Introduction to Utilizing the Enneagram in Addiction Recovery & Transformation

By Michael Naylor, M.Ed, LADC, CPCC, CCS Copyright 2018

Each of us has been deeply affected by addiction in our lives. It is rare that this is not the case. Many have experienced the heart-rending descent of a loved one into the jaws of addiction, have watched as the loved one has lost jobs, relationships, health, and self-esteem, and have observed as time after time they have risen and sworn off their addiction only to slip into the sea of sorrow one more time. Nothing could be more heart-wrenching. It’s like watching a loved one die in slow-motion, breath by breath.

Many have tirelessly tried to convince loved ones that they have a problem and are destroying their lives, only to be told angrily, “I don’t have a problem. What are you talking about? Leave me alone!” while the knife of addiction hangs from their heart, and they oblivious to their impending destruction. Shocked by their denial and powerless to change them or save them from their blindness, we sink into resignation and hopelessness.

In like manner, those in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have witnessed the many dear souls who have gotten sober, begun to get healthy, begun to resurrect their shining souls, and five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years clean and sober—suddenly disappear like wind through one’s fingers back into the hell of addiction. We hear later of a suicide, or a heart-attack, or all too often, nothing at all. Saddened, we face a grim fact: a great many that enter the road of recovery do not succeed. In time one appreciates the AA and NA slogan: Addiction is a cunning and baffling disease of the soul. It takes the best of the best. It is a blinding force that like a rip-tide, steals the ground from beneath a dear loved one in a heartbeat.

All of us in the addiction field, be it therapists or those in recovery, have made tremendous efforts to give men and women “eyes” to see their addiction, to observe it before or as it strikes, so when the more subtle and powerful aspects of their addiction arise that they are able to sense, touch, smell, feel, hear and see it. We give individuals relapse-trigger lists to memorize, addiction education on the signs and symptoms of addiction and the progression of the disease, and 12-step programs to participate in, and still…still…individuals relapse routinely. Truth be known, in spite of the tremendous education and support to help individuals recover from addiction, in spite of wonderful sponsors and therapists paving the way and cheering them on, something inside them habitually ‘forgets’ what is critical to their survival. As though taken by a trance, the best of the best at a given moment hypnotically pick up the substance of their choice and undo their finest efforts. As is said in 12 step programs, “Addiction is a forgetter’s disease.”

What is it that causes this to occur repeatedly in individual’s lives such that only a few truly recover and thrive in their lives? What inner wall of resistance have we not named and articulated that sends individuals flying back into the arms of their addiction, be alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, or shopping. Often, it is argued that the relapsed individual “just didn’t want it bad enough,” or “stopped going to meetings.” With a deeper inquiry, these answers bear only slight resemblance to truth, and are ineffective attempts to explain a rather profound mystery.

In my own case, serendipity intruded. In 1996, with my heart breaking from the devastating feeling that I would never find myself or my purpose for existence, that my persistent emotional suffering would never be healed, and that there was something essential to my life that I was not grasping, I listened with ears of desperation as my therapist, Stephen, a sly, elfin grin on his face, said to me, “Why don’t you read the book Understanding the Enneagram by Don Riso. It’s about the nine Enneagram types. Take a look at the Type Four.” Curious and more than willing to do anything that would end the repetitious suffering that fourteen years into my own recovery from addiction would not leave, I read about the Type Four. Horrified at what I found, I realized that the very characteristics I prided myself in were the exact and precise things that were causing relentless and repetitious suffering. In spite of working a program of recovery, in spite of meditating and asking for help, I could not shake them. AA/NA was not designed to touch these features (at least not in its current form) but had provided me a needed foundation of sobriety to confront them.

I learned that the unconscious features of my Type Four personality type—the psychic structure that I had inherited and been hard-wired with at birth—was still running the show unbeknownst to me, making it impossible for me access my true heart or the depth of my true authenticity where real love, real self-worth, real meaning, real intimacy with others, real clarity about my purpose on earth, resided. It was as though an unseen door to the treasures of my soul was flung open. I was shocked at what had been hidden and shrouded in my type’s delusion (I would soon discover that each Type is stuck in a type-specific delusion that causes their deeper suffering and eventual relapse. The Type Four delusion: “I am a unique and misunderstood outsider, more sensitive, emotionally deep and creative than others, and not properly seen or understood.” Gulp!). Daily, weekly, yearly this precious journey deepens and expands, my heart grateful for the very real freedom I’ve been invited to. Instead of relapsing like so many of my compatriots—or rusting and hardening in my recovery positions about life1—I moved into a deeper alignment with my heart’s desire, and into a deeper capacity to perceive and own, without self-hatred, those areas of my consciousness that still functioned automatically, swiftly and negatively.

