“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
~ Robert Frost
Are You Going Through The Dark Night Of The Soul?
If you have found your way to this article, it is probably because you think you might be going through what is often referred to as “The Dark Night Of The Soul.” You’re looking for answers. You’re confused and bewildered. You might even feel desperate, hopeless, and helpless. Well, to that I say: I am glad you are here! You’re in the right place!
While there is some information out there about this spiritual journey, I personally don’t think there is enough. Dark Night sojourners need to hear from those of us who have survived the darkness and experienced a true awakening as a result. That is why I have written this article. I have written it JUST for you.
I want to answer your very important question – “What is The Dark Night Of the Soul?” Understanding what you are going through will help you make sense of your current reality. You are not going crazy. (Well, you kinda are – but in a good way! We’ll talk more about this later.) I also want to give you hope – it does get better, I promise! Plus, I want to provide you with some crucial survival tips that might bring you some comfort along your journey.
So, with that said, I ask that you proceed with an open mind. Things are about to get weird.
Who Am I, Anyway?
By the way, my name is Bethany and I am a recovering addict. Consider me as a kind of personal tour guide that will help you understand The Dark Night Of The Soul experience. With my trusty lantern in hand, I want to shine a little light into your darkness and encourage you to keep going.
Surviving The Dark Night Of The Soul changed my life. It was a true blessing. I count myself among the few fortunate souls who have ever been gifted with this experience. Mother Theresa, St. John of the Cross, and Eckart Tolle are some of the most famous.
Upon competition of your journey, you will become “one of us” and you will be able to help others find the light. Keep in mind that not everyone travels this very personal journey. It is generally only bestowed upon those who have a strong desire to seek a spiritual path.
What Is The Dark Night Of The Soul?
This term comes from a poem written by St. John of the Cross in the 1500’s. Personally, I am not a fan of the poem. Nevertheless, there is one line that speaks to me, which I believe explains the experience perfectly: I abandoned myself.
The driving force behind this dark journey is what many mystics and religious scholars refer to as “ego death.” This death must happen so that your soul can be reawakened. In a sense, the darkness is a void (or symbolic womb) from which you will be reborn to a higher, more spiritually aligned consciousness – a new self.
The Dark Night Of The Soul is equally as complicated as it is simplistic. It is a paradox in its truest form. You have to embrace the darkness to find the Light. You have to die to self so you can truly live. You have to experience great loss so you can gain everything. You have to lose your way so that you can begin to walk your true path. You must abandon yourself to find yourself. Welcome to Bizarro World.
Here is a great video that will help you understand the death of the ego, which is at the core of The Dark Night Of The Soul:
What Happens During The Dark Night Of The Soul?
I will give you the best answer I possibly can to this question. Just know that my response will no make real sense to you until “Tomorrow” comes and your Dark Night is over. The short answer here is that you will be healed in the dark. Here is a longer explanation:
The Dark Night Of The Soul is the space between who you were and who you will become. You will have to completely let go of your old self to embrace a more enlightened self. When you abandon your old self, you will enter the darkness where the “old you” will be stripped away and the “new you” will be constructed. Though it may not feel like it now, YOU WILL come back together again. But, first – you have to fall apart.
What To Expect During The Dark Night Of The Soul
During your journey between Point A and Point B, you will feel as though you have been abandoned by God. Even if you don’t consider yourself a believer, you will feel a wretched emptiness that leaves you feeling as if you have been cut off from your own life force. This is what the darkness is all about. It is soulwork in one of its purest forms.
In the darkness, you will feel as if you are going absolutely insane. Everything you ever thought you knew about life will be called into question. The very building blocks of who you are as a human being will tumble and fall. You will feel confused, bewildered, angry, desperate, helpless, and hopeless. Paradoxically, it is during this all-consuming space of cognitive dissonance that things will begin to make sense to you for the first time.
