Closure Doesn’t Save Us from Grief

goodbyehelloMost of us torture ourselves at some point or another looking for closure regarding a heartbreak. Sometimes it’s something that’s happened with a family member or close friend, often it happens when we’re grieving the loss of a romantic relationship. Here’s the thing. There are some situations we’ll never understand, and our best hope for closure is acceptance of that fact.

It’s completely understandable that we’d want to know why something has happened that’s caused a rift or a split, especially when we feel devastated, bereft, confused and untethered. When these things are left shrouded in mystery, it’s so hard to let go. Sometimes we can’t wrap our heads around why someone is doing what they’re doing, because we’re on the wrong end of displaced rage. Sometimes we’re dealing with someone who’s coming from a totally different place philosophically or emotionally, and we just can’t comprehend what would make a person do, say, want or need whatever it is they’re doing, saying, wanting or needing. Sometimes we’ve blown it, and no matter how much we might apologize, the door is shut with no hope for communication or healing.

Some people communicate well, and others really struggle. There are many people who have a difficult time putting words to their feelings, and sometimes resentment or despair is mounting for ages, and one day it blows up all over the place, leaving us to wonder what’s happened, and why something so small has caused an apocalypse. We only know other people, even those closest to us, to the extent that they allow us to know them. You will only know the interior world of another person if they choose to share it with you. Sometimes, for some people, the truth feels too painful to speak, or it requires the speaker to confront weaknesses or anger they aren’t ready to face. If that’s the case, you’ve cornered a person, and even if you’ve done so inadvertently, it’s not surprising that they’ve lashed out. You can’t force a person to tell you what’s going on in their heart of hearts.

This is like a small version of how we feel when we lose someone through death. We can’t and don’t have all the answers we long for, we don’t have the information that would soothe and reassure us. We are left to hold a space in our hearts for someone we once loved. We’re invited to let the trace of that love soften us instead of harden us. We can carry some of the good stuff forward with us. We can hope this person who’s lost to us is okay, and that they know they were loved. Eventually, we’ll have to accept that some questions will simply go unanswered, and that we’ll move forward, allowing the questions to inspire us to do that with love and compassion for ourselves and other people.

When you’ve done all you can, you have to release your grip on the story, and allow it to unfold on its own. Time does not heal all wounds, but it does lessen the piercing pain of loss. Time also invites us to stop clinging and start living again. You don’t want to lose too much of today making yourself sick over what happened yesterday, last week, or last year. The day is calling, and it has its own fresh mysteries and beautiful potential. Breathe in and breathe out, and trust your heart to heal.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton


We all have our moments when we don’t show up as our highest selves; choices we’d make differently, given the opportunity to choose again. Times when we were tested, and failed in our efforts to handle it well. We have people we’ve hurt, hopefully unintentionally, but also sometimes because we were young and thoughtless, or careless or selfish, or simply didn’t realize who we were yet, or the ramifications of what we were doing. Most people, given the chance to talk freely and safely, will tell you they carry shame around something. It could be the way they parent sometimes. It could be the way they show up in relationships, or don’t. It could be around a specific incident, when they had a choice to make, and regret their course of action. It could be that something happened to them and they feel broken or ugly or marred in some un-fixable way. This is life, this is being human; it isn’t easy, it isn’t always pretty, and sometimes we need help in order to see things clearly.

Shame is debilitating and nothing productive grows out of that feeling. What results is usually self-loathing or a feeling of being totally alienated, or both. You don’t have to share every dark moment from your past, but if you feel the need to hide things from those closest to you, or worse, from yourself, that’s a well of pain you’re going to have to dip into at some point if you want to be free of it. There’s a big difference between healing something so that there isn’t any need to talk about it anymore, and hiding it, running from it, numbing it out, or denying it. There’s a difference between taking your time and building trust with someone before you make yourself incredibly vulnerable, and rejecting pieces of yourself so completely, no one knows they exist, and even you deny them to yourself–rewriting history in your mind, pretending it happened a different way.

