Imagine you are lost, tired and starving. Lips parched. Eyesight playing tricks on you. Thoughts in your head that you can’t sort or organize because they have no beginning and no ending but each one feels more ominous and heavy than the last.
Now imagine you stumble suddenly out of the darkness onto a stream of water. Muddy and dirty but its WATER. In your lap-of-luxury life prior to this series of miserable events that brought you to now, you would have stepped through the stream, or over it.
You would never have considered it drinkable; worried about bacteria, disease, germs, contamination, etc. But here, today, this moment, THIS stream is as close to perfect as you can imagine.
You gulp readily, taking it in. The good, the bad. Consequences like contamination never even cross your mind. It’s salvation. Temporary and bound to have some sort of side effect eventually but it’s all you’ve got and you’re all in, drinking it up.
While the example above is rather extreme, and the likeliness of you being in a similar situation may seem fairly far fetched, it’s an effective way to set the tone for the scene I’m going to ask you to imagine next.
You’re at your desk. Your boss has just given you an assignment that took every ounce of energy to respond positively to. You feel exhaustion in your bones. The same old record, the scratch making the same section play on repeat. You decide you’ve had enough for the day so you begin the same route home.
You call your partner on the way and determine what’s on the menu for dinner. Stop at the store, grab the necessities plus a bottle of wine or two, you know, to go with the food. You arrive home. Take a deep breath and kick off your shoes. You can’t bear to repeat the same story about your day again, so you don’t.
You put on your best smile and greet your partner. Maybe you make a little small talk. Maybe you share a bit about how bad your day was with an eye roll and a joke, downplaying the deeper truth. Maybe you bare your soul and let it all out, feeling guilty that your partner has become a dumping ground for your stress. Pop open the wine. Commiserate. Drink. Numb. Sleep. Rest. Repeat.
Now maybe it’s not the job that’s the problem. Maybe it’s the partner. Or maybe it’s the wine, or the online shopping, or something else filling your holes, bringing temporary relief of your suffering. Who knows because things are muddled up and you don’t dare take too close up of a look at any of it; lest the delicate balance you’ve achieved starts to topple like a Jenga game that’s gotten too tall. Or maybe you stay so spectacularly busy that there is absolutely no time to stop and look.
How does this second scene sit with you? Think about it for a minute. Can you relate to any of it? How did imagining that scene make you feel? Take a deep breath, all sensations are just information.
Perhaps you felt relief. You know this story, you’ve lived it, it’s in your rear-view now. If so, congratulations and keep up the good fight. Share your story. We need to hear it.
Maybe this scene got under your skin a little? Did it remind you of someone you know?
Or, did it hurt like a slap across the face? Did it make you want to punch, scream or cry? Do you feel provoked? If so, you’re not alone. I can describe this scene so well because it was mine not so long ago.
I’ve taken to calling the above scenario as living with holes. And I can find examples of it almost everywhere I look. Just like the person at the start, lost without food and water (extreme holes in this case), you are almost forced to make choices from a place of starvation. So inevitably, those choices, while immediately gratifying, generally have no real lasting value or contribution. Which, you may have guessed, usually requires either a higher quantity or a change in hole-filling material.
In my case, I filled my holes with alcohol, shopping and busy-ness. I was also terribly afraid of being alone. So I also filled my holes with social outings and other people. I spent my days and nights, my relationships and my work in some form of performance.
Putting on the “right” clothes, the “right” job titles and the perfect smile so no one looked too deeply past the veneer. I was a master at riding the line between being genuine enough to establish healthy relationships and distant enough to not let anyone in on my real story. Until my hole-filling became a recognizable problem that I couldn’t hide from anymore. My addictions had become visible to others.
If you’ve been around my writing for a while you’ll know the journey from there to here has been long and varied. The short version, if you’re new, is I went on a self-discovery journey; giving myself the freedom to research and study whatever I wanted. As a result, and over a series of years, I dismantled my life as I knew it, including my marriage and my career. I started over and over and over again, each time getting closer to my kind of right (as opposed to everyone else’s).
Today I live in a rental home I love, with my two beautiful daughters who spend 50% of their time with me. These growing young ladies get to witness and feel my joy for living passionately; I am deeply proud of the example I am setting for them as a human being, a mother and a woman. In addition, I have the most incredible people around me who know my entire story, the dark and ugly and beautiful, and love me deeply for all of it.
How did I get here? I got here by studying my life. By looking at my holes and at how they came to exist. At understanding my patterns of handling them and how I was mimicking what I saw or learned as a child. I got here by addressing my deeply ingrained habits and behaviors through coaching and therapy.
I got better at understanding MY personal needs and wants vs. what I was told/taught to want. And then, I worked on using my voice to ask for it. I worked on eliminating my holes, one by one so the fillers became less and less necessary. In the process, I lost friends. I lost family. A few times, I even lost myself.
Here’s what I know, now. Everyone has a story. Everyone has some level of desire that is currently unfulfilled. These unmet desires, if they are misunderstood or unclear, are the things that create the holes. The fillers we use for those holes, are the materials that make the pain of those unmet desires feel better. They make the disappointment sting less. They make identifying the root cause of the pain even less clear and solving for it, a less desirable activity.
Our holes cause us to feel shame in having conversations about our “first world problems” even with those we deem as our closest allies. The inability to talk about our problems and our hole-fillers without shame creates isolation and loneliness – another dangerous hole. Talking about our pain and what feels real for us, is not socially acceptable; however, hole-fillers are. Hole fillers are coping mechanisms that create camaraderie and distraction. They are known and celebrated for easing our discomfort. This relief is both temporary and potentially dangerous.
Sustainable relief and the ultimate release from hole-filling comes from knowing deeply who you are now, who you desire to be (if there’s a gap between here and there) and how you desire to live. It comes from knowing, with clarity, what kind of life you want to actively engage in building and feeling confident that you can make the choices that best serve your ultimate goals.
This type of confidence comes from self knowledge. From understanding where you are when you’re making your next choice (along the spectrum of starvation and fullness) and the intention with which you are choosing.
Do I still make hole-filling choices? Of course I do. The difference is I know I’m making them and I understand why I’m making them. Self knowledge is the key. So next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re up against something that feels uncomfortable, ask yourself the following: How did I get here? Why am I making this choice? If I had a chance to chose differently, what would I change? And then, when the opportunity presents itself again, make a different choice and watch what happens as a result. Ask. Choose. Experience. Reflect. Repeat.
One choice at a time, one moment at a time. And, grace. Please be gentle with yourself when you dive into this activity. It’s much harder to study yourself if you’re beating yourself up along the way.
Why am I telling you this? Because if even a sentence of the above resonates with you I want you to know that you’re not alone. Being seen and heard are basic human needs. This is my way of telling you I see you. Sharing my story is a way for me to say I hear you.
If someone you know popped into your mind when you were reading this, pass it along, so that person doesn’t feel alone, either. You passing it along says the same thing to the people you care about. It also has the potential to form a bridge; an invitation into a conversation that sounds something like: “I see you. I want to help you. Please tell me how.” Because those words are some of the most nourishing and healthy hole-filling materials available.