When You Have to Walk Away

Nobody likes to give up.

Many of us will continue to push for “as long as it takes,” pursuing a goal, a vision, a dream. It’s not a habit unique to training and performance goals. And it’s not necessarily a problem…

…Until it is. Not all goals are attainable, and goals change over time. If we don’t let things go, that’s when we run the risk of making ourselves unduly tired, stressed, or even ill, in pursuit of a goal that is never going to materialize, or that we don’t even want anymore.

I’m sorry to say I fell into this trap. But I’m not talking about the one you’re thinking of.

I’m not talking about training too hard, pushing my body to adapt when it clearly didn’t have the resources, as I did from 2017-2019. I’m not talking about my goals for athletic performance that were, in hindsight, so obviously sliding out of my reach the more I asked of my exhausted body. All of that was happening slowly, quietly, nearly invisibly. I’m talking about something happening much more in the open.

I’m talking about my relationships with people and place, that suffered so much from 2017-2019. This is an idea I’ve already explored in my Mosaic series, and in my essay Wanderlove. I’m revisiting the idea now, with a new question in mind:

What finally made me leave?


I have a close friend who is currently struggling to get out of an abusive romantic relationship. Nothing hurts like watching somebody you love experience trauma. I listen to them tell me about all the potential they see in this person, and all the ways they themselves could be a better partner, and I know there’s nothing I can do to lift that veil for them, because I’ve lived it myself.

When we love someone, even someone who is treating us poorly, it is natural to not want to give up on them, give up on “us.” In 2017 got myself into a situation that came to feel like quicksand, all because I had a group of very good friends whom I cared very much about, and I made them a promise. I promised we could, together, face the challenges that were coming to us.

And when they challenges came, I stuck to my promise. For too long.

Long enough to make me very ill. Long enough that the anxiety eventually sapped me of the things that made me feel like myself. I stuck to my promise for so long, the emotional stress contributed to my decline into Over Training Syndrome.

A year later, I’m still experiencing symptoms of trauma, flashing back to intense moments, breaking down at unexpected triggers. The health consequences continue to impact me.

Emotional trauma matters. Don’t discount its power.


Though it causes me pain to say, there are some situations that cannot be rectified. There are some rifts that will never mend, gaps that will never close. To keep trying is actually to extend the pain and suffering for everyone. Sometimes you have to walk away.

I probably could and should have walked away earlier, but in hindsight, I’m just glad I got out eventually. I broke my promise, but I learned something about promises too. I should have promised that I would use every tool in my arsenal to help us through the challenges ahead. I should never have promised that “we would make it,” because I can’t promise anything on someone else’s behalf, and I cannot guarantee that I am capable of anything in the unknown future.

Like so much that has happened in my life over the last year, the nudge that really got me thinking seriously about walking away came in a flash of intuition; a voice in my head.

It happened in November of 2018. One year ago.

I was on the summit of a mountain, waiting.

Waiting for something that I should have long ago given up on.


I suppose you could say I’d reached my final straw, but it didn’t feel like that. I wasn’t angry. For the first time in a year, I wasn’t angry. I just saw with clarity that the people I was trying so hard to love were only getting farther away from me. And I realized that I wanted to let them go.

Sometimes, “giving up” is an act of love. Sometimes letting go is not a last resort, but an offering. I had to see it that way, because I knew I was leaving something I had wanted with all my heart. And I knew all of us were in for more pain before things got better.

If you’re struggling fruitlessly in a relationship, whether it’s with other people or with yourself and a goal, you can walk away from it. It’s not failure. Sometimes walking away is the best possible thing you can do. Give yourself that right, extend that hand of friendship to yourself.

I did. It was one of the best decisions I made that year.


  1. Those moments of clarity are invaluable. Thank you for sharing where you’re at. Hugs. Angel

    Angel Mathis, Boldly Went. Sent from field recorder.



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