How To Deal With Emptiness
How To Deal With Emptiness
When a loved one suffers from addiction, it’s easy to feel emptiness. Often we try to fill that void by looking for approval outside of ourselves, and maybe even from unhealthy relationships.
Listen to the podcast episode here:
Read the transcript and find more details here:
Since the beginning of time, I have had a history with emptiness. As a little girl growing up in Canada, I always felt empty.
Sometimes emptiness for me feels like low-grade depression. Sometimes emptiness for me motivates me to be incredibly curious. And sometimes, it looks like ambition because I’m driven to fill the emptiness and to fill that void.
And so I’m always continually trying to fill that emptiness.
Sometimes even, emptiness looks like excessiveness. So I’ll buy extra groceries that I don’t need, or overeat, or over commit to something.
I’ve always struggled with it, and I didn’t actually know that the word emptiness could describe my heart until I was in high school. In a therapy session, the therapist asked me, “Michelle, what’s the one word you would use to describe yourself?”
And I think when she asked me she was expecting me to say something positive because I was always a very outgoing, bubbly girl. But I really sat with that for a moment on the couch, and I sunk into that question, and I thought empty. I’m just always empty.
Often, the destructive behaviors that we create in our lives take root because of our emotional voids – the emptiness inside of us.
As I got older, I turned to my boyfriend to fill my emptiness. I needed him a little too much. I needed the approval of my parents or my friends, a little too much. I turned to everybody on the outside to fill that emptiness inside of me.
And I know the emptiness is one of the reasons I ended up in a relationship with a man who struggles with addiction because when he wasn’t struggling with addiction, he loved me very well and would be so tender thoughtful. I almost became addicted to that kind of love, the way he loved me. And I wanted it all the time.
Obviously, when somebody struggles with addiction, they can’t give you that kind of love all the time, but I kept waiting for it. I kept waiting for it like a little shot of alcohol.
I would always be waiting for that moment where he would notice me and make me feel so incredibly good and be so incredibly kind and fill up my heart. That would last me days or weeks or sometimes months while he was struggling with his addiction.
And then I would be waiting and waiting again to see when he would fill my void. That was part of what my codependency looked like with him, but it wasn’t until later on in life that I learned how to stop turning towards the outside to quit feeling empty.
It happened to me in a moment.
I live in Florida and my family and I love botanical gardens, and there’s one close to our house. So I would take my kids, give them walkie talkies, and they’d play hide and seek in these botanical gardens with their walkie talkies.
It was a very simple and inexpensive way to spend the afternoon. And I remember when we got to the botanical gardens, they all spilled out of the car with their walkie talkies and ran into the gardens.
I remember feeling the locked gate. And so as long as I sat by the gate, I knew they were safe and sound. And I thought I’m so happy. I was sitting, looking at all of the beautiful Palm trees and the flowers. And I could hear the birds along with my kids’ laughter.
In the next couple of hours, we ate a picnic I packed with sandwiches and chips. And it made me feel the opposite of empty, which is full. What made me feel full wasn’t the sandwiches. It wasn’t the trees. It wasn’t even the beautiful setting. And it wasn’t even my kids.
What made me feel full, without emptiness, was being present and being grateful.
It didn’t take any kind of achievement for me to feel full. It wasn’t about worrying about the future. It wasn’t about thinking about the past. It wasn’t about thinking about what people thought of me or how they judged me. It was just being present in that moment and being grateful.
Because I’ve been exactly where you are, I know how hard it is to be present and in the moment and grateful when you love somebody suffering from addiction. I get it. If what I just said made you want to throw up, I don’t blame you.
I’m going to challenge you a little bit and say, I still think you can try and find moments to set aside emptiness and feel full.
It’s hard not to worry about our future.
And it’s hard to be present when the person we rely on and love is so unpredictable.
One minute they’re telling you, I’m going to get sober. We’re going to do this together. I love you. You’re super convicted that this time their sobriety is going to stick.
But there’s also a part of you in the back of your mind wondering, is it really though? Is this really going to be it? Or am I going to be disappointed again? It’s hard not to worry about if they don’t get sober, what’s going to happen to you? What’s going to happen to your family? How are you going to survive? Not just emotionally, but financially, right?
I get that. It’s difficult not to worry about your future. I get that it’s challenging not to harbor resentment for the past. It’s really hard not to think about the resentment of the past and all the mistakes and lies that have been building up and building up inside of you.
Can you be present with the past bubbling up within the anxiety of the future? What about the critical people in our lives telling us that somehow our partner’s addiction is our fault? That if we just did this one thing, it would be so helpful to them to get sober.
If we thought about leaving, we’re judging ourselves. There’s so much judgment for staying, for loving them, for hating them. The judgment we have on ourselves when we love somebody with addiction is ridiculous.
And also let’s be honest, the judgment we have on them: why can’t they just get sober?
Why can’t they get their act together?
This is their choice. How can they do this to me? They’re ruining our relationship. They’re being such a crappy parent. They’re going to lose their job. They’re hurting everyone in your life.
Those statements are the truth, but they’re judgment calls. There’s tons of judgment around this. How can we quiet ourselves from all that noise and all that anxiety and anger and worry and resentment and be present in the garden and be grateful? How does that happen?
Well, no one’s going to do it for you. That’s number one. You’re not going to have some guru come out of the bushes and say let me walk you through this.
It takes a conscious effort.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s okay. It takes practice. And even when you practice and practice and practice, some days you’re going to nail it. And some days you’re just going to be like, I can’t get there. I’m too pissed. And that’s okay too.
So try to overcome the emptiness just for a moment. Try to put yourself in a position where you can be present and be grateful.
So if you’re sitting in a dirty house, dirty dishes, and beer bottles everywhere, that’s probably not going to happen. But you’re in control of your body, and you’re in control of where you are at any given moment. So get yourself someplace within reason that you can be present and be grateful.
Even if it’s the bathtub, light a candle and put on music. If it’s painting, grab some canvas at the art store and find a spot on the beach.
Maybe it’s even your car. I had so many grateful moments where I felt full, rocking out in the car, and driving with the windows down. Create those moments; stop waiting for the people around you to help you feel them.
You get to decide. You get to dictate what your life looks like.
You get to choose your environment all the time.
And if you’re telling me, well, not really. I have to go to work. Yeah, really. You get to choose your work. You get to choose where you work. You can choose something else. You can choose another job. You can choose to be in another environment. That’s a decision.
I’m not saying quit your job and go somewhere else without a plan. But you can start looking if you’re not happy in your environment. It’s time that you recognize you have to take your power back from all of the people and places that you’ve given it to.
It’s time you’re being called to live a better life. You are being whispered to change things up. That’s why addiction showed up in your life. And it’s time you answered the calling.
It’s time that you start committing to asking, what do I want? What makes me happy? And how can I start to feel full? How can I get unstuck from feeling empty all the time?
You’re going to get there by conscious effort and work.
It has nothing to do with getting your loved one sober, nothing at all. You can get to that destination if they get sober or not because you are powerful. Because you are courageous and because this is your one life to live.
So live it well and take back your power from this disease and from everyone else who you’ve given it away to.
Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.
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