The Nature of the Spiritual Journey in Addiction Recovery
“For many in addiction recovery there is the belief and assumption that when they’ve passed through a particular layer of suffering in early recovery, that the rest of the journey is smooth sailing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like it or not, you’ve signed up for a kick-ass adventure! You will not know in advance what is coming! But this is true—it will be something you’ve never seen before! Expect the Unexpected! Learn to ride loose in the saddle…and don’t fall off the horse!”
From The Yoda Records of Impossible Miracles
By Michael Naylor, M.Ed, LADC, CPCC, CCS Copyright 2013
The Reality of Spiritual Growth
When an individual arrives in early recovery his center of gravity is usually at Level 6 or Level 7 (See Chapter 2, Levels of Health). He is filled with fear, rage, shame, and despair which reflect his struggle with his type-specific ‘core wound’ (i.e., Two—I am unlovable; One—I’m bad and irredeemable; Four—I’m insignificant, dull, ordinary, a nobody; Three—I have no value, I’m a failure, utterly empty of worth; Five—I have no place, I will never be at home or find a niche; Six—I’ve lost all my support and guidance in my life, there is nothing I can trust; Seven—I am deeply unhappy and trapped in pain, I will never feel content; Eight—It’s not safe, I’m unwanted, I’ve been harmed and rejected, I will never feel alive; Nine—I have lost connection with everything I care about, I don’t exist, better that I disappear and stay hidden).
As he stays clean and sober he begins to realize that he must transform the behaviors, attitudes and the many emotional levels of his ‘core wound’—the underlying cause of his addiction—if he is to stay sober. He will make intimate friends with his self-centeredness, his fear, his deceit, his emotional suffering, his denial of reality, his self-abandonment patterns, his childhood trauma, his inability to bond with other humans, his disassociation from his emotional and psychological truth, his rage, his self-pity and self-indulgence—all of which block his ability to be fully here, present, authentic and alive (The good news: buried beneath these defensive patterns is his Authentic Self—the Pearl he seeks.). This takes true humility, courage and curiosity wherein one’s type-specific narcissism (which everyone is under the influence of at Level 6 and 7) is observed (gulp!—I didn’t think it was that bad!), owned, and transformed. It is utterly challenging work, but work that brings sustainable results. Enter joy, calm, peace, ecstasy, fulfillment, humor, and connection with others. This is what we all want and sign up for when we get sober. One problem…we want it instantly. Oh, to be so-o-o human.
Bill Wilson simply and directly names the nature of the spiritual journey in recovery from addiction when he says:
“Acceptance and faith are capable of producing 100 percent sobriety. In fact, they usually do; and they must, else we could have no life at all. But the moment we carry these attitudes into our emotional problems, we find that only relative results are possible. Nobody can, for example, become completely free from fear, anger, and pride. Hence, in this life we shall attain nothing like perfect humility and love. So we shall have to settle, respecting most of our problems, for a very gradual progress, punctuated sometimes by heavy setbacks. Our old-time attitude of ‘all or nothing’ will have to be abandoned.” (As Bill Sees It, page 6)Bill tells it simply: spiritual growth is gradual, punctuated by ‘heavy setbacks.’ Unwittingly, Bill has described the journey up the Levels of Development, and alluded to a critical fact. As we heal our souls, we peel the onion of the emotional, mental and physical defenses that block our capacity to be fully alive, awake, and present in our body, heart and mind. This unfoldment will be punctuated by very real challenges that truly set us back temporarily. He wasn’t kidding.
Riso-Hudson, in The Wisdom of the Enneagram, describe this dance of transformation in the following manner:“The process of growth entails an ongoing cycling among letting go of old blockages, opening up to new possibilities in ourselves, and then encountering deeper levels of blockage. Although we might wish that spiritual growth would be more linear and that it could be accomplished in one or two major breakthroughs, the reality is that it is a process that we must go through many times on many different fronts until our whole psyche is reorganized.” (The Wisdom of The Enneagram, p.45)
In reality, the longer you have worked to heal yourself, the greater capacity you acquire for engaging deeper wounds and constrictions, and this will temporarily be experienced as ‘intense crisis’ meaning it can be difficult, painful, confusing, often disrupting your stability until you have passed through it. It is not a ‘sign’ that you’ve failed in your recovery, but that you have acquired the capacity to enter into deeper work and relationship with yourself; you are ready to discover greater truth and greater freedom. So let’s look at a fundamental misunderstanding, that when not understood, sends individuals into terrible shame and often into late stage relapse.
A Core Misunderstanding in Recovery
The core misunderstanding is simply this: individuals in recovery naively believe, or are taught by others, that their recovery will slowly but surely get easier and easier. Not exactly true. For a period of time things do get easier, until they get harder. If you were to imagine the journey of recovery as a trip down and inward into a labyrinth, to the center of which is your heart’s desire, or your true self, or your deep connection with God, Goddess, the Divine, you’d be best to also imagine that as you descend the labyrinth, collecting the riches of your soul, that along the way a Minotaur will arise who blocks your passage. Its purpose it is to stop you dead in your tracks. These critical meetings with the Minotaur are confrontations with emotional wounds you’ve suppressed, core fears that have ruled your life, emotional habits that disconnect you from your heart, delusions that have inhibited your ability to live in reality, etc. Slowly but surely you are faced with the mental, emotional, physical defenses or misunderstandings that prevent you from being fully here, able to savor your life.
