feeling sad and angry, or I can try and let go. Even just realising that it’s a choice, that there is a decision to be made is empowering, and doing a couple of quite simple things has made that decision easier. 

So, if something stressful or upsetting is happening, here’s what you can try and do to help you let go:
  1. Your feelings and emotions are valid, so let them be. Having your stuff stolen is horrible and stressful and it sucks. So you are not a bad person for feeling upset, and suppressing it means it will take longer to process. But notice how you feel and what you are thinking - this noticing will make you one step removed from your feelings, and maybe stop you being consumed by them. 
  2. Gratitude. It’s not easy, especially when something rubbish has happened, but this is the best time to try and think of all the things in your life that are not that rubbish thing. It interrupts your spiralling negative thoughts and distracts your brain for a while until you can calm down and think a bit more rationally.
  3. Self-care is different for everyone, so at some point have a think about what it is you like to do, what recharges your emotional batteries. Do you like to be outside, riding a bike or swimming in the sea? Would you feel better going to a party and being with lots of people, or curled up in a big fluffy duvet reading Jane Austen? Cake? Tea? A hot bath? Do something that is guaranteed to make you feel better and you probably will. 
  4. If all else fails, breathe. If it’s all getting too much, you feel like gratitude can go get fucked and cake just isn’t cutting it, take a few minutes and just breathe. I have had to tell myself to ‘just take a deep breath’ about a hundred times over the last few days as I feel myself getting overwhelmed and frustrated over the smallest things. And it helps, it really does. 
Every time I deal with something stressful, be it big, small or simply imagined (because my brain does that sometimes) using these steps instead of reaching for a glass of wine or a bag of weed, I feel more capable, independent and strong. And these feelings feed into each other, lifting me up instead of dragging me down, and making me more and more able to handle what comes my way. 

So, pearls of wisdom shared, I’m due a bit more self-care…it’s time for The Sound of Music - because singing loudly about A Few of My Favourite Things is high on the list of A Few of My Favourite things.

If this doesn't warm the cockles of your heart, nothing will

-Ems-











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