The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Light:

Five Lessons Learned This Month

By Lauren Spiro

One month ago I suddenly found myself in a very dark place where I felt vulnerable, raw, naked, humble, confused yet seeking to understand the social interaction dynamics that had triggered this journey into a seemingly bottomless pit. It’s been well over ten years since I’ve been in such a solitary space, feeling alone, unsupported, disconnected from myself and from others.

I slowly began to emerge from the darkness ten days ago and now I am completely out.

Going into the darkness, I remember telling people I am going through a big shift in my life. It was clear that something significant, transformational was happening. I came back with deeper feelings of connection, a deeper sense of belonging to something much bigger than myself and a more profound sense of meaning and purpose. One lesson was about a deeper understanding of who I am separate from ego, that is, the identity I was taught and the social conditioning that has so brainwashed my thinking. And, I might add, the thinking of everyone around me. Its grip on me is looser.

I feel more separated from “my story,” meaning the story I tell myself, the oppression that’s been internalized. My attachment to the story is crumbling, my ego is being dismantled, resulting in a deeper sense of self-acceptance and compassion for myself and for others. It is not like I didn’t have these senses before, they just deepened. They got into my bones, cells, mind and heart more thoroughly.

The second lesson was about letting go completely — to everything, every mental/emotional attachment — so I felt more at peace and more present in the now. I got more clarity on how I live not in the present moment but often in the past, or in the future. Mostly the past, where I repeat the same stories (this happened!) or make up new ones based on old ones — how things could be better next time, etc. Being in the now, the present moment, was a BIG lesson coming out of this particular darkness. I am more aware of what I am experiencing — how I feel in my head, my heart and my body and noticing the emotions and energy of others.

I am not sure the context of my trigger is important, but here it is. The biggest trigger for my descent into darkness came when someone I have known and trusted for over 20 years, someone who is very smart, wise and articulate, unexpectedly shared a perception she had of me that completely shocked me — especially coming from her. It brought me to tears as she told me in a flat, harsh tone. I can not imagine her speaking to anyone else the way she had spoken to me; she just doesn’t behave like that. The context of what leads to our darkness may vary, but to me the important point is what lessons we learn from it, and how to emerge from it wiser, and more healed. It triggered early trauma around abandonment and distrust but I have been working on those issues for decades. This darkness had a very different quality to it.

Thus, lesson #2 has to do with the quality of my listening and being present. I frequently ask myself, instead of getting defensive: What am I missing? With my heart broken wide open I was taking on her perspective — this is how she saw me. I assume others sometimes see me this way too. This helped to further crack open the old story I tell myself, which allowed the deeper recognition of ego (or social mask) that is not really what and who I am. The difference with this particular time of re-evaluation is that I have time to stay with my experience, to not hurry or stress or be pulled to get out of the darkness. I opened up to being in it and letting my mind, my awareness, my consciousness explore until meaning or a direction emerged. All the while I felt vulnerable, humbled, naked and raw — primed for new learning and experiencing!

I am forgetting some of the details or how to give words to my experience so I checked my journal. Eight days ago I purchased my plane ticket to India, which was a big step. It felt emergent, empowering and certainly a contradiction to the darkness — but this was only part of the antidote. Seven days ago my sentence for the day stated, “As I awake and ascend my body tingles in new multi-dimensional ways.” (Oh yes, my consciousness was exploring!). Six days ago, “As my egoic mask evaporates my spiritual self awakens.” Five days ago, “My heart is full of love, my spirit is full of belonging, my mind is at peace resting on the pillow of eternity.” Three days ago, “Imagine a world of no separation, how kind each of us would be.” These sentence-a-day writings come as close as I can come to articulating this transformative level of listening where I await the emerging future — what wisdom is trying to come through. It has led to the deepest feeling of wholeness I have ever experienced, and that includes a deep sense of belonging on all levels imaginable — including a cosmic level!

Lesson 3: During this dark time I did a good amount of emotional release work with other people; that is, we shared time listening to each other and facilitating deeper insight and emotional expression. I’ve done this type of emotional release work with other people an average of three times a week for the past 30 years. Without it I would not be the person I am today. Without it I never would’ve taken on leading the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery. This lesson is a reminder of how far I have come by doing this emotional release work with others; it has given me the empowered, liberated life I have today.

Lesson 4 is about the gift of meditation and being gently guided by an enlightened person. About five days ago I began each day listening to a free series of meditations by Deepak Chopra. That helped me very significantly come out of the darkness. His words were gems sprinkled around me, easy to follow and take me into an insightful and peaceful place. I’m not plugging Deepak Chopra in particular. I’m just pointing out that there are extraordinary resources all around us and I had the good fortune of tapping into one that has been, for me, nothing short of remarkable. It came at the perfect time — when I was broken wide open and ready for something new.

Lesson 5 is really what prompted writing this blog. It was a thought that seemed to come out of nowhere while I was doing something else. The gift that popped into my head was that if I had never gone into that dark place I would not have had the insight, the healing, the depth of understanding myself and how to go forward in social relationships and in my life in general. If I had been drugged (“medicated”) or locked up or mistreated by society the way that our culture is so good at I would’ve missed out on so much learning and healing. The depth of wisdom that comes from dark or challenging emotional states, that with good support and hard work looking at the underlying (and sometimes ancient) dynamics can lead to enormous wisdom, insights and compassion. That is the new light I live in. It is completely different from who I was five weeks ago.

Lauren Spiro

Mental Health Liberation: Lauren facilitates trainings and Dialogues of Discovery, inspired by her recently published memoir, Living for Two: A Daughter’s Journey From Grief and Madness to Forgiveness and Peace. She is spreading Emotional CPR (which she co-founded), creating peace, and reclaiming our shared humanity. Visit her online.

Originally published at on November 28, 2019.

Mad in America’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care in the United States and around the world.