From an Enneagram point of view, as you excavate your true self, and dig through the internal swamp of your being doing cleanup work, learning to open your heart, feel your feelings, express your truth, you will discover that you return again and again to “a central core wounding pattern” that is specific to your type. At each encounter with the Minotaur (representing your defenses and constrictions around this core wound, i.e., the core wound of Two, I’m not lovable, the Three, I have no value, the One, I’m bad, etc.) a different facet of your core wound is experienced. Many of us have experience with this. We do some counseling work, excavating the suffering we experienced with our mother (or family of origin), and after a period of time, we feel we are finished with mom issues. Not! Low and behold, in year five, ten, fifteen, twenty of our recovery, we experience a ‘deeper’ facet of the ‘mom wound’—until we’ve healed it. (The Point is: Healing takes time.)
For instance, as an individual does his recovery work his center of gravity rises, let’s say from Level 6 to Level 5. In essence, he gets healthier, more real, more here, more able to take care of himself. He hasn’t gotten rid of his narcissism, or whatever particular emotional distortion exemplifies the suffering of his personality type (envy, rage, vanity, self-doubt, anxiety, hurt, self-criticism, etc.). He hasn’t gotten rid of his shame or terror. What he has done is decrease the influence of these painful reactions for the time being. But, each time the individual moves towards greater awareness (which means moving through emotional and psychological delusions or blocks at deeper and more painful levels) he notices that many of his defenses are activated again, along with the suffering of his core wound. They seem to ‘turn on’ again, as if they’d never left. Right—they didn’t leave. They were on vacation. Lets take a look at the Type Two to illustrate this.
When the Type Two arrives in addiction recovery, her center of gravity is at Level 6 or 7. Her heart is deeply constricted and she feels her core, Type Two, wound has come true: I am unlovable and unwanted, and unworthy of love—just give me crumbs. What she doesn’t realize is that her deep journey in recovery will be in healing this core wound, this essential wound, at deeper and deeper levels, until finished (like polishing the many facets of a diamond until purified). Just when she thinks she’s handled it, another manifestation of this core wound and how it spins her into unconscious reaction patterns, will appear. Twenty five years sober—there it is! Another layer, or facet! Because she is healthier and stronger, she feels it more painfully that ever! She also handles it better and doesn’t act it out. She feels the deep impact it has on her, viscerally, emotionally, mentally. And it will be this deep encounter with her suffering, nothing muted, not acted out or reacted to in her typical Type Two style, that will free her. She sits with it, observes and feels it with compassion and radical acceptance, and it dissolves…slowly, surely.
In early recovery (life at Level 6) she compensates for her wound (I’m not lovable) by smothering and clinging to the object of her love—her lover, boyfriend, spouse, friends—demanding they acknowledge her loving actions while manipulating them to make them dependent on her (all done unconsciously). And yet, she is completely terrified of abandonment and simultaneously unaware of her motives or her heart-desperate manipulations. She sees herself as loving and kind, can feel superior to others who can’t love as well as she, and overrates (and hyper-inflates) her capacity to be loving, while unable to see what many of her actions are based on: fear of abandonment and her deep feeling that she is unworthy of love. Due to her desperation and compelling need for contact and affirmation, and unable to sense her true value, she chooses individuals that cannot receive her love but whom she might save, thus magnifying the chaos and suffering she lives in.
As she gets healthier, which means not desperately seeking someone to love her or that she can save, she will ‘feel’ and ‘see’ what her defensive behaviors were intended to do: anesthetize her feeling of being unlovable (she must learn to tolerate and feel these feelings). As she continues to remain sober, becomes able to see glimpses of her reality, begins to feel the very real love and value within her, the defense patterns of her type become more self-evident. On more subtle levels she sees that she becomes dishonest in relationships and manipulates others to be dependent on her to compensate for feeling unlovable, and to avoid abandonment. She tries too hard, works too hard, gives too much, and erases or hides her needs to stay connected with a loved one. As she develops more compassion, clarity and commitment to see these patterns more consciously, she begins to disengage from some of its hypnotic power, slowly, very slowly. As she begins to disengage from these personality habits, her center of gravity moves up to Level 5 (this could take several years of hard work). She feels better, and often notices a sense of her own lovableness without efforting so hard to get it.