There’s something about the internet that makes people feel free to say anything. Sometimes that can be a horrible thing, when people lose all compassion and empathy for the person on the receiving end of their tirade or judgement or cruelty, because they’ve forgotten there is, in fact, a human being at the end of it. Other times, it can be liberating and beautiful, like when an email arrives from someone who shares something with me they’ve been carrying around for years. Maybe their heart is racing and their hands are shaking when they hit “send”, but at the same time, their heart is saying yes, finally. Shame is heavy; dragging it around with you requires a lot of energy and effort, energy that could be used for something productive, like living life in a way that feels good, developing the tools to heal, and realizing you are not broken.

Here’s the thing–the past is over; it can’t be rewritten or redone. If you’ve made mistakes, welcome to the human race. That’s how we learn. You might look back and wish with all your heart you hadn’t needed to learn certain lessons, but I wouldn’t get stuck looking back for too long. The thing is now. Now has a ton of potential, and it’s weightless. Nothing has happened yet. You can start again at any time. If you have regrets, I think it can be a beautiful exercise to apologize when possible, even if it’s ancient history, and you think the other party has completely moved on. You may not get forgiveness in return, but that isn’t the point. You might not even send the apology if you think it would be hurtful to disrupt the person’s life. Like anything else we long for, it really has to come from inside you. Forgiveness, I mean. Sometimes just going through the effort to write a thing down, so it’s not in your head anymore, but there on paper or on your computer screen in black and white, can be enough to cause a shift. If you’re dealing with something that happened to you, writing it down can also be powerful. Expressing your rage or your pain or the many ways this thing has affected you can be freeing. Unhooking your journey from the person who hurt you; it’s the carrying this stuff that gets you. It’s the weight of it.

There are some things that will never be okay, that’s just reality, that’s just life with all of its everything. Maybe there are things you can’t make right no matter how much you’d do or give to have it be otherwise. Maybe you’ve suffered a loss so great nothing will completely heal it, maybe it’s a scar you’re going to bear. It’s the shame you want to release, because shame brings it into the now. Shame takes a thing and makes it part of your present, even if the event or the tendency or the choice is way back behind you in your rear-view mirror. Shame says you’ll never be different and you aren’t capable, and you aren’t worthy of love or joy, and you’ll never get it right. Shame is an anchor and it can also be an excuse not to try, it can suck the try right out of you. Shame lies and it usually travels with guilt, and if you expect to be able to get far with those two as your traveling companions, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. There may be a mess behind you. That doesn’t mean there can’t be beauty out in front of you. Sometimes, you just have to take the wheel.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

What’s Driving You?

Awareness can be incredibly liberating; if you’ve found yourself participating in an unhealthy relationship with someone — your partner, your close friend, your boss, your landlord — and you feel “hooked”, try to figure out what’s happening. Chances are, something deep is being tapped, some very old wound, something from your early history. Don’t think in terms of gender, think in terms of the quality of the interaction, especially if you notice a pattern of interactions that cause you pain when you look back on your life.

Anything within you that is unhealed wants your attention. Anything that is unresolved in your heart is looking for relief. People write to me frequently about toxic relationships they feel unable or unwilling to end, and sometimes it’s so far underneath the surface, they just can’t figure out what it is that has them so imprisoned. It could be that your boyfriend’s inability to commit is echoing your mother’s elusiveness, or that your colleague taps an insecurity within you about your ability to succeed that reminds you of your inability to gain approval from your dad. We’re so close to this stuff, sometimes we really can’t see it, so we just spin; we obsess and feel desperate, and think it really is this other person or situation that’s got us so turned around. Anyone who elicits a strong reaction from you, pleasant or unpleasant, is someone to consider. These interactions are like markers on the path that offer us an opportunity to sit up and take notice. There aren’t too many things in life that make us feel disgusted with ourselves more than the feeling of being out of control, unable to stand up for ourselves, unable to act on our own behalf. Self-loathing is debilitating at best.

