Type Eight in Recovery—The Challenger
By Michael Naylor, M.Ed, CCS, LADC, CCPC
Copyright 2018, Version 1.0
“I will devour your half-heartedness.”
The Heart and Soul of Type Eight When men enter Mercy House rehab they meet Dominic, a tall, broad-shouldered, kick-your-ass-swaggering, confidant-as-God, pony-tailed Dominican. An addiction’s counselor with eighteen years clean from heroin, his fierce intensity and street-smart-bust-your-balls-courage greet you like a head-high fastball on the inside corner of the plate. Instantly you are brought to attention as if your life hung in the balance (Truth is, it does hang in the balance and he knows it.). His I-breathe-fire-presence and his penetrating, takes-no-shit-immediacy instantly cuts thru the protective shields and strategies that addicted men have learned to hide behind. Tough, often impenetrable shields forged in horrid suffering and childhood abuse, forged in the humiliation camps of American prisons, forged in so many furnaces of shame that it’s amazing these men walk upright and can still breathe—are Dominic’s target. His goal: to destroy your soul-killing armor thus giving you a taste of your authentic, passionate self, and your real freedom. To unhinge your defenses so potently that real strength emerges from your depths such that you remember what it feels like to be alive.
That’s it, nothing else, nothing less.
One thing is certain: he is not afraid of you and can read you to-the-bone. Men register immediately—like stepping into a fire—that whatever bullshit-tough-guy-act they’ve honed to scare the shit out of people, to keep them away, or to coerce them into doing what they want, he’s not buying it. The second he spots this charade he’s on you like “a fly on shit,” as he would say. He’ll stop you dead in your tracks, and with one glance will penetrate your tough-guy-act and pull the terror that drives this gangster-ego from your chest, and holding it in your face will declare with knife-sharp conviction, “Here, look at this, man. Look close at what’s running you. You’ll die with this shit in place. Get real with me, or don’t waste my time.”
And all of this is done without speaking a word. His visceral wisdom scorches your insides with fire-breathing, immediate, real-time truth. He lacerates you with his deep wish to wake you up from the coma you’ve been living it, constructing an ego in, preparing your death within. Your cathedral of tough-guy-cool-invincibility is a death trap, and he knows it!
This is his genius: he shatters facades with breathtaking precision. In a nose-to-nose encounter with Dominic, for a holy sacred instant, the addicted guy whose weight-lifted himself into a muscle-walled, pain-numbing fortress feels for the first time the real terror and hurt that slithers thru him like a devouring snake. It’s as if Dominic can reach into the core fear of a man, touch it, squeeze it, and electrify it into awareness. Zap!!! (Thing is, when Dominic zeroes in on you, he gets inside your viscera, your muscles, your veins, and enters your nervous system. You feel his presence inside you. And that alone unhinges a man’s defenses. You cannot hide from Dominic!)
On the heels of a Dominic-encounter a massive climate change will flood the addicted guy’s habitually hardened face and body. His eyes light up with recognition. He’s been freakin’ seen—unveiled and viscerally impacted—Dominic’s presence touching the depth of his vulnerability. Stunned, the unveiled guy is not certain whether to run for his life, or surrender to the dictates of this crazy-wisdom counselor. But this he cannot deny: his inner, oh-so-vulnerable-hurt-self, which his tough-guy-don’t-mess-with-me defenses are wired to protect, just got touched and oddly ‘welcomed into the room.’ Somehow this ninja counselor actually touched his soul and wordlessly said “You are welcome here, my brother.” Men instantly experience the sanity of softening their heart, as if he has whispered in Jedi fashion, “Your strength is in your vulnerability. Be it now.” Moments of possibility arise in the thought-stream of Dominic-touched men. “Maybe this crazy-wild counselor can help me. Maybe I’m not hopeless. Maybe someone sees me, gets me, and actually cares about me.” Welcome to the world of Dominic, the fierce Type Eight who mercilessly wakes you up by laser-cutting thru your tough hide, severing your attachment to your iron hard mask.
When you sit in his recovery groups you get it—he’s is the real deal. If you’re not interested in taking your recovery seriously, but just trying to get by on the bare minimum—to please the courts, your spouse or your probation officer—then out the door you go. Don’t even think you can fake it—he’ll feel the ‘fake’ the second he lays eyes on you. He’ll sense, smell, and taste your disguise in the core of his belly and his whole body will shudder. With lightning revulsion and speed he’ll respond—“Frank, what the hell are you doing in this room with men who actually give a shit about their recovery? You’re taking up a spot that another addicted, homeless man is begging to occupy, while you sit here wasting this opportunity! Get the hell out of here! Now!”
