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At this point, you have only one step to work: the first. Therefore, look only at Step One: listing regrets. It will prepare you for the second step: examining regrets. The second step will prepare you for the third: changing toxic thought patterns. And so on through all the steps. The following chapters will lead you through the Ten Steps, with each chapter devoted to a single step. Step One will identify all the regrets you want to let go. Steps Two through Ten will free you from those regrets. You will find that this book is a complete resource for working the steps. Other books, however, have been written about certain aspects of the process of letting go. These books are listed in appendix A, “Recommended Reading,” and are worth examining as well.
“I would let go of my regrets except that...” We tend to resist change that takes effort and that raises our fear level, even if the change will benefit us in the long run. This natural reluctance to change often expresses itself in the excuses we offer ourselves or others for holding onto our regrets. Al-
TEN STEPS TO LETTING GO
though these excuses may feel like reasons, they are not. Reasons are valid explanations of why we don’t want to do something. Excuses are selfserving justifications for why we don’t want to do something. Excuses are meant to sound real, but they do not reflect the actual motive. For example, a person might decline a party invitation by saying that he doesn’t feel well when, in fact, he doesn’t like the host. The dislike of the host is the reason. Not feeling well is the excuse.
When people give a reason for not doing something we have asked them to do, we don’t always believe them. Sometimes we decide that their “reason” is an excuse and treat it as such. But when we are dealing with ourselves, we are likely to believe our own excuses, accepting them as if they were reasons. Hence our journey of letting go begins with an examination of various excuses for holding onto regrets.
Some common excuses are described in the following paragraphs. They are reasons only in the imagination, because they have no validity. Ask yourself whether any of these excuses apply to you and your regrets:
1. “It’s too late to let go of my regret. ” The assumption behind this excuse is that letting go of regret is a function of time. But the passage of time neither improves nor impairs our ability to let go of regrets. Letting go is a function of willingness—the willingness to look at ourselves and to take certain actions—not a function of time. Whether a regret is old or new has no effect on our ability to let it go. The Ten Steps can be applied to any regret of any age with the same positive result.
2. “I cant possibly go back and relive all that again. ” This excuse sounds like a good reason, but it isn’t because of two fatal flaws. The first is that we are already reliving the regret through our refusal to let it go. We do not escape pain by holding onto our regrets. We prolong it. Ironically, the only way to avoid continuously reliving the regret is to relive it but in an organized, purposeful, and supported way so that we can release its pain and let it go. It is true that the trip back may be painful, but the pain will be short lived in comparison to the ongoing pain of holding onto the regret.
The second flaw in the excuse is its implication that you do not have the strength or courage to do the work of the steps. You do. The
strength and courage you need to let go of your regrets will come from working the Ten Steps and using their spiritual and psychological tools. You will be given all the strength you need as you need it. What you cannot anticipate at the beginning of the steps is how much you will be assisted along the way by unexpected forces. various recovery groups attest to this phenomenon. Perhaps it results from the actions taken in working the steps or from applying their spiritual and psychological tools. Perhaps it results from synchronicity, the appearance of meaningful coincidences that provide needed insights, a concept developed by Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychoanalysis. Perhaps it is because the steps make you more open to being helped and more willing and more likely to seek help. Whatever the cause, the result will be a transformed landscape through which to make your journey.
New friends will appear just as you need their counsel, old friends may reappear, and new sources of support will emerge that you could not have imagined when you first began. Coincidences will lead to new insights, unexpected people will encourage you, and events will offer new opportunities for growth and development. Something remarkable happens when you commit to letting go of your regrets and working the Ten Steps.
3. “I cannot forgive what was done to me” or “I could never forgive myself for what I did. ” The flaw in both of these excuses is the suggestion that we can’t forgive, because something about forgiveness is somehow beyond our control. Forgiveness is never beyond our control. When we refuse to forgive ourselves or others, it is because we will not rather than because we cannot. Forgiveness is not a function of personal capacity but of willingness. We can forgive ourselves for virtually anything, just as we can forgive other people for virtually anything. The power to forgive is always ours. Forgiveness in cases of great harm may not come easily, and it may not come quickly, but it will come if we work toward it.