I wanted to make the title of this blog post something beautiful, something naked and alive and deeply moving. But it is what it is. There are other words for “hole” that could make it pretty: pocket, void, burrow, cavern, chamber, chasm, fissure, fracture, hollow, hovel, puncture, notch. Again, it is what it is and making it sound pretty doesn’t diminish the fact that it is nothing but an empty space in the center of your matrix that you have been carrying around for the bulk of your life. I found out early in my teens that not everyone has this hole. There are many people walking around this planet who have never felt a chronic, pervasive sense of emptiness that cannot be explained or cured, but I think now that these people are in the minority. I used to think it was just me who felt this hole, and then I realized there were a few others like me, and then still later I realized there were many, many, many other thousands of people like me. Now I believe that most of us have this hole, whether we realize it or not, and the ones who do not have it can never know what it’s like to have a piece missing from yourself and carry on with your life as if you were a whole and complete person and live by the same rules and standards as everyone else (re: hole-less people).
I’d like to take this time to clarify the hole itself. This is not something you were born with. This is something that was given to you, that was dug for you, by someone, something, else, and this happened to you when you were young, when your psyche was still developing, when your personality was still shaping itself into making you, you. This is not the emptiness you felt after a boyfriend broke up with you when you were 15. This is not the sadness you had after the family pet died when you were 10. This is not even the mourning you went through after grandparents or other close family members passed away. Those are normal reactions people experience to situations that happen to nearly everyone in the world at one time or another. These holes, for the most part, are parental in nature. I am not a psychiatrist. I am a psych nurse. I am not a Freudian, but I do agree with many of his basic parental theories, at least to the extent that they apply to these holes. For myself, for my hole-friends, and for the hundreds of my hole-patients over the years, nearly all our holes were excavated by a mother or a father (usually one or the other, but sometimes both). Let me further clarify here that it is the child’s perception and reaction to this excavation that completes the digging of the hole. Okay, it’s easier with a metaphor. Identical twin boys were born to an alcoholic man. One twin grew up to be a skid-row bum; the other to be a successful, corporate attorney. When asked what motivated them most in making their life-choices they gave the same answer, “My father was a drunk.” They both ended up with holes, nevertheless, but let’s move on…
Most addicted-to-anything parents gave birth to and raised children while holding shovels. They scooped bits and pieces of your soul with this shovel at nearly every turn, sometimes with huge, gaping, powerful stabs, and other times, they picked out little pieces of rock or dirt and just tossed it over their shoulder. They most likely didn’t know they were doing this, as it had probably been done to them the same way. Or they did know they were screaming at you and telling you you were stupid or ugly but because that’s how they were raised, it was just the normal way to raise a child. Or they were doing things that were shoveling out your insides and they weren’t even aware of it (like showing up to your 1st grade school play drunk and half dressed, passing out in your playhouse in the backyard, throwing up on the table when you had a friend to dinner, forgetting that you were in the car while they had a few drinks in the bar, telling you personal things about their sex life that no child should hear). I’d like to point out that none of these things happened to me. My father was a drinker, yes, but a happy drunk and quite functional. My mother drank, too, but only on social occasions. But this should make my point here very well as far as how the perception of the child helps to complete the hole. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. In fact, it is often extremely disproportionate to it in a globally unfair extreme! Since I can remember, I have had the distinct impression, the deepest perception, the truest awareness and understanding that my mother never liked me. I remember standing as high as the hemline of her skirt and having this feeling. I remember my sister being an infant and having this feeling. I was four. I have had this feeling my entire life. At times over the years the perception deepened and I imagined that she actually hated me. I usually believed that she did love me, but she just didn’t like me as a person. It took me years to accept this. It took years to reconcile that perhaps there were mothers in the world who didn’t like all their children, who didn’t get along with them, or didn’t agree with them, but they loved them. And believe it or not, it taught me my most valuable life lesson: you don’t have to like someone to love them. There it is. So, the parental thing can be as insidious as believing your parent didn’t like you or as obvious as a parent who abused you and there you have it, a hole.
From these holes, personality disorders are born. So are serial killers, alcoholics, junkies, overeaters, gamblers, shopaholics, workaholics, rageaholics, child molesters, career criminals and politicians. So too are musicians, writers, poets and painters. So too are the Spirit Travelers, the Wandering Wolves, the Wild Women, the Lost and Lonely, the Always-Questioning, and the Forever-Seeking. They all have traits in common:
*They are terrified of being abandoned or left alone. Even something as innocuous as a loved one getting home late from work or going away for the weekend can trigger intense fear. This leads to frantic efforts to keep the other person close. They may beg, cling, start fights, jealously track their loved one’s movements, or even physically block the other person from leaving. Unfortunately, this behavior tends to have the opposite effect–driving others away.
*They have relationships that are intense and short-lived. They fall in love quickly, believing each new person is the one who will make them feel whole, only to be quickly disappointed. Their relationships either seem perfect or horrible, with nothing in between. Their lovers, friends, or family members may feel like they have emotional whiplash from their rapid swings between idealization and devaluation, anger, and hate. This instability is not subject to just romantic, intimate relationships. They often have problems in their relationships with their siblings, their neighbors, their postal workers, their bosses, their nephews, their grandchildren, their county representatives, their school board officials…
*Their sense of self is typically unstable. They vacillate between self-love and self-hatred. They have no clear idea of who they are or what they want in life. As a result, they frequently change jobs, friends, lovers, religion, values, goals, and even sexual identity.