It may be hard to understand, but while you are in the darkness, you don’t have to “do” anything. It will be “done unto you.” No logical sense can be made of what happens during The Dark Night Of The Soul. It is the unfolding of a great infinite mystery that is imparted upon a chosen few.
How To Know If You Are Going Through The Dark Night Of The Soul
Many mistake this experience for clinical depression – and for good reason. The Dark Night Of The Soul reaches into the core of your being and fills you with an agonizing form of sadness. It seems to come out of nowhere and it feels like it is never going to leave. It mimics all the symptoms of depression.
You may be experiencing some of these “symptoms”:
- Extreme sadness with no explanation as to why you are sad
- Uncontrollable crying
- A feeling of emptiness
- Loss of motivation in activities you once enjoyed
- A loss of appetite or a need to binge-eat
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- No desire for sex
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- The need to withdraw from social relationships, a desire to isolate
- Poor personal hygiene
- Irritability and mood swings
- Body aches, headaches, or problems with digestion
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Lethargy (no energy)
- Thoughts of suicide
Many people seek the help of a psychologist or a psychiatrist during this experience. They are wrongly diagnosed with depression and are usually given antidepressants. The thing is, the problem is not in your head. It is in your soul. Your situation is not the result of some kind of biological malady. It is happening because you are in the process of an incredibly painful spiritual transformation.
While you may feel some or all of the symptoms of depression when you are going through The Dark Night Of The Soul, you will also have at least some of these experiences:
- You have no idea what is happening to you or why (nothing seems to have caused this)
- You begin to question the very fabric of your being (Why am I here?)
- You are considering the possibility that your career does not suit your “higher purpose”
- You feel like you are losing your faith (if you are a spiritual or religious person)
- You begin to think that maybe there is a God (if you are an atheist or agnostic)
- You feel the need to disconnect from people you have been very close to in the past (because they no longer “serve you”)
- Your thoughts naturally gravitate to deep, philosophical topics (like the nature of existence)
- You begin to take unwelcomed trips down Memory Lane to times in your life you would rather forget about
- You begin to be more forgiving of strangers and realize we are all just doing the best we can
- You feel a sense of sadness for humanity as a whole while suddenly feeling a strong connection to it
- You get in touch with your own mortality and the mortality of others and grieve deaths that have not even happened yet
- You begin to realize that everything is temporary, so you start questioning, “What is the point of anything?”
- You feel an intense need to be alone in your own company, even though you are thoroughly miserable with yourself
- Nothing interests you, even activities you have always had a true passion for
- You wonder if you are a bad person, even if you have always thought of yourself as a good person (conversely, you think you might actually be a good person, even though you have always thought of yourself as a bad person)
- You begin to feel a need to “rebel” against institutions like the government, school systems, and corporate structures
- You reexamine positions you have always been firm on and begin to question if you may have been wrong all along (abortion, racism, materialism, corporate success, the existence of God, and the use of drugs are all great examples)
- You become aware of your own powerlessness – both over the world around you and your innermost self
- You feel a need to “purge” yourself of material possessions and downsize your life
- You feel completely helpless to change your situation and you are totally hopeless that it will ever change
Of course, everyone experiences The Dark Night Of The Soul differently. We all come to the darkness with our own unique set of circumstances that must be resolved. What was true for me may not be true for you. However; I hope this list has helped you assess your current reality. Only you can you come to terms with your situation and decide IF, in fact, “it” is happening to you.
If you DO NOT feel that there is a strong spiritual aspect to your current condition, you may be suffering from depression. To be on the safe side, it never hurts to talk to a doctor to find out. The Dark Night Of The Soul is a spiritual transformational process that requires a spiritual solution. Depression, on the other hand, should be treated by a mental healthcare professional.
The Darkness Is A Blessing, But It Feels Like A Curse In The Beginning
While I am now grateful for my Dark Night, it certainly didn’t feel like a blessing when I was going through it. In fact, for awhile, I thought I was cursed.
