Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Aaron Baron, modified 9 Months ago.

Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 6 Join Date: 8/4/20 Recent Posts
I’m here trying to understand why I keep wanting to escape my life, avoid my work despite having an absurdly perfect job, and compulsively use drugs that numb or dissociate me. Specifically, whether it might have to do with the “Dark Night”, and to what degree intense MCTB-style practices might help.

In the last few years, I’ve had a lot of stress, abused intoxicants, and questioned many aspects of my life. I’ve had a lot of conventional stressors like a high-conflict marriage, happy but high-stress career change, happy but high-stress move from urban to rural area, which all happened in 2018. I’m also at a proper mid-life crisis age. I have (perhaps naturally) responded by feeling anxious and overwhelmed by my life and wanting to escape into video games, drugs (the numbing kind, not psychedelic kind).

This year I took advantage of pandemic to focus on self-improvement part of mid-life crisis - changing diet, exercise, lots of inner work, research, etc. I’ve become a bit obsessed with “healing activities”, ie a strong compulsion to dump energy into things like fitness, health, meditation that could plausibly help me feel better, even at cost to my work, family, or other responsibilities, and even if harmful like taking drugs that feel like they give me insight or peak experiences. This is understandable given that I often feel like “things are not OK” / “I am not OK”, so when I have energy & time I want to invest it into “fixing myself” (acknowledging here how problematic that model is).

Some conventional things have helped - light meditation, compassionate support, giving myself a break, learning how to have fun again and giving myself permission to do things like running & dancing which I enjoy a lot but hadn’t made time for, for a long time. Most conventional things haven’t (therapy, substance abuse programs, reading spiritual texts, getting in shape, balancing my hormones, medical approaches, affirmations...).

As part of this quest I’ve found MCTB and gotten interested in more intensive practices, attaining the jhanas (sounds like a great escape!), moving along the path etc. Reading Daniel’s models & experiences, and browsing this wonderful forum, at some point it occured to me that just before this time period happened, I had the most intense spiritual experience of my life at a Catholic cathedral on vacation.

I’d had little prior meditation experience or chanting, repetitive exercise, etc, except for psychedelics ~30 times when younger, though not much for 5 years prior to this. I went to one cathedral late in the day and felt deeply affected but had to rush through and couldn’t sit in the experience. So I made sure to visit another with plenty of time. As soon as I walked in, I felt the presence of God intensely, for about an hour before my travel companion was bored. No intoxicants of any kind were involved.

It felt like I was in contact with a neutral, omnipresent entity or energy field (being in a Christian cathedral my mind jumped to “God”, but there was no phenomenological support for that). The defining part of the experience was that I could directly sense that this field was everywhere - it was just showing itself very clearly & strongly to me here & now - but it was something that I knew, in my bones, that if I tried hard that I (or anyone) would be able see in every moment, every place, every part of everyone’s continuous experience. Put another way, whatever this thing I was seeing was, there was no place in spacetime where it is not present. I felt some bliss, great peace and tranquility, and a sense of release (cried a fair bit), although there was no love or special attention from the energy field to me (it was neutral and had no personality). There was no special perception besides perception of this omnipresent energy field (my senses were not heightened in any way). But I would describe it as a “peak experience”.

When I reflect on the timeline after reading MCTB, I notice that it was some months after this experience that I developed a frequent, slowly growing compulsion to dissociate / escape / retreat from my life that continues to this day. Started using drugs more heavily (had a problem with binge drinking before but not regular use), although not constantly - some weeks I might swig a couple shots of hard alcohol every night, some weeks not at all.  I assumed it was overall stress levels.

Other changes in this period - carb cravings, especially late at night. I felt like I was wiser (I assumed just from age), in that I was able to see more complexity in everything. It got harder to answer people’s questions because for anything that I knew well, I had such intricate nuanced answers that I would tend to ramble (tbh Daniel's writing sort of reminds me of how I think - lots of adjectives, highly verbose because there is so much to see and say about everything!).

