The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
July 4, 2008

Fear of unpunctuated silence, or emptiness sucks.

The Blogger posting screen is blank and white and taunting me. I’ve been procrastinating starting this post for the last two hours because I’m not sure what shape it should have or how to begin. So I’ll just dive in and see where the words lead. Maybe by the time you read this, I’ll have deleted these introductory sentences altogether. Or maybe not.

This week, I started letting go of some things. Monday, I uninstalled the Microsoft games from my computers. No more killing time playing Freecell or Spider Solitaire. No more distracting myself while waiting for files to upload or programs to backup. No more splitting my attention with reruns of “House” playing in one corner of my screen and a game of Freecell going in another. I’m letting in a little empty space, and it sucks.

Tuesday, I used up the very last of my fairtrade organic coffee from Peaberry’s, washed out my new porcelain coffee cone as well as Organic Needle’s organic cotton filter, and stored them on the top shelf of the cupboard. No more charging my battery chemically because I stayed up all night, once again, and have to find the energy to go to work. Don’t worry. I’m not a masochist. I’m weening off the caffeine by switching to black tea for a few days and then maybe green, for the antioxidants, of course!

Also, on Tuesday, as I was emptying my backpack of non-essentials in preparation for a long nature walk, I decided to remove the case of prescription drugs I carry around every day for insurance. I’m referring to the big V’s: Valium and its friend Vicodin. I’ve had ongoing prescriptions for these drugs for many years for valid medical reasons, although I lost my Vicodin Rx at the same time I lost my uterus, the painful reason for the prescription in the first place. Still, I had some saved up, and while I rarely felt the need to actually take these drugs, just having them with me made me feel calm and prepared. Like I couldn’t be hurt, either emotionally or physically.

After putting the bottles in the kitchen cabinet, I sat at the table and wept.

I sobbed, actually, for about a half an hour. Even though all I’d done was put the bottles away (as opposed to discarding the contents altogether), I felt like I’d removed a limb. And a piece of identity I didn’t even know I’d been carrying. Breakable. Fragile. Patient. The drugs didn’t take up much room in my backpack, but the knowledge that they were there apparently filled a huge space in my psyche. Now I’ve created more emptiness and nothing to fill it with but tears.

Or alcohol.

Confession: I’ve been drinking my household cleaner for the last few months. That’s because I like to clean with vodka instead of vinegar. I bought the cheapest stuff I could find in a glass bottle because I hadn’t planned on consuming it. But that’s what happens at 2am when I’m anxious and agitated and want to wind down. And you know the saying that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over hoping for a different result each time? Alcohol NEVER puts me to sleep. It keeps me up. Yet every night, I expect it to do what it’s never done before.

So okay, last night I finished the bottle of household cleaner. Tonight, I have no alcohol in the house and have mentally stored that crutch away in the cupboard along with the coffee and pills. Wow. I sound like a total fiend. I was about to qualify all this with a statement about how little I actually drink, but screw that. It’s a problem. It’s been blocking me from finding out how powerful I could actually be without it, so it has to go. More space. More emptiness. More silence.

I’m giving up these heavy, heavy crutches in preparation for a 24-hour fasting vision quest I’ll be undertaking as part of the Integral Life Practice group I recently joined. And all these distractions are just weighing me down. Perhaps I feel such a connection to photos of dead birds full of plastic because I myself feel so heavy I can barely move.

But how can I take care of the planet when I am barely taking care of myself?

These are the thoughts I pondered during my 3-hour walk Tuesday, climbing the Berkeley hills, looking and listening for signs. I envisioned myself as both sculptor and clay, my job to cut out whatever is not me. And then I imagined a candle inside and light pouring through the openings I’d created. The spaces where I could shine a little, and maybe breathe.

The hill I climbed was steep (literally) and shadeless, and the weight on my back and in my brain, discouraging. Suddenly, I heard a familiar sound and looked up to catch sight of two hummingbirds, way up there in the hills, soar straight up into the sky and then dive bomb back down. Over and over they did this together, and once again that day I broke down and sobbed. “I want to fly,” I cried out to the wind, “How come I can’t fly? Why?”

