For a long time I have felt like there is an emptiness in my life. A void. Something missing. Loss. As a teenager I learned to try and fill it with things around me. Alcohol. Drugs. People. And it worked, for a while. Until I was alone, hungover, on a comedown and it came back worse than before. Or if it was a person, until they left again and I was consumed with how alone I really was.
I learned to self medicate with alcohol and it helped me to cope. Helped me to stop feeling the emptiness and loss. As soon as I felt anything that was just too much, I drank and it helped me to escape for a few days. It was a relief. Until I woke up and remembered all of the new things I didn’t want to remember or feel. And I didn’t start drinking again straight away in the morning, or even in that day. I would stick it out and see how long I could cope with the depression that had taken over me but by the weekend the cycle would start again.
The same thing happened with people and relationships. I always had someone there I was seeing or in a relationship with. Always had someone to text or to just be there. As soon as something ended with one person I would find someone else. And I distracted myself with them. I used them. I became consumed by feeling like I needed them there. I didn’t want to be alone with the emptiness and loss.
Later I used education or work in the same way. I threw myself into it all and it was the only thing I could think about. And at least that wasn’t destructive in the same way as using alcohol, drugs or people to distract me. But it wasn’t sustainable, and I would never manage to cope with any of it for long before I burned myself out and became very unwell again.
Last year after a few months of thinking I’d had it all sorted with a new job, a university course I was passionate about and a relationship I thought I was happy in, the same thing happened again. I thought I could manage it all but inside I felt like I was drowning. Because it doesn’t just go away. The emptiness. The Loss. The trauma. I was still just trying to push through, and get rid of it, and pretend. But it doesn’t work like that I found out, and I ended up in hospital, taking time out of university and losing my relationship. I couldn’t run away anymore and I finally had to let myself feel.
I’m not saying I managed to do all of this at once, and I have had a few slip ups but I tried to stop doing all of the things I was doing to distract myself from myself. I started to allow myself to feel my feelings, and it has been the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do. It has been excruciatingly painful. And exhausting. But I am coping. I am coping with university, managing my eating better than I have in the past, I haven’t been drunk since last summer, and I am not constantly throwing myself into things and trying to distract myself. The void is still there, but I no longer try to fill it with everything around me.
The only thing is I don’t know where to go next. I still have blips but on the whole my life is far less chaotic and destructive. I no longer have to constantly pick up the pieces of the mistakes I have made. I don’t have to constantly build myself up and start again. I feel like I have a baseline of healthier coping strategies to fall back on now and it gets me through the difficult days. But I feel stuck. I am mostly very isolated and don’t have many things in my life which give me joy. I am scared that I will fall back into bad habits of using things to distract me so I avoid anything I might enjoy in the first place. The strength I have built up still seems fragile and I am scared of doing anything that will break me down again. I have lost confidence and trust in myself. The control I have managed to gain in my life is something I don’t want to lose, and anything I have the potential to enjoy seems like a threat to that.
I know that I need to take a step forward, but I just don’t know in which direction I’m supposed to move. And the fear of going in the wrong direction is paralysing.