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?


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.

Love is all you need

I feel so strongly that we, as human beings, should always strive to help one another. It saddens me when I am faced with a person who is devoid of empathy or compassion, for what do we amount to as a species if we cannot say that we love and care for humanity? Thinking about other people also helps us, in that we can grow as individuals when we take the time to think of others. We become less wrapped up in our own issues, more concerned with what is happening in other people’s lives.

The Dalai Lama said that ‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.’

I don’t consider that people who are morbidly obese or who drink too much or who compulsively gamble or who sleep around, are happy and in control of their lives. When any addiction rules your life it is because of entrenched insecurities or an emotional need which has been left unmet. It is not because the gambler or heavy drinker wishes to ruin their life and the lives of those around them. It is not as a result of choice – rather, it is down to powerful urges and the desire to feel complete, emotionally full and ‘normal’ in a world which judges too frequently.

After indulging in whatever one’s addiction may be, the need returns sooner or later and it does so with increasing force. Over time it grows ever-more difficult to ignore. As the years pass, that compulsion strengthens until it defines an addict and they are perceived as nothing more than ‘a gambler’ or ‘a drinker’ or ‘an over-eater.’

We humans are not without our flaws; emotions and hormones and our genetic make-up combine to establish certain weaknesses that we must, if we are to be happy, learn to conquer. There is no-one on the planet who is not beset by a fault, an issue that impacts negatively to some degree on the rest of their life.

And so, when a person feels compelled to judge those who are outwardly suffering from an addiction, assuming that they are in full control of their actions and should simply ‘pull themselves together’, I would say this;

Nobody is perfect. Life makes us what we are, but if we’re afforded the benefit of compassion, kindness and love from the world around us, we have a fighting chance of becoming the person we should be, the one who is hiding beneath the layers of negativity, the one that people have never seen. What is wrong with accepting that human beings are susceptible to weakness and inner struggles? Why can’t we all show tenderness to people who are not yet in the emotional place we feel they should be?

With love and understanding we can help each other find a happy place where the need to seek contentment from without can be eradicated by the shared knowledge that true joy only ever stems from within.

Life Goes On

There was a time when I would never have believed I’d be sitting here writing about how I beat alcohol addiction in my mid-thirties. Wine was such an integral part of my life that imagining my existence without it there on the kitchen side, cork removed, silently breathing, the reassuring tinkling of liquid as it flowed into a large wine glass, hazy nights and regretful mornings never complete without the obligatory pounding head and collection of empties to clear up off the coffee table would have been akin to considering spending a day without air.


I’m used to not drinking now. I know the feelings of sadness and hurt – I know when I’m angry and happy and bored and frustrated. I understand myself and have felt each and every emotion as it seeps through my entire being and just is – no anaesthetic and no disguises.

Occasionally I feel as though I might burst, the intensity of raw sentiment wells up and the knowledge that I can’t get rid of it, treat it with something, force it out of myself is overwhelming. It takes practice to learn how to deal with those moments.

Every once in a while there’s a blow to the heart that hurts so much it feels like a thousand little punches to the chest. If you resist a drink, the pain won’t instantly disappear – sobriety is not the giver of eternal happiness, silently moving in to mop up the tears and wrap you in comfort. Feeling your emotions without using alcohol to wash them away like driftwood lost to the tide means knowing highs and lows. The lows remind me of grieving elephants, engulfed by their sadness; the highs are paradise on earth, taking me by joyful surprise whenever one comes along.

Being sober means living through emotions, and finding the strength and dignity to cope with the rough and the smooth. It takes time to get it right but it is, in my opinion, well worth the fight. Once in a while I feel so much pain that it catches my breath and I think I might be choking on air. But it passes soon enough, logic and resilience return and I move on. And the next day brings a fresh start – which will forever be preferable to waking up to the legacy of the previous night’s alcohol frenzy.

‘Life goes on’ actually means something when you are sober; it’s a truism.

Happy Memories of Electric Whisks

I was 23 and pregnant with my eldest daughter, now almost fourteen, when my grandma died. She had lived with us since I was nine years old, with my grandpa (prior to his death, when I was sixteen years old), parents and older sister. Even before my grandparents moved over to join us in Sheffield from their Lincolnshire bungalow, we were very close. My sister and I were thrilled when they, along with our parents, made the decision to buy a house in Sheffield and for us all to live together.

Me, aged about six, with my lovely grandparents

My grandma suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in her last years, and when she finally passed away, she no longer knew who I was. I visited her in the nursing home where she saw out her final months when I was several months pregnant, and although she demonstrated happiness at the news of the impending baby, she had no idea that my soon-to-be-born daughter was her great grandchild. She died soon after that visit.

Life moves on; my baby was born and I married my (now ex) husband a few months later. Although I was extremely sad that I had lost my beloved grandma, I was so caught up with the hectic schedule that accompanies being a new mum and wife that I buried my grief to a degree in order to concentrate on the here and now.

As the years went by, the memories became increasingly distant, pushed to the back of my mind. I began to drink heavily in my late twenties, attempting to anaesthetise myself against the pain of my divorce and the sadness I felt at being left to raise my daughter without her dad around. All the negative events that I had experienced during my life prior to then, including the death of my grandma, gradually whittled away to minor grievances, diluted by wine, numbed by my drunkenness. Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling.

When I gave up drinking alcohol, and the weeks of sobriety turned in to months, I began to think a lot about stuff that I had interred, long ago, in the depths of my consciousness. I became aware that most of the sad or painful life experiences which had occurred earlier on in my life, had never been ‘dealt with’ – instead of feeling emotional pain, living it, working through it and then moving forward, I had just drunk those emotions away, blotting them out like an eclipsed sun. I had, effectively, never known true pain.

I had lived through things as though I were an automaton, forbidding myself to feel emotions like a human being should, boxing painful memories away like disused ornaments in a dusty attic. Drinking took away my ability to hurt.

But slowly, emotions have returned. Over the last few months, particularly after the birth of my second daughter, I have thought of my grandma frequently (our baby is the namesake of my grandma and of my partner’s mother). Silly things remind me of her; an M&S nighty hanging on an old lady’s washing line; re-reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’; whipping cream to peaks with an electric whisk, mine being a modern version of the 1970’s one I used to borrow from her as a child who was a keen baker; the new series of Dallas; attempting to sew my other half’s trouser hems, minus the wonderfully equipped sewing box she kept so well stocked; Pond’s face cream, the reason behind her lovely pink complexion; my baby’s little chin, round like a button, and which so reminds me of her great-grandma’s.

Although it has been fourteen years since her death, I still miss my grandma. I wish she could have known my two lovely girls, and seen my sister and me as mothers, with our own families to look after. She gave us such constant and unconditional love, and I wish that I had been given the chance to visit her and look after her at an older age than that at which she passed away.

Although I still cry sometimes when I see the seemingly inane things that remind me of her, I am so glad that I feel those emotions and think of her, so fondly, as often as I do. I wouldn’t have ever grieved properly for her had I still been drinking wine every night, and even though it  hurts, I am happy to finally be dealing with my feelings, good and bad, like a fully functioning human being.