What I’ve learnt about leaving


I have done a lot of leaving in the past couple of years. Two jobs, a marriage, a home and three cats. Listing them like that makes it sound easy, but each one was a wrench. Each one made me afraid of losing something irreplaceable; each one was filled with the sadness of loss; and each one made me feel guilty for the pain or trouble I caused those left behind.

Now I know there is a pattern to leaving. First comes the thinking beforehand – testing your intentions and motivations. Are you doing it for the right reasons? Is it fear driving you, or unreasonable expectations of the situation? Have you really done everything possible to fix the current situation?

The thinking becomes a refrain in your brain, settles in, takes up many of your waking hours. It becomes familiar and inescapable, and eventually, undeniable.  

So you make the decision. But rather than relief in having made it, there’s the anxiety of having to act on it. Change always seems like a good idea beforehand, but when you’re in the midst of it, it’s painful and scary and fills you with doubt.

It’s as though the whole time you’re trying to move forward, there’s a weight on your feet, trying to hold you back.

But you take the steps anyway.

Then there’s the ending itself. The sadness of goodbyes; the grief of of loss. You can’t skip this step; it’s the price of attachment; the cost of getting involved. If you love something or someone, then you’ll have to grieve the loss of it, whether that takes a day or a year.

Then there’s the first, tentative excitement of the next phase. Like Missy Higgins says in the song ‘Steer’, you ‘taste it and roll it on your tongue’. You get the distinct feeling that this was the right thing all along. You are heartened.

But there is a gap between the messy, in-the-moment, grief and loss, and the exciting, maybe-this-is-working moment of acceptance. And that’s where a lot of the learning happens. When you’re making sense of it all, you learn things about yourself, the world, life and all its complications and consolations.

Then there’s the after. In the next phase, you know the hardest part is over because you are actually happier than before. The pain and sadness and loneliness that drove you from your marriage – that’s lifted. The feeling of not being in the right place, doing the right thing, that you felt at your job – that’s gone. The dissatisfaction of with living in a house that became oppressive and isolating – it’s over.  

You’ve paid a price for it, of course. You lost things you loved – from the cats to colleagues. Your body fell apart under the stress. You may never quite shake the guilt about the pain you caused. But the cost is worth it.

Because there is no better feeling than the certainty, deep in your bones, that you are in the right place, doing the right thing with your life, at this moment.

That moment won’t last forever. Things move on, your certainty fades, your need for growth will make you hungry for the next change. But right here, right now, you can finally sit down and think, ‘yep, I am exactly where I am meant to be’.

By Belinda White 

photo credit: DSC07174 via photopin (license)

  1. And if before you leave, you’ve done everything you can to deal with the hard bits and still can’t fix them, then the leaving is just the next logical step.

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