I was enveloped with an overwhelming sadness that shook me to the core. I questioned everything about my own existence and the nature of life itself. This introspection left me free-falling through an infinite void every single day for exactly one year of my life (to the day!). The pain was so great, I seriously contemplated suicide.
During the process, I smoked crazy weed. (Marijuana addiction is not a myth!) I drank stupid amounts of whiskey. I popped enough Xanax to kill an elephant. Yet, no amount of intoxicants would numb the pain my Dark Night Of The Soul was delivering by the metaphysical truckload. It was during this time that I came to fully accept that I had a problem with addiction and ultimately got clean as a result.
That was four years ago. Today, I am a completely different person. I don’t need to self-medicate because it is well with my soul!
The Dark Night Of The Soul Isn’t Just For Addicted People
Of course, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you have ever had an addiction to drugs or alcohol. I am only sharing what happened for me. Having a substance use disorder is not a qualifier for this experience. You will be shown whatever it is you need to see while you are in the darkness.
For example, if you have low self-esteem, you will be shown how loved you are. If you struggle with racism, you will be taught that there is one race: the human race. If you are a workaholic, you will come to understand that family is more valuable. If you’re greedy, you will become more generous. If you were abused growing up, you will learn to forgive and be healed.
That being said, if you ARE struggling with chemical dependency, going on this journey is likely to get you fired up about getting clean and staying clean. At least it did for me.
Navigating The Dark Night Of The Soul: Your Survival Guide
Now that you have a better understanding of The Dark Night Of The Soul, I want to share a kind of survival guide to help you along. I think having this information will make the darkness easier to navigate. Of course, I am not sharing this information with you to lessen your pain. Strange as it may seem, the pain you are experiencing is actually a blessing – and I wouldn’t want to rob you of that.
Nevertheless, I am a passionate advocate for suicide prevention. I am convinced that many people kill themselves during The Dark Night Of The Soul. They never make it to their Tomorrow because the pain overwhelms them. They see no way out except death. I say this not to scare you, but to prepare you. It will get worse before it gets better.
This is why I have put together this survival guide. These simple suggestions will orient you to the Light and help you arrive safely at your beautiful Tomorrow. Remember, no matter how dark The Night, the sun always rises again!
So, without further ado, here are 11 suggestions I highly recommend for those of you who are traveling through darkness:
# 1 Educate Yourself On The Dark Night Of The Soul
The more you know about The Dark Night of the Soul, the better off you will be. Most people have not heard about this ascent to higher consciousness. This is because most people do not have the privilege of ego death. They stay stuck in the lower vibrational energy field of everyday living. They never go beyond the “go-to-work-come-home-pay-bills-repeat” routine so many of us have become accustomed to. There is so much more to life than this!
This is why I felt so compelled to write this article for you. As the old saying goes, “knowledge is power.” To truly wrap your mind around the awakening promised by The Dark Night Of The Soul, you have to understand what is happening to you. Otherwise, you will feel like you are going bonkers! The knowledge you need to undergo this important transformation will come from people who have experienced it themselves.
The Dark Night Of The Soul is not a popular mainstream topic of conversation. You may have to turn to “weird” or “alternative” sources to find out more about this experience. Don’t be afraid to veer of your well-worn path to soak up as much information as you can. You can trust that you will be led to resources that will help you endure the darkness so you can find the magnificent light of your Tomorrow.
I don’t want to provide a list of articles for you. I think that would short-circuit your progress. Instead, Google “Dark Night Of The Soul.” Go the sites, articles, and videos that speak to you.
# 2 Surrender And Trust The Process
Most people hear the word “surrender” and associate the term with weakness. They think of a soldier surrendering to the enemy or an athlete surrendering to the opponent, which would indicate complete and utter defeat. As a Marine Corps veteran, I struggled for years with the concept of surrender (especially in my recovery). Now, I understand that surrendering is one of the most powerful things I can do when I am struggling with a situation.
Perhaps the most poignant definitions of surrender is “to give oneself over to something (such as an influence).” It literally means to “quit fighting.” There is a peace in surrendering; a calm amidst a storm.