I’m not making this up. I really did cry out in the “wilderness” of the Berkeley Hills. And of course, I knew the answer. I’m too heavy. All this extra stuff I carry. All the strategies I have for killing time, holding myself back, keeping myself in check. I want to find out who I’d be without those things. I’m really, really ready. And pretty terrified.

Yes, I go to meditation retreats twice a year and sit in silence and practice mindfulness. But the stillness is punctuated by the ring of the bell. The sessions structured and interspersed with meals and a waiting bed. I nap a lot. During my vision quest, I won’t be eating food or taking naps or ringing bells. And there won’t be anyone to tell me when to open my eyes. It’ll just be me and the woods and my bottle of water.

In discussing how hard it is to give up coping mechanisms and routines that we’ve come to depend on, my wise friend Axelle had this to say:

I didn’t answer your question about unpunctuated emptiness. Here it is: If I don’t have the structure of seeking food, whether at home or out, and eating it, at regular times, I don’t know what to do with the extra time. It’s too much space, too much freedom. What I missed when I quit smoking was the structure it gave me, of having to do something (smoke) at certain times. When I no longer had to smoke at certain times, I couldn’t handle the freedom, the space.

Why are some of us so afraid to be free? There’s a question to ponder on Independence Day while many are compulsively shopping or eating or drinking, accumulating more and more stuff to plug up the emptiness in their lives. Sitting quietly should be the simplest thing in the world. So why’s it so freakin’ hard?
 

40 comments
Rob
Rob

2010 Was a very transitional year for all of us. I found out I am kind of a butthead...and I am OK with that. Anyway you always inspire, teach and are a shining example to all.

SEEMA
SEEMA

Dear BethPlease followup with the results of your solitary rendezvous with the hills. If you are interested in spirituality, which is a big support in life (thats what I have experienced after two surgeries and leaving a cushy job, read my articles on www.spiritualguidedmeditation.com. Yoga can also do wonders for you. Visit www.yogawonders.com. Also www.gurumaa.com for meditation techniques you can try at home before attending meditation retreats.Lastly,let me congratulate you on getting rid of the extra baggage you carried with you, like alcohol and drugs you actually did not need. Thats the first step. If you make an effort, spiritual support comes up.

Rachel
Rachel

What a beautiful moving post (so sorry I'm late coming to it!). Over this past year I've received training in counseling, and such a big part of what I've done for myself is what you are doing. Learning to let go of what is holding us back, daring to leap forward into the new and unknown. It is so painful and so rewarding!I wish you the best of luck in this journey! And know that you are strong and you are loved and supported!

amy.leblanc
amy.leblanc

i think my "environmentalism" and keeping tabs on things like consumption and footprint is one of the things i depend on to fill the silence. you too, perhaps?

Student Doctor Green
Student Doctor Green

Hi Beth, It took a lot of guts to put yourself out there like that but I'm really glad you did because it made me feel not alone. I get really down sometimes and it's good to know I'm not the only one out there. I wish you the best with all your upcoming changes.

Sam
Sam

Wow- amazing post.I was proud of all you have been doing- for our world- but I am even prouder of what you are doing for yourself. Your honesty is inspiring- your burden shared by so many!!!! I've been giving up soda for years now- literally. Well not really- since I do not want to.... maybe tomorrow! And we are just like the fateful birds filled with plastic- we really are- we are full of high fructose corn syrup, nicotine, caffine and whatever else our wonderfully democratic world allows companies to fill our food with. It is an overwhelming concept. But one that goes down in history- remember the middle ages and the lead servingware. We think that it is so humorous that people were actually stupid enough to eat off lead plates- but we are no different. Thanks for the honest. And I wish you much success in lightening your load. And as a previous post said- you are not in the fight alone- environmentally or personally!Sam

Green Bean
Green Bean

Thank you, Beth, for a completely honest post. For saying things the rest of us are afraid to say much less think. There are now so many buffers - TV, internet, video games, shopping, magazines, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, everything - that we hardly know ourselves. What bravery it takes to cut all that out of your life, to force yourself to come face to face with you. You inspire me to cut some of my crutches out of my own life. I look forward to hearing about your journey.

