The Void

There is a hole in me. It’s been there since I can remember, right at the center of me–where my lungs meet my stomach.

It has been a gaping, hungry thing, opening wider and wider as I hurry to stuff something, anything inside it. It’s been vibrating, aching, and full of sharp nails. It’s been filled with light. It’s radiated heat and happiness to the world.

As a kid and a teen, I didn’t understand the hole. I experienced it as something wrong. I was wrong. I didn’t fit. People had ways of being and knowing and interacting and feeling that I couldn’t comprehend. I mimicked them, trying to seem normal, part of. There was a dull pain, so part of my life that I didn’t notice it very often.

As I got older, I found that I could numb that feeling, if I tried. Alcohol worked, so did boys and friends and loud music and reading and TV and snorting things. Sometimes I would just stare at it, putting my whole being into looking at that void. I wallowed, reveling in the discomfort. I imagined stuffing myself inside it, turning myself inside out and disappearing into thin air.

The issue with the feeding of the hole and the gazing at it was that it grew. The more I tried to give it, the more feeble offerings I made, the more I focused on it, the more it ate me up. I started spending all my time watching it, trying to patch the edges, throwing relationships and shopping and procrastination and self hatred into its depths. It just grew.

And then, suddenly, my main solution stopped working. The pain sharpened, instead of dulled, when I tossed alcohol in the mix. I was faced with the frightening depth of the void and also the reality of what it means to disappear. It was too scary to comprehend. And at that jumping off place, I changed direction, deciding that if I could rebuild myself from the outside in, the hole could be filled in once and for all.

I started doing things that were good for me. I started sleeping and talking and therapy and recovery. I started journaling and crying and meditating and praying. I started walking and making art again. And I started beating myself up for not doing enough, not doing it perfectly, not being whole already. If I simply acted the way I thought I should, did everything I was supposed to do, the hole would disappear, right? I tried to be perfect, but the hole remained.

And then I found myself on a bicycle, alone without distraction. The hole was no longer just at my center, the hole was me. I was a swirling mess of anger and fear and self loathing. I was unable to trust and unable to laugh and unable to sense things that were not the hole.

Something magical happened when I biked my way into confronting my extreme self hatred. Teachers came into my life that told me that I should, perhaps, consider I was okay just as I was. The word “grace” made its way into my lexicon. And the outdoors arrived at my doorstep, showing me that emptiness is beautiful, that valleys are just as important as peaks.

Something even more magical happened on the PCT. I found myself in the woods all alone again years later, and this time I found that my hole was filled up with love. It bubbled and boiled and splashed all over. Love sloshed on the ground and trees and hikers, on Avry and Adrian and everyone I ever knew. It was a never-ending pool of adoration and joy. Sometimes. Mostly, it was pain.

Today I understand that my hole is there to stay. It is part of the fiber of my being. Today I can see that the silent scream that has yawned inside me from my birth to now is actually a gift.

I am a kinder, more compassionate person because I know pain. I am more capable of joy and exhilaration because I can feel the difference between highs and the low that rests in my gut always. I am better equipped to love my fellows and be of use because I know what it is to feel lost, because I never leave that feeling behind.

And at its best, my void is the space that can be filled by everything in the universe. At my best, I know that despair turns out to be just as important as hope. And darkness and light are made of the same stuff.