Emptiness: Sign of Emotional Trauma

Meeting Emptiness

The first time my inner emptiness was visible to me was looking at a photograph of myself taken at my fifth birthday party. There I was, standing on a chair between my half-brother, who was about to cut the cake with me, and another child whose name I could not recall. This was a supposedly a happy moment.

My mother had marked my birth since the first year with these parties. They had become a tradition, one that she would keep up until my 16th year. The picture from the last party my mother held for me was a little different from those of the fifth. Again flanked by friends, on this occasion by two girlfriends, empty was again hovering in my eyes.

Curious about my life and why sadness and emptiness seemed to plague me, about nine years ago I took a trip down memory lane. Looking at the photographs, that empty look seem omnipresent. Forty plus years of age and seeing these pictures at least a hundred times before, that was the moment I realised how pained and troubled a past the little girl then young woman had experienced. In the throes of another debilitating and emptying experience, my womanly eyes for the first time connected with the hollow eyes of this cute little girl standing there with her glass of kool aid raised.

The Trauma of Emptiness

Emptiness – a constant companion

Sitting on the floor of my walk-in closet with the photographs strewn around me, my fingers reached for a more recent picture. An older me – no longer a little girl but mother, divorcΓ©e, career woman, long-term partner and now a woman broken again by pain. Staring at myself in this picture, the memories of how empty I had felt at my most recent birthday party flooded me. Dressed in my pink pajamas, a friend had captured it. This time, I knew it was there.

It was my 41st birthday and my then partner was having an affair with none other than a “friend” of the family. They thought it was a secret but the glances between them, even while they pretended to celebrate my birthday, was enough to empty any woman’s heart. Less than a year later, my life fell to the bottom of a dark and empty well as my partner walked out on me. There was nothing in the world that would have convinced me that there was any coming back for me from that.

“Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness. I have to bang my head against some hard door to call myself back to the body.” Virginia Woolf

And banged I did. I banged my head so hard against every wall and when the pain would not go away, I tried to kill it and myself along with it. Twice.

On both occasions, angels rescued me from myself. Temporarily though. They held, comforted and fed me as much as they could and as I would allow. But there came a time when they had to go, I had to let them go and make a choice. What I learned in my empty apartment during what was possibly the darkest winter I have ever seen was that neither food, alcohol or the company of good people can fill the emptiness in your heart. During those weeks of self-imposed solitary confinement, I came to understand the sweet hold that addiction could have. Thankfully, even at my most broken, my spirit of “need to be in control” had not fully left me and eventually She took over. Looking back now, I wish that I had contacted a company like Psych Company sooner to allow myself to be happy again and learn how to heal.

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Filling The Emptiness

One inch at a time, I made my way out of the bed and into the bathroom for my first shower in at least a week. Then, I inched further into the kitchen, dizzy because my blood sugar was low as coffee left in a thermos by one of my angel-friends was what was keeping me alive. Leaning against the fridge, I stared at the apartment door thinking I could either open it and walk a few blocks to get real food or keep it barred and let the emptiness swallow me alive.

emptinessYou know the decision that I eventually made. I did not leave the apartment that day. Instead, I picked up the phone and called the woman-friend who was most affected by my shattering. She answered on the second ring and in an equally short time was at my door with food and love. Together we wept some more and then I made the call that she had urged me to make for weeks.

She must have prompted them to expect a call from me, she was influential like that, as the counsellor had an opening and within a couple of days I was in the gentle care of Jewish-woman psychologist. Working with her for the next six months, seeing her once a week exhausted my work insurance but this woman-friend of mine paid for the other sessions. My resistance to seeing a therapist was soon thwarted. I had feared that most Canadian counsellors would not understand my journey as a Jamaican, immigrant, racialized, sexualised, marginalised woman and indeed many to this day would not. My woman-friend did as we had spent many hours in heart-to-heart conversations prior to my emptying. She carefully sought out a therapist who would as well. And she found her. Sometimes, for people with deep-rooted trauma that can be very hard to live with and very hard to work through, conventional therapy may not work; they may choose to go the unconventional route and try powerful, transformational experiences such as a safe ayahuasca retreat. For me however, the sessions with my therapist proved to be quite beneficial.

