Striving to Fill the Emotional Void

I don’t like the labels ‘alcoholic’ and ‘addict’. They don’t resonate with me or my experiences, and more than that, I think they are derogatory, loaded with negative connotations, and have the potential to prevent a person from fulfilling his or her true potential in life once the addiction to a particular substance has been overcome.

In the last few years I’ve thought a lot about addiction; what makes some people become dependent on a drug or bad habit? And of those of us who’ve struggled in this way, what exactly are we looking for? What’s missing in our lives?

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When I first quit drinking alcohol, I considered religion in a way I’ve never done before. I am a devout atheist but was overwhelmed with a desire to fill up my life with a force much greater than I. The booze had obviously been satisfying a deep emotional yearning and without it, a vacuum yawned open leaving me hollow and empty and totally craving something. But what that something was, I don’t know, and I’ve still yet to find out.

I wonder whether this feeling I often have that something is missing is what propels certain people into addiction. There are many factors at play with regards to developing addictive behaviours, such as genetics and childhood experiences, those who we socialise with during the impressionable teenage years, and life events such as bereavement and divorce. But even taking these things into consideration, I have often thought that this emotional emptiness may not be experienced by all of humanity, and that for some reason, there are particular people who are more aware of it than others.

When I was a teenager I suffered from an eating disorder for many years. I smoked and took drugs and tried very hard to satisfy the inner hollowness, without much success. When I grew older, I put an end to those behaviours and concentrated purely on alcohol, continuing apace in my efforts to satisfy myself, to feel complete. It was only when I quit drinking that I became fully aware of just how much of a vacuum there was inside, and it was then that I began considering religion in a desperate attempt to feel what I thought others must feel – completeness, a sense of belonging and of being human.

I couldn’t get behind religion, although there are strands of Buddhism and Taoism that resonate with me and which I have found comfort in. My pragmatic side has tended to focus on fixing all that is wrong with my world in the hope that by living a more fulfilling life, that silent but ever-present emptiness will be eradicated. And for the most part, I’ve been successful.

However, every so often, a familiar sense of something missing arises, leaving me feeling deeply unsatisfied and emotionally hollow. And it’s then that I wonder, is this what it means to be ‘an addict’ (if we are to utilise that term)? Is there a special quality to those of us who have been drawn into substance misuse? Do we feel an emptiness that others don’t? We’ll never know what goes on inside other people’s hearts and souls – we can only surmise by talking and listening, by sharing our stories, and by opening up and being honest about the way that we feel. In that way, we can discover whether our own experience of being human is mirrored in that of others.

There is still the eternal optimist inside me, who believes that once I have happened upon all the correct components of my own personal life jigsaw and put them in the right place, the hollowness will disappear; at that point, I will feel complete. Maybe there is no such thing as the condition of being ‘an addict’ – perhaps it is simply that we are yet to get everything right in our lives, that we have still to work out what our individual recipes for perfection are. And when we get that right, the emptiness will vanish. For the time being, I am still choosing to believe in that.

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8 thoughts on “Striving to Fill the Emotional Void

  1. I liked this post and I too hate the word alcoholic as it brings to mind a certain image of someone who has lost all their senses and hangs out on a bench. I think I tried to fill my emptiness with wine and vodka binges but it ended up with me not being able to stop for days and becoming very ill.

    I too have sat in AA meetings trying to find a higher power and a sense of purpose and I think you are right when you say that the more you grow as a person in sobriety, the less empty you will feel. I also agree that there is a type of person who feels the emptyness more than others and they are probably more inclined towards addictive behaviour. I am trying to enjoy being sober this time round, instead of wishing I could just have one…that way lies misery!

  2. I haven’t been commenting much anywhere being completely overloaded at work lately but I had to stop and read this, and then comment. So much of what you put in a few paragraphs really resonated with me. The not liking the lifelong label of addict or alcoholic, needing to fill a void, almost wanting to be religious and exploring that whole option as a way to trade self-destructive habits for more productive ones, going from an early eating disorder to later addictions. Religion is not going to work for me, and I don’t want to go back to being anorexic, so it will have to be something else that pulls me out of this. I am almost just as worried about taking on some other obsession or addiction as I am worried that I won’t be able to quit alcohol at all. What good is it if I quit alcohol but become a spending addict and lose my family or become bulimic? It’s so bizarre to me how many of us have such similar stories. It all but convinces me that it has to do with certain brain functions or chemical balances (or imbalances) that predisposes some of us to take things to the level of obsession, and whether it’s with alcohol or washing our hands 6 times in a row or hoarding or other obsessive behavior depends more on our life experiences. Scary, but there has to be a way out that’s productive, why can’t we obsess about useful things?

  3. Running From the Booze says:

    If stillness or lack of mental chatter is what you mean by void then I think I know what you mean. I’m just starting to get used to just sitting in the stillness.

  4. Loved this article…I am just sure that our brains are wired differently from others & that we were born with the predisposition of alcoholism & the circumstances were just right for us to become one.

  5. Selfish, self-centered to the extreme…I used to be offended by these words…but now, I really like to remind myself of this…it gives me the impetus I need to get outside of the void and be of service to others…the void disappears. ❤

  6. Amethyst says:

    One of the most thought provoking and well articulated posts I have read to date conveying the very feelings I have experienced. Everything! Right down to the religious aspects. I am seeking the spirit within my own being, my own wellness, my own healing, peace and happiness.
    The vast well of selfish, I like to call it, delves deep within. The emptiness in this vast vortex has had, and still has me spiraling at times. It gets overwhelming and I have come to realize when I take “me” or “I” out of many daily equations and try to clear myself and my mind of selfish thoughts, the spiraling into the void is so extreme, I feel as though my body is actually free falling.
    I have found meditation to work wonders. Sitting and breathing are a blessing. Letting the mind go quiet and focus on a positive thought, a picture in the mind if you will, of a woman (myself) walking along a beach, smiling serenely, and the words “Feeling full, loved and peaceful” as my mantra. Saying these very words over and over, When the meditation comes to its end my body feels relaxed and with an almost euphoric sense of fullness. I have likened this to a spiritual experience.

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