On my agenda that morning was attending the monthly Intergroup meeting. I knew when I awoke that I wouldn’t be attending, thus refusing to fulfill my chosen obligation as the Intergroup Rep for my home meeting.
I simply did not want to get out of bed, which has been an increasing issue over the past few weeks. Eventually physiological urgency forced me to do so. I turned off the alarm system so the dog could go outside. Then, after attending to my own bodily urgency, I slowly began setting about some of my usual morning tasks. Setting up my husband’s pillbox for the day. Taking my thyroid pill. Letting the dog back in.
I sat down, feeling a sense of emotional heaviness. “I’m not going to the meeting. It’s 8:45, the meeting starts at 9, I’m not showered or dressed, and the commute to get there takes 40 minutes. By the time I get there, the meeting will be nearly over. I’ll feel embarrassed and humiliated by my inability to get there on time. Maybe I’m a failure, but I’m taking a mental health day instead.” I took my first bong hit of the day, then set the pipe aside.
“What am I feeling?” The answer came quickly: sadness, my frequent companion. “Sit with it,” I told myself; so I did. After several moments I began to get a sense of “Why?” An answer also came quickly: emptiness. I feel sad because I feel empty. A year+ into some good therapy, and I’ve gained the perspective that I feel so empty because at critical moments of emotional development in childhood I did not get what was needed.
My mother was unable to provide what she herself never received. Never having received it when she needed it as a child herself, she was ill-equipped to even recognize there was a critical need going unmet in her own child. This child wasn’t even a person in & of himself, at least not for many years yet, not in the way she understood personhood. Instead, he was mostly an extension of herself so the very idea that he had emotional needs made her uncomfortable. She instinctively struggled for solid footing, embracing a rigid rule of life instead of her offspring.
I suspected that this was likely to be a repeating cross-generational family pattern. The recognition of from where my mother inherited the pattern inevitably followed: her mother, the very person who always seemed willing to set aside whatever tasks she had to do in order to provide me with a lap upon which to sit. My Grandma, who delighted to have me in physical contact with her, fed me chocolates, and listened indulgently to my childish chatter. One of my primary sources of emotional nurturance was herself a likely survivor of emotional neglect and had passed it down to her own children, including my mother. What could possibly be more human than that?
After some time I recognized that I still felt sad, but it was no longer an amorphous, consuming, and baffling kind of sadness. Instead, I felt sad because of the strange habits of humans, how we can love yet hurt others and ourselves for no apparent purpose. We inherit far more than just our genes from our forefathers & foremothers – we truly do inherit the stain of their sins.
Food will not fill the emptiness that chronically yawns inside my gut. Neither will any of the other compulsive behaviors in my repertoire, no matter how much energy I spend chasing the folly of “Compulsive Behavior Whack a Mole”. What CAN begin to diminish the emptiness is the persistent process of unpacking and feeling the repressed emotions of a lifetime. Shredded and compacted into a mass, they ARE the emptiness. Re-membered and felt, they will begin filling it.
The path of least resistance to survive my childhood & adolescence seemingly required me to pack away many, if not most, of the colors of life (emotions) and bury them deep. So deep that even now, 50 years hence, when I look at life I sometimes only can see a world devoid of color; an empty world. Even when I’m not actively looking, I feel a vague pall covering my experience. That’s what will continue to happen when I don’t do the work of recovery.
On the one hand, inertia and emptiness. On the other, movement and fulfillment.
The choice is mine, every day.