A three-week vacation from work and back in the town I grew up in.
Back in the town I took my last drink in.
Sober, I remained.
I wanted to taste it. A glass of fine wine. A pint of craft beer. I could feel it—the sweet nectar slipping down my raw throat. Like a baby’s screaming cries as they take their first breath. My desire was a lion’s roar during an attack on its next prey, and I was holding on to its mane trying not to fall off.
I didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t want to be here. And I wanted to fly back home and leave home all at the same time.
I didn’t know what was home. Anywhere I was, I wanted to be elsewhere. I felt unease with every decision and felt my only answer was to flee.
But I knew the anxiety would not ease no matter where I was. That I could keep running, but I could never run from myself.
I was running from the bear while death gripping her cub in my arms. I was running, constantly running, but mama bear was right behind me, and the longer I ran, the fiercer she became.
I had to sit.
I had to sit with my discomfort. I had to sit with the sadness. I had to sit with the desire and urges to numb. I had to sit with the ugliness and the judgment and the instability in my thoughts. I had to sit with the boredom or the “what’s next.” I had to sit with the empty moments, the lack of purpose, the reality that stripping me away from work and leaving me alone with myself felt…terrifying, awful, deafening.
I was stuck.
Addicted to addictions. Drinking. Eating. Texting. Social media. Dating. Men. Scrolling. Addictions I could not loosen my grip of.
I could not engage in them, but they still consumed my mind. I did not succumb to take a sip of alcohol, because I knew it would not make anything feel better. It may press pause for a moment, but the unease and discomfort would come back—surely with a vengeance.
How do I stay sober in the midst of these urges?
I often find another addiction (see the list above). These addictions don’t even press pause, but they allow the moment to extend. And they keep me on the hamster wheel, running.
The root of the addiction is a feeling. A feeling of loneliness, unworthiness—alone, alone, alone, so desperately alone. I seek out connection in all the wrong places. I don’t want to label them as wrong, but rather not helpful.
I know the answer is to feel whole and connected within myself. But we are creatures who crave touch, love, connection with other creatures. We are not meant to walk through this life alone.
My shift of focus has been one of realizing that being alone romantically does not mean I am alone, completely.
My shift of focus has been one of realizing the touch from a lover is healing, but so is the touch from a child, a friend, a sibling, family.
My shift of focus has been one of realizing that choosing physical isolation while searching for connection on a dating app is just like scanning the bar while gulping down one more drink—anticipating I’d find ecstasy in the bottom of the next one.
I’m looking to them to fill the void within me.
I’m looking to them to find my worth.
I’m looking to them to make me feel secure.
I’m looking to them to ground me, to anchor me, so I can spread my wings.
But the thing about an anchor is the illusion that you are free as you drift amongst the waves—because you can only go so far before the bungee pulls you back.
I am the anchor. And I am the knife that cuts it.
I am the spider and I am the fly slowly suffocating in the web I made.
I am the shark and the fish it swallowed.
I am the ground and I am the air.
I hold it all within me.
I feed the varying polarities depending on the mass of the void.
It is true that I can be fed by so many things outside of me, but I will always remain hungry, craving. One bite of sugar brings me a moment of high, then leaves me crashing or reaching for the next hit.
It is true that I need connection with others to feel, but I will never feel whole if my supply chain is merely another being that breathes and moves freely through life. Because they are not my fly. I am not their spider.
It is true that filling a void with means outside of ourselves is more common than not, but because something is common does not make it necessary.
We can keep running. We can keep numbing. We can keep hiding. We can keep searching. We can keep scrolling. We can keep reaching. And in turn, we will keep exhausting ourselves, silencing the burning desire within us, burying it beneath us.
How did I stay sober these three weeks?
I cried when my aunt and her two small children jumped in my lap after an hour of socially distancing with our masks on—she just couldn’t take it anymore. I realized in that moment, my desire to drink was a candle blown out. Human touch was the medicine, but not the cure.