She starts to experience freedom from her Type Two, core ‘habit’ of pursuing love while denying or erasing her emotional needs. However, as she full well knows, transformation of this Two pattern does not come quickly because it’s engrained in the very breath of her Being. It’s as if there are a thousand veils of this pattern that she must slowly peel away. She will need to develop tremendous self-compassion as she experiences ongoing powerlessness over her Type Two personality habit, watching herself ‘act it out’ a thousand times. Then, in the moment, when she needs to voice her needs or feelings, her voice ‘vanishes,’ she collapses into self-rejection, goes into Two ‘mode’ and takes care of other’s needs, and denies herself. No one knows she’s hurt, angry, and feeling unwanted and unloved (Often times she doesn’t even notice she’s caught in the ‘pattern.’). It happens painstakingly and breaktakingly fast, even after she has acquired library’s of understanding around the pattern. In the moment—Now!—she cannot respond authentically to her experience. It’s like the habit hypnotizes her, weaves an enchantment around her, and she cannot find her words. Then her Spiritual Inner Critic rises up and scolds, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you speak your truth? You are a failure?”
However, as she makes progress in her recovery, she develops compassion for her powerlessness, and more capacity to stay present with the feelings that arise when the Two-wound is triggered. From time to time she finds her voice. On good days, she experiences the higher Levels, Level 4 and sometimes Level 3, which feels great. But with her center of gravity at Level 5 (and Level 4) she is still under the influence of her basic fear, I am not lovable. It is just responded to differently. She is at times driven to give unwanted advice in order to create connections with those she seeks as friends, and can be inspired to rescue ‘needy’ people, whether they want it or not. In fact, she notices that she feels obligated to help people in need. When she spots a ‘need’ in someone, she is magnetically pulled to help them. She is still drawn to securing closeness in her relationships and may do so by flattering and ingratiating herself to others, or making herself indispensable to others in order to insure she is not abandoned. On difficult days she can struggle with boundary issues and find herself intruding on others with her need to secure their love. Try as she will to avoid this, she witnesses herself engaging in self-sacrifice to avoid being rejected or discarded. Not all the time, but with people she really cares about. She notices she can be possessive of loved ones, and can feel that they owe her. With much inner work, and with compassion and self-acceptance, she will more deeply see how these behaviors interfere with her capacity and desire to be close to others.
As she gains more awareness of her feelings and her heart, and is able to notice how badly it hurts when she denies her heart, she is inspired to be more authentic and direct about what she really wants. Instead of hinting at, or asking indirectly for what she wants, she begins, slowly, slowly, to ask directly. She notices that there is a tremendous gravitational pull inside her to suppress her needs or feelings. When she courageously steps into direct expression of her heart’s desire she faces head-on, with immediacy and no bullshit, her visceral terror of being unloved. Each time her heart becomes less fearful and more open, each time she is ready for expansion, each time she steps into a direct expression of her hurt, a deeper encounter with her original core suffering—that she is unlovable—arises. Because she possesses a courageous heart, she continues to step into her fear, through her fear, saying what is true and real. And slowly, the hypnotic pattern starts to lose its ‘charge.’ She learns that by fully experiencing the pattern—body, heart and mind—and not running from it, not doing compensating behaviors to avoid it—and telling her truth, simply and directly—“I feel hurt right now,”—that the pattern begins to dissolve. And the angels cheer for her.
And so the spiritual drill will continue. She will by necessity confront within herself whatever blockage, delusion, or wounding that keeps her heart limited and boxed. Growth spurts—where she courageously steps into the truth of her heart—will translate into facing and digesting her core fear and wound at deeper levels. This is the rhyme of the soul—expansion into new freedom of expression, followed by facing the next inner dragon or Minotaur blocking her passageway to deeper inner peace, joy, self-love, and contentment.
And…just when she thought she’d gotten to the bottom of this feeling and healed herself, she will find ‘a new level.’ Glory be! This can make her feel like she’s not making progress, when in fact, she is making tremendous progress. She must remember this. It is cause for celebration, not discouragement.
When she expands enough to reach Level 4, again she feels better, having moved from being “The Self-Important Saint” at Level 6, to the “Possessive Intimate” at Level 5, to the “Special/Effusive Friend” at Level 4 (Don Riso, in Personality Types, names each type at the nine Levels of Development). Here her behavior is characterized as being emotionally demonstrative. She works hard to be the special loving friend and confident to others. She is healthier so she makes better choices. She is caring and kind and big hearted, possesses empathy in spades, the best of the Two, but she is still under the illusion characteristic of Level 4—that the love she seeks is ‘still’ outside of her, that she must instigate it through her loving encounters with others, i.e., she must earn it from others. To begin to enter Level 3 she will again need to go through the necessary transformation of illusions that have set her up for believing that love is limited, is found in certain ‘right’ people, or certain right ‘actions’ on her part, and that she must go out and get it, find it, secure it, possess it, or manufacture of. She is unraveling the final strings of her attachment to this illusion. She has traveled far, from Level 6 to Level 4, and has learned to understand her motivations more clearly even though she falls prey to her unconscious behavior. Along the way she has experienced true moments of liberation and love, which remind her she is moving in the right direction. She is beginning to realize that the love she seeks is sitting squarely in the center of her own Being. Waiting. She is what she has been seeking.