When you’re hooked in and you go back for more even though you know it won’t end well, that part of you that’s aching to be healed cries out all over again. You might mistakenly think if you could just resolve the current situation, you’d satisfy that old longing, but it isn’t the case. First of all, you’re probably caught up with someone who is incapable of giving you anything other than what they’ve been giving you; all you’ll do is compound your pain. When I look back on the big heartbreaks of my life, they always resulted from an attempt on my part to rewrite history. Freud called this the “repetition compulsion”. Jung said, “Whatever is rejected from the self, appears in the world as an event.” Einstein on this, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The thing is, if we don’t know what it is we’re doing, what it is we’re trying to solve, we’ll just be acting out, we’ll be following this ancient map that keeps leading us back to pain. Sometimes people tell me they don’t want to sit with their pain all the time. Who would? Why would anyone choose to do that? You don’t have to do it “all the time.” You just have to do it once, but that “once” might take awhile. You need to be able to sit with it long enough to truly understand yourself, to find compassion for yourself, and to grieve or mourn, or be enraged if that’s what you need to do to release the heat of those old wounds. Then your pain doesn’t own you anymore. When it shows up in your life in the form of another person, or situation or opportunity, you recognize it, and since you know all too well where it leads, you take a pass. This unhealthy stuff loses its pull over you. You may go through times when you’re feeling vulnerable or tested, and those old unhealthy desires might resurface for a minute, but they’ll just tug on you, they won’t pull you off your feet anymore. If you do the work to heal (that “work” is personal, but I highly recommend the combination of yoga and therapy, so you flood your system with new information from both the “top-down” and the “bottom-up”), you just won’t want to go down that road anymore. You won’t choose to participate in interactions that cause you pain or drag you back down, because you will have worked too hard to lift yourself up.

Aristotle  gets the credit for this last quote: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3

The World Doesn’t Need Any More of That Sound

Forgiveness is not always easy, and for some people forgiving themselves is harder still. We are all flawed and absurd to some degree. We have our fantasies, desires and messy, confusing history to unravel. Most of us can look in the rearview mirror and spot a few choices we’d make differently, given the chance to go back and make them over again, but life doesn’t move backward. Whatever is behind you has brought you to this very moment, where you find yourself reading these words — where you could, if you wanted to, take a very deep breath right now and exhale out some old pain. You don’t have to keep everything filed away and heavy.

Shame is crippling. It shuts you down and makes you doubt yourself at best, loathe yourself at worst. Shame usually travels with guilt, but you can only ever be where you are. You work with the tools you’ve got until you have better tools, and then you use those. Maybe you can go back and mend some fences; it might not hurt to try, depending on the circumstances; it’s possible something beautiful will emerge. If you’ve hurt people, you can always ask for forgiveness, but eventually, you have to forgive yourself, and use what you’ve learned to do it differently next time. Hopefully as you travel, you have greater resources and a deeper understanding of yourself. Maybe you could throw a little self-compassion into the mix, go a little easier on yourself. If you’ve hurt people, join the crowd of everyone else who’s hurt people. Most of us flail around at some point, grasping at things that don’t exist, or exist only in our minds.

Sometimes we’re in so much pain and darkness, we blindly reach for something we don’t even understand. We want closeness but aren’t ready for it, or some part of us wants it, and some part of us is terrified at the thought of it. When we don’t know ourselves well and we seek intimacy anyway, we’re likely to hurt ourselves and other people, too. It’s not intentional. Most people don’t set out to hurt anyone. Forgive yourself and forgive others as much as you can, but also do your best to get right with yourself so your pain isn’t ruling your life. Sometimes you’ll make a real mess out of things, and sometimes you’ll be on the receiving end of someone else’s confusion. Take good care of your heart, and as best you can, take good care of other people’s hearts. A heart is precious, you don’t want to be reckless with it. Short of that, you might as well celebrate your humanness. Don’t hide it, there’s no point, and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Embrace your whole self, even the absurd parts, maybe especially those. Be vulnerable. You might as well, because you are, just by being human. Be kind to yourself and be kind to others. Learn as you go, and forgive yourself the times when you didn’t and couldn’t know better. What’s in front of you is the thing, that’s where the potential is. Don’t block the road with shame.

Sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here, and my yoga classes and courses here.

Anchors Aweigh

guilttripI grew up with a guy whose mom used to tuck him in at night and say, “Goodnight, honey. I hope I see you in the morning.” This was especially difficult because his dad overdosed and died when my friend, (I’ll call him Rick), was eight years old, so he had a real and understandable fear that he could lose his mother, too. As he hit his teenage years and wanted to hang out with his friends instead of staying home with his mom, she’d say, “Okay, let’s hope this isn’t my last day on God’s green earth!” as he walked out the door. My friend started doing drugs at thirteen, I think mostly to numb out the guilt and underneath that, the rage. Sometimes he’d get drunk and end up crying about all of it. Other times he’d stay home, locked in his room, headphones blaring, because it feels awful when another person tries to make us feel responsible for their happiness or their ability to be okay. It’s too heavy a burden to bear.

Rick went to college in the city, and although he moved out of the house and lived on campus, he went to visit his mom every week and often stayed home on the weekends. He rarely brought a girl home to meet her because no one was ever good enough for him in her eyes, and because she wasn’t especially kind to the girls she did meet. Eventually he met a really lovely woman and they fell in love and decided to get married. At the wedding, his mother stood up and gave a toast, wishing Rick and her daughter-in-law well, even though she and her son’s wife had, “had their struggles”, and she also reminded everyone that she loved her Rick, “first, and best.” It was uncomfortable, to say the least.

One day not too long ago, I got a call from Rick telling me he was losing it. He and his wife have two children, eight and four. Rick’s mom and his wife have had a rough time over the years, but I have to say his wife has been incredibly patient and kind with his mom, and tried every way humanly possible to reassure her that she isn’t “taking Rick away.” They live nearby and see her every weekend, and she comes over at least once a week for dinner. But it seems it’s never enough. Rick called because his mother started saying things to the kids like, “I hope I see you tomorrow”, and both his kids have cried themselves breathless after grandma leaves, asking why she can’t just move in with them so they can keep her safe. So the cycle continues.

Guilt attacks us in two ways. Either we engage with someone who wishes to manipulate us through guilt and we allow that to happen, or we take it on ourselves. Either way, it can be crushing. Rationally speaking, it’s normal to feel guilt if you’ve done something you really wish you hadn’t that ended up hurting someone else. But we all have choices we’d love to make over again, and times when we didn’t act from our highest selves. Just like worry (another very human emotion), guilt won’t get you anywhere, and it won’t help the injured party, either. It’s not a feeling that leads to growth, it’s a feeling that keeps us stuck. It’s draining. Where joy lightens us and makes us feel we could fly, guilt is heavy and it weighs us down like an anchor. Here’s Rick, going home every weekend for years, spending tons of energy trying to be enough for his mom. Trying to hold up the load. You can’t save other people and it’s not reasonable to demand that other people try to save us.

When you experience feelings of guilt, it’s really good to examine what’s happened. Have you actually done something wrong, or are you allowing yourself to be manipulated? If you’ve hurt someone, intentionally or thoughtlessly, own it and apologize with honesty and kindness. That’s all you can do. You’ll be forgiven or you won’t. But you do have to forgive yourself. If you’re participating in a manipulative and controlling relationship, it’s probably time for some healthy boundaries and compassionate conversation. Otherwise the rage builds, and if you push it down, you’ll end up feeling depressed. It’s exhausting to repress those heavy feelings; you won’t have much energy for anything else. Somewhere inside you know you can’t make another person happy. They are or they aren’t, and if they aren’t, they need to get busy. You can be supportive, but you can’t solve it for anyone else.

Vacations are fun, but guilt trips are a waste of time, and even if you pack a bag, you won’t be going anywhere. Anchors aweigh!

Wishing you love, joy, and liberation,

Ally Hamilton