Have you gone through a period where you no longer fit comfortably into your life? The old routines, relationships and ways of thinking that used to yield results and fulfillment no longer work? You are confused because you are doing everything right. You feel alone because you don’t know how to describe what you are experiencing to loved ones around you who may take it personally. If any part of this resonates, then you are or have been in “the hallway”.
The hallway is long, and there are many doors. Some areas are not well lit. Whenever I enter it, my reaction is to exit immediately through the door which led me in, return to what is comfortable. But I have found that staying comfortable comes at a high cost to my soul. At best, comfortable is the field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz.
Taking an inventory of your vices is a great way to determine if you choose comfort over growth regularly. Staying stagnant requires numbing agents because it goes against our ever-evolving nature. For years, I was engaged in a ferocious game of whack-a-mole, using different vices as anesthesia to numb my instincts. After I quit drinking, my smoking took on a new fury. Then I stopped smoking and picked up food. Obsessive exercising eventually replaced overeating. After injuring myself multiple times, I turned my focus to shopping/accumulating stuff. Simultaneously, I filled my schedule with social commitments that didn’t align with my core values. As a result, I often felt awkward and relied on gossip as a way to connect with my environment. And busy is a vice too, being busy ran my show for years.
Running out of vices was the best thing that ever happened to me. Without them, I couldn’t squeeze myself into a life I’d outgrown. I was tired of being Alice in Wonderland crammed into that house after she ate the cake.
Without vices, my pain and longing became acute.
The first time I entered the hallway was when I stopped drinking at age thirty. Not picking up a drink was the easiest part of getting sober. The struggle was waiting in the hallway between my old life and a new life that had yet to reveal itself.
One night, when I was around ten months sober, I went out to a group dinner at a trendy Manhattan restaurant. Some people at the table were friends, others acquaintances. I had been laying low, doing my best to avoid environments that could trigger me, but these dinners had been the bulk of my social life, and it was time to re-engage. After settling in, I was relieved that the wine on the table didn’t tempt me. But as the evening progressed, I became increasingly uncomfortable. The music in the restaurant was loud, so it was impossible to carry on a conversation. Hot and crowded, the waiters bumped into my chair. No one at the table drank heavily, but they were buzzed, swaying and smiling.
I was bored, lonely and longing for something I couldn’t identify yet. I ate to quell my unease and ended up eating everything that I could get my hands on. The void I felt was the same one I used to flood with alcohol. Food was less effective, but it did the job. Hazy and bloated, I excused myself as soon as the check was paid.
The next day I felt horrible, physically and emotionally. I called my AA sponsor and described my non-alcohol induced malaise. She laughed and told me I was suffering from an emotional hangover. Emotional hangovers occur after spending a lot of time vice free (this is the key part) in environments or with people who do not align with your core values or even worse, trigger old trauma. Symptoms of emotional hangovers include circular thinking, self-doubt, low energy/depression, and anxiety.
But what was I supposed to do? Those were my friends, and this was my life. Something must be wrong with me. That’s when my sponsor told me I was in the hallway. Naming my location made waiting in the unknown more bearable.
That wasn’t my last group dinner, I continued to return to old patterns, hoping that something would click into place. Nothing did. I became willing to try some of the other doors in the hallway. Placing myself in different environments was scary and exhilarating. I met new people inside each door. People who appeared strange at first, and now I can’t imagine my life without them. The more risks I took, the less attached and afraid I became.
I am in a hallway now, growing impatient and wanting to force results. But after many visits over the past fifteen years, I know that if I stay open and curious, the next phase of my life and development will be revealed.