The point being this: The journey from Level 7 to Level 6 to Level 5 to Level 4 consists of deeper and deeper realizations about the nature of who she is and how she has learned to constrict and defend herself in response to suffering (along with greater liberation from these patterns). This will entail many lessons of disillusionment, many lessons in which she sees that the self-image she has of herself is not matched by her behaviors, and ultimately noticing the intricate ways she has abandoned herself through self-deception and self-denial. At each new discovery, each new dissolving of an illusion, there will be pain and healing related to her core fear of being unlovable, and how she abandons her very heart. Each time this vulnerable core of suffering is touched at deeper levels, along with it will be despair and hopelessness, and the ‘mistaken’ sense that her actions to grow, mature and stay clean and sober have been futile. She will think to herself, “How could they be anything less than futile when fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years sober I feel ‘worse’ than when I entered the halls of recovery? After all the work I’ve gone through, how could I feel this bad?” If she is aware that this is the natural cycle of recovery she will get the support and help needed to move through this next layer of illusion. If not, and if surrounded by individuals who do not understand these cycles, or if too embarrassed to even announce that she is now floundering in a deeper and stranger state of suffering than she’s ever encountered, she will relapse, as far too many do.
The Shock of Cycles of Transformation
The characteristic symptom of real-time transformational cycles in addiction recovery is that suddenly one feels like the rug has been pulled out beneath oneself (This can happen at year one, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty of recovery). One’s familiar sense of identity seems to disappear for the time being. Everything that had meaning seems to lose its resonance. One is catapulted into a strange psychological desert where there are no maps home. The old maps don’t work and one is challenged to find a new one that has new meaning. If one is unaware that this is ‘normal’ during cycles of transformation, one can easily despair and give up, feeling that all of one’s efforts to grow in recovery have come to this dead ending. Well, truth is, one might be experiencing a profound and necessary inner death where ones limiting concepts of oneself are what’s dying, or one’s limited view on reality is melting, which gives birth to new ‘eyes’ that perceive reality more deeply and expansively (this is called ‘increased freedom to savor reality’). But before this birth occurs it very well can feel like you are a goner, done for, going to die on this spot of desperation. Hint: this is what your ego, or the false part of you that you’ve come to believe as ‘yourself’ is whispering to you. Remember, the ego always lies, but convincingly.
When the ‘need for transformation’ gets triggered (remember, the soul’s intention is to wake you up so you can engage reality with full aliveness) due to a sudden loss or disappointment, or as a result of the spiritual practice one has engaged in (working the steps of AA), one can experience overwhelming sadness, hurt, loneliness, terror and shock—as though the very universe has abandoned you once again. Life delivers circumstances designed to further one’s excavation of what is real and true in us and this always means walking (or falling) into unknown, unexplored regions of ourselves. As we penetrate and experience deeper levels of sadness, rage, and terror, we also invite more expansive states of joy, peace, well-being, confidence and clarity. But it is a dance, make no mistake. Osho captures the reality of this transformational process when he says:
“The heart is meant to be broken. Its purpose is that it should melt into tears and disappear. The heart is to evaporate, and when the heart has evaporated, exactly in the same place where the heart was, you come to know the real heart…the deeper heart. Just like an onion, you peel it, and the new layer is there.” (Everyday Osho: 365 Daily Meditations for the Here and Now, p. 246). He says it all: we are meant to go deeper and deeper into our real heart, the mission and deep goal of recovery work. Hidden under the broken heart is the unshakeable heart!
For many in addiction recovery there is the belief and assumption that when they’ve passed through a particular layer of suffering in early recovery, that the rest of the journey is smooth sailing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like it or not, you’ve signed up for a kick-ass adventure…climbing up the Himalayas of your soul exhilarated and terrified, through the dark yet lush Amazon Forests of your delusions where emotional mysteries are revealed, onto to your inner-Fallujah to encounter internal terror-storms, violence, and the killers and thieves inhabiting your unconscious personality habits. And in the most difficult hour meeting enlightened sweet souls, and dropping into the arms of profound liberation while passing thru the dark night of the of the soul with Jesus in Gethsemane; and facing the Balrag as you proceed to the fires of Mordor for soul-shocking purification and lessons on impermanence. And all of this, every ounce of it, awakening you to the precious moment where deep kindness, love, and heartfelt satisfaction drinks you up in big gulps as you continue, courageously, along the Knife’s Edge of your Inner Awakening, witnessing the massive splendor of life, and the imminent death of everything. A kick-ass adventure, nothing less! You will resurrect and you will die, over and over again. And because you are courageous, you will continue to open…
This sneaky belief also hides in the multidimensional layers of your consciousness: that at some point you will no longer need the insight, support, and help of others. As one of my teachers said to me, “On the spiritual path, young Sky-Walker, the longer you travel and learn, the better your ability to deceive yourself when your ego (and your current favorite delusion) is challenged. At that precious moment you can bullshit better than ever. You’re smarter, wiser, quicker on your feet, and you can talk yourself into the darkest hell with convincing admonitions of certainty—and fool everyone including yourself. It is important to have individuals in your life that can spot this for you, or you can take an unexpected journey back to the beginning. Yep! You can lose everything you’ve gained. My suggestion to you, dear Sky-Walker: keep at least three men in your life who are smarter and more awake than you, so that when your ego morph’s into a more deluded and unrecognizable form, pretending to be an advanced spiritual teacher perhaps, they will be the eyes you need to see this latest manifestation.”