I got interested in spirituality, Christianity, some light meditation. As I developed mindfulness, during periods of drug use I noticed that with intense use I would start to have visions of scenes where I am a different, happier person in a different life, and occasionally time slows down drastically for a few seconds and I see a field of flashing lights. I feel deeply drawn to have more of those experiences, but know that doing it via substances risks my health. I also feel a moderate call to “radical renunciate lifestyle choices” (minimize possessions, sell house, live as a nomad, quit work and play video games or dance on the beach all day, stop trying to force myself into my roles as boss, husband, father). I have Restless Legs Syndrome and toss and turn a lot at night.

My question is how likely it is that this is an A&P event that precipitated a Dark Night.

I am a bit worried this community will be prone to overdiagnose A&P/DN. But you also have the most experience with it. Also what I really want to learn is not “why did this happen”, but “what will help me recover?”. I have an infinite list of “things I can try to improve myself & my life”, and I mostly want to know where to invest my time and how much in meditation vs. other modalities of self-exploration and recovery. I feel very drawn to descriptions of the jhanas for example, and it would be amazing to be able to have those experiences in a way that’s good instead of bad for my brain. But I worry that I will invest lots of time in dharma, pin many hopes on it, and find that it doesn’t help with the problem - with my drug-seeking, procrastination, anxiety, pervasive dissatisfaction with an apparently good life, etc. I am here to humbly seek the wisdom of this collective.

I will try to post separately on meditation methods, experiences, goals, and questions, this is plenty long enough. Thanks so much for listening.
Jason Massie, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 124 Join Date: 10/18/16 Recent Posts
What is causing the drug problem doesn't matter so much. How to stop is more important. AA worked for me. Sober 8 years. It helped me get to a place where I could actually meditate effectively. Dm me if you want to talk about it more.
Martin, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 294 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
Hi Aaron,

I would like to second what Jason said. Addictions are often their own thing, and the impact of stopping is so life altering that there is basically nothing an addicted person can do that will have a bigger impact. You may not be addicted but it sounds like it is causing enough of a problem that you might want look into it. For people who are addicted, quitting is often like gaining a superpower. And, again as Jason says, if you want to meditate, you really want a fresh and fully functional brain if at all possible. 

If AA/NA is not your cup of tea, you might try www.lifering.org (worked for me, and is still holding up after 20 years) or www.smartrecovery.org but AA/NA meetings are everywhere, so they are a good place to start. 
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Ni Nurta, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 660 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB !!!1
Having to go to work (even if from home office) and having other responsibilities is the best limiting factor for reducing substance abuse. The last thing you need now is having too much free time and free head to do one continuous binges during which last of your working neurons will melt away in to one giant head diarrhea called "used to be my brain"...
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Niels Lyngsø, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 321 Join Date: 11/15/19 Recent Posts
Hi Aaron

I agree with the others, getting rid of the addiction has high priority. But meditation and mindfulness can actually be a part of that. A few monthts after starting a regular practice (2 x 60 minutes a day), I lost interest in alcohol, which had been a problem for me earlier on. Another couple of months later, I lost interest in pot, which I also had used to numb my self. I didn't make any decisions to stop, it happened by it self, and now I only very rarely (maybe once a month) have a glass of wine or a beer if a social situation calls for it.

You should definitely check out the work of Judson Brewer, a dedicated yogi who has done serious research into addiction and "the craving mind". He has a ted talk and a book and appears in several podcasts. I think you will find his take on the problem relevant to you.

Good luck! emoticon
Aaron Baron, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 6 Join Date: 8/4/20 Recent Posts
Hey all, thanks so much for the thoughts. I appreciate all of your positive intents towards my freedom from substances, as well as the advice on support groups and meditation practices. But I think I am looking for something a little bit different, such as an understanding of how cravings to escape from reality relate to stages of insight or other maps of the past.

These cravings only started a few years ago, and over the last year I have been steadily decreasing my drug use, I've been working with a Buddhist-focused treatment service, and my use it's now quite low. Yet with growing mindfulness I am able to see at least a tiny bit what is driving these urges - a constant feeling that "everything is not ok", "I need to escape my life", and some related things. There are various avenues I can use to explore these urges and channel them in healthy ways - mainstream therapy of many flavors, internal family systems, anti-addiction prescription meds like wellbutrin, the internet is full of techniques for self-knowledge and self control.