Quite often, we fight the process of change to the point of exhaustion. Then, bloody and beaten (at least in a metaphorical sense), we collapse in what feels like defeat. But, the truth is, when we stop fighting, we position ourselves to be overtaken with something that was better for us all along.
“Surrender to win” is a common phrase used in 12-Step recovery. This means that in order to win, you have to stop fighting. To find freedom from addiction, you MUST surrender to the process. This is also true of The Dark Night Of The Soul.
Everything inside of you will want to fight the transformation. You will try with all of your might to will it away, push it away, or pray it away. But, the more you do this, the more painful it will become. It is the irony of ironies.
Once you let go and trust the process, you will find freedom. Soon, the darkness will give way to the Light and your Dark Night will be over. When Tomorrow comes, your new life will be waiting for you.
# 3 Be Kind And Loving Toward Yourself
During The Dark Night Of The Soul, it is easy to beat yourself up and be unkind to yourself. You will inherently think there is something wrong with you. You may fall into the trap of calling yourself names. I remember thinking I was lazy, broken, weak, a loser, a basket case, and even a fraud. I was very unforgiving of myself for the first few months of the experience.
Some of the people in my life (well-meaning, but ignorant about what I was going through) would tell me to get it together, pull myself up by my bootstraps, and suck it up. This, of course, didn’t help. It only made the mental-bashing that much more intense.
Finally, when I got educated about this sacred transformation and began to trust the process, I started being kind and loving toward myself. You could even say I reparented myself during my Dark Night Of The Soul.
I became very nurturing, understanding, and patient of my circumstances. I recognized that the experience was bigger than me. I didn’t do anything to cause it and I couldn’t control it. I had to love myself through it.
# 4 Give Yourself Permission To Be Where You’re At
Here is one of the most valuable things I started to tell myself once I understood what was happening: “You’re right where you are supposed to be.” This will likely be a difficult concept for you to embrace. The pain and agony of the experience is all-consuming. This will lead you to believe that you should do everything in your power to escape it. Just remember that your pain has a purpose.
In the Marine Corps, we have a saying, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” This is also true of The Dark Night Of The Soul. Weakness is defined as “a lack of strength” or “an inadequate quality in a person’s character.” This experience is strengthening the weak places in your thinking. It is realigning your inadequate qualities to a higher purpose. This is painful, no doubt!
Allow yourself to be in pain. Stop trying to push it away. Embrace it. Turn into it. Explore it. Make friends with it. If you are tired, sleep. Don’t beat yourself up for being tired! If you need to cry, cry. Don’t belittle your tears! If you need to eat a gallon of ice cream, enjoy it. Don’t make fun of yourself because you needed to go on a junk food attack!
Give yourself permission to be exactly where you are at every moment of your journey. You are right where you’re supposed to be. Own it!
# 5 Stay in Touch With People Who Love You
Many people learn about The Dark Night of the Soul because they know someone who has gone through it. In fact, this may have been how you came to consider the possibility that you are in the middle of your Night. A friend or loved one may have told you about what they went through and it resonated with you.
If so, this person can be one of your greatest sources of strength as you walk your path. Stay close to him or her. They can serve as a kind of navigation system that will help you keep your orientation during this topsy-turvy time.
Also, try not to cut yourself off from the other people who love you. You will definitely want to isolate and avoid social interaction during The Dark Night Of The Soul. Sure, there is great value in being alone during this experience. However; you need to balance your solitude with healthy interactions with the people closest to you. This will serve as a reminder that you are loved and that you are not alone.
A simple text, short phone call, or shout out on social media can alert your friends and family members that you are alive and well. They will likely be very concerned about you during this period because “you are not yourself.” Don’t leave them guessing and wrought with worry. Make sure you stay in contact.
# 6 Pray and Meditate
In my experience, those who experience The Dark Night Of The Soul are highly attuned, spiritual people. Believe it or not, it is this spirituality that brings about the darkness in the first place. Those who undergo this process have likely been searching for answers to “bigger questions” their entire life. The darkness comes to provide answers.
