Exploring the Nothingness
Nothingness is a word that has been cropping up more and more in my client’s vocabularies of late, so I thought it was worth exploring. The main reason I want to do this is that something as potentially “dark” as nothingness could also be seen as a taboo topic within our significant relationships. And anything we think is taboo, we will keep hidden and suppressed and all our fears around it fester and become more toxic.
I believe the healthiest thing we can do with subjects like this is to bring them out into the open and give them an airing in the light, talk about them and expose them. Then there’s no secrets and no more need for the shame we have attached to it. Our fears dissipate and we can then embrace a greater sense of freedom from within.
So, what is your “nothingness” about – and do you think you have you ever truly tasted it?
Or is touching that vast, empty space too terrifying a prospect to consider, even for a few seconds?
Would you rather run to the relative security of your destructive eating rituals, with no risk attached, knowing how bad you’re going to feel afterwards as a result of your chosen behaviour?
We unconsciously choose to keep ourselves Comfortably Numb (to borrow a song title from Pink Floyd) in our nothingness because that is far more preferable than imagining our lives without it.
Nothingness, in my clients’ perception, is a generalisation to describe a process where we disconnect from our feelings, abandon ourselves emotionally and indulge in a completely mindless activity – such as binge eating - or binge drinking or binge spending, binge anything really, we all share the same poor impulse control. We thoroughly trash ourselves, suspended in our own apathy-pool of guilt and self-loathing, having made a decision only moments ago that we were powerless to change our lives.
In psycho-speak, the official word is Dissociation, and we are masters at it, having practised the art for decades. Only our drug of choice seems to change and for so many of us, our automatic go-to is food. Sure, we may dabble in other addictions, but food is always there as that sweet, soft spot we return to, providing the never-ending comfort, soothing and protection we needed but didn’t receive as children. Food is our dependable, surrogate primary care-giver, awaiting our dramatic and tender reunion with open arms.
Consciously, we may have an awareness that we’re in this place again as we luxuriate in the activity. We may give lots of lip service to others about how much we hate being stuck here, how it’s not serving us, how it adds nothing of value to our lives and blah, blah, blah, you know how it goes…but no matter how awful we say it is, we keep going back there.
Subconsciously, there’s a whole other world going on – and it’s all held in place by our monumental fears about the threat of what we will have to deal with if we don’t have our nothingness to fall back on.
We start ‘checking out’ from our lives at an early age as a powerful form of escape – the only way we can fathom that will keep us safe (to a child’s perception) in an otherwise unsafe environment. The root cause of our pain will be one or a combination of these core issues: rejection, abandonment, abuse, grief, loneliness, trauma or neglect. We use this means of escape because it works – it helps us avoid further pain, hurt and humiliation. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t use it. It’s as simple as that. And we humans do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure.
If you’ve ever stared at a television screen while throwing immeasurable quantities of food in your mouth and zoned out in the process, you’ll know what I’m talking about: in that instant, we don’t want to think, we don’t want to feel, we just have this mind-less hand to mouth action, obliterating all sensation in our zombie-like trance. Over the years, our tastes may have become more sophisticated and refined, but it’s still the same process at work, we escape into the dissociation and disconnection, helplessly hooked on the feeling, it appears.
As always, our feelings are the key to us moving forward – or staying stuck. I can almost hear your collective groans at having to take an introspective look (and personal responsibility for) your own feelings and I’m sorry if you feel that way but I don’t know of anything else that will make a difference on this journey. Just the hard yards, the stuff that works – that’s why addictions are so hard to break and why so many people keep theirs for their entire lives, because it’s easier that way.
There are but a smattering of precious moments that we can tap into and use for leverage that occur seconds before we drift off into that great void of numb nothingness. Right here and now in this present moment with this awareness is the only time we actually have a choice about how we act. We can either stay in our heads, forgetting to breathe and REACT out of emotional deprivation, or we can courageously choose to go all the way down to the bottom of our bellies with our breath and RESPOND from a place of wisdom and maturity. This is the choice-point and it’s incredibly valuable.
For deeper reflection on this issue, you could ask yourself:
What don’t you want to feel?
What don’t you want other people to see in you?
When I ask my clients if they are aware of what they were feeling before they disconnected, I get responses like “Yeah, I think I was just bored/stressed/angry/depressed”.
These are what I call Blanket Feelings. They are the thick, top layer on the outside.
Underneath, on the inside, there are layers and layers of much more finely woven textures of feelings that need to be further explored if we want to find a way out of our pain.
Similarly, if someone asks you how you are and you find yourself answering “fine”, please be aware that Fine, like Fat, is not a feeling.
Fine is a cute little acronym for F#cked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. (We need a better adjective here!) The point is, there is nothing wrong with your feelings, ever. They need a safe outlet. Your feelings are the barometer of what is actually going on in your life, let’s value them.
You could begin planting seeds of acceptance by acknowledging and validating your feelings the moment you are having them. The trick is to pay attention to them through-out the day, as they arise, so that you don’t end up just making it through the day, going through the motions, then almost by default and because you haven’t paid attention to your feelings and therefore none of your emotional needs were met either, you end up in that dark, decrepit waste land of losing control and binge eating and then hating yourself again.
The bottom line that defines whether we fall hopelessly into the abyss of our nothingness or take the courageous step of tasting it, embracing it and then choosing to leave it, is the degree to which we have decided we will trust ourselves. The journey is to work on feeling much safer inside ourselves with all of our feelings – and we have a life time to get better at it. The only real way out of our pain is through it.
© Copyright Karla Cameron 2016
“In truth, you like the pain. You like it because you believe you deserve it.”
“And so I am feeling numb, it’s a curious feeling and I get it all the time. My attention to the world around me disappears and something starts to hum inside my head. Far off, voices try to bump up against me, but I repel them. My ears fill up with water and I focus on the humming in my head”.
Quotes from Marya Hornbacher, brilliantly talented author of “Wasted - a memoir of anorexia and bulimia"