*They have impulsive, self-destructive behaviors. They may engage in harmful, sensation-seeking behaviors, especially when upset; impulsively spend money, binge eat, drive recklessly, shoplift, engage in risky sex, or overdo it with drugs or alcohol.
*Suicidal behavior and deliberate self-harm is common. Suicidal behavior includes thinking about suicide, making suicidal gestures or threats, or actually carrying out a suicide attempt. Self-harm includes all other attempts to hurt themselves without suicidal intent. Common forms of self-harm include cutting and burning.
*They have extreme emotional swings. One moment, they may feel happy, and the next, despondent. Little things that other people brush off can send them into an emotional tailspin. These mood swings are intense, but they tend to pass fairly quickly (unlike the emotional swings of depression or bipolar disorder), usually lasting just a few minutes or hours.
*They have chronic feelings of emptiness. They often talk about feeling empty, as if there’s a hole or a void inside them. At the extreme, they may feel as if they are “nothing” or “nobody.” They will go out of their way to fill this emptiness with drugs, food, sex, shopping, relationships, but nothing feels truly satisfying.
*They often struggle with intense, explosive bouts of anger. They have trouble controlling themselves once the fuse is lit–yelling, throwing things, or becoming completely consumed by rage.
*They often feel suspicious or out of touch with reality. They can struggle with paranoia or suspicious thoughts about others’ motives. When under stress, they may even lose touch with reality–an experience known as dissociation. They may feel foggy, spaced out, or outside of their own bodies. This feeling of detachment from themselves is nearly unbearable and often results in self harm, cutting, in order to “feel alive.”
(*Information taken/paraphrased from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/personality-disorders/borderline-personality-disorder.htm)
Yes, every single word of this applies to me (or did at one time). I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in my teens and early twenties, but no longer meet the criteria for it. My psychiatrist says I most likely “grew out of” my symptoms. Not everyone does. Some people get worse. Some get better. Some simply replace the ambiguity of the hole with something more concrete like alcoholism or depression. Sometimes people just need something they can sink their teeth into. I think my BPD grew up and became Bipolar Disorder. Whatever, the hole is still there and always will be, despite the ways in which it exerts itself (in rage or in poetry).
There is only ONE way to fill up the hole. This is going to be very hard for some people to read, but it must be said. First, you need a time machine. Second, you must go back to the time when the incident happened that dug the hole in the first place and stop it from happening. If only it were that easy! In the case of an alcoholic or abusive parent, you would probably have to go back to before you were born, maybe before your parents were born, and stop the incident that happened to their parents from happening so they wouldn’t do to your parents what your parents then did to you. You could go back to the day before you found your mother hanging in the basement when you were five years old and hide the noose and alert the family and call the police, but the despondency is what killed her, and that was there long before she put the rope around her neck and stepped on the chair. How far back do you go? There is no time machine and there is no way of knowing when, so what about just facing the person head on and confronting the issue? Yes, you can do this, but you don’t have to. It will not fill the hole. It may help you to forgive and forget (and if you can’t do both, just pick one), but the hole? That is yours, baby. It will NEVER, EVER, EVER be filled. Ever.
Most of us never had a problem with recognizing the hole. We knew from a very early age that there was something “missing” in us—there was an emptiness, an echoing chamber that seemed to amplify our fears and tears and misery. We wondered if we were human. We wondered if we were evil. We wondered if we were separate and apart from the masses. Did we belong? Did we fit? Was there something inherently wrong with us? The problem came when trying to ACCEPT that the hole was there and was never going away. I spent years trying to drown this hole with booze, drugs, men, women, school, religion, travel, 12-step programs, prayer, sex, writing, denial, music, Nyquil, reading, counseling, therapy, shock treatments, exercise, relationships, BDSM, jobs, careers, degrees, food, people, anger, lust, running, rowing, running away…
Nothing fills it. Nothing ever did. Nothing ever will.
Acceptance came as gradual as aging. I realized one day that this hole was as much a part of me as my height and eye color. I started to acknowledge it as an entity all its own. I had coffee with it. I took walks with it. I wrote poetry to it. I listened to music with it. There is hardly a day when I do not feel it. And this feeling is painful. It is mournful. But, it is fleeting. I breathe through it. I hum through it in the middle of the night. I have not befriended it by any stretch of the imagination, but I do use it to my advantage. It has helped me connect with my patients. It has helped me be a better mother. It has helped me empathize and care for what other nurses would consider “dregs of society” (pedophiles, rapists, murderers), and it has helped me see other people, sometimes with just one quick glance—their pain, their aura, their struggle, their plight, their beauty, their gifts…their amazing, clanging, banging, cavernous, thundering, engulfing, wide-open and expansive, exploding holes.
As I have always thought the universe teaches best with ironic flair, I have learned that this hole, this very emptiness, completes me more than anything else ever has. Without this chasm, there would not be this knowing. Without knowing firsthand how far the fissure can crack, I would have never known that there is pain that can’t be reached. I would have never learned to accept. I would have never learned to love. I would have never learned to forgive my mother. I would have never realized, after all these years, that my mother has always loved me…maybe even liked me all along.