I cried when my sister ran across the beach to finally hug me after a full day of not touching, despite having just spent six months apart. I held on for as long as I could. Time stood still.
I held my nieces in my arms when they were told they were allowed to hug me too. I pulled my niece closer, feeling the cold of her wet suit against me and laughing at her apologies for getting me wet, as if that mattered at all.
Touch, I needed you.
I made mandalas with my niece with the bits of nature we had gathered at the lakeshore. I giggled as we delayed walking up to dinner to place one more rock, petal, or seaweed to complete our masterpiece. We took turns being the child and the adult. We allowed the child to create while the adult kept watch of time. I allowed myself to be both the child and the adult.
I taught the children how to knead clay—clay they had discovered beneath the surface at the lakeshore, clay that I gathered and kneaded using a rock and my leg as a table. I sat in the clay with my dress on, as it turned into a muddy pile when the waves hit me—dried clay cracking on my skin, my skin red and blistering in the sun. I didn’t care. I was creating.
I watched the children play tag. I asked if I could play, too. I forgot for a moment who I was. I became a child, like them. I beamed of joy as I chased, and was chased. I took a break when I was out of breath, alternating between laughter and gasping for air.
I stared at the colors of the sunset and the crescent of the moon that brightened amongst the rest of its shadow.
I kept my phone off for two full days and separated myself mostly from it, for one week, while camping with my family.
I slept outside in a hammock and stared at the stars.
I closed my eyes, focused on my breath, began a yoga sequence, then found myself dancing instead.
I cuddled on the couch with my nieces. I played with their hair. I rubbed their backs.
I put a snorkel on and kept my face under water, watching the rocks, the fish, the light dancing with the water, the life beneath the river’s surface. I stayed there long enough to have a brain freeze for an hour after.
I laughed with my family. I comforted them when in pain. I allowed myself to be comforted too.
I held my dying grandpa’s hand as we locked eyes and cried.
I sat, instead of rushed.
I felt the salty wind at the beach and the sand between my toes.
And, I also swam deep into other addictions, too.
I alternated between both leaning into feeling the above experiences and also numbly walking through them as I engaged in other addictions. It’s not perfect, this walk—it’s messy. And the work is being okay in the mess. Or, allowing ourselves to not be okay, and knowing that’s okay too.
I went on dating apps. I went on a date. I focused too much of my attention on another—wanting acceptance, wanting to be desired, only to fuel the fiery void within me.
As if to remind me that the universe will keep throwing these tests at me until I pass them. Until I turn left instead of right. Until I make a different choice. Until I learn boundaries. Until I pave another road, while letting the other trail be buried in overgrowth.
I will keep having to be taught the same lesson, I will keep having to learn it, until I apply the knowledge.
We can know something, we can learn it over and over, and logically we can make the right choice. But to embody it, to feel it, to choose it with more than our mind, to change the course of our path, we have to practice it, apply it, and not just learn it.
We have to unlearn all the ways we learned to cope prior. We have to unlearn all the toxic ways our neural pathways have formed. We have to disconnect and put twice the effort into connecting another way.
I know this lesson isn’t over.
This time, I’m committed to embodying it. I’m committed to sitting with the discomfort while choosing another way. I’m committed to forgiving myself when I decide to turn right—over, and over, and over again.
I’m committed to learning new lessons each time I make that same turn, expecting different results. I’m committed to exhausting myself of the pleasure that will never outweigh the pain of making that same choice. I’m committed to leaning into the frustration, the anger, the feeling of lack, as easily as I lean into the joy, the anticipation, and the desire for love.
Because I know I need to hold hands with all of these feelings in order to welcome love. Or rather to allow the love within me to flourish, to live, to fly instead of only trying to survive while breathing in the smoky ashes of the fire that smolders within me—within the void. The void isn’t going to go anywhere. So love it.
You’ll never fill it without loving it first.
Forgive yourself for trying to.