It starts out as a vague discomfort. Your brain knows something is wrong in your body and there’s an immediate running monologue in your head.
What’s wrong? I can’t tell what’s wrong.
Maybe your heart beats a little faster. There’s a gnawing in your chest. There’s discomfort in your gut. It’s almost as though there’s something inside you with an urgent voice of its own.
What’s going on? Someone tell me what’s going on.
But you have no answer for the voice. You’re confused. You don’t know what you need. You don’t know what’s wrong. You just feel a growing sense of dread and panic. The sensations in your body are growing more urgent.
What do I need? Am I hungry? I must be hungry. I need something. What do I need?
The feeling of missing someone can create incredibly intense physical sensations in your heart and in your gut. The discomfort usually starts in the gut, but sometimes it starts higher — in the chest around the heart. It all works together, but you’re not even sure what’s going on. You end up guessing.
This is about her, isn’t it? Why am I thinking about her? Was I thinking about her or something else?
Some people say, “This is why I drink.” For me, this is why I eat ice cream. It’s a feeling of hunger — an intense, pulsating hole inside that must be filled. It’s a need for love — for acceptance, for home, for everything that feels like the place and the person I’ve been craving.
Some people say it’s a need for God. I’ve heard a lot of misguided rhetoric about how such deep yearning can only be the desire for communion with God. But in the same way that humans have a need for food and water and shelter, we also have other physical, emotional and psychological needs that go beyond any need for spiritual nourishment. All those needs are real, but they’re different needs that require different things.
Why does this hurt? How can I make it stop hurting?
For me, I can almost taste a person — not like tasting skin, but there’s the odd sense of tasting a presence, tasting a voice, tasting love, tasting mutual need. Tasting companionship. And tasting it hurts, because it screams out the desperate desire for something which isn’t there.
You keep hearing voices, not in the sense of thinking someone is there and you need to be locked up by men in white coats. You know it’s the need talking. You know the need is like a scared child screaming its old, unfulfilled need. The sensations in your body are urgent.
It’s a hunger that grows and eats at you.
Make it stop hurting!
It’s not rational. It’s not a conscious decision. It’s a need that won’t go away — a hole that’s opened inside your heart — craving, needing, begging. It’s a hunger.
Is this depression? Am I depressed? Is this about her or am I going crazy?
Why do we write songs about missing loved ones? Why do we make all sorts of art about lost love — and of finding it again?
Writer Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote in a letter, “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
That’s what it’s like. There’s a hole you try to avoid where something — someone — ought to be. It’s hard to avoid the hole. It’s hard to pretend it’s not there. Pretending can’t last long.
Why does this make me feel so crazy? How can I make this stop?
When people don’t know how to fill needs, they frequently fill those inner holes with unhealthful things. Some people get drunk. Some people go looking for any sex they can find. Some people gamble. Others use all sorts of recreational drugs.
For me, it’s sugar. That’s how I self-medicate. I deadens the voice. It temporarily kills the feelings. As I pour food into my body, I’m filling a hole — temporarily, but it’s all I know how to do.
Afterward, I feel shame for giving in to eating something that I know will make me feel terrible, make me gain weight, zap my energy, destroy my ability to sleep, deaden ambition and cause my joints to hurt. It causes me to feel physically and mentally terrible, but when I’m in the grip of that child-life voice, I turn to something familiar — because I must deaden the feelings.
I used to think I was the only one who went through this horrible pattern that seems to overwhelm life for awhile, but I’ve discovered others who admit — usually with feelings of shame — that they experience the same thing.
I don’t know yet how to make the feelings go away, how to get rid of the fear and the dread, how to fill the hole that doesn’t seem to want to be filled.
I’ll fight it. Eventually, I’ll beat it. I’ll find a way to fill the need permanently. I know I will.
In the meantime, I’ll continue a horrible struggle that few understand — in ways that make me feel that I’ve temporarily lost my mind.