I’m a Recovering Emptyaholic
If you’re addicted to your feelings of inadequacy — then you’re not alone.
For years, I’ve seen only the gaping holes in my life. I’ve looked around me and often ignored the love and the connection that is reaching out to me.
I’ve focused on the empty moments: the texts that aren’t returned by friends, lovers, or family members. I’ve focused on the gruffness of the cashiers that suddenly turn my open heart sour. I’ve focused on the quiet nights when I’ve gotten no phone calls. I’ve focused on the debt and the lack of funds in my bank account.
I’ve been addicted to seeing what I don’t have, instead of seeing what I do have.
I’ve been addicted to loss and lack and longing.
I’ve struggled with letting go of hurts because the wounds are so familiar to me. I fear letting go will lead to something foreign. The pain of holding on feels so familiar. It’s like nursing one drink after another of pity and self-defeat. I don’t want to do it, but I do — I can’t stop. It’s hard to stop, but I think of stopping, often.
I don’t think a 12-step program exists for my addiction.
Maybe I should develop a 12-step program for the ungrateful, lack-focused selves?
Maybe I should have started this article by saying, “Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m an emptyaholic. I have struggled with the feeling I don’t have enough and that I’m not enough for my whole life.” It would have taken a lot of courage to start my article that way — courage I don’t always have. Courage is something I’m trying to muster up, but I need to let go of my ongoing addiction to lack to do it.
An addiction is defined as a feeling of powerlessness over something.
Am I — was I — powerless over my thinking and my feelings of not having enough?
After over a decade of teaching yoga and mindfulness, I feel empowered. But the mind defeats me in moments of self-pity or longing for love. I am humbled in those moments and pushed to take my yoga and mindfulness practice off the mat or cushion and into my everyday life. They say for every negative thought, we need to think three or more positive thoughts. Is negative thinking just that toxic that it needs to be trumped by three times its energy in positivity?
Sadly, I think it is.
In my youth, I dreamed of feeling fulfilled. I had visions of myself in my 20s attending graduate school for jewelry design and feeling cool and successful and appreciated for my creations. In my 20s, I dreamed of feeling fulfilled in my own skin, despite what I was doing in the physical world.
In my early 30s, some of my wishes came true: I had a child, started a wellness practice, and I was living my gifts as a nurturer to my child and to my clients.
Now, in my 40s, I’ve been hit with those unfulfilled desires: a life partner, financial fulfillment, and a house to call my own. Despite not having all that I “want,” I’ve recently realized, I have all that I need. My soul has conjured up a new mantra:
It’s okay that I don’t have all that I want, because, I have all that I need.
How does the emptyaholic in me shift to feeling fulfilled?
Unfortunately, the aha! moment I had didn’t erase all of my emptyaholic thinking. For the mind, the inner shift isn’t an instant process. While the heart can make an instant shift, the mind needs ongoing practice.
I have friends and family members in 12-step programs that remind me the work is constant. You don’t just get over it; you stay mindful and present with yourself. You meet the longing with love. You acknowledge the lack for what it is, and in that space of compassion, a little more light seeps in.
Perhaps it’s all a shift in perception. In some of the most debt-filled moments of my personal life — when I’ve had $2 in my bank account or lost a relationship or even a job — I’ve been graced with the gift of feeling grateful for what I do have. What I did have in those moments was as simple as air to breathe and food in my refrigerator. I had a roof over my head (though it wasn’t always my own roof, but a roof nonetheless). I had the sky and the trees and the sunshine to soak in with my senses. I had laughter, and I had tears. I had my daughter and my beta fish. I had a healthy body and a deep feeling heart.
Sometimes we are stripped of everything so we can see that from nothing everything grows.
Sometimes we are asked to open our eyes and see one thing as enough. And when we do — when we can appreciate that one thing, be it our breath or the sun or a meal or a smile from a stranger — a seed is planted and that gratitude starts to water it.
Today, I still have my emptyaholic moments where my mind sees scarcity and lack and fears loss like a pending tornado. Sometimes those moments sweep through me for hours and hours, despite my attempts to be grateful. But each moment I say thank you — for my breath and even for the storm within me. I water that deeply planted seed and suddenly it begins to expand.
Perhaps one of the blessings and curses of being human is not knowing how things will unfold.
We put out desires like constant whispers and the universe gobbles them up. When she will spit them back at us, we do not know. How can we? And would we really want to know? How would knowing serve us?
In the process of sitting with my wounds as a mother would sit with a sobbing child, I embrace the compassion of the pure presence the universe embodies with each and every breath. In the process of saying, “Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m an emptyaholic. I have struggled with feeling that I don’t have enough and that I’m not enough for my whole life,” I become humbled. As I acknowledge my wounds, I open up to my wholeness. It is only in that place where we can see all of ourselves that we can be set free.
My wounds — and yours — just might be the key to wholeness. But first, we must make friends with them, and like all relationships, that takes work and commitment.
The relationship with the self is perhaps the most challenging relationship we will face in this life. I don’t know about you, but I have seen my own strength and know that my addicted self loves a challenge. With openness, compassion, humbleness, and grace, I somehow find her: that whole woman at the center of my being. And when I find her, I know she might walk away, but I am starting to trust that she always comes back.
It’s all she knows — how to come back.
This article was originally published on Elephant Journal as “Are you Addicted to your Feelings of Inadequacy?”