Through my addictions work with recovering individuals (utilizing the Enneagram) it has become clear to me that the Enneagram is not only pivotal for the maturation and development of an individual’s magnificence and capacity, but is absolutely necessary for enabling individuals to navigate the very real and sometimes incredibly difficult growth transitions necessary to fully actualizing oneself, and living fully. The Enneagram identifies the nine types of personality and how each type habitually ‘forgets’ or “falls asleep” to what is important to their growth and transformation in addiction recovery. Unless an individual begins to understand the type-specific way he falls asleep (this process gets more subtle and more powerful the longer one is clean and sober), and how he forgets what is imminently important to his transformation—regardless of how long he has been clean and sober—sooner or later relapse will occur. Unwittingly he or she will pick up the substance of their choice. Or just as bad, rust in the grips of a ‘dry drunk’ chewing on resentment, meaninglessness or soul emptiness after years of recovery, seemingly struck blind at an impenetrable door of recovery, be it year five, ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty.

The Enneagram teaches that each Enneagram Type is endowed with specific, core, psychological and emotional weaknesses as well as strengths that can be matured and celebrated. That is, each personality type inhabits a different psychological and emotional world with type-specific challenges that he or she will predictably encounter at deeper levels throughout their recovery. As Riso-Hudson say: “Effective growth approaches must take into account the fact that there are different kinds of people—different personality types. This diversity explains why what is good advice for one person can be disastrous for another. Telling some types that they need to focus more on feelings is like throwing water on a drowning man. Telling other types that they need to assert themselves more is as foolish as putting an anorexic person on a diet.” (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, p.2, by Riso-Hudson)

Put simply, each type has “different” psychological, physical and emotional needs, with different psychological, physical and emotional blind spots, and uniquely different paths, or doorways, of recovery. What is similar to all of them is the need to become “present” to their type-specific mental, emotional and physical habits that block their ability to experience themselves, inhabit themselves, and reside in the here and now, the only place that joy, love, happiness and peace can be experienced. We see this all the time: a man or woman five, ten, fifteen, twenty years sober and still unable to be “present” to this precious moment, who is caught in the machinations of their distracting mind and inhibiting personality habits. Robotically rattling off recovery slogans, judging self and others with recovery opinions, they are unable to reside in their spacious heart. Unable to savor kindness, compassion, or joy in the here and now, they are the antithesis of happy, joyous and free. Until we address these type-specific differences our treatment approaches and heart-felt attempts to help the addicted individual will enable only a small fraction of people to actually get clean and
sober and thrive in their recovery. That is, we will continue to have our heart’s broken repeatedly after we have given our very best to our beloved clients and the friends we so wish to serve. The Enneagram is an amazing tool that delivers the individual treatment and recovery plan that we have been seeking.

The Challenge of the Recovering Individual: Seeing My Psychological Prison Every type has a type-specific blind-spot or psychological prison consisting of a core fear (which drives their core suffering), a deep wish (the wish to return to what is authentic and true within them), and a fundamental commandment (who I am supposed to be, or must be to be loved). They have an emotional habit (called a passion or vice, their type-specific emotional habit…the passion refers to what has been traditionally called The Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, there are nine of them. They represent the nine ways people lose contact with God, with Presence, with their ability to be authentic and whole) and a mental habit (or fixation, their type-specific mental habits that obscures their ability to perceive objective reality) which creates the psychological world they breathe in. These type-specific psychic structures, developed initially to protect an individual from the suffering of childhood, now inhibit the individual’s ability to comprehend reality, to transform their addiction, and to engage reality in a way that supports their positive growth and unfoldment.

In addition, each type has a type-specific self-image (or idealized self-concept—who they believe they are, i.e., I am kind, loving, easy going, fair—whether their actions reflect this or not) that when under sway of their addiction, or at various stages of their recovery, hypnotizes them. They imagine themselves being their ideal self, but their actions are the antithesis of this. They cannot objectively see how they are showing up in the world, nor accurately perceive what they are honestly experiencing. It is the combination of these “unconscious,” often hard-to-see personality habits (the true relapse triggers) that keep an individual trapped at an impenetrable door of emotional and psychological ‘stuckness’ which set him up for tragic relapse after years of recovery (or months into early recovery).