Healing Emotional Trauma

Through her blend of body psychotherapy, spiritual (Jewish) understanding and our basic connection as women, my last leg of the healing journey commenced. On her floor each week, she helped me understand the transference that occurred between my mother and I, my lack of boundaries and the subsequent dysfunction in many if not all of my relationships as a result and the emptiness and sadness that plagued me. With her help, I learned how to start refilling my life but first emptying all that remained, still holding me in fear.

Wholistic healing

Within a year of this experience, I was off antidepressants, out of psychotherapy, meeting with my spiritual director only once a month instead of twice weekly, eating properly again and doing well on my job to have merited a promotion. Depression does not go away overnight but, in my opinion and experience, with the right care, one that is appropriate and designed to your needs it can be managed and then overcome. The time that it takes will be different for each person, which is why people make different trauma insurance claims here. My process was supported by the fact that I had been in training to help others and was also in other forms of counselling as part of my preparation for Chaplaincy. During that time, we met many Teachers from several faith and spiritual streams. One of them was an Aboriginal Elder who made a statement that would later have a most profound impact on my decision to heal. He told us,

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“The longest distance a human can travel is the sixteen inches between his head and his heart.”

As the emptiness threatened to suffocate me, I would hear those words in my ear and tried to take the trip. I failed several times but once my heart was aligned with my mind that was when my in filling began.

Coming To An End
Alexis Ali
The infilling

This has been a great series of post on emptiness, responding to a reader’s request to discuss the topic. Clara Brown shared her experience with feeling empty after the loss of her second child. Alexis Ali shared her continuing process with in filling in relation to her father. We will end this series with Katelyn Roth who will delve more into the psychology of emptiness.

What I would like you to take away from today’s post is this – it is possible to refill your life even after an extended period of emptiness. With the help of specialists, professionals you can heal after an emotional trauma. Your process might be long, short or somewhere between but the time it takes does not matter. What does matter is that you take the time needed to become who you want to be. While formally in therapy for six months, it took me 40+ years to heal from the physical and emotional traumas of parental abuse, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and rape.

I love the words of Lloyd Alexander, author of the book “The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen,” on this matter of emptiness. He so eloquently captures the gift that being empty can bring:

healing“You must know nothing before you can learn something, and be empty before you can be filled. Is not the emptiness of the bowl what makes it useful? As for laws, a parrot can repeat them word for word. Their spirit is something else again. As for governing, one must first be lowest before being highest.”

Have a great Monday. May it be peaceful and empty of hate and despair. May you be the light in dark places and may your emptiness of ego, prejudice and ignorance bring Love to those who need it most.

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45 thoughts on “Emptiness: Sign of Emotional Trauma

  1. […] Experience is a wonderful teacher, in many cases and instances it is the best university you can attend. You might have read one of my posts in which I shared that one of the many reasons that I could not become an adherent of the Catholic faith is my refusal to go into confession with someone who has minimal “real life” experiences. It is the same rational that delayed my finding a therapist at the darkest point of my journey. While I still would not convert to Catholicism, although I now know that not all who are “robed” lack the life experiences necessary to understand a woman with a past, I had to change my perspective a bit about not being able to find a therapist who would empathize with my journey. That story was shared in “Emptiness: Sign of Emotional Trauma.” […]

  2. […] slouched on the edge of your bed, ready to stand up, for the better part of an hour. It is this emptiness that hollows every laugh, freezes smiling eyes, slumps shoulders down and lines the soles of your […]

  3. […] and the impact they have on the children within their folds. It is my contribution to our series on Emptiness that will wrap up with an article from Katelyn Roth in the coming week or so. Many of us, including […]

  4. […] and the impact they have on the children within their folds. It is my contribution to our series on Emptiness that will wrap up with an article from Katelyn Roth in the coming week or so. Many of us, including […]

  5. What an inspirational post for those still going through it. Thank you for sharing your voice and your story.

    1. Ms Claudette

      And thank you very much for reading! πŸ™‚

  6. I’m so sorry that you felt empty, but glad you are overcoming it.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Not overcoming – overcame. Thank you for visiting. πŸ™‚

  7. Wow, thank you so much for sharing. Our journey’s are not the same, but my ex husband was leading a double life of affairs and deception, and I can relate to SO much of what you said. I learned from many of life’s trials to give yourself grace. Healing is a process, but one that can happen if we just keep moving forward..step by step. Blessings to you Claudette!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Blessings to you as well Angie! Yes, our walk might have been along different paths but the learning is the same! Namaste my Sister. πŸ™‚

