Experiencing a Spiritual Crisis in Recovery

Life away from alcohol and drugs is not always easy. In order to progress in sobriety, a person is likely to pass through periods during which they are taken outside their comfort zone. Change can be painful, but the rewards make it worth any discomfort. A spiritual crisis can be particularly difficult for people in recovery. This occurs when those things that previously gave life meaning and purpose no longer make sense. This type of crisis can be a symptom of a medical condition, but in many instances it will be a sign that the individual is about to enter a new phase in their recovery from addiction.

Spiritual Crisis Defined

A spiritual crisis can be defined as a type of identity crisis in which the individual experiences drastic changes in their meaning system. It can also be referred to as a spiritual emergency or dark night of the soul. This shift in identity usually occurs as a result of an altered state of consciousness. When someone has a spiritual crisis, their former beliefs can be called into question. For example, if the individual formally believed that bad things only happen to bad people, it can shake the foundations of their world to find evidence that this is not true. A spiritual crisis forces the individual into a position where they have to question their life and this can be highly uncomfortable for them. This type of event can be viewed positively or negatively depending on the outcome.

Symptoms of a Spiritual Crisis

These are the symptoms of a spiritual crisis:

* Life can appear meaningless
* The individual can fear that they are losing their identity, a condition also known as ego death
* The person can feel they are going insane
* The world seems less real
* The world can appear more threatening
* Symptoms of depression
* Feeling of impending doom
* Fear of death
* Feelings of being a stranger in the world
* A strong urge to connect with something higher

Furthermore, those who are following a spiritual path may feel like giving up completely. In some traditions, this can be a sign that the individual is getting near the end of their journey and they need to press on.

Causes of Spiritual Crisis

There are a number of events that can cause the individual to have a spiritual crisis including:

* Spiritual experience
* Near death experience
* Life crisis such as death of a loved one or relationship breakdown
* Existential crisis
* Excessive stress
* Psychosis
* Midlife crisis
* Paranormal experience
* Intense meditation or other spiritual techniques
* Substance abuse, particularly hallucinogens
* Major life change
* Medical problems, such as infections or brain tumors

Existential Crisis in Recovery

An existential crisis refers to an episode where the individual questions the very foundation of their life. It occurs because the answers that previously gave the individual meaning and purpose no longer prove satisfactory. Developing new beliefs and opinions that conflict with older beliefs and opinions can lead to a situation known as cognitive dissonance, a situation in which the individual feels discomfort because they hold incompatible beliefs.

Spiritual Crisis and Mental Health Problems

In the past a spiritual crisis would have always been diagnosed as a mental illness by those in the psychiatric professions. This view is changing, but there can be an overlap with this experience and mental health problems. This is because similar altered states of consciousness can occur as a result of medical conditions or drug abuse. It can be almost impossible to differentiate between a spiritual crisis and a psychotic event. A medical examination may be required to determine that nothing sinister is causing the symptoms.

Danger of a Spiritual Crisis in Recovery

A spiritual crisis can be dangerous for people who are recovering from an addiction for the following reasons:

* If the individual no longer feels that their life has any purpose they may not see the need to remain free of alcohol or drugs. They may use this crisis as a justification to relapse back to their addiction.
* These symptoms could be a sign that the individual has some type of mental health problem or physical illness.
* If this person fails to make it through this dark night of the soul without finding new meaning and purpose, their life in recovery will feel unsatisfactory. Even if they do not relapse, they may become a dry drunk.

The Benefits of a Spiritual Crisis in Recovery

This type of spiritual emergency can be highly uncomfortable at the time, but it can prove beneficial because:

* It forces the individual to reexamine their life to find out what is important.
* Those individual who have taken a wrong turn in sobriety can find their way back.
* It encourages the individual to discard beliefs and opinions that are no longer helpful.
* It can be a sign that the individual is making progress on their spiritual path.

How to Deal with a Spiritual Crisis

These are some of the steps that a person can take when faced with a spiritual emergency including:

* If people experience a sudden spiritual crisis it may be advisable to have a medical checkup. This is just to make sure that the symptoms are not a result of some type of disease process.
* It can be important that those who are having a spiritual crisis spend time around other people. Those individuals who isolate will feel even more cut off from the rest of the world.
* For some people a spiritual crisis is part of the path to a much happier and fulfilling life. Some spiritual traditions view it as a necessary experience on the way enlightenment.
* This type of event can often be a sign that people have taken a wrong turn in their life. It may be time to go back and decide what is really important.
* Sometimes a spiritual crisis can be a sign that people are on the right path.
* The individual may have picked up beliefs or opinions that are not helpful to them. The spiritual emergency may be a sign that they need to discard these.
* If the individual experiences these symptoms as a result of a spiritual practice, then it may be advisable to speak to a competent teacher in the tradition they are following. For example, those who practice Vipassana will be encouraged to seek advice from their meditation teacher when navigating a spiritual crisis.