The Dark Side of Recovery

A Perilous Type Eight Journey to Level 9

by Michael Naylor, M.Ed, CCS, CPCC, LADC

Copyright 2021 V.2

I had the deep pleasure of getting to know Allan in his fifteen-year journey to be a sober and clean man. A tall, lanky, James Dean, good-looking, smart-as-God guy, who was intensely aware of the political misuse of power in this country, and angry as hell about it, and everything else on planet earth wherein power had been abused. He knew what was wrong with the world and his radar was fixated on injustice, a profound Type Eight passion. A white guy who had the charisma of Martin Luther King, and cynical with too much intelligence to support it, he represented the very real struggle of the Eight trying to get sober from addiction. Unable to contact his heart, having hardened it and sealed it over to survive as a kid, where life was a battleground and enemies everywhere he looked, it was him against the world. In his own way he figured you rejected him before you even met him, that you didn’t like him and thus wasn’t the least bit afraid of telling you (or any counselor) to your face just how full of bullshit you actually were. Especially if you were wielding power stupidly, meanly, or arrogantly. This was not a popularity contest he was playing. The bottom line: he didn’t need you, didn’t like you in advance, and didn’t need your help. So, don’t offer him some sappy, counselor-do-good-shit that only serves to feed your counselor-ego. Stay the frick away unless you’ve got something real to say. As in really real.

Like I said, he was hard-edged.     

He drew his gun fiercely, figuring he’d be rejected anyway, and why should he care about it. Fuck it, he was already rejected. He’d given up the delicacy and tenderness of his own heart years ago and had shut down his emotional needs for others in service of being strong and protected, and simply surviving. He could stare holes through your head he was so damn intense and determined to take you on, to brush up against you, to inspire some realness in you, and ultimately to wake himself up. So, he’d provoke you, push you, press your Achilles heel by a lightning strike to your facade, or to whatever was fake in you. He smelled “the fake” the second he had contact with you and was viscerally aggravated. And, if you could stand his withering assault you might, you might be worth his time. Truth is, he wanted people worth his time.

Problem is, only few could stand his intensity. And try as he may at recovery, always the missing piece was that heart of his that was aching for freedom but had been steel-walled into silence due to his many losses as a kid. Without his heart all that seemed to feed him was his rage, his discontent with planet earth, and a mind-numbing loneliness that masked as fury. He put it this way, “I can’t feel love. I don’t believe in love. It all sucks. And a Higher Power, well, if there’s a Higher Power he truly has fucked-up big time.” And yet at the same time this guy, so shut down, would go out of his way to help the most deprived and beaten down people in recovery, giving them rides to meetings, money when they were broke, yet he was so terribly divided in himself and unable to bridge the division.

If you could withstand his withering Type Eight appraisal of you, and not back down, but could listen and reflect and share some of your truth, he would like you and talk to you. He responded to compassion, as long as it wasn’t weak-kneed, too-sweet, scared compassion, or I-should-be-compassionate-because-I’m-trying-to-be-a-good-counselor, compassion. He’d spot the fake-good and self-congratulation pattern of a counselor an undo him in five seconds flat. He’d eat the fake-performed-compassion up in two bites and spit it back at you. And man, he would disrupt group, either inspiring full-blown truth-saying or destroying the session in service of resurrecting something real. But in his gnarly soul you could sense that down deep, here was a guy with a huge heart that was smothering and locked in a defense structure, his psychological cage girded with thick steel bars that no one had quite tapped into, had the found the key, or knew the magic code that would finally set him free. His rage signaled just how bad he wanted it. In fact, it was his language (Good to know this as a counselor/sponsor: a raging Eight is a desperate Eight.)

But even then, what was so lovely and wonderful and even sweet about him, was his courage to tell his truth, even if it was hard-edged, messed-up truth. He didn’t know why he really didn’t want to live, but there it was. And yes, it made sense to stay sober, but on the other hand, why? And truth is, unless he could really feel his heart and feel the sweetness in his own soul unless that door to the kingdom of his soul opened, life was a continual bitter-sweet pill and happiness some kind of pussy-idea for wimps. (The challenge for the counselor: hold his feet to the fire of his vulnerability a little longer than his habit. Courageously endure his rebellion, not backing down when he turns his intensity up. Stay in the fire with him, unmoved, yet pointing to his heart!) He feverishly knew something was missing, was outraged by it in unspeakable terms, but he’d be god-damned if he could figure it out. The recovery saying that “sometimes you can be too intelligent to get the program,” often spoke volumes of Allan. He was all too aware of the crazy, bonkers, power-driven, Nazi-controlling shit that happened in recovery rooms, and the idea of connecting with God, well, he could cut that idea into microscopic analytic pieces, erasing any possibility or reason for God.

Even still he’d try everything people suggested that might wake him up and help him break through the steel walls surrounding his heart, or the fixated ideas that reinforced the walls. In his own way he surrendered his will to these suggestions, hoping to connect with the Higher Will everyone talked about. He would go to AA meetings daily and work “the god-damn steps” even though they seemed bogus, gave him little to no relief, hey, he couldn’t feel God or his heart, so why was he praying to God? Who knew? You could see it, he wanted his freedom with all his being, but the damn door just wouldn’t budge open. This tall sweet man, intelligent, passionate, rough and raw, gut-busting funny, handsome and fierce, after years at attempts to free himself, years of repeated relapse (friends would find him passed out in his apartment, a needle hanging from his arm) put a bullet through his beautiful head, Russian-roulette style, spinning the gun chamber he held, one bullet in it, (once a year he did this, just checking to see what his karma was) and click—bang—gone—he launched into another dimension! And the angels wept…and still do.

At his funeral, standing room only, he was honored for his courage and honesty. He’d touched many, like an Eight can do. You loved him, or you hated him. And even when you hated him, you loved him because he’d touched you, jangled you, got your ‘juices flowing’, got you off your complacency and deadening lies. Called you out. He could sense the death in an individual and he’d place a torch to it to see if there was any juice left. And…amazingly…he inspired people to get sober even though he couldn’t do it. In many ways he championed men and women struggling to get sober and laid down his life for them in the only way he could (Much like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino laying his life down for the neighbor kids next door, knowing that although he could not transform his miserable self, he could liberate them.). He told the truth in spades around how difficult and confusing it can be, a drunk and drug addict with capacities and intelligence screaming for release and still falling to the ground defeated—fucking-A defeated—while he created a huge swathe of compassion for those struggling with addiction. In his Eight-fashion he generated a mountain of mercy for everyone who struggled with getting sober and staying sober.

In every heart sitting at his funeral one truth stung deeply—he of all men should have made it. He deserved it, he’d earned it, his sincerity surpassed everyone. Yet something inside said no. These are the mysteries that keep us awake at night and silently grieving as we go about our day. They eat at you, haunt you, worm there way up into your awareness, screaming, Why, why did you let this big, beautiful guy, die? What sort of bloodless universe is this? WHY!!!

Like a restless street crowd on the verge of rioting, one person after another stood at the podium and paid him homage, hoping by their words to keep a piece of him alive. Reaching through the ethers one more time to touch him, feel his strength, his passion, his beauty, his angry red wisdom, his hunger for a truth that could change him.

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