What makes you happy? A simple enough question, but a really difficult one to answer sometimes. Things that make me happy are climbing outside with friends, going for a walk alone on an unknown trail, spending time with my kids. Easy stuff. Yet, I often find myself … somehow unhappy. And it’s what we do in those moments that teach us how to grow into better people.
I’ve been spending a lot of time, almost a decade really, working with that space of the uncomfortable void, and learning how to sit with it, accept it and ultimately stop looking for something or someone to fill it. Especially where there are so many wonderful fillers to choose from to numb yourself from the pain. (Sex, shopping, alcohol, food, intense exercise … I’ve used them all.)
My awakening happened a few years ago. I was a stay at home mom with 3 small kids ages 6 months, 2 and 4 years old. You know how people come up to you and say something like, “Wow! You’ve got your hands full!” Well, I did. You know what I mean. I know you can relate. My days were based on routine with my babies, but I lacked something deeper inside. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but part of me was hollow. My soul felt vacated.
I decided to perk myself up a bit, got my mom to babysit the kids, and headed to the mall for some much needed quiet time and to “treat” myself with some shopping. There was nothing specific I had in mind to get, but I thought I’d find something. I wandered around the jewelry counters and looked for something … something “blingy”… something uplifting … something fun. I found this owl necklace that had a clock on it. It was cute. I bought it. Why not.
Later that day at home, after another long day with the kids … I sat and looked at my self gift. I hung it around my neck, and checked myself out in the mirror. It was cute. It was whimsical. It felt playful and free. However, It wasn’t very practical … I mean, who looks at a necklace to see what time it is?
Then it hit me. Kinda all at once. Like a punch to the stomach. It wasn’t playful. I didn’t feel free. I still felt empty. Vacant. Longing. I could have bought anything at the store that day and it wouldn’t have made a bit of a difference. There was a real, true unhappiness inside me that no material purchase could relieve. I returned the necklace the next day and actually felt more powerful, more in control, and filled with purpose and meaning returning it, than I did purchasing it.
I was trying to fill my emptiness with a thing. This was my personal turning point for knowing that there was something deeper inside that needed a close looking at. A few months later, I asked my husband for a divorce.
This initial first time ever realization of knowing I was turning to something else to feed an emotional need started me on the path of understanding what filling the void was all about.
Alcohol was a similar numbing tool that I noticed was playing an increasing role in my life. Although I don’t consider myself a textbook alcoholic, I noticed I was turning to that glass of something red when I was feeling upset, lonely, stressed … you name it. So many times, a quick glass of wine helped temporarily soothe the “rough spots”, and helped me not think of something uncomfortable, take some pain away, or otherwise distract me from the growth and work that I needed to take on. At times it helped me fit in, feel less vulnerable or pretend I was having fun, or enjoying others’ company (when I really wasn’t). I tried quitting on and off for years, and finally something clicked and I gave it up last August.
Now I actually enjoy those moments where I can sit and be angry or sad, disappointed or anxious. Heartbroken or lonely or scared. And I’m not afraid of that anymore. I welcome experiencing new potentially uncomfortable situations because I’m less worried about the outcome. Because I know I can take it on. Makes me feel kinda like a superhero. It’s been a long time since I felt this kind of pride in myself. Like the kind of proud you feel when your kid does something awesome. It’s not just about saying “no” to a drink, it’s about finally trusting yourself to know that you’re capable of greatness. Here’s a little secret about being sober: I find that I’m living every minute of my life more authentically. I am braver. I am unapologetic.
This is not to say I’m completely addiction free. I still find myself looking to soothe my pain away with chocolate, baked goods or other sugary goodness. Although now, I am completely aware of what is causing me to turn to bad stuff to soothe me. I’m so much better at recognizing it, and can usually find a way to turn myself around and make better decisions. I sit in discomfort. I exercise the “this sucks” emotional muscle just like I train any other muscle at the gym.
Learning to sit in the void is an ongoing process. It sucks, but it’s the essence of the human experience. It’s real and it’s universal. So, I guess my advice is: find out what makes you happy. Try to do that stuff as much as you can. Life is short. And when you’re feeling down, crappy, unloved, disappointed, etc… Try sitting in that painful spot and see what comes out of it. Sit and repeat. Constant growth. Continuous learning. Unwavering self-love, acceptance and compassion is the only way to get through it.
We have made being in fear a habit, so much so that we don't even realize we are accepting it.
Fear will always be there. But we get to decide how we will engage with it.
Is your fear greater than your faith in yourself ? Your freedom is on the other side of fear.
Go. Get. It.
Anyssa Lucena is a climbing guide, health coach, personal trainer and fitness enthusiast who is passionate about inspiring women to reach their full potential through health awareness, self love, and outdoor life. She teaches rowing classes in her home studio in Montvale, NJ and climbing classes at The Gravity Vault in Upper Saddle River, NJ. She also runs various group programs for weight loss and healthy living. You can find out more and contact her at www.genuineselfwellness.com, or @genuineselfwellness on Facebook and Instagram