Being triggered into shame, rage, despair, terror, fear, sorrow and hopelessness are signals a deeper excavation of your soul is at hand, that deeper inner work is required to digest and transform the suffering. As one cheerful Zen teacher said: “When you are triggered, this is good news. The deeper the better! Now you have something to work with, to transform, to cut through—to get to what is real and true in you.” When deep suffering is touched it often requires that we find new tools and new supports, to transform them. If we believe we shouldn’t have to experience more suffering or do more inner work—damn it, I’ve done enough of this, it’s supposed to be over—and instead resist and suppress the suffering, the vampire of addiction (or self-sabotage) is woken up. This rule applies to men and women in addiction recovery: Whatever you suppress resurrects in haunted form, i.e., addiction relapse, habitual compulsions, depression, self-centeredness, self-doubt, self-indulgence, anxiety, strange longing, etc.
And what can be more difficult at the later stages of recovery (year 10 through 25) is that when suffering is triggered, it may arrive in emotional and psychological states that are altogether ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘strange.’ Actually, you can count on this. Many caught in the throes and climate of this ‘new material’ (disorienting emotional, physical and mental states) will have a hard time putting words on any of it, or being embarrassed and discouraged by what feels like a fall backwards, will try to suppress their experience for fear of being labeled crazy. But truth is, as the false self, or ego, gets triggered and dissolves, one can feel a bit crazy. In fact, you may see the absolute craziness of the ‘ego’ that you identified with for so long. Disorientation and feeling crazy is not a bad thing. The only bad thing is if one decides not to talk about it or take the critical steps to find necessary support. Our emotional triggers represent undigested wounds acquired through our life (around which our ego formed in self-defense), the deepest wounds often occurring when we were young and had no defenses. Our greatest gift to ourselves in these passages is compassion and the courage to seek real help.
The Reality of Relapse Thru Recovery
This must be realized: each Enneagram type faces a core delusion and suffering that must be navigated and understood successfully at deeper and more subtle levels the longer one journeys on the recovery road. There are many layers of delusion and suffering that must be penetrated over time, level by level (along with opening up to deeper levels of joy, depth, and intimacy). At each new level of investigation for a period of time the recovering individual experiences greater distortion, deeper pain, sharper suffering (fear, anger, shame, rage, terror) and greater confusion until passing through their particular, type-sensitive, growth challenge. Simply said, one will be more severely challenged when the wheels of spiritual growth begin to turn at year twenty of recovery, than at year five. These are the ‘very heavy setbacks’ Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, forewarned us about.
In turn, one will have more internal strength and spiritual resources available, unless one has concluded, after a time of relative expansion, well-being, and peace that ‘help is no longer needed’ and unwittingly has abandoned the spiritual practices and supports that has inspired his recovery and well-being. (Tip: Do not, after a period of positive expansion and growth, stop doing what created your well-being. It’s the biggest mistake made on the spiritual path!) And, as is true of all spiritual growth experiences, one will be taken out of one’s comfort zone and, by necessity, challenged to learn deeper and more profound lessons of compassion, intelligence, courage, strength, surrender, self-deception, self-acceptance, remorse, and humility. This is the nature of the spiritual journey. A.H. Almass captures this reality in this quote from Diamond Heart Book One:
“The problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are specifically yours, designed specifically for you by a part of you that loves you more than anything else…and has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. Without something pricking you in the side, saying, “Look here! This way!” you are not going to go the right direction. The part of you that designed this loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It will go to extreme measures to wake you up, and if will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That is its purpose.” (p. 130, Diamond Heart Book One) As my friend Brian would say, “The good news: God is tracking you! Whatever is in the way, is on the way. Everything arrives in perfect timing for your soul’s group. Good feelings, bad feelings, welcome everything; resist nothing. Let it touch you and teach you.”
The difficulty of these necessary spiritual growth cycles (especially if one is unprepared) are reflected in the number of individuals who after many years of being clean and sober, relapse or suicide, or become so crystallized in defending against the spiritual growth challenges they face that they ‘rust out’ and become rigid, impatient, and disillusioned (as in, hell no, I won’t flow…I’m finished now…I shouldn’t have to go through any more change). Defending adamantly against the natural inclination of their soul to grow, expand, and embrace reality at deeper and more satisfying levels (which often means confronting deeper levels of self-delusion or hidden suffering—never an easy task), their spirit tightens and withers. This tenet prevails: when you stop the natural cycles of your soul’s growth by resisting change, the negative, type-specific emotional and psychological habits that you so meticulously worked to eliminate in your life, return. Your particular type-specific devils are still alive and still kicking. As one AA put it, “When you are in a meeting working on recovery, your addiction and your character defects are in the parking lot doing pushups. It’s a good idea to keep showing up for your recovery and keep them in the parking lot.”