Men skilled and expertly practiced at performing the-attentive-client-act, adept at shape-shaping into fake-attention-mode, will unravel and fumble for words when Dominic laser-beams their insincerity. (And in the midst of hating Dominic for calling them out comes a piercing counter-intuitive realization that will bring them back to recovery: “This guy truly cares enough to call me on my bullshit!”) He says it straight up—to sit in his group and fake it is the biggest disrespect, not only to him, but to the other men in the group who want to resurrect their lives—and he will have none of it. And all of this, the big aliveness and fierce realness of Dominic, WAKES EVERYBODY UP. His force field enters the soles of your feet and burns up your spine into your chest. Your arms tingle, your belly buzzes with instinctual energy. You see it clearly as men walk taller after his groups, a new vibrancy and dignity in their gait. With eyes wide awake, heads held high, shame, like bricks, are left in the counseling room. Broken men are coming alive, shedding ancient skins that have withheld their presence from the world. And Dominic, the ferocious guardian at the gate of self-respect and honor, has made the deep impact he cherishes, and adores. His Type Eight compassion—fierce, hot, passionate, in your face (not gooey, soft-soaped, new age, everything-is-nice, compassion)—sears their hearts open and invites them in, whole hog, challenging them to pay the postage in advance, as Mr. Gurdjieff would say. Meaning—give this recovery process 100% or go on your way. Go whole hog or not at all!
If he sees you’re in the game, that you mean business, he will go the distance with you. He will chant, cheer, prod, push you off the ledge of your limitations, entice, challenge, scare, humiliate and shock you…whatever it takes to lift you back on your feet, to help you find and feel and know your innate potential, strength, capacity and self-respect. His wish: that you stand tall and bow to no one, that you let go of whatever shame you carry so that you sense your dignity and honor resurrecting in the marrow of your bones. Not like some sweet sounding hallmark card of good cheer, but we’re talking ‘street’ dignity such that you grasp it in your gut—and in your balls—what it means to be a powerful, noble man. A real man. A right-sized, courageous man. Not a fake one filled with the veneer of ego, bravado and self-centeredness, or one hiding shame behind a wall of hardness or mean-guy-cool, or fake smooth, I’ve-got-it-all-together phoniness, or even fake compassion. A man that contributes to and serves his brothers and sisters, who is courageously dedicated to his personal and spiritual growth, to the care and well-being of his family, and to the growth of his community—a real man’s man. He says it loud and clear, “If you men want to get sober and stay sober, you’ve got to develop ‘testicular fortitude. That means you rise up, you take care of your sobriety, you do what you need to do, and you help your brother in this rehab. If you disrespect your brother, if you fail to have his back, you will not succeed in recovery. You notice when he needs help and you give it, generously, because you make a difference, you count, he is your brother, and you need each other.”
The fire of heroic love burns through him, his eyes lights of passion, his voice thundering—lion-hearted, he emanating the clarion call of A Band of Brothers—igniting purpose and real hope in men who have lost their jobs, homes, families, cars, and are stripped down to nothing. In every breath, word, body movement, and facial expression he delivers the Type Eight juice: It is your job to stand up, claim your power, clean up your act, and meet your challenges head-on. You harness real soul-power by taking responsible action. You awaken your authentic power when you give back to others. Selfishness will kill you. Bravado destroys your real will. Power and heart combined, the only game in town. You crawl before no one—no one! When you empower the weak, you anchor real power, sustainable power—that’s the doorway to your addiction liberation.
Because of Dominic’s unshakeable passion and ballsy boldness, men flock to his groups to be touched by his instinctive, live-wired energy, his confidence and commitment, his cocky dignity, and his no-holds-barred, irreverent, bawdy humor. Standing room only. Men hunger for his contact, his Type Eight caring shaking them to the core of their being—zing, blam! He’s an instigator of rough-edged compassion and truth, and inspires an uncanny brotherhood amongst the men. (He wakes up their organic humanity.) He reminds these men whose souls have been squashed as kids, who had no moms or dads; who walked the streets at age ten, no one concerned where they were, starkly alone; men physically abused by mom, dad, cops, uncles, addicts, gangs; men caught up in the horror of poverty and poverty-discrimination and locked into the legal system before they could barely sense what they were about—of their innate dignity and value.
He challenges the men of Mercy House to embrace their honor, meaning dropping sabotaging behavior, be it thievery, belittling and bullying others, acting tough and hiding your big heart, and literally anything that disrespects another or oneself. And respect is everything, the high card. He models brave, gutsy, feisty respect and kindness (I am reminded of Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino, and how his rough, ruthless affection for Pran, the young neighbor boy, moved, prodded, humiliated him out of his self-pity and towards self-reliance). He zeroes in on your Achilles Heel, names it, unmasks it, challenges you with it, and parades it around the room so you see what you’ve been running from. So you surrender it, affirming t self and others, “I will not indulge this part of myself anymore. I am done with it!”
