By: Marilyn L. Davis
“It was not the feeling of completeness I so needed, but the feeling of not being empty.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated
What is Wrong with Me? I’m Empty Inside
From childhood on, many addicts have felt a sense that something was missing in them. They just did not measure up to the expectations of their parents, siblings, teachers, or friends, but just as importantly, they did not feel good about themselves even when they did well at something.
They may have heard negative messages about themselves, often times for things like hair coloring, height, or other physical aspects that they couldn’t control. In turn, they may have felt rejected even by the people who said they loved them.
If Only I Had…That Would Fill the Void
For many addicts, childhood memories created doubt from conflicting messages. For those growing up in an addicted family, many words went unsaid. Mothers and fathers chose drugs and alcohol over the needs of their children, fostering a belief for some that their needs were unimportant to their parents.
Sometimes there was a focus on a particular thing that if we got it, we would feel better about ourselves. For instance:
- A better bike
- Prettier hairdo
- Nice clothes
- Parents that were more like so-and-so
- Athletic abilities
- Better grades
- Faster cars
- Luxury homes
- Prestigious job
In some cases, a new bike was purchased, and nothing happened to the insides; there was still an emptiness or void, and they still felt less than. New clothes and a trip to a real beauty shop for the first day of school, yet even that did not help, as it seemed that others without these benefits looked as if they felt better about themselves than the addict did.
Filling the Void, the Crash Still Followed
Even without a painful childhood; having a home filled with love, doing well in school, enough athletic ability to play on the high school team, or cheer on their friends, these accomplishments still only touched the void for a moment, and then there was the letdown, once again.
That feeling of being flawed inside; like an impostor playing football and cheering. There did not seem to be a balance.
Using Fills the Void or Helps Us Forget It
Are some of us trying to manufacture a feeling of completeness about ourselves by numbing the feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, or incompleteness with drugs and alcohol? There is a theory that the experience in the womb; perfect for the most part, set some of us up for this sense of loss, hardship, and dissatisfaction with life. If you think about it, you did not have to worry about being fed; it was automatic; no harsh sounds or lights and you just floated; connected to your mother via a life-sustaining cord.
Then the reality of birth: pain, noise, and discomfort. Could some of us be trying to recreate that unequaled state of pre-birth bliss with drugs and alcohol, or medicate our pain and void with food or process addictions?
The Gaping Hole
In the West, feeling “empty” equates to an adverse condition. Psychologist Clive Hazell attributes feelings of emptiness to problematic family backgrounds with abusive relationships and mistreatment. He claims that some people who are facing a sense of emptiness try to resolve their painful feelings by becoming addicted to a drug or obsessive activity (be it compulsive sex, gambling or work) or engaging in “frenzied action” or violence.
If It Is a Quart Low, I’ll Take a Gallon
On the surface, this makes sense to an addict, if they are a quart low, use a gallon to correct the problem. More of something sounds like the right approach to the void.
By using substances in the quantities that most of us did, we became addicted to them and in turn; they began to cause harm far exceeding the void we felt.
I Would Welcome a Void – I Am Too Full of Feelings
For others, it is not about an empty place inside, it is a place that is too full of emotions, memories, and beliefs that cause pain. Someone that is also full of guilt, shame, and anger, and it overflows and feelings flood the individual’s system.
Sometimes, these emotions are simply too much to handle. It is a feeling of wanting to jump out of our skin, be somebody else for a day, or quiet the noise in our heads. There is just too much going on inside. Alcohol and drugs quiet the noise and lessen the feelings, and numb the person.
Illusions about Others
Most of us have created illusions about how okay, together, and capable everyone else is that there is no way to test them or ourselves.
Some of our illusions about them might include:
- They do things better than I do – if so, learn from them
- I don’t have the things they have– if so, ask them how to save or acquire things
- Their recovery looks easy – if so, ask them for advice when you complicate things
We just don’t take the time to ask them if they are okay with themselves or are they struggling with things, too. Most of us are genuinely surprised when we do risk asking someone if they struggle, or are afraid.
For the most part, struggling and feeling afraid happen to everyone; therefore, we can learn from anyone if we’ll only risk asking for advice.
Finding Value Within Yourself
A natural pearl begins its life as a foreign object, such as a parasite or piece of shell. The irritant can then be transformed into a beautiful pearl. Just as a beautiful pearl is the result of this irritation, we transform into a better person in our recovery, casting off the metaphorical irritant of addiction.
We Have No Voids, and We Can Relieve the Too Full
How many meetings have you attended where people state, “And I’m okay with me, today.” When we can learn to be okay with our emotions and ourselves, we do not see the void as the bottomless pit that needs filling with anything, anyone, or everything and everyone.
Nor do we succumb to the noises that would tell us that we are less than, imperfect and flawed; so damaged that no healing will occur. The problem is that just as with the void, using substances turn on us and fills us even more with regret, remorse, and recriminations.
We heal from our addiction and learn that we have ways to cope with any emotion, the passing notions of emptiness and too full. Recovery helps us become okay with ourselves, neither too full nor too empty.
We are simply okay today.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart
You might wonder how I went from Addict 2 Advocate. It’s in my book, Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.