Let’s look at this from the beginning.
The Three Doorways of Recovery
Door Number One: Recognizing I have an addiction problem. When a man (or woman) enters the path of recovery from addiction he will pass through a series of doors. The first door either inspires the individual to commit deeply to recovery, or devastates him and sends him back to his addiction. This door, when opened, allows the individual to begin to “see” the results of his or her drinking/drugging life. This can only be called one thing—a freakin’ nightmare!
Sober a short while, reality begins to seep through the fog of his addicted mind, and the individual is flooded with the suffering he has caused himself and others while drugged. It’s as if someone has turned on a ‘nightmare’ movie in his brain, and as the film clips chew through him he shockingly sees, feels and comprehends how his addicted, distorted actions actually affected others while he had “dreamed” something differently. Eyes pierced wide open, heart stricken with grief, he stares into an abyss where loved ones appear, broken-hearted, disappointed, abandoned. Like a head-high fastball knocking him to his knees, he is thrown to the ground of humility and humiliation. It is too true—he has been living an utter lie! He’s been whistling past the graveyard, chanting “I don’t have a problem,” while life has been clamoring, screaming, begging him to awaken. How could he not see this before it got so bad? How could he be so blind? How many times did he defend this delusion?
It is the dissolution of this first illusion—“I don’t have a problem, I’m doing just fine”—that must be endured and passed through to allow an individual to start the journey of growth. It is rare that an individual can pass through this door without tremendous support, be it AA, NA, counselors, support groups, a church or spiritual community, or spiritual guides. Shocked at his distortions, terrible questions will arise like fierce dragons: “How can I live with myself when I have argued so strongly for my position, only to now see that this position was utterly selfish and self-centered and self-hating? I have hurt too many. I have devastated myself. I can never repair the suffering I’ve caused. I am completely full of lies and I can’t bear this throat-choking humiliation.” (This is the reality of Level 7: I could not see the suffering I was causing.)
Here he encounters, bold as blood, his deluded imaginary self, the self he unwittingly constructed to survive the atrocities of his addiction. Without tremendous compassion, seeing his ‘false’ self will send him into relapse. The Type Eight, imagining himself as powerful, strong and assertive, a protector of others, discovers that he has been violent, threatening, arrogant, heartless, and a bully to others. The Nine, imagining himself as peaceful, easy-going, and receptive, sees that he has been utterly lost in his imagination and disengaged from all aspects of reality, abandoning himself and passively-aggressively harming those he loves, turning a blind eye to their needs. The One, imagining himself as living in integrity, balanced, fair, honest, and committed to correct causes, sees that he have been the opposite. He has judged, punished and shamed himself and others in the name of trying to improve them. He has used his honestly like a dagger to hurt people. He has perpetrated violence on others (and himself) in the name of being good, violating his deeply held standards while imagining otherwise.
Little by little the ‘faces’ of newly sober individual reveal themselves to him as remorse and shame snake their way through his body.
This is D-Day. Dead bodies are everywhere.
The Zombies of his part threaten to eat devour and eat him.
Can he bear the truth of what he discovers.”I thought I was sensitive and compassionate (the Four) but see I was cruel and self-absorbed.” “ I thought I was a joy seeker, a lover of freedom (Seven) and I see I’ve become a hedonist who has no heart or concern for others.” “I thought I was doing good things for others (Two) but see the heart-breaking truth—I was desperately trying to get others to love me, and manipulating people for my purposes.”
With great kindness and ruthless honesty the newly sober/clean individual can and must be taught that he was walking like blind man(unbeknownst to himself) and entranced by the hypnotic and defensive structures of his type (at Level 6 and 7). Be it thru ‘denial’ and ‘rationalization’—“I treated my wife hatefully and disrespectfully when I was drugged but rationalized it as ‘She deserved to be treated badly.’ I said to myself, ‘I’m not really hurting her. She’s too sensitive. It’s her fault, not mine!” Or thru “disassociation” whereby he numbed down the actual feelings and sensations that were trying to reach him and wake him up to the emergency of his life. In a thick fog, the suffering he was causing could not penetrate and reach him, and inspire him to change.
Slowly he will see how these distortions, in concert with his addiction, arose like dementors and sucked the life, the soul, the clarity out of him. With grace he will conclude, “Enough already. I will do whatever it takes to change this. Now let’s repair this mess.” The second door opens and beckons him forward.
