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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

The Danger Of Holding On

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One of my guilty (okay, so I don’t really feel guilty about it but it seems like I should) summer pleasures is catching a few minutes of television during the day. Last week, I saw the last few segments of the show, My 600-Pound Life. In this episode, a super-morbidly obese woman was in the hospital and being considered for bariatric surgery. The surgeon was reticent, both because of the patient’s extreme size and her refusal to attempt to walk.

It was the latter issue that grabbed my attention.

There were several scenes shown that all followed the same pattern:

“You need to walk. It’s critical for your health and recovery.”

“I can’t walk. I just can’t do it. I’m not feeling well.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I just don’t feel well.”

“I’m going to get some people here to help you get up.”

After the nurses or EMTs were summoned, they would surround her and using the sheet, would prop her into a sitting position and then slowly slide her legs off the bed until her feet were on the floor.

“I can’t! I can’t! Get me back up!” she cried at every attempt, even before her weight was fully on her feet.

Over the many months that these scenes span, you see her health decline as the frustration of her son and her doctor continue to rise.

Meanwhile, the featured woman is holding on to her conviction that she cannot walk, holding on to the weight encasing and imprisoning her and holding on to her identity as helpless.


Just down the street from me, a new sign appeared last week advertising a soon-to-be-constructed storage facility. Although I should know better, I was shocked to see one in my area, which is mainly populated with large (and in the cases of the neighborhoods built in the last 15 years, huge) homes, most of which have basements because of the topography. There are few apartments and not many military personal, since it is not located near any of the bases.

In other words, there should not be much of a need for additional storage. But apparently, there is. The storage company’s research must have indicated that these families living in 2,500+ square foot homes need even more space to hold their belongings.

And I wonder how many of those storage units end up like my ex-in-law’s – rarely opened, never inventoried and filled with ever-decaying detritus even as they write a monthly check so that they can hold on to their belongings. Paying rent simply to avoid letting go.

I’m reading a book right now that features a woman who struggles with infertility. My heart ached for her as her hopes and grief grew with each successive miscarriage. I was elated when one pregnancy finally resulted in a healthy baby. Now, I thought, she has what she wants and get busy loving her child and reconnecting with her husband.

But at least so far, it’s not that simple. The woman has trouble appreciating what she has because of all that she has lost. Her attention and energy is devoted to the babies that didn’t make it rather than the one who did. And her grasp on the past is pushing away those who occupy her present.

There is always a cost for holding on.

The choice to keep one thing – an object, a belief, an emotion – always comes at the expense of something else.

It’s scary to let go.

We fear the loss more than we anticipate the freedom of space.

We surround our choice with justifications, clouding our judgement and defending our decision.

We identify with our collections, worrying that by paring them done, we somehow cut off a bit of ourselves.

But there is always a cost for holding on.

Grasping one thing means forgoing another.

It’s scary to let go. But sometimes that opens us up to reach for something better.

The woman in the show finally let go of her belief that she couldn’t walk. And those first few steps, supported by a walker and several attendants, were magical to watch. Her face filled not only with a smile, but with hope and confidence. She released the anchor and set sail on a new life.

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20 thoughts on “The Danger Of Holding On

  1. As usual…this could not have come at a better time. In 31 days I move to Madrid with a one-year visa. I am selling everything…even though I do not know what will follow after those 365 days. So many have asked me why I am not storing my things. You blog feels like the answer I’d been searching to articulate.

    1. How exciting! (And scary, I bet.) Sometimes we need a clean slate so that we leave room for possibility. Can’t wait to see what comes from your adventure:))

    2. Lesley! I’m in awe and a little jealous. This is my dream, but I just can’t figure out a way to support myself while living overseas. But I haven’t given up yet!

  2. It is scary to let go of something that defines your identity. It is interesting that you have given examples where people’s identity have been wound up in being a victim, or feeling helpless, or in struggling. I wonder if it is because they have received attention for their helplessness and it is the attention they find it hard to let go of.

    1. Good observation. With teaching, I’ve found learned helplessness is one of the most difficult behaviors to correct because it does offer some comfort and perceived benefits.

  3. This topic of letting go reminds me of a magnet I recent saw in one of the healthier food chains: Let go or be dragged! Sometimes life or circumstances will ‘force our hands’, so to speak. I had to chuckle, as I related it to having been dragged (i.e ‘forced’ by abandonment and infidelity) to let go of my marriage. A marriage that I can now see in the rear-view mirror as having been destructive all along.

  4. Great post – I always need to be reminded about this when I’m feeling frightened by the future and victimized by the past.

  5. Enjoyed this. It’s interesting about storage space. Is it used by people who have homes with plenty of Things but need more – or people who gad about the place and so don’t have a home for their Things? In any case, Things are a burden, and the more of them you have,the heavier the burden becomes.

  6. Moving can mean so many things in a divorce/separation. I’ve been divorced for some time now and living in the city, my ex picked out. He doesn’t even live here anymore, but somehow I ended up here. Since we share a child together I actually have to get his permission to move. I feel like I moved on all I can, but need to physically move to have my own life again. Hopefully the courts will agree!

    1. Crossing fingers for you! If that doesn’t work, maybe you can resettle in a different area of your city. That’s what I ended up doing and it gave me the fresh start I needed as well as the satisfaction of knowing that I chose it.

  7. Hmmm. You have me thinking. All my possessions are in storage because I have no home of my own. Like a previous comment, I was abandoned and forced from my home abroad three months ago. I’m staying with fantastically supportive friends while the ex argues about how much settlement he will deign to pay me. I have to be patient. Play by the rules.
    But sometimes, just sometimes I think what if? What if I got rid of the lot on ebay and started afresh?
    I can’t afford to do that. I’m much older than previous commenters. I live on a small pension. I want to have a little place of my own with my own things around me- my books, my paintings, my beloved baking bowls for which I don’t have to weigh things because I know so well how the ingredients fill them. I don’t worry these things will remind me of him because they were my property before we met.
    In my case, holding onto these particular things is part of re-establishing myself as me. A me who can choose to do what she wants when she wants. A me who doesn’t have to look for approval from anybody nor take barbed comments and criticism at the way I do things.
    My possessions will be a comfort to me not a burden. I’ve stopped accepting his manipulative, controlling behaviour with his pathetic meagre crumbs of comfort. From now on I’m planning on making myself very comfortable. This is all the adventure I need right now. It’s the most wonderful feeling taking back control of your own life.
    But first I’ll need to buy a bed!

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