The Empty Bottle

Dear curious,

Despite my best intentions to blog twice a month, I have let my site sit silent for a few months. The reason being that I had a moment of complete, perfect happiness, which was quickly followed by a depressive period. And I do love to write when I’m feeling especially lunatic, to be sure, but I’m not inclined to share it.

But here I am, out the other side. And I want to post about the experience.

Let’s go through the list of caveats that I attach to this post: I know that I am lucky to have the healthy, beautiful family and home that I have, to have work that I enjoy. I know that I do have options and opportunities, and I know that I have choices. I am privileged and powerful, relatively speaking. I know, bottom line, that I don’t have much to complain about. Blah Blah Blah.

But there are times when many of the thoughts, emotions, sensations that I am having each day do not know that I am blessed, that there is nothing to worry about, and that, by rights, I should logically operate in a state of wellbeing.

While I do my best with the thinking, levels of consciousness, and physical processes that are constituting my experience from moment to moment, much of what happens inside me is not up to me. Like a wave, I can see it, I can ride it, even affect it in subtle ways, but I can’t transfigure it.

I glanced through my previous posts to remind myself where I was at before this interval of non-blogging. Being able to drop back in on your former self is a cool thing about blogs (this is one of several I have written over the years). Looking back I can see that I was feeling sober optimistic and happy. Ha.

That’s right. Then a weird thing happened.

I was walking along the street, admiring the setting sun throwing warm rays across the colourful pastel buildings in the centre of town. I remember feeling an expansive sense of contentment. I had not drunk alcohol for a month or so and I was physically fit. I had been singing, meditating, making things, enjoying my family life, and my work. Gold frickin’ star for me.

And to top it all off, it was quite clear that every person, animal, paving stone, window, tree, flower, every drop of water in the river was entirely perfect. I was not just in a good mood, I was lit up by life. I smiled at people and they smiled back.

Photo by Luca Dugaro on Unsplash

I sat down on a bench to drink my thermos of tea, and I fell into an innocuous conversation with a random backpacker about this and that, about travel. That day, in that street, I remembered in my bones what it felt like to go on adventures to places with names that I didn’t know how to pronounce. It was like walking into a room in my home that had been forgotten.

Walking on again, I felt something in my body had changed. A distinct sensation that some formerly dense part of me had liquified. I felt disorientated. I slowed down, gathered my bearings, then carried on my way to fetch my daughter from a party.

For weeks, I continued to feel strange. I felt this wild energy surging around inside me. I wanted to travel, to converse, to have sex, to dance, to soak up words, sounds, flavours. I had an immense appetite. One that was not easily satisfied by going about my daily routine. I felt hungry for new experiences, new textures, and tastes. I wanted to be in the middle of a vibrant city, or surrounded by drumbeats under a full moon, or sinking my teeth into the world at large. I did not much fancy doing the washing up, or preparing a sensible balanced meal, or driving my kids to school.

Music helped. So I listened, and I sang. I wrote. I also started drinking wine again and smoking too, buying my first pack of fags in almost a decade. Oops.

A lot of the time I felt trapped, despondent, confused, and agitated. I felt like I had lost the language of connection that I had re-learned word by word through all these years of raising small beings. I hadn’t found it that hard to be present with my loved ones, but suddenly I felt isolated and unable to be there for them. My nurturing was mechanical for the most part, on occasion also erratic or resentful.

I wanted to be supportive and loving. I wanted to be fun to be around. I wanted to be warm and soft. But I found myself impatient, numbed, prickly, and generally fed up with responsibility for/to others.

How strange that I could feel a moment of total wonder and aliveness, then head into a downward spiral, though the two are not uncommon bedfellows in music and literature. There was no reason at the time, at any single instant, to see any moment as particularly significant. Only, I felt a sense of total freedom, and then the bars of a mind cage descended around me.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Now, this onslaught of emotion felt all of a sudden. But there had been a slow progression of shifts and little griefs over the last few years: the demands of raising three children without a big support network, friends who came and went, unexpected deaths, supporting people in what turned out to be difficult births, Brexit, having trouble defining and pursuing career goals, missing family and friends back in the UK, lack of opportunity to do fun activities outside the home, lack of belonging to a community, disillusionment with feminism, a sense of domestic drudgery, difficulty in identifying and voicing my needs.

Perhaps I was ripe for a personal renaissance, but I needed insight about what I had going on under my mental radar.

Maybe life encouraged me to examine my inner life through a series of contrasts: euphoria, followed by acknowledgement of all the places that hurt; curiosity, followed by seeing all the places that seem shut down; desire, followed by understanding where I felt limited; connection, followed by a perception of loneliness; fullness, followed by a sense of emptiness.

I didn’t have a break down as such. But I became hyperaware of all the places where my thought created reality was off kilter, but where I hadn’t been able to acknowledge imbalance.

Again, I know (mostly) that it was not the external conditions of my life that made my feelings yo-yo up and down. There were unrecognised emotional needs to be listened to, and this is how they came out.

There didn’t seem much to be done about all my feelings, except to let them be there and keep going. Keep moving one foot in front of the other. Allow all the turbulent thoughts, emotions, and sensations to be there, and look for the light. Not just lightness in terms of illumination, but looking for what eased the palpable downward pressure of the stubborn, angry weight in my mind and body.

In looking for lightness, and in asking for what I actually wanted, I found myself in the mountains at a meeting with a bunch of wonderful doulas. We did a visualisation which involved being gifted with an object. I was given an empty bottle.

The empty bottle seemed appropriate for me: I thought of the stage I was at with my children, that my body had completed several cycles of pregnancies, breastfeeding was finished, and my energies were no longer needed for these purposes, leaving a space for other pursuits; I felt like all kinds of thoughts and feelings had been poured out of me, and there, again, was the space opening up for something new; my accumulated notions about where I was going as a doula seemed to have evaporated too, leaving room for a fresh path.

Then my imagination wandered into all the many ways I might fill up that bottle with unconsidered opportunities, unknown experiences, and unforeseen happenstance.

Eventually, I realised that the bottle wasn’t empty at all. It was full of air, light, and space. Ironically, the bottle was already full of the things I was looking for at this particular point in time. It just didn’t look that way because I couldn’t see the air, and took the presence of light for granted.

So why be hasty trying to manipulate the circumstances of life, to fight against myself, to feel bad about what isn’t or what is. Why look so hard for something to fill up a vessel that is full? At the very least, since this thought occurred to me I feel less urgency about finding ‘the thing/ people/ experience’ to fill up my bottle. I’m not harbouring so much fear that my bottle will remain unfilled- never coming into possession of the inspiring, delightful, or desirable.

As it happens, my bottle is already full of inspiration, delight, and desire looking to be poured out into the world and to mingle with whatever it finds there.

The upshot of all this is that I have begun to change my priorities around and challenge myself to get outside of the apathy zone. I feel open to fresh possibility and to engaging with mystery.

As my state of heart and mind improved, I’ve fallen back into connection with my husband and kids. I feel closer to them because they’ve been with me through this tricky patch, and not expected me to be perfect. I’m so grateful for their love and compassion.

Where are you at, curious? Is it just me who goes bonkers at the flip of a coin? Is this what happens in Spring or is there some other explanation?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Love and spaciness,

Alexis xxx

Thanks to  Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash for featured image.

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