Chances are, if you’re reading my blog, you’re of an age where you’ve experienced heartache. The feelings range from a piercing stab in your heart to a dull murmur that lingers just below the surface of your skin. No matter the intensity or range of the feeling(s), I believe it’s safe to say, we all have experienced what feels like a hole in our heart. The hole… what is that? For me, I believe the hole is a feeling of loss.
Earlier this week, I was talking to a girlfriend about this very topic — what a hole in your heart feels like. She agreed, it feels like a loss, a loss of something dear. At this point, I’m guessing some of you are relating a loss and a hole in your heart to romantic love, or perhaps the loss of a loved one who has passed away. To be honest, I kinda was too, at the time. Then, my friend reminded me of an excerpt from a book I copied and mailed to her over 10 years ago. The author had written about his addiction to cigarettes. My friend paralleled the feeling of losing something dear and feeling a hole in her heart to quitting smoking.
Smoking? Yes. I was intrigued. Nice twist — my attention was piqued and I was poised to learn.
To provide a bit of context, my friend has smoked off and on for more than 20 years. She has tried to quit smoking, “too many times to count,” she says. She has always led a very social lifestyle and smoking just kind of fit her. To be honest, as much as I dislike being around cigarette smoke, being around her smoking didn’t really bother me. For whatever reason, I didn’t give it much thought, until she told me she SERIOUSLY wanted to quit. At the time I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s first volume of his autobiography entitled, Living to Tell the Tale. His words made such sense to me, I thought they might make sense to her, too.
Here is the excerpt I mailed her way back when:
Because of the pneumonia I was forbidden to smoke, but I smoked in the bathroom as if hiding from myself. The doctor knew and spoke to me with real seriousness, but I could not obey him. Already in Sucre, as I tried to read without pause the books I had received, I chain-smoked until I could not bear it, and the more I tried to quit the more I smoked. I smoked four packs a day, I would interrupt meals to smoke, and I burned the sheets because I fell asleep holding a lit cigarette. The fear of death would wake me at any hour of the night, and only by smoking could I endure it, until I decided I would rather die than stop smoking.
More than twenty years later, when I was married and had children, I was still smoking. A doctor who saw my lungs on the screen told me in horror that in two or three years I would not be able to breathe. Terrified, I reached the extreme of sitting for hours and hours without doing anything because I could not read, or listen to music, or talk to friends or enemies without smoking. One night, during a casual supper in Barcelona, a friend who was a psychiatrist explained to the others that tobacco was perhaps the most difficult addiction to break. I dared ask him what the fundamental reason was, and his reply had a chilling simplicity:
“Because for you, quitting smoking would be like killing someone you love.”
It was a sudden burst of clairvoyance. I never knew why and did not want to know, but I put out the cigarette I had just lit in the ashtray, and with no anxiety or regret I never smoked another one again in my life.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A decade later, my friend still remembered these words. When she spoke of it this week, she said that quitting smoking feels like losing her best friend. She would be killing someone she loves. The hole in her heart would feel real and the loss would feel immense.
This reminded me of a quote by Emerson: “Whenever you meet anyone, remember they are going through a great war.” A war where loss is felt. Whether it’s the loss of a lover, a parent, a beloved dog, a habit you’ve become addicted to, there is real loss there. And in many cases, your heart may feel like it has a gaping hole.
But within that hole, slowly, very slowly, as the ends close and merge from within, the hole you once felt in your heart begins to feel whole again. The key is from within. Love yourself from within. Know you are enough, exactly the way you are.
And in time, the hole will turn whole again.