Allie
Allie

Wow. I really understand this -- the patterns and commitments we fill our time with to keep ourselves from being free. I do that too too much. How amazing that you're taking these steps! Your honesty is so refreshing.

equa yona(Big Bear)
equa yona(Big Bear)

Jeez, I was just looking for a picture of your plastic bits!Seriously, this was moving and has really made an impact on me. Blessings!

Mark
Mark

Missy Beth,Oh how beautiful, brave and touching! You've left me "Beth-Less"Don't know who you'll be- but the inner glow- the fire the intelligence will all be there- w/out the stimulants. Yay! You can fly- and you will remain flying high-lil miss cricket.love ya,Mark

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me

What a wonderful, honest, beautiful and timely post. I am feeling the same kind of thing ... needing something new, and the process of "opening" to it is formidable indeed. You are an inspiration.

har mar
har mar

aw. i lub you. and i think you're amazing and will be okay in the long run. i dont think you give yourself enough credit most of the time. it's hard to give up large parts of your life...and you have to remember that you dont have to give everything up at once and also remember that you already have given up a very large part of your life...plastic...and that's a big deal. take it easy, enjoy life, make your footprint in the plastic-less lifestyle but remember to try and still enjoy the things that help to keep you sane (like episodes of house and free cell). If you give all of that up im afraid you'll become a crazy cat lady for good!

Robert MacNaughton
Robert MacNaughton

That was such a moving post Beth!I know this endeavor you're moving into will bear great fruit.I wanted to let you know we're building a community of like-minded practitioners at IntegralLife.com which launches later this summer. I know others there will be similarly inspired by your findings. You (and your readers) can also always learn more about Integral Life Practice using our ILP Starter Kit: myilp.com.All the best!Robert MacNaughtonrobert (at) integrallife (dot) comCommunity DirectorIntegral Life, Inc.

KeepingAwake
KeepingAwake

Beth, very moving and honest post. Why is it so hard to be still? Ask yourself one question--what am I afraid of? That usually gets to the bottom of things fairly quickly. ;)

jessy
jessy

what a wonderful post - it really hit home with me, Beth - it really did. and now i'm all teary eyed, because as you wrote about your heaviness, i started to feel mine, too. and i feel like i want to try and let go, too. i want some freedom, i want some time, i want part of my life back, i want to live more and laugh more, and actually RELAX for once. most of my days are filled with anger, anxiety, worrying about "dooms day" and peak oil, and all the nastiness people create. it wears me down and i try and stifle it with my schedules (for eating, blogging, reading, exericising, working, etc.), my patterns, and my habits that i just can't seem to break. i hide behind all of these because i fear being free because it kinda scares me. i don't know why it does - but it does. i fear living each day - really living it, and i think "what would i do if i didn't have my order?" - i know what i would do: i would smile more and laugh more and love more and feel more. so why is that so scary?! i dunno - but i think it's about time i worked on figuring that out. thank you, Beth! you're brave and wonderful and thoughtful and awesome! thank you! good luck, and thanks for sharing!

Going Crunchy
Going Crunchy

This was the most beautiful and moving post I've read on your blog. Your raw honesty deeply touched me. I don't have answers for you, but I commend your search.

jennconspiracy
jennconspiracy

*hugs*you're being very brave, Beth. Here I thought I was being brave by selling my car and vowing to be debt-free by next summer!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Beth, Bless you for sharing this. So many of us are on similar journeys to lose those activities, mindsets, etc. that are holding us back and keeping us from being free to be the people, we were meant to be. I've spent almost two years taking a hard look at myself and making changes that I was afraid to make. I still find myself falling into old patterns of behavior but now I recognize them, regroup, and move on. I still need to work through some tough things but I keep putting one step in front of the other. Every day as I grow in confidence and become a stronger person, I am grateful and enpowered to continue the journey.--Ave