Unless an individual develops the “Presence”—the eyes to see with—and the capacity to be here and now inhabiting and sensing one’s body, heart and mind, and becomes able to compassionately and clearly observe the psychic habits of one’s personality type that interrupt this process, he/she will continue to unconsciously walk into the arms of his addiction. Blind to the real dynamics within himself, he will be unable to navigate the many cycles of growth he will and must face in recovery, or to optimize his inherent gifts—in spite of his acquired knowledge and experience in recovery. Unless he can observe and sense his true relapse triggers (the type-specific defensive habits of his type) in the present moment, or “catch himself in the act,” as Riso-Hudson call it, he will likely fall or be trapped in the cement of emotional stagnancy.

In recovery circles we say that addiction is a three-fold disease: physical, mental and emotional. To the extent that we heal these three factors within us is the extent to which our spiritual life thrives and we feel a sense of unity, capability and confidence with ourselves and those we love. (Note: the triangle—representing the body, the heart, and the mind—within the circle has been the traditional AA symbol found in all their literature. This symbol represents two portions of the Enneagram, missing only the internal lines of six-sided hexad of the Enneagram symbol, the symbol for change. As is said in recovery, “You’re either moving in the direction of growth or headed towards a drink.” Thus, the hexad represents the dynamic of growth or stagnancy.) The Enneagram precisely addresses these three factors—body, heart, and mind—in each of the nine types with the explicit goal of bringing unity, awareness, and true happiness to the individual.

Utilizing the Enneagram in Addiction Recovery is written specifically for men and women in recovery from addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, etc. (I address these issues by referring to alcohol and other drugs primarily, but the information applies to all forms of addiction.) Chapter 1 addresses the definition and roots of the Enneagram, the basic psychic structure of the types, and a brief description of the nine types in recovery. Chapter 2 describes the Levels of Development in the types, and the challenges and dynamics of the Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy levels of development that the recovering or addicted individual will be encountering as they navigate these levels.

Chapter 3 addresses the nature, reality and misunderstanding about spiritual growth and recovery from addiction that relentlessly causes relapse in early, middle and on-going recovery. Chapter 4 through 12 will explore the dynamics of each type providing an in-depth examination of their type-specific psychic structure, and the lessons, knowledge and behaviors they must learn to observe and apply in order to move in the direction of sobriety and profound well-being. These consist of: 1. The Core suffering and dilemma of the Type in recovery 2. The Protective Mechanism of the Type 3. The Type in early recovery and how to work with them 4. The Predictable Transformation Crisis in Early, Middle and Ongoing Recovery 6. Strategies and Suggestions for each Type.

Interspersed between each chapter on the types will be a “Fact” and “Myth” regarding addiction recovery and the utilization of the Enneagram for growth and transformation. The appendix will provide further knowledge and explanation on the Enneagram for those who are interested.

Chapter 13, “Navigating the Nine Stratum,” will address the difficult yet predictable inner challenges and rites of passage heretofore never spoken about in recovering circles that each recovering individual will encounter in their journey of growth and spiritual unfoldment. Put simply, during critical stages of early, middle and on-going recovery, individuals will periodically confront deeper and more difficult emotional, spiritual and psychological challenges particular to their type that unless prepared for, will (and often do) send them back to their addiction. The territory is known, and can be prepared for. Relapse is not inevitable!

Chapter 14, “Recovery and the Three Instincts,” describes the enormous power the Three Instincts (Self-Preservation, Sexual/Attraction and Social/Adaptation Instincts) have in driving individuals back into their addictions, and which narrow their ability to actualize their capacities and to live joyfully and expansively. The Instincts have heretofore never been articulated or utilized in the realm of addiction recovery, and are often the driving engine that set individuals unwittingly on a course of self-destruction, both in early recovery, and in middle and late recovery. Unless an individual learns to skillfully navigate the dynamics of his/her three instincts, he will continually be stuck on the treadmill of his type’s most difficult dynamics.

It is my hope and belief that with the skillful use of the Enneagram the vast numbers of individuals who relapse struggling with the cunning dynamics of addiction will decrease significantly. Those who do find the solid ground of recovery will have a tool at their disposal that allows them to continue to further expand and access the joy, courage, strength, peace, clarity, vision, creativity, and the love their soul intends for them. This is the ultimate goal of addiction recovery: the realization and celebration of the precious gifts spirit has endowed us with.

Introduction to Utilizing the Enneagram in Addiction and Transformation by Michael Naylor, M.ED Copyright 2018

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