Weathering the Darkest Nights: Top Tips for Surviving one Moment at a Time

On a withdrawal and healing journey, there are often many metaphorical nights that are darker than we could ever imagine. The acute suffering is unthinkable. It feels unsurvivable. We are desperate to be seen, heard and understood by the people around us. And we are even more desperate for relief.

Very often these experiences come with the territory of navigating our way off of psychiatric drugs. You are so far from alone.

Seeking Solutions

We may find ourselves frantically seeking any and every solution to no avail. We may be using all of our tools, whatever they may be – breathwork, yoga, exercise, time in nature, various distractions like television or audiobooks, you name it, the list is endless. We may be talking to all the support people – friends, family, doctors, coaches, therapists, mentors, non-professionals in support groups, etc. We may be trying supplements or other drugs. We are doing “all the things,” and still we find no relief.

This too, as hopeless and as frightening as it feels, is part of the process. We end up feeling even more stuck and distressed when we think we should be somewhere other than where we are.

Photo: Leela Ehrhart

On these darkest of nights, in these darkest of moments, our only job is to survive. Healing is slower than we would like, but it is not a sign of our impending doom that our tools and resources don’t seem to be helping yet. Our only job is to find a way to keep on going – one excruciating moment at a time – until eventually and inevitably things ease. And if you’re reading this it means you are alive, which means you are successfully surviving no matter how horrible it feels.

What I see time and time again when I work with people who are navigating this terrifying terrain is that the more resistance there is to the present excruciating experience, the greater the suffering. Paradoxical as it may seem, the more we search for immediate solutions the worse we often feel and the more complicated we make things. I have been there myself. Knowing this, it can then be an unexpected sort of comfort to put the seeking of answers and the searching for solutions down, in favor of just focusing on getting through each moment. All you have to do is get through this moment.

What Helps Us Survive

Below are some of the top tips I have for carrying on through the most unfathomably painful and frightening moments on this journey. I consider these top tips because I have experienced them for myself and I have seen them help countless others.

  1. Manage expectations – when things are at their most acute and painful, let go of the idea that your tools and resources will or should help you feel immediately better. Remember that it’s about survival, and if you are still here then whatever you have been doing has played an important role even if things feel as dire as ever. Keep going!
  2. Practice self-compassion – be so gentle with yourself. Things are not as hopeless as they may feel. Until things ease again you will have some limitations, and it’s okay that you are not engaging with the rest of your life normally right now. What words or actions of comfort might you offer your best friend if they were in your shoes? Offer those things to yourself.
  3. Give yourself credit where credit is due – you are already surviving what you fear you cannot. Give yourself credit for just how much that takes, and know that the way things feel now is not the way they will feel forever. Have there been any wins lately, no matter how small? Let yourself acknowledge those too, and how spectacular they really are.
  4. Distract yourself – what might help take your mind and attention off of how bad things feel, even if only very slightly? Television and audiobooks are often great options, and many people find that something engaging enough but not too jarring or difficult to follow is perfect. Coloring books are another great choice. So is walking in nature, and other forms of movement if tolerated. If you’re up for leaving the house and seeing people, volunteering locally may provide you with some low-key, low stakes social connection and structure. The point is there are lots of different things you can try.
  5. Consider limiting your time in support spaces or seeking professional help – support spaces are invaluable resources, and they can also feel really scary especially when we ourselves are struggling the most. Do you find yourself feeling worse after you read about the struggles and experiences of others? If so consider limiting how much time you spend exposing yourself to these stories until you feel better. Similarly, if you are working with numerous different professionals you may be receiving mixed messages or information that is leaving you feeling more confused than anything. Feeling overwhelmed by the different perspectives and opinions? Then perhaps consider taking a break from the professional inputs and turning inward for a little while instead.
  6. Lean into trust – the way things are now is not the way they’ll always be. This is a season, it’s not forever. If you can, lean into even the smallest sliver of trust that you will find your way through this and that you won’t feel this terrible forever.
  7. Find success stories – look to those who walked this road before you and are doing well today. Don’t worry if their symptoms were different from yours. Don’t worry if their healing trajectory and timeline were different from yours. Don’t worry if they weren’t on exactly the same drugs for exactly the same amount of time as you. Look to them and their stories of hope anyway, as reminders of what is possible for you too.
We Are Always Healing

Remember that our bodies know how to heal, and that we are healing every moment we are alive. Remember also that healing is rarely a linear process, and it almost never looks or feels like we think it should. It is in these most acute states that the body is working its hardest to rebalance and heal itself. Our bodies know what they’re doing, even when we ourselves are baffled, petrified, and certain we are beyond help or hope.

You can endure and you can survive. You already are, one moment at a time.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended or implied as medical or mental health advice.