There is no describing what childhood trauma and tragedy can do to one's heart and soul and what it did to mine. The amount of emptiness I felt was excruciating, and like a piece of the puzzle was missing inside me. And regardless of my achievements throughout the years, nothing could erase that void until I finally found myself a few years ago.
As someone with a lived history of mental illness and working with individuals as a former therapist, I found that childhood trauma often manifested feelings of emptiness.
When we are children, we rely on our caregivers to teach us what inner meaning and purpose are and that we are worthy. However, if those lessons veer in a traumatic and tragic direction, they can stunt a child from developing healthily, leaving them to feel lost and alone. Unfortunately, many will look to fill that void in external places, sometimes leading them down a deeper path. So, what are some of these places?
My substance abuse issues began when I was in middle school. It wasn't a healthy choice, but I wasn't a bad kid either, just as I've yet to meet a person who started taking substances to become a terrible person.
One of the most stigmatized illnesses or diseases is substance abuse. I've heard people say that the individual should have known better, or they shouldn't have tried it in the first place, but those comments often stem from a lack of education. However, most individuals with substance abuse issues have yet to learn proper coping skills and don't know where else to turn.
You will find that more than half of the individuals in an inpatient hospital struggle with a dual diagnosis, which is both mental health and substance abuse issues, and I was one of them. And though taking substances is never a healthy route, listening to their traumatic stories explained why they chose that path – it was a quick way to numb their pain rather than feel the emptiness. However, it is a destructive path that one must cease immediately to lead and live a productive life.
In addition to my substance abuse issues in middle school, I was already dating far too many boys. I mean, who in the world knows what they want at that age, let alone dating boys. So, what did I do but pick unhealthy relationships? I tried to fill a void by finding those I thought I could fix or save when I couldn't do that myself.
When we live with chronic emptiness, we often look to romantic relationships to fill that void. It's exhilarating and seems to give us a sense of purpose. And even if it's an unhealthy relationship, we still want to feel something better than nothing.
Of course, being in a healthy relationship is a beautiful thing, but no amount of love from someone else, whether good or bad, can fill what we are lacking on the inside.
I had a husband of 20 years and three beautiful children, yet I couldn't understand why I felt such pain, loneliness, and emptiness when I loved them so much. And when my marriage ended and my kids stood estranged from me, all those feelings worsened, and I went into inpatient again. They were everything I lived for, and now I had lost it all.
Of course, there is nothing like family. Most people dream of having one when they get older, but what happens when the children grow up and leave home and all you did was put yourself to the wayside to take care of them? Experiencing empty nest syndrome is healthy, but you lose your identity along the way if you don't know who you are outside of raising children.
It took me 28 years to obtain my master's degree and become a mental health clinician in between working and raising children. I thought that all my hard work and life's dream had finally come true, but instead, I had a breakdown and could no longer work as a therapist. It came down to I thought my career would eventually be my saving grace, but that didn't work either.
Most people enjoy working, but if you've ever seen a workaholic, many of them base their identities on their careers or are escaping from the world or even themselves. Or, how about the retirees who might have looked forward to a new life but then become depressed because they don't know who they are outside of their careers. Again, we can't fill a void without self-exploration.
I can finally say that I've learned proper coping skills through hard work, therapy, and support. I now volunteer at inpatient facilities and blog on mental health through my journey. I also take daily walks, go hiking, and enjoy sitting along the ocean to reflect on my life and absorb that inner peace.
Once I filled that void from within, my children came back into my life, and the rest fell into place. And now, at 54 years old, I can finally say that I no longer feel empty. So, it is never too late, and you can have that, too.
Whether you need to seek therapy, take time to reflect, do something fun for yourself, or research some things you might like to do, whether a class you always wanted to take or some other hobby, do it now.
Don't wait until your family is grown or you retire to find yourself. And don't allow substances or any other unhealthy choice to fill that empty void because you won't find it there. You might need to dig deeper, but the answers are within you.