Anna
Anna

Beth,I was so touched by your post and wanted to reach in from my computer and give you a hug. You are so brave to let others know what is going on in your life. It takes a strong person to be that vulnerable. Perhaps others too will be compelled to look at their own struggles based upon your own honesty.Sometimes in order to have freedom, you have to deal with the pain of the past whatever that might be. Some are afraid to deal with their past since if they do, what will they be when the pain is gone? Getting rid of old patterns, fear, and beliefs is down right scary. Who want to do that? But in the end, it is the baggage that we keep taking from place to place that weighs us down. I should only follow my own advice!Just so you know when I think of you, I think of a strong, engaging, funny, bright woman who is determined to change the world. You are not afraid to challenge and question the norm. This is the Beth I know. You have inspired me as well as others to be a better people and not to just settle and stretch ourselves a bit.When you take time to reflect spirtually, I hope you find what is holding you back. I am here for you. You know where to find me.Good luck, friend and fly!

cindy24
cindy24

Your post was great. So true in so many ways. Have been doing a huge declutter of my house. Axelle and I were talking that I tend to keep things because i feel guilty about throwing them away if they are not something I can donate. I spent the day putting kids toys together, wondering where they all came from, and throwing away the ones that were useless and setting aside usables to donate to the foster agency I adopted through. After seeing some of my kids drawers I realized I need to set a better example. Once I get my house together, I want to face my diet coke issue. I always have some reason I can't stop. Even the fact that I am ingesting some plastic hasn't made my stop. I have tried to drink coffee instead on the weekends. When at my office with the vending machine, I just fold.

James
James

Hey Beth...big steps you're taking, well done! It took me 3 years to kick coffee, don't be discouraged if you backslide a bit, it's all part of the journey. It's difficult at times not to get down about all that is happening around us. Like Paul Hawken says, if you're looking at the data, and you're NOT discouraged, you don't understand the data. That said, what else can we do? I often feel that the people who are drawn to this movement don't really have a choice, it's what we want to be doing, even need to be doing. There are a lot of us out there, working in different ways, and it all matters, so yes, don't feel alone as someone earlier has posted. I applaud your courage and willingness to be vulnerable in this way. I've found that by stating things publicly, I can draw energy from knowing that others know. And then you just keep moving...quest coming up next - moving deeper into the unknown...and it's all great. Keep the Spirit up, there's light all around us.

Lynn from organicmania.com
Lynn from organicmania.com

Beth,I am sorry that you have been in such pain. Your post was very brave. You covered a lot of ground, including the reason for those pills. There must have been times when it was rough, especially as people tend to make remarks that can open old wounds. I hope you find strength through your retreat. I would encourage you to give up the blogging while you are there so that you can really focus only on yourself and the natural world. And of course, if you find it difficult to stay away from the "household cleaner," you may really want to check out AA.Please keep us posted, or you know you can always reach me direct as you've done in the past. Godspeed.

Lynnet
Lynnet

I was very touched by your post. Thank you for sharing. And good luck on cutting out some of the heavy burdens of your life. Please, dear one, you don't have to do it ALL. There is a community of like-minded active people around you. The weight of the plastic in the birds and fish is properly spread out among these people. Each of us in this ever-growing movement picks up our piece of this problem and carries it. You are not alone! Love and best wishes to you.

Tanya
Tanya

Beth-What an honest and beautifully written post! :)

MamaBird
MamaBird

Thank you for your post and I do hope you continue to take care of yourself with such passion and strength as you've been taking care of the planet and the rest of us.

A Slice of the Pie
A Slice of the Pie

Beth, this post was so moving. It was beautifully written, too. Best wishes and continued strength. You are once again leading the way, not only with words, but with actions. Thank you.

Robj98168
Robj98168

Good for you. I gave up alcohol and mind altering drugs years ago.And yes you feel like sobbing. Or you do like me and inadvertanly replace old habits and addictions with new ones! It was a little easier for me- I went to rehab long before it was the Celebrity In thing to do. that and a lot of twelve step meetings later I van say I am the SOBER asshole that I am today!

willo
willo

Aww, Beth, I absolutely LOVED that you shared so open & honestly with us! It's such a breath of fresh air to read someone's truth. Letting down the facades and just letting it all hang out. It's healing for everyone reading it, too, as a reminder for us all to look at what's really going on & be willing to bring consciousness to it.This year I've begun to take notice all of the places in my life where I've been too ashamed to admit what's really going on with me... realizing some part of my not looking at it was being afraid that if I did, then someone was going to find me out or something (weird). But, I realized the only one I wasn't being honest with was myself! And that the constructs of this autopilot, thinking it's somehow taking care of me or keeping me safe as it were, were actually not serving me or fooling anyone.Since then I have been working on creating more 'space' in my life. Giving myself space every day to just BE, and listen. At first it was very hard, because I have who I call 'the whipcracker' making me think I have to go-go-go all the time. But, the result of that is my not listening to my body, and the result of that is overeating (or not eating at all - being completely disconnected from my body), feeling stressed, obligated, etc etc. Pretty amazing when you allow yourself the space to listen, and all the fears that can come up. I started to recognize the personas & stories within me that have been supported by that role of the whipcracker, and therefore (kind of like the government & big business) weren't so happy as I started trying to let it go!Anyway, there's a lot more to it all, and everyone's different... but I just wanted to say that I'm really proud of you for being honest with yourself (and us) and committing to listening taking care of yourself. Sending you a supportive hugxo

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thank you. You actually got both laughter and tears from me with your post (mmm, the tears might be the after effects of chopping onion recently, but I don't think so).Warm wishes for the vision quest, and for the rest of your journey. Thank you for sharing it.L'shalom,kt

Aimee
Aimee

BethThank you for sharing what I feel so profoundly. Tears come to my eyes identifying with the anxious feeling of empty space. "what if I can't buy alcohol, what will I do while watching tv, cooking, cleaning, how will I socialize(insert any activity)....if I can't enjoy a drink?" I too am tired of this crutch and feel so limited by it. How thin, productive, happy, energetic could I be without it if I could just get past the anxious time of relearning how to live without it. I applaude your honesty and am humbled by it. Good luck, good health and we are all in this together.Aimee

Marcie
Marcie

Beth your post really took my breath away with its honesty! What a great way to celebrate the 4th with UDDER freedom from the things that distract you and cloud you way of thinking!I believe you will find true peace from all the "things" that have been your crutch. Just getting to this place and then sharing it with ALL of us--Your Blogger Family--is HUGE!Blessings and Peace for you today :)

Joyce
Joyce

Honest as always, Beth. Thanks.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thank you. I know what I have to do now.

Village Green
Village Green

Thank you for opening windows into your inner psyche. I can relate to everything you wrote of today, although my baggage may not look quite like yours, it still is heavy and hold me down from accomplishing the things I really want to do. I'm cheering for you and taking a harder look at my own not useful habits.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Your honestly is inspiring. Thank you!Kamrin

axelle
axelle

Thoughts of too much freedom on this Fourth of July, which celebrates American freedom: Before I quit smoking many years ago, whenever I went out I carried cigarettes, matches, and an unopened pack of cigarettes or enough money to buy a pack in case I ran out. After I quit smoking, I had an unpleasant feeling of too much space with my hands now suddenly free because all I needed to carry was my house key. What else was miserably uncomfortable about not smoking is that it was part of my process of drinking. I had to learn to drink without smoking and the first couple of times I cried and then I got used to it. It took 6 years to know I could let go of drinking, too, and bear the discomfort of feeling too much space and freedom, and now your post comes along to remind me I can let go more stuff that's getting in my way. Thank you.

eco 'burban mom
eco 'burban mom

Thank you Beth for sharing. Your strength is inspiring and I wish you the best of luck on your journey. Such a motivating post for the 4th of July! I hope you spend the day rested, relaxed and happy!

katecontinued
katecontinued

Beth, this is such a moving post. It is the finest thing I could have read on this independence day. I really laughed when I read,Confession: I've been drinking my household cleaner for the last few months.This is brave and thrilling for you to take this next big step. I am cheering for you and I am trying very hard to take my next steps too. I just gave up my refrigerator a couple of days ago.Coffee - not yet. My theory is the thought of being uncomfortable holds me back from all of my personal steps towards removing distractions. (Not necessarily racking pain or anything insurmountable - being uncomfortable.)I await your Vision Quest posts - if you will be able to share. This post - this sharing, was so very generous.

Mel
Mel

I wish you luck, on all aspects. I know how hard it is to change on such a grand scale.