You’ve been there: After a retreat, workshop, or even a deep conversation–the kind of mind-blowing, perception-altering experience that leaves you unquestionably changed–it hits. You’re inexplicably tired, or moody, or just want to be alone. Enter: The Expansion Hangover.
The Expansion Hangover is what I’ve affectionately come to call the natural contraction after a period of sudden emotional, psychological or spiritual growth. It can range from needing to stare into space for an hour, or can be as big and bad as lashing out, mood swings, exhaustion and a whole spectrum of not-so-wonderful feels.
What makes it worse is that this crash comes right after feeling so tuned in, so aligned, and even downright blissful. How can everything seem so clear and easy one moment, and then suddenly feel like you’re wearing sunglasses smeared with Vaseline?
This Expansion Hangover is a state I’ve found myself in frustratingly often over the past few years. Through trainings, travel, developing my own practices and discovering my path, I’ve found joy and connectedness that I didn’t even know was possible. Followed by tears, tiredness, apathy and the intense desire to get totally obliterated on cheap whiskey and make some bad decisions. Yeah.
When you turn up your game on exploring your true Self, you inevitably find the flow. Things make sense: you might be more creative or productive or just feel amazingly hopeful about what is to come. But what goes up, comes crashing down.
Allow me to illustrate with the Integration Timeline:
- Before you go on your retreat or have your special experience, you have your current level of awareness. Things are pretty OK.
- You have your expansive experience, and your awareness gets huge! This may bring a feeling that everything is awesome.
- You get back to your normal life, and suddenly everything dulls. Your awareness suddenly doesn’t feel so good, and you may feel a little lost. The is the dreaded Expansion Hangover.
- After you give yourself some time, work through your stuff in compassionate, helpful ways, your consciousness normalizes once more, and you end up with more awareness than you started with, because you went through that fabulous, expansive experience.
Also to note: The bigger the expansion, the bigger the contraction. So my month in Costa Rica was some hard, good work. So it makes sense that I feel like shit right now. Thank you, Expansion Hangover. Costa Rica this past time around was the spiritual version of jello shots and a fifth of Cuervo in college: It was a great time, things happened that I’m a little fuzzy on, and I’m changed for it. But now I’ve woken up face down without my shirt on, and I’m not quite sure how I got home.
So what are a few things to do when you’re experiencing an EH, big or small?
Figure out what you need
Go with what you’re immediately feeling. Maybe you need to sob uncontrollably, stay inside for days at a time, or binge-watch Keeping up with the Kardashians for three days. Then see if it’s unhelpful behavior, and ask yourself why.
For example: My immediate reaction to a really long day, or in the midst of an EH, is to want to drink. Not a drink, mind you, I have to fight the urge to stay out late and get totally hammered. After thinking about this, I’ve realized it’s because I’m not giving myself permission to get the rest that I need. On some level, I have to physically incapacitate myself to rest, slow down and not do anything. So instead of wasting precious money and brain cells on an evening of utter intoxication, I have one glass of wine if I feel like it, and go to bed early. I think the kids these days call that “adulting.”
That being said, sometimes a little “unhelpful” behavior gets you back into your groove. Be wise about it, think about how you’ll feel afterward, and notice if you’re falling into old patterns.
As mentioned before, this is a big one for me. I want so desperately to bypass this whole Hangover part of the process that I jump right back into filling my schedule, making social calls, and expecting my practices to be back on point immediately.
Allow yourself sufficient time–as much as you can–to be alone, sleep, watch a movie, just chill out without doing anything. Read a book, go for a walk, be outside. Breathing in fresh air and being in nature will ground you STAT. It’s part of Pachamama’s qualities: she brings your ass back down to Earth in a nurturing way.
Ask for help
Remember that feeling of expansion, of connectedness, and ask for help from the Divine, from your ancestors or spirit guides, or your loved ones. Smudge yourself to practice, pray or meditate. Feeling like you have a few beings on this plane and the ethereal one can do wonders for making things go a little more smoothly as you get back into the swing of things.
Don’t Guilt Trip Yourself
It’s so easy to try to talk yourself out of self-care–not only now, but pretty much every other time. I’m always asking myself “Why am I so tired?” when I just need to rest. Sometimes there is no why. Sometimes I’m tired because I’m tired, and the only to to do is to sleep. Sometimes we process things on levels we have no awareness of, and ignoring what our bodies are telling us hinders the integration.
Keep in mind that the process, including the Expansion Hangover, is normal and necessary. If you delay any part of it, you simply will not grow as efficiently if you compassionately and carefully nurture the growth process. Never feel guilty about missing a day of mindful movement, or not meditating as frequently as you did. Those are all things that will come back to you when you are ready.
Be sweet with yourself, and godspeed.