Level 5: Letting go
Your relationship with tinnitus really moves on at this level as this is the stage where it starts losing its grip on your awareness. Now you are entering the phase where you can start letting go of your need to monitor it all the time. You begin to regard it as a helpful indicator of how you are feeling, rather than a problem to be solved. What distinguishes this level from previous ones is that your awareness is no longer locked within your inner world. Here you are taking a larger perspective on things. You are able to sit back and witness how your body and mind affect each other, without getting swamped by feelings, reactions or symptoms. There is more space in your awareness. Letting go is the level where there is enough room for you to have an objective look at how tinnitus is intertwined with your life. You are realising that the way you are inside affects the way the world and life seem on the outside. You are becoming able to witness yourself from the outside and know what you are like, rather than just being locked way, unaware, inside your patterns.
This larger perspective and more spacious approach helps you let go. For example, rather than get angry and sit in a stew of boiling reactions, you notice how a situation is affecting you and you are able to work through your own reactions rather than just fling something back at the other person. If something irritates you then you are able to stay in touch with your reaction and process that rather than retaliate.
You recognise that tinnitus will come and go depending on how you are, and this no longer takes up much attention. It has become so NORMALISED that you no longer react emotionally to its comings and goings, and you no longer find it interesting or such an issue anymore.
Up to now tinnitus has had quite a lot of influence over you and your daily life, but here we are entering the stage where you genuinely start having a lot more choice. You can focus on it from time to time, but it is not important. At this level you can may well become bored of it, to be frank, and you start forgetting about it and focussing on other things.
If someone asks you how it is, you have to stop and find it first, before you can answer. It is there but, there is a sense that it is really backing off and getting quieter. Tinnitus has moved out and become a next door neighbour that can be noisy from time to time.
Taking more responsibility for how well you feel, you are now much more on top of how your nervous system reacts.
When a challenging situation comes up that could tip you over into great fury, frustration, despair, tiredness or any of the states of mind that give rise to tinnitus, you now have the ability to chose how you will react.
You can either lose your rag, wobble, get distraught and start fighting against tinnitus all over again, and find yourself spiralling down a level or two. Alternatively you can process it in your own way, or take it to your therapist/bodyworker and get support in releasing your reactions.
At this level you know how to take things off the simmer and switch off. You have learnt to process things in a manageable way, and spend much more time relaxing and looking after your reactions to life.
Taking care of yourself has become second nature. You know your limits and no longer take on too many commitments. You know when you need to put some time aside to get yourself back on track. When you have a set back, increasing confidence in how to manage yourself keeps you calm and motivates you to go in the right direction. In a crisis you know that in a day or two you will feel better again.
Tinnitus has taught you the cost of having a tantrum or stewing in negative thought processes. Because you have become much kinder to yourself, you can stop yourself from flying into a state of overwhelm.
I remember when my tinnitus was bad I was stuck in victim mode a lot of the time. If something terrible happened, I would feel that the world was unfair and I was the unfortunate mug at the end of the line. I would implode and then get really frustrated with myself, sulk, brood and then, as if that wasn’t enough, I would dislike myself for being weak, and not good enough. What a nightmare that was!
These days if something terrible happens, I notice where it affects me in the body. I really get in touch with these feelings and let them take their course over a few hours or days. I notice how my mind reacts, consider what I need, and then set about getting these needs met. That might mean asking for a hug, getting support, or just processing my reactions with a therapist. This approach is so much more manageable and I bounce back readily, rather than exacerbating the problem with spiralling negative reactions. I treat myself well, instead of like a tyrant.
When we can witness our experience instead of being locked up inside it, this creates far more possibilities. Its the difference between, “I am bloody furious,” and “Gosh, that’s interesting, there is some anger there, and I can really feel my jaw clenching, or a feeling like I want to run away.” The first is lost in the emotion of it and can feel pretty overwhelming, whereas the second is much more manageable, has more space and is in touch with the body’s reaction. Getting in touch with the body’s reaction means we can directly meet something we can let go of.
We all have the power to manage ourselves really well. Learning how to do this is one of the huge benefits of therapy work. We learn life skills that make everything more manageable.
We can let go into life more, no longer needing to cling on to our fears so much. I think everything boils down to love or fear. A lot of working through tinnitus is about letting go of fear and embracing a more loving approach to ourselves and the life around us. Just knowing we have support there and that we can rely on a class of tai chi, meditation, chi gung, yoga, is deeply comforting. The extra energy and clarity we get from being more centred and together makes everything more manageable.
At this stage you can sit quietly in a room and become aware of tinnitus and be OK with it. It has become a familiar part of you and that feels fine. Just like being able to sit down, focus on a shoe and become aware of how that feels, at this level you can chose to do the same with the ringing in your ears. There may be a sense of it there if you really try and focus on it, but you do not need to do this anymore. Of course you can feel your shoe all the time its on your foot, but you are not focussing on it, so it is not there in your awareness. Tinnitus can become as important as feeling your shoe!
This is such a useful place to get to with tinnitus because it is here that your perception of it changes and it goes quiet or disappears. You realise that if you are not thinking about it, it is not there. You catch yourself in silence and then looking for it, you recreate it again. You start to experience how fragile, tentative and unimportant the whole symptom is. It really has lost any power over you.
The challenge at this level is to stay friends with tinnitus when something negative brings it back. Do you need to check if it is still there? This is where we need to work on letting go of the need to monitor it. You know it is just a healthy warning, showing you that you need to look after yourself again. It is trying to help you. Appreciate it when it pops up into your awareness and thank it for reminding you to look after yourself a bit more.
What is happening inside you when it appears? This is the most useful enquiry: look into your reaction to the tinnitus rather than the tinnitus itself. What is it telling you about yourself? Are you a perfectionist, full of frustration, pushing yourself too hard? What is the emotional state that is driving this reaction?