With eyes filled with steely realness and fierce compassion he begins his groups, “What handsome and beautiful men sit before me. It is truly and honor to be in the company of such men. Let us discover what is real and true in each of you, and carry that light into the world,” and looks at each one, holding their gaze. This big, bawdy, rough-neck, kick-ass guy infuses dignity into every man sitting in rapt attention, waiting for his next brassy invocation of truth, dignity, and empowerment. He will not fail them.
Side by side his fiery incantations are tender moments. One feels his heart, his depth, often when he talks about his beloved daughter, or his pops or moms. The dude is old-school Dominican, family comes first, a brotherhood-instigator-of-team-effort, stalker of poverty, racism, injustice and oppression of the disenfranchised, and fierce as a wild bull. Tommy G, the ‘G-man’ he called him (every guy he counsels gets a personal nickname, Karma Dog Frank, Eddy with a Twitch, Too Fast Pete, Boston Max, Belly Boy Joe, Slider Sam, Rocket Man Marvin, Trembling Ted, Skinny Cat Frank, Rhino Rabbit Mike), was a client he’d snatched from the bloody maw of heroin addiction. A sweet, twenty-six-year-old with six months sober, the sun rising in his soul at fever pitch, who graduated from Mercy House treatment center to the thunderous applause of his fellow-travelers. Three months later the black sun of his addiction spun thru him. Tommy G., the G-man, is found dead, soul-sucked by a heroin overdose, a frozen stone of despair. “Overdosed and dead in a f-ing snowbank,” Dominic says, shaking his head in sorrow. Dominic wept for several days, his heart blasted wide-open, his boisterous spirit mired in volcanic grief. I sat with Dominic, tears streaming down his cheeks, he unable to speak, his towering soul immersed in sorrow. Yet days later, back in the saddle, his fierce message echoing from the group room, “Recovery is serious shit, men. You fuck with this and you die. But you can succeed. You have the strength and testicular fortitude for this. Now let’s get to work!” he declares, a fire-breathing dragon injecting his commitment and courage into the souls of each of these men.
Dominic’s a Gandalf, a Gladiator, a crazy-smart Ninja, and a big-hearted Hagrid, wired to destroy the Voldemort-trance that tells a man he is worthless, powerless, doomed to certain death. Men are magnetically drawn to him and his powerful, red-hot, Type Eight heart. And who wouldn’t show up to listen to a man who embodies live-wired potency, who stirs and ignites one’s dignity and self-worth, who’s unwavering in his commitment to inspire you, shock you, or scare you awake if need be, who is unafraid to tell-it-like-it-is, blunt as birth. Who, himself, escaped the jaws of death and outfoxed one of the biggest killers of abused and addicted young men today—the vampire of the heroin addiction. (He would say he was loved back to life by a fierce counselor who would endure his detoxing ranting! “Fuck you, motherfucker, fuck you!” was his mantra in the midst of a seven day heroin withdrawal, while this ‘counselor-dude,’ as he puts it, stood at his bedside enduring Dominic’s ravings, waiting, waiting, waiting for the storm to pass.). He knows the needles, the losses, the withdrawals, the sleepless nights, the dead friends, the overdosing, the aching muscles, the street-fights, the racial discrimination, the stab wounds, the-out-of-this-world
Bottom line: He walks his talk. He knows his shit. And his message is simple: You can resurrect your life. You can overcome your circumstances. You have a right to be alive, to rise up, to inhabit your life! Your job? Give me everything you got! Otherwise, as the saying goes, I will devour your half-heartedness. So, my brother, let’s get to work.
He means it. Completely and utterly.
Type Eight in Addiction: Levels 6 and Below
Under the power of addiction, the healthy, powerful Eight energies morph into harsh, self-destructive forces. All of the Eight’s attention begins to center around self-protection, being on guard and at war with life, holding power over others, defending themselves when no defense is needed, and bragging and bolstering himself while threatening and demanding that others respect him and his ego plans. Pumped up with vanity and self-importance, in 12 Step terms, he’s lost contact with his right size. He’s moved from inhabiting a magnanimous heart to one that is hardened and rock-like. Instead of using his power to empower, protect and strengthen others, the addicted Eight uses his power and confidence to scare people, to make them toe the line of his will, to render them weak and vulnerable, to manipulate their weakness. From a force of inspiration to a force of destruction, addiction turns him upside down (as it does with each type, their gifts turned into weapons).
Deeply but unconsciously sensing he has lost what he loves, he toughens himself, over-expresses his power, intimidates people, rages and pumps up his intensity and steamrollers life. “It’s my will, or get the hell out of the way! If I need to hurt you, I will! If my willfulness harms you or scares you, well too bad for you! I don’t have time for weaklings and sissies! Step aside or get behind me.” Brusque, mean-spirited, impatient, at his worst he preys on the weak, using them for sport or as pawns in his game. His beautiful capacity to respect others has turned south. His broken heart turns into an outraged, raging heart. His motto: Never show weakness. Take control of everything or you will be hurt. Life is a battlefield. Strike before you are struck. Trust no one and need no one.
