THE BLOG
06/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Letting Go: In Life and Recovery

People often complain about the airlines. Not me. Not anymore.

These days, I give the airlines a big thank you for giving me the chance to practice the important concept of letting go on a regular basis.

When I check my bag before a flight, I let go, accepting the fact that I might never see my suitcase or its contents ever again. As I wait in the long security lines, I realize that there is nothing I can do to speed up the people in line ahead of me, and I let go. Upon arriving at my gate, I let go again when I learn that the airplane is experiencing technical difficulties. When I board the plane and we sit on the runway for a couple of hours as a result of even more technical difficulties -- you got it -- I let go. When I get off the plane at Gate A1 and discover that my connecting flight is all the way over at Gate Z999 (and I have 5 minutes to get there), I let go all over again.

When it comes to the inevitable challenges that arise while traveling the friendly and unfriendly skies, I have two options:

1. I can get upset, angry, and anxious about things that I cannot change (I don't know the first thing about fixing a jet engine!), or 2. I can let go and focus on what I can change (Yet another helpful application of the Serenity Prayer*).

I hate to admit it, but when I first began traveling for my work, I usually chose option 1. After hearing bad news over the loud speaker at an airport, I would become upset and increasingly more anxious as I thought about the worst possible scenarios for that particular situation. Sometimes I was even rude to the innocent airline officials who were assigned the tough job of delivering the bad news.

While I was being rude, I would notice that some passengers did not seem to be negatively affected by the issue-at-hand. These were the passengers who would laugh and smile after hearing the message that the flight had been delayed for yet another three hours. I gravitated toward this bunch to investigate. I had assumed that these people had flexible travel plans -- those passengers who always volunteered to give up their seat in the event of an overbooked flight in exchange for a free ticket voucher or something. But this wasn't the case. This crowd was on a tight schedule and had just as many deadlines and important meetings as the rest of us. I wondered, "What is their secret?"

Letting go. These people had accepted that they usually could not change much about the situation at hand, except their attitude. By choosing to keep a positive frame of mind and by remaining calm, they seemed to be able to make better decisions about next steps following airline mishaps. While I was getting mad about a canceled flight, they were the ones on their cell phones talking to the airlines about scheduling a new flight. Getting mad got me a headache, and letting go got them a new flight.

Letting go is something I had learned to do during treatment for my eating disorder. Could I do it in an airport?

A true gift of my recovery has been applying what I learned in therapy for my eating disorder to my everyday life. Years ago, the concept of letting go helped me to stop binging in airports. Now, after lots of practice, letting go helps me to remain centered and kind while traveling. My different response to the same issues has made all of the difference.

Letting go not only makes a difference in airports, but also in waiting rooms, on the roadways, and in the home. Practice letting go right now, wherever you may be.

* Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
-- Reinhold Niebuhr

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