  8. thank you for sharing that you can be refilled after becoming empty. it is not a fun or short process but it is possible

    1. Ms Claudette

      You are so right – that is is not fun or short but we do grow through the process. Thanks for stopping by! πŸ™‚

  9. wow, you are such an inspiration to many women…so brave and strong!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Thank you very much. Namaste πŸ™‚

  10. sad story – I’m glad to hear you were able to let someone in and assist you – I’m sure it is an ongoing battle for you

    1. Ms Claudette

      No, it is no longer a battle. I have moments of sadness, yes, but falling into the depression has not reoccurred as I know now how to let go of anything or anyone that would lead me down that path. Thanks for your care. πŸ™‚

  11. Emptiness could lead to depression.. It’s a painful feeling, seek for help

    1. Ms Claudette

      It most certainly can and that is the point of the post. πŸ™‚

  12. So grateful that you have really great friends who take wonderful care of you.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Yes, I am most grateful for my friends. Thank you Beth! πŸ™‚

  13. Thank goodness you reached out for help when you did. I’m glad someone was there and helped steer you to toward a path of healing.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I am glad for the angels who were there for me for sure! Thanks for your kind words Liz! πŸ™‚

  14. Elizabeth O.

    I am glad you are out of that loop. What a moving story, I took my time to read just to make sure I don’t miss any of it. Be proud of yourself, you are an awesome woman!

    1. Ms Claudette

      I am, proud of myself that is. Thank you for very much for your kind words. πŸ™‚

  15. sadly food and comfort at times go hand in hand. I have seen family members do this very thing as they struggle with life problems and / or depression

  16. Thank you for sharing your personal story with us – it is very inspirational! <3

  17. I tend to emotionally each during times of emptiness. this past year has been such a HUGE transition for our family and the scales show it. I miss knowing everyone around me. I am not so much empty as I am lonely…


    1. Ms Claudette

      Have you relocated? That can be a huge transition – changing neighbourhoods. Believe me, you will soon call your tribe to you in this new area. My thoughts are with you and thanks for sharing your blog link. Namaste. πŸ™‚

      1. We moved last year to Nashville Tennessee from Ohio. Then this past summer we moved from Nashville to Clarksville Tennessee so over a year of not knowing anyone. It’s been really hard. πŸ™‚

  18. I’m am typically surrounded by chaos and some days it drives me crazy and others I’m very glad to never feel alone!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Each of us need a different environment to thrive. Whatever yours look like – if it works for you, no one has the right to question it. πŸ™‚

  19. You have to admit to emptiness before you can begin to refill–you obviously with the help of some marvelous friends and professional people made the transition thankfully.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I most certainly had angels walking beside me – sometimes they were actually carrying me. πŸ™‚

  20. Filling the emptiness makes sense to me. Not easy but worht it

    1. Ms Claudette

      Absolutely worth it! That I know is true. πŸ™‚

  21. This is a very insightful post. Many people believe depression can be overcome quickly but it takes years of hard work. I am just now getting to the point where I’m feeling comfortable with my life and myself again. I have seen therapists, been on medication and read every book there is. I finally came to the realization it had to come from within and nothing external would fix me. I think that was my turning point πŸ™‚ Thanks for the wonderful post Claudette!

    1. Ms Claudette

      YES!!!!! You got it girlfriend! If it doesn’t come from within – then it is not your healing! You take as much time as you need my love. πŸ™‚

  22. I agree that we must attempt to fill in the emptiness because even with depression we can still learn to cope no matter how hard it is.

    1. Ms Claudette

      We absolutely can – I am living proof of it. πŸ™‚

  23. I think it is possible to refill your life, even after an extended period of emptiness. You only need to open up, so people will know how they can help you.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I agree with you. The challenge has been and remains for most is the opening up part. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! πŸ™‚

  24. The emptyness is an awful feeling.I tend to clean when I feel that way.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I never want to clean so I used to eat! πŸ™‚

  25. Robin Rue (@massholemommy)

    I am an emotional eater – that’s how I feel better about my issue, but then I feel bad about my big thighs.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I know exactly what you mean Robin! I used to be like that as well and still have the tummy to prove it. πŸ™

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