Because you are reading this article, I think it is safe to assume that you are a spiritual person. You recognize that you are a human being having a spiritual experience (and not the other way around). SO! I feel completely comfortable to encourage you to pray and meditate during your Dark Night Of The Soul.
When you pray, ask for the strength to endure the pain you are feeling. Ask for guidance and wisdom. Ask to be shown what you are supposed to learn in the darkness. Ask for the ability to appreciate all the things you have to be grateful for in this life. These prayers, are of course, directed to the God of your understanding.
If prayer is you talking to God, meditation is God talking to you. When you meditate, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Go wherever the meditation takes you. You will be amazed at what is revealed to you when you do this. Meditating will help clear your mind and align you with the answers you have been seeking. It will also teach you to trust the process and reaffirm what I said earlier – you are right where you are supposed to be!
If you do not consider yourself a spiritual person, try prayer and meditation anyway!
# 7 Get Your Body Moving
When you are going through The Dark Night Of The Soul, you are going to feel depressed, lazy, lethargic, and unmotivated. Even a simple task like holding your head up can feel like work! Unless you are truly dedicated to physical exercise, the last thing you are going to want to do is work out. Nevertheless, you need to do something to get your body moving.
I remember when I was in the darkness, I kept thinking that going for a walk would do me some good. But, it felt like such a tremendous effort, I talked myself out of it for weeks. Then, one day, I was sitting on the porch in my pajamas. I was staring blankly at the same sidewalk I had been telling myself to walk down day after day. I decided, “What the hell?” I set out for a walk in my PJs without a care in the world as to what the neighbors might think.
I wasn’t trying to be a power-walker. I wasn’t in it to burn calories. “All I have to do is walk,” I told myself. And, walk I did – 15 minutes one way, and 15 minutes back…..at a very slow pace. It felt so good to get my body moving. And, when I was done, I felt a little mental lift. So, I walked the next day and the day after that. It made all the difference. (And, without even trying – can you believe it? – I lost 20 pounds in less than six months just from walking!)
Now, I walk several days a week – just to walk. It is a spiritual practice for me, one I enjoy greatly. So, even though you may not want to do it; take stroll, hop on your bike, do some yoga or go for a jog. You will be glad you did.
# 8 Sleep When You Need To
For me, The Dark Night Of The Soul was mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting. I was tired all of the time. No matter how much I slept, I never felt rested. I would get up and cry for a few hours and then go back to sleep. I gave myself permission to sleep when I needed to – without judging myself harshly for crashing at all hours of the day.
My dad was my worst critic when it came to the sleep thing. The man has gotten up at 5 a.m. every morning since I have been alive without so much as a single beep from an alarm clock. He would call me at 3 p.m. and I would depart from my peaceful slumber to answer. “Are you still sleeping?” he would day with obvious disgust. “What’s wrong with you girl? You’re burning daylight!” (This would bring on a relentless stream of mental name-calling for the remainder of the day. I was both the messenger and recipient of the insults!)
After awhile, I made the decision not to answer the phone when I was sleeping. Being asleep gave me a reprieve from the ongoing agony I had been experiencing for months on end. I allowed myself the right to sleep when I needed to – no judgment.
# 9 Stay Away From The Drugs And Alcohol
I kind of feel like a hypocrite saying this to those of you who are currently in the cycle of addiction or using drugs or alcohol recreationally. As I have already explained, I used copious amounts of drugs and alcohol during my Dark Night Of The Soul. It is actually what helped me get clean. BUT, it is good advice, so I am going to tell you anyway: stay away from the drugs and alcohol!
Getting high and drunk is not a solution to your problem. In case you haven’t figured it out yet – YOU are the problem! No amount of meth, weed, coke, or heroin is going to change that simple fact. The good news is, you are also the solution.
In my experience, the drugs didn’t work when I was in the darkness. They just didn’t work! It was like I had built up an immunity to intoxicants and they didn’t phase me. Sure, it could have been good old-fashioned tolerance, of course! But, I like to think that I crossed over some kind of spiritual threshold while I was stumbling around in the darkness that freed me from my 20-year drug addiction. If you are addicted, you can use this time to reconcile your addiction like I did and get help.
If you are in recovery, don’t let your Dark Night Of The Soul trick you into a relapse. Stay sober no matter what! It would make complete sense for you to consider using your drug of choice while you are in the darkness. In times gone by, you have used drugs or alcohol to numb pain. Use this as a time to strengthen your commitment to recovery.
# 10 Jam Some Uplifting Music
Listening to music helped me so much in the darkness. I made a playlist of songs that both made me feel hopeful and made me feel sad. The uplifting songs allowed me to keep the faith and let a little Light in. The sad songs helped me connect with the fact that suffering is an integral part of the human experience.
Here is an awesome song that helped me during my Dark Night Of The Soul. I used to turn it all the way up and sing at the top of my lungs through a waterfall of tears. I swear, it was written just for me. (And you!) It gave me hope and reminded me to keep the faith. I hope it will do the same for you:
# 11 Focus on the Positive
Positive thinking is A MUST when you are going through The Dark Night Of The Soul. Of course, this is easier said than done. A major part of this process is to work through the negative experiences you have had in your life. You will want to revisit past traumas, reevaluate the way you were raised, come to terms with the reality of who your parents are, and take stock of your failures. This can cause feelings of low self-worth, which have a way of perpetuating themselves.
BUT! While you are in the darkness, you will also want to make an inventory of your assets. I’m not talking about the kind of car you drive or the value of your home. I am talking about your inner strengths and admirable qualities. I am referring to the times in your life where you felt the most proud of yourself.
Most of us have a tendency to focus on the negative. We remember our most embarrassing moments, beat ourselves up for our shortcomings, and obsess over the times we were less than our best. Quite often, we completely overlook our successes, ignore the times in life when we were a good friend, and forget about the moments when we pushed ourselves further than we thought we could go to claim a victory.
During your process, take time to think on everything that is good and lovely about being you! Review your accomplishments. You are likely to find that you have much more goodness in you than you realize.
What Happens After The Dark Night Of The Soul?
It is always darkest before the dawn. And, as I said earlier – no matter how dark the night, the sun always rises again! What comes after the Dark Night Of The Soul? Well, Tomorrow, of course!
When your Dark Night Of The Soul gives way to the Light of Tomorrow, this will all make sense. You will have experienced a healing that transcends all understanding. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all about it. But, you have to experience it for yourself!
Since I left the darkness, I have a priceless inner peace and level of freedom that I purchased with my own pain. I know that I am never alone. My Higher Power is always with me, and I am part of a greater collective whole. Life makes sense to me now in a whole new and exciting way. One day at a time, I enjoy freedom from active addiction and I have beautiful, authentic relationships.
I can tell you that, today, my life has never been better. I know who I am. I have a strong purpose in my life. I am living my dream as a freelance writer. I have the sacred opportunity to (hopefully) shine a little Light into the lives of amazing people like you. I maybe even have a tiny bit of wisdom. My mess has been turned into a message; my pain turned into purpose.
You Are Still Alive – Act Like It!
I would not trade one minute of my agonizing Dark Night experience. Every single moment had value and meaning – even though I couldn’t see it at the time. The darkness propelled me into a new dimension of living – one that I never thought was possible. Today, I am grateful for everything the experience taught me. I am confident that one day, you will feel the same way!
I leave you with a video by Rudy Francisco. It spoke to me when I felt like I was being suffocated to death during the darkest hour of my Dark Night Of The Soul. I had begun to question whether I would make it. I was strongly considering ending my own life. Francisco’s message spoke to my heart. Quite frankly, it may have even saved my life. I hope it has the same powerful impact for you. Until your Tomorrow comes, keep the faith!