The Second Door—Discovering One’s Personality Prison
Navigating Levels 4, 5, and 6. Walking through the Second Door, the early recovering individual walks into a snake-filled garden of weeds (Well, there are several beautiful flowers too!). The first phase of recovery has served its purpose—he’s not making big messes anymore, and he’s doing less off-the-wall shit—and the angels cheer. As do his family members, and himself, if the truth be told. It’s nice to wake up and not have a gargantuan gorilla of shame throwing you across the room and chewing on your soul. But in this second room, another ghostly specter arises. Out of the folds of his new recovery—out of the web of new found joy—he begins to see something totally unexpected—his personality! He begins to see that he has emotional and psychological habits that cause him and others much suffering. In fact, these personality habits, traits, rouge forces of ill-content, call them what you will, have a mind of their own, and burst from the center of his being and wreck havoc on the relationships he’s so carefully trying to reconstruct. He thinks, “You have got to be kidding me! Here I thought my drinking and drugging was causing me unhappiness, but it turns out that my emotional habits and my oh-so-carefully-created-delusions are the deeper source. I’ve only begun to walk in the direction of serenity.” It’s true. And…shocking…sobering…and real.
Sober, he now has ‘eyes’ to see the mechanisms of his type-specific personality. It’s not all bad, by any means. Alongside of noticing that he has irritating and compelling personality habits such that he repeatedly gets taken and triggered by anger, shame, fear, rage, anxiety, self-doubt, jealousy, envy, all of which make it difficult to form trusting and satisfying emotional connections with others, are glimpses of what is innately good and great about him. What is fundamentally beautiful within him is also starting to peek out behind the folds of his personality. Humility, not humiliation, is his great ally. One or two years into recovery and he feels like a ‘beginner’ once again—fragile, vulnerable, not knowing what to do, and needing help. Humbly he must accept this. (Advice from an oldtimer: “Get use to feeling like a beginner. If you are truly growing, you’ll always feel like a beginner. Relax, enjoy the ride. Humility will help you land in your humanness. Trust it!”) His Inner Critic, agent for his addiction, will whisper, “You’ve worked hard enough. If this is the best it gets, you might as well drink and drug.” His Inner Critic lies. Always. Everywhere.
The passage through this second door and into this second realm of experience delivers one solid message: he’s got a personality whose manifestations can make him a pain in the ass, as in no fun, no joy, no real love to be had, and only fleeting moments of feeling good. And, as he heals and gets more honest, he begins to uncover the vast riches that are the essence of his being. It just takes time! Yes, it’s better than waking up trashed and lost, but in reality, it’s not that much fun in the beginning. As he continues to observe himself he notices that he has a limited range of tolerance for others and himself, and a limited capacity to really enjoy himself or others. More specifically he begins to see that his actual behaviors fall short of his desired self-image. For instance, he imagines himself to be sensitive to others, but begins to see ‘more and more’ moments when he treats people with great insensitivity. He thinks, “Maybe I’m getting worse.” His sponsor says, “No Frank, you’re just getting a glimpse of your character flaws that have always been there! You’re waking up. Keep apologizing. Don’t beat yourself up—this only strengthens your flaws. It gets better, truly.” This news is hard to bear. It can appears that he got sober to see just how off kilter he really is.
With more and more unwavering clarity and laser-like precision, he sees the real affects of his addiction. As if someone has turned on the light in the basement of his soul, he sees the garbage everywhere—his personality habits, emotional reactions, closed-minded, rigid thinking habits, his compulsive opinions and judgments (the unconscious behaviors of his Enneagram type) that obscure his ability to engage in, savor, appreciate and know reality. He gets more and more first-hand, real-time experiences of his emotional reactivity and sometimes finds himself rationalizing the behavior or being downright frustrated that even though he sees the behavior he can’t change it—at least not instantly! He is shaken awake by this drop-to-your-knees-pray-for-mercy, lesson: just because he sees his unwanted reactions and behaviors, he can’t will them away. More humility! More patience! More self-forgiveness! He is developing the strength to bear his imperfections and not explode into a maniacal, self-hating, frenzied reaction in response. The recovery gauntlet has been thrown: dissolving his negative behaviors and his type-specific ego delusions—his internal swamp of negativity—into authenticity. It seems impossible and yet those around him cheer him forward. The onion of his false self is starting to be peeled away. In truth, he has now stepped onto the spiritual path and there is no turning back. From within comes a gut swelling G-r-o-a-n-n-n-n!
At this door many individuals relapse. They ‘think’ they can’t bear the necessary suffering of seeing and experiencing their ego in action (their false identity, the false self hiding their Real Self). This Inner Critic says it firmly: “You cannot stand this suffering, this painful, humiliating revelation of what is false and wounded in you.” Truth is: they can bear it. As Ted, the growling, don’t-bullshit-me-with-excuses, Type Eight said: “Don’t kid yourself! The suffering your addiction caused you is way more painful that facing the truth of your addiction. Let’s get real here. Here’s where you man up, shoulder this responsibility, and earn the gifts of real freedom. Now, right now, let’s stop the nonsense and do the next right thing!”
The opportunity before the newly sober man/woman is utterly mind-blowing if understood. It’s as if God, the Goddess, All That Is, leans forward to meet you, whispering, “Step forward into this mystery. Help will arrive, but you must step in. Behind all the subterfuge of your suffering is something miraculous.”
And there is great good news: the type-specific mechanisms of one’s personality type at Levels 4, 5, and 6 (comprising the false shell of oneself and how we ‘fake’ being human beings) can be digested and transformed into the essential qualities of one’s very soul: real peace, fulfillment, contentment, connection, love. It is all learnable. Many gifts await him if he can simply jump in and do his best. As one teacher said, “None of your efforts to transform yourself are ever wasted! Whatever is embraced with compassion will change! By compassionately witnessing yourself, change comes through you, happens to you, enters you. Call it grace, God, Goddess, All That is, the Great Mystery. But by learning to observe yourself with compassion without acting out reactively, opens a great door. And—keep telling the truth!”
For here is the ultimate and very real goal of this process called recovery: to inspire genuine authenticity and realness in the individual so that he can experience true joy and happiness (Yes, it’s a plot conspired by the Universe, the Divine Spirit, to assist you in experiencing bliss). Each difficulty on the path of recovery, each frustration or deeper suffering, will be seen for what it is: a doorway to greater freedom, love and joy.
Door Three: Embodying One’s True and Authentic Self
Entering Levels 1, 2 and 3. As the recovering individual begins to disidentify with his personality habits, begins to develop more ability to be present to himself and others, from the labors of his inner work will arise the gifts of sobriety. He will begin to taste and savor more frequently, the essential qualities and gifts of his type (and truth be known, the essential qualities of the other types). The essential qualities of the types are: Type One—Goodness, Sacredness, Alignment; Type Two—Love, Sweetness, Type Three—Radiance, Value, Preciousness; Type Four—Beauty, Depth, Intimacy, Mystery; Type Five—Clarity, Illumination, Understanding; Type Six—Awakeness, Intuitive Guidance; Type Seven—Joy, Freedom, Spontaneity; Type Eight—Real Strength, Aliveness, Realness; Type Nine—Unity, Flow, Wholeness, Peace. This is what AA calls ‘happy, joyous and free.’
It’s what everyone gets sober for: to experience their spiritual inheritance, be it causeless joy, serenity, aliveness, love, intuitive knowing, deep connection with others, a sense of being in the mysterious flow of reality as it unfolds through and around us, or the abundance of sights, smells, senses and experiences that make life delicious and fulfilling.
This is the doorway to true nature, to reality, and throughout one’s growth in recovery one will step inside this door, and be reminded of what one has intuitively sensed: that there are gifts waiting for us as we learn to be more present, more able to inhabit our body, more able to rest in an open heart that can be touched and affected by reality, more able to reside in the spaciousness of quiet mind rather than swinging from the vines of our monkey mind. This is the precious jewel we all seek, wherein we return to the sacred home of our Inner Being, and are filled with gratitude and generosity of spirit. Here God is not a concept but a direct experience. This is the very essence of what touched Bill Wilson and jettisoned him forward onto the road of recovery. He writes:
“All at once I found myself crying out, ‘If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!’ Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly, the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, ‘So this is the God of the preachers!’” (As Bill See It, p. 2)
In this monumental moment of revelation, Bill had passed through the third door. He named it as ‘a wonderful feeling of Presence.’ A sense of ‘here-ness’ that was extraordinary. This is the stuff of an awakened body, heart and mind, the qualities of our Soul, palpable and real, and waiting for us. If you know the unfolding story of Bill, he spent the rest of his trying to get back thru this door, to this ‘wonderful feeling of Presence,’ giving his heart and soul to this journey. And it is our great opportunity to have been given the very tools that make it possible for us to step into this 3rd room, one that Bill rarely entered but intuited was here. The Enneagram, for Bill Wilson, was the missing piece in his effort to establish deeper and more stable joy and peace for himself, and recovering men and women.
And so a mystery prevails, like a storm of silence arising from the Great Void. As stated previous, the AA symbol is the circle, with a triangle inside it. This is the first two portions of the Enneagram symbol, only missing the six-sided hexad which forms the complete Enneagram. And where do you suppose Bill Wilson got the idea for the AA symbol in the first place? Any educated guesses? Who, at the time of the birth of Alcoholic Anonymous, 1938 or so, knew anything about this sacred symbol, or about principles of anonymity, and keeping one’s spiritual work out of the public eye? Who understood the necessity of ‘dropping your personality at the door’ of recovery (i.e. your public status)? Who, in his great wisdom, understood the utter necessity of working in groups as the primary means of supporting true spiritual growth? And what great teacher was said to have spoken these words, “Doing spiritual transformation work ‘alone’ isn’t easy, it’s impossible!” The mystery leans in, eyes glimmering with curiosity, side-splitting smile greeting the questions…
Introduction to Utilizing the Enneagram in Addiction and Transformation by Michael Naylor, M.ED Copyright 2018