Sitting With Absence or How to Let Go of the Wrong Things Even Before You Know What’s Right

Published by Elephant Journal on June 15, 2020 titled “Letting Go is F*cking Hard” at

God I tried to make it work for me.  To make my job the area of my life that brought me the validation I was looking for.  I needed a goal, something to strive for, some area I could point to and say, “See?  I am a success!”  So much of it felt like a fight, nothing about it came easily to me.   I was always fighting something or someone — whether it was a policy that I thought was bullshit or a person that I thought was stupid.  I was the only smart one and the only one working hard enough.  (Sidenote: I should mention that I was also the only one without a life and thus nowhere else to divert my energies except into making the lives of the people I worked with miserable.)  So I clawed and I scratched and I moved ahead.  I advanced and my parents were proud of me.  And I liked what my business cards said.

Where did I think that I was going?  How would I ever know if I’d gotten there?  And what would happen once I did get there?  These were the questions I never asked because had I asked them, I would have seen that I was building a tower of a life that was top heavy and soon to collapse in on itself if I didn’t start paying attention.

I do not always know what is right, but I’m at a place now where, if I listen, my body will tell me definitively if something is wrong.  Without knowing why, I have to concede that when I cried in a meeting with my boss about our plans for me moving forward, my body was telling me: this is wrong.  Consciously I was onboard with our plans. I understood me moving into this role made the most sense, but my shoulders were getting tighter, my posture was getting stiffer, and one wrong move and I knew it was all over.  I’ve had similar experiences in romantic relationships when my head still believes it’s in love but my body no longer wants to be touched.  In both situations, my body knew first.

And it’s hard.  Watching my company rebuild without me.  Staying behind because this is what I wanted, right?  Well no, I have no idea what I want, I just know, that in the moment, I cried.  I didn’t want that, what was being offered.  And so, with nothing to rush in and fill the void, and nothing to direct my energy to to avoid feeling like I’m missing out, I’m stuck just sitting with absence.  Staring at the space where once before there was a career or relationship that I could point to to orient myself.  To tell anecdotes about so people felt they “understood” me and could pinpoint my trajectory in relationship to themselves.  (Because isn’t that all any of us are doing when we ask each other at parties, “So, what do you do?”)  So now, it’s just me.  Here I am, with no answers to give as to why I am standing still (alone) as the parts of my life that are no longer mine (because I let them go) move on without me.

Absence, though uncomfortable, is not something to be avoided or afraid of.  It’s awful.  It’s the bringer to light of all of our discomfort that we have avoided, sometimes, for years.  Absence feels.  Even though you think that it shouldn’t.  Even though this is the one sensation you think shouldn’t feel like anything, it does.

More often than not, for me absence feels like reaching.  But this is just my reaction to the sensation — when something itches, we scratch it, right?  Reaching is my denial of what is and my refusal to accept the here and now.  It is the enactment of the belief that I need (and am in control) to change it.  So instead of sitting with my bruised ego or lonely heart (what if he was the one???), I’ll look for something to reach for — accolades, validation, another body.  But the scary, pain-staking alternative I finally see after years of reaching, is to finally stop running from the result of my actions, the result of having let go of something wrong for me.  I can now (on the days I’m feeling strong, I’m only human after all) allow for mere moments at a time, the absence to spread out, to stop trying to contain it or stuff it down, folding it into the smallest possible size and stuffing it into a pocket of myself I never visit, hoping to forget its existence entirely.  I am in the midst of this right now.  I do not have an answer as to what happens on the other side of absence, but I believe that settling in in this moment of fear and uncertainty is one of the first times I’m not just letting go of what’s wrong and instead, actively choosing what’s right.

Published by Pam Stewart

I am a writer living in Victoria, BC, Canada. I got my start in spoken word and am now a frequent contributor to Elephant Journal. My writing is the result of a deep dive into the world of self-help. I don't profess to know how others should do it, but am interested in having the conversation. I think there is real value in revealing our blindspots, our vulnerabilities and our fears; which is what I am trying to do through my essays on mindfulness, self-exploration, and living honestly. I have found God through writing, which is to say, I have found myself through writing. My book, I Really Thought It Would Be Easier Than This, is available now.

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