Billy J. put it this way. “When I was drinking, I looked for fights. I liked hurting people. I liked being in a fight. I had all this rage churning in me, and I was angry at everyone. I didn’t care if I got my ass kicked. Rage was my drug and numbed anything that could hurt me, physical or emotional. I got high on it, drank it in, and inflamed it! I hoped you’d challenge me so I could take you on. I’d step over boundaries and get in fights that had nothing to do with me. Crazy shit, I know. But being tough, scaring people, made me feel powerful because deep down, I felt horribly lonely and hurt and didn’t know what to do about it. In fact, fighting, raging, and intimidating was about the only thing that made me feel good. It gave me the juice, the intensity I loved! The minute loneliness or sadness started to touch me, I’d turn it to rage.” (The book Mother California is an amazing memoir by a Type Eight who worked through many layers of rage to finally connect with his big heart while serving a life sentence for murder—truly an amazing recovery.)
When the Eight arrives in recovery, he arrives as the street-fighter who’s been slam-dunked to his knees. He’s gotten up over and over again, determined to not be beaten by his addiction, determined that he can outlast it, that he can control it, that he will win. He does not surrender easily and can take self-abuse like no other. As he’s lost friends, jobs, and his health, he’s pushed harder, gotten more aggressive, until something has finally felled him. Maybe he’s ended up in jail for too many assaults, or too many OUIs, or domestic violence charges. Maybe he’s cut bait on his last job due to reckless or ruthless behavior and is now without money or a work history to land a decent job. Or, as he’s continued to drop down into the rat hole of addiction perhaps he’s withdrawn, finally run out of fight, bravado, or egocentric gusto, and has hid away in a hotel room, not wanting contact with people, and drinking to end his life. If he’s lucky, grace has interceded and he now sits behind bars or at a treatment center. Worst-case scenario is Billy Frank, a hulking 40-year-old dad who stares back at me at a detox in earth-smacking shock. “I don’t know how it happened, but I was driving down the road and somehow I swerved and killed an eleven-year-old girl. I swear I only had a couple of drinks.” He pauses, an icy chill slicing thru the room, my heart clenching with sorrow. “I have two daughters myself,” he says, as his eyes pool with tormented sadness, the specter of a five-to-ten year jail sentence and life without his daughters, squeezing him like a vice grip. I stare back into his grief-stricken eyes, inky dark caverns of remorse wordlessly emanating.
One way or another the Eight has crash-landed hard. In the rubble of his fall new perceptions grip his awareness: he cannot plow through life uncontrolled, an angry bull in a China shop driven by rage that fuels his ego-will and his sense of false power. His big shot, I-don’t-need-anyone act has given him nothing but suffering. This message rings like a huge Zen gong: “I am out of control. I cannot will myself to stop. I need help. I cannot do this alone.” Simultaneously his inner critic chants, “You are such a loser, asking for help. If you were strong you would simply control your drinking. You’re a wimp, a sissy, a pussy. Prove you can drink like a man!”
But reality is a bloody knife. He knows what follows when he picks up a drink or drug—repetitious scenes of anger, attack, failure and remorse; fights with friends, with loved ones, with strangers; rages over not getting his way, or rants over not feeling respected or honored; anger fits at colleagues and co-workers over their incompetence, all the while he unable to perform at his best. He could swagger but he could not deliver. Repeatedly he vowed that things would be different, he’d control his drinking. Temporarily stoked on bravado and false confidence, he’d pick up a drink or drug, and dissolve once again into the maelstrom of repetitious horror. At the doorway of help, the path behind him is ablaze with horror stories that would curl your toes.
The Doorway Home: The Path of Surrender
At AA meetings he begins to hear the broken stories of other men, men who have sat where he sits, who have learned one primary lesson: Recovering from addiction is never a solo journey. Never. Ever. It’s a team journey. (Gurdjieff’s words, in In Search of the Miraculous, ring loud and clear here: “Doing spiritual work alone is not difficult, it is impossible.”) If a man takes on his addiction alone he will be beaten. Addiction is a subtle, fast and compelling force within the psyche of a man, riding so close to his awareness that its influence, its conjuring, its hypnotic force slips into the thought-and-feeling-stream of a man and ‘thinks for him.’ His addiction ‘becomes him and possesses him,’ speaks thru and for him, tells him he is fine, that his drinking and drugging is not a problem, that the real problem are the people, places and things that irritate him and impose suffering upon him.
This ‘voice’ will lead him to his death.
This voice, his ‘addiction identity,’ is compelling, visceral and resides in his cells, his heart and his head (that is, it inhabits all Three Centers like a stealth virus). It feels real, unmistakