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ALLIE AXEL:

Filling the Spirit with More Spirit

There is a spiritual void in me that needs filling. And I've filled it with every other thing but spirit. At a young age, I became aware of this feeling that my skin was too tight; the world, too small; and the emptiness inside too great. So I sought refuge. For twenty-two years I looked to material things to complete me. It started off harmless enough—seeking cover from life with absorption in the alternate realities of video games and books. I would disappear for days in the imaginary worlds at my disposal, emerging from my room only for food and bathroom breaks. When I hit age thirteen, my "fillers" of choice became increasingly risky. I turned to gossip, which harmed many and barely comforted me. Then drugs and alcohol entered the picture. And shopping. And food. And relationships. Yet I was highly functional, achieving good grades, maintaining a close circle of friends, keeping jobs, graduating from college. But I always felt as though I was running from something—no direction in mind, no end in sight.

Rather than finding the freedom from self I sought, I was chaining myself to materials that would always run out and never be enough. In 2011, I hit a spiritual bottom. The emptiness I felt inside was vast and too difficult to live with any longer. The ways in which I had formerly sought relief stopped working.

My life had been punctuated by brief intervals wherein I looked to various religions to "fix me." But I disagreed with the specifics of their teachings too much to subscribe to them. It was only in recovery that I learned the difference between spirituality and religion. And it was only in recovery that I realized how much I needed the former. I set down all of the "fillers" I had previously turned to and picked up a spiritual practice.

Thankfully, it has been a slow recovery. It took time to put down all of my old ideas of happiness (intelligence, status, popularity, body image, unaccountability) and to pick up one new idea: that happiness depends upon my ability to fill my spiritual void with spirituality; that the only thing that can fill my spirit is more spirit.

Today my spiritual beliefs are by no means new to this world, but they are of my choosing. That's what I never realized—I always had a choice in what I picked up to make me feel complete; I just unknowingly chose those things which would feed the emptiness.

If you're rolling your eyes, no worries—I get it. I still cringe for a millisecond when I hear the term "spirituality." For me, it's a lofty word that smells like patchouli. So I bring the word to a place I understand. It isn't something that needs to be attained but it is something upon which to be acted. Even today, the last thing I want to do is practice spirituality. I would rather believe that another tattoo or a new dress or a dozen cupcakes will solve my problems. Past experience tells me it won't. My spiritual practice consists of pausing when I'm unsure; meditating for five minutes in the morning; praying (even without belief in a god); asking for help when I need it; cultivating gratitude; practicing acceptance; and believing that I will be okay no matter what. My practice is far from perfect. It's practice. It's human. And as it turns out, I've been neither broken, nor unfixable, nor fundamentally unlovable, but human, all along.

Allie Axel is the Media Director for The Caregiver's Survival Network, free online community dedicated exclusively to the welfare of caregivers of any and all physical or mental debility, from Alzheimer's to cancer to autism to bereavement. Our services transcend age, length of illness, and income.

She is also a writer and pug-enthusiast. You can follow her on Twitter @AllieAxel.

Read more from Allie Axel at her website.

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April, 2013:  Filling the Spirit with More Spirit

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