The Wisdom That Comes From Our Emptiness

The wisdom of emptiness may seem strange or even alarming to you to read especially if you struggle with an eating disorder or an addiction because it is emptiness that we feel and want to avoid that compels us to use these behaviors in the first place. This is not new information within the recovery world, and I want to be careful to avoid triggering the eating disorder or addiction voice by saying these words but there is wisdom in emptiness.

Eating disorders and addictions offer a kind of identity and for those who struggle with confidence or self-esteem and worth, that identity can be quite alluring and ‘addictive.’ Before the negative behavior takes its toll and takes over us, we have received some pretty addictive validation regarding this new identity with accolades of jealous comments regarding our ‘new look’ or it may be that our new group of friends offer additive validation of acceptance that we may have not received when we were just like everyone else, invisible. This new identity can be hard to beat. We feel desirable, popular and maybe even envied. The attention we receive begins to be our focus rather than developing a strong sense of self and developing our unique gifts and talents.

When we are in recovery, it is difficult to be oneself without the cape of addiction because we don’t know who that is. We feel awkward, noticed, and vulnerable. The lack of self feels so naked, scary and lonely that it is easy to revert to our old sick self. We falsely assume that, we will, at the very least, know, understand and exist in our old self, our old behavior. We know it and we know we’ll receive some attention and validation from it so it seems like the better option. Makes sense, because the new healthier skills we are learning feel foreign and unsure and we don’t trust that they will work. So, we find ourselves stuck. Devil on one side and angel on the other. What to do in the middle? Well, that is what I want to write about and I hope it helps you help yourself.

Not Black or White But In The Middle

When we are unsure of whether the newly learned healthy skills will really help us, it might be wise to check to see if our standards of ourselves or our newly acquired skills are being judged by a perfectionistic standard we may be continuing to have of ourselves. It may also be remnants of the eating disorder or addiction self who continue to remind you of your lacking. We need to remember that, from repeated experience, the eating disorder or our addiction has shown us that it can only offer us others validation of ourselves but never our own, thus leaving us completely dependent on it. We can learn to honor the space in between. As Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, reminds us, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” The place between the two ‘extremes’, a place of emptiness that we so desperately want to avoid because of our negative experiences and associations with it. It is the insecurity we feel when we are in it, that place that lacks any of our presence, our understanding, compassion or empathy. It can feel like an empty house full of spider webs. No one has lived there for a very long time. But, my sweet friend, I’m sorry to say, it is exactly where we need to learn to be because it is where we will feel and experience our inner power. It is home and it is where we will sense our personal superpower of choice.

Saying ‘Stop It’ with Empathy

Among my therapist tribe, we often share a favorite episode of the 1970’s light hearted comedy the “Bob Newhart Show” in which Bob Newhart (playing a psychiatrist) advises the patient to ‘’just stop it.’’ Obviously unrealistic, lacking empathy or humanity, and at the very least is unethical, the ironic message that we all find ourselves laughing along with is quite clear. We just need to STOP our relationship with our addictions. Let me explain, when we are working on releasing the grip of our old self, we can’t kind of keep her around by occasionally using her as though we have control over her. As my therapist once reminded me, “Jean, you can either live IN recovery or you can learn to manage your life around your eating disorder.”

I did not like feeling caught by my own demise. She was right, I did want to be able to use my eating disorder at my choosing and will, but my friends, it doesn’t work that way. When we continue to return to our old selves by choice, then, she will return despite our choice. And, in those times, when we are confused and scared by the triggers that hit the same wounded spot, we will so badly want to be strong yet struggle so deeply and we will so desire the ability to say “NO, STOP IT!” to her yet she will not relinquish her control. You know those moments. So, how we learn to say no to her and sit with ourselves, in that space in between, and KNOW her. We do it with and through empathy. We may not have a clear understanding of what empathy is, so I’m going to use the proper definition here:

Empathy: The ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state.

Using Meditation as a Way to Learn to Sit with It.

When we meditate we take the time to learn who we are without distraction. This can be very useful as we learn to know ourselves without judgment. We learn to sit in the empty space between the two. We learn how to slowly and mindfully release the old self by slowly and mindfully embracing the new self. This is done without pressure and without expectation. We learn to sit with ourselves and develop empathy for her ourselves in that empty place. It is from the emptiness that we find and experience our truest and deepest selves. By learning how to still ourselves, we learn to listen and validate our own truest and deepest inner experiences, thus no longer needing our eating disorders or addictions to fulfill that need for us. We can be independent and embrace each new healthy skill as it feels appropriate with wisdom from our emptiness.

The song “Take The Long Way, Home” as a statement to this inner empty self. As the song goes, we can get caught up in others validation and lose ourselves and our talent in it. Or, we can, ‘take the long way home’, by siting-or driving- in meditation and go down that long road to your most inner self, into your deepest experiences of existence and honor them and her with your empathic presence and receive her wisdom.

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