And there are various models for what is going on that have different diagnoses and suggestions, ie "Oh, that's dukkha, the path to enlightenment is the best known way to not suffer from it". Or "Oh, that's anxiety, use these various approaches", or "Oh, that's a natural reaction to your high-responsibility, high-stress life situation, learn to accept it or reduce your responsibilities", etc. Not that I expect you all to be able to diagnose, but what I want to understand here is based on my situation and experiences how likely it is that 1-2 hours/day of meditation will end these cravings and bring me to peace and tranquility. Like, how likely is the "A&P => Dark Night" model to apply to me?

For exampe, I find the jhanas very appealing because it seems like a potentially healthy escape that would strengthen my mind and provide an afterglow that would help me make it through each day. I find it hard to reconcile the descriptions of them with how few people are into them, and talk about them, out in the world (obv different on DhO).

I have been working through Judson Brewer's anxiety class on Insight Timer, appreciate the info that he has addiction focused work, I will check it out.
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Chris Marti, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 3877 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
... such as an understanding of how cravings to escape from reality relate to stages of insight or other maps of the past.

Cravings of any kind are examples of ignorance (the Buddhist version) - the mistaken belief that they are permanent, yours, and painful. The path, and more to the point, practicing wisely and in a dedicated way, can show you this and thus help you overcome those and other cravings.

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Jarrett, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 54 Join Date: 6/29/20 Recent Posts
"Not that I expect you all to be able to diagnose, but what I want to understand here is based on my situation and experiences how likely it is that 1-2 hours/day of meditation will end these cravings and bring me to peace and tranquility."

1-2 hours per day and 1 or 2 retreats per year should definitely get you deep insight into the nature of your suffering as well as a reduction of cravings, although i don't think viewing it transactionally is very helpful. you'll benefit in many aspects of your life if you sit 1-2 hours a day.  pleasant states will arise and pass like everything else. 

I haven't seen anyone else on this thread post about retreats, but I think they could be beneficial for you -- you'll be face to face with your demons and experiences that help you see the source of your suffering and you will have a much easier time accessing jhanas. Retreats are a great opportunity to go as deep as you can. 


agnostic, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 1643 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Hi Aaron,

Thanks for sharing your experiences and situation.

It sounds like what you are most addicted to is the idea that you can control your life and experience. Unfortunately there's no way to predict how any of this will work out. Wanting to get into jhana doesn't work, you will probably have to let go of far more than you bargain for. You're looking for some kind of confirmation which doesn't exist. I think you know what you really need to do.

Best wishes,
George 
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David Matte, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Dark Night or midlife crisis and drug problems?

Posts: 75 Join Date: 8/3/19 Recent Posts
Greetings Aaron!

Your main question is how likely it is that this is an A&P event that precipitated a Dark Night?
I would say if you have had a past history of depression, escape behaviour, abusing intoxicants...etc, it seems less likely to me that this difficult period that you say began recently has much to do with "dark night" or stages of insight, but has been triggered by other factors (plenty of factors can contribute to depression: environmental, social, chemical, familial, dietary, one's own belief structures)

Jhana is good but it may not be easy to access for one who hasn't pacified the craving mind to some degree. Craving for jhanas is a sure way to not get jhana.This is why jhana becomes easier for one after stream-entry, when a lot of the hinderances have been supressed. Regrardless, jhanas are very healing states and important in order to show oneself that happiness is never obtained outside of oneself.

I would say you can definitely do a lot of good work on your habits and behaviour with basic insight practices. Mindfulness and awareness is the antidote for compulsive behaviour. My reccomendation is to start doing insight practice (2 x 1 hr sits a day is a great start!) so you can start seeing your mind work at a subtle level, including the feelings of discomfort arising (the precursor of compulsive addictive behaviour).
The root of craving is ignorance, ignorance meaning ignorance of reality. Ignorance is perceiving reality as self, permanent, and satisfying. Insight practices work so you discover just the opposite: the truth of not-self, impermanence, and unsatisfactoriness.

Relevent video by 80's Shinzen Young:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py5lf8Ckmbk

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