Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Dark Night and Addiction

A couple weeks ago, I picked up an old favorite of mine at the library: The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. In it, May, a psychiatrist, uses the works of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross to "explore the connection between darkness and spiritual growth." May defines the darkness he speaks of not as evil, but as obscurity that comes from God. Simply put, the dark night of the soul is the feeling of God's absence.

If you've read some of the latests posts around here, you'll know that I've been experiencing my own dark night for the last five years, though I've only just begun to write of it. When I first read The Dark Night of the Soul a couple years ago, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and came to the conclusion that maybe the darkness I was experiencing wasn't meant to be fixed.

Since then, I have learned a whole lot more about God and myself and community through stillness and contemplation and pretty much giving up than I had in the previous three years through effort and discipline. When I finally decided to take a break from church a couple weeks ago, I was curious what insight the book might have for me in this new season. So I headed to the library and promptly tore through it, dog-earing every other page or so.

This time around, one of the most powerful sentences in the book for me was this one: "We have made an idol our images and feelings of God, giving them more importance than the true God they represent."

Here in the evangelical culture of the bible belt, we talk a lot about idols. In this context, nearly everything can be an idol: money, careers, marriages, self, drugs, food, even service. Never in my life, though, have I ever heard anyone suggest I could make an idol out of my experience of God. More importantly, I didn't know it was possible to wake up to find the Presence I had long worshipped absent, leaving me flailing and grasping for any hint of comfort to keep my head above water.

To be honest, in the months before my dark night began, I was little more than an addict, needing a bigger hit of spiritual connection each day to keep my soul satisfied. Then suddenly, my drugs were mysteriously cut off, God absent. For too long afterward, I tried returning again and again to the suppliers that had always come through for me before, the Bible, church, prayer, but they all came up empty. For years, I had been dependent on clear answers, felt presence, spiritual comfort, but now I was left with only my commitment to going through the motions. Is it any surprise I soon found myself spiraling down into disappointment and doubt and fear?

It's only recently that I have begun to embrace the process of detoxification, of letting go of any hope of returning to the old ways. May says that the dark night is an act of emptying and resensitizing, because "it is as if we have gorged ourselves on rich meals for so long that we cannot appreciate the delicate freshness of a sip of spring water." I am certainly emptying, but honestly I don't know that I will ever feel God's presence again in my life, and that is okay, at least today. Because I don't think his absence means He is incapable of being found, only that I won't find him in the same ways. I'm not sure I want to return down those paths again anyway.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, please get your hands on The Dark Night of the Soul. There is so much insight there. I don't do sponsored posts or affiliate links. I just really want you to read this book, because you are not alone and it's not your fault. 


  1. Thank you for this -- I really need to read this book!

  2. Oh Alissa, I need to read this book. I have read Mother Teresa's Come Be My Light and I know she struggled with her own "darkness." In fact, this year, Mother Teresa has been my patron saint because there have been so many times that I have felt the absence of God in my life. And, it seems that always, as I struggle to go deeper into my relationship with Him, I find myself in darkness. Having been an Evangelical and now as a Catholic, I think among the many things that drew me to the Church was that belief and faith were not tied to feelings or emotional experiences. I love the idea that certain things of God are a mystery, beyond our comprehension, and we just have to accept it in faith. But just because I understand this, doesn't mean that I am exempt from my times of doubts, anger, and hurt when I feel the lack of God's presence in my life. I might try to read this book after the New Year. Thank you for your beautiful post!

    1. Thanks for reading, Kimberlie! I agree that it is all about facing mystery. I've heard that about Mother Teresa, I'll have to pick up that book one of these days! I think you would love The Dark Night of the Soul.

  3. I found you from Bloglovin and am so thrilled. I actually have this book by Gerald May...I'd ordered it about two weeks ago and haven't started reading it yet. So beautiful to stumble onto this post. I'd never heard of his book before a month ago and didn't know anyone who read it. Love love to you!

    1. I'm delighted that you stopped by, Wild Rain! I can't wait for you to read this book. I'll keep an eye out for your thoughts on it now that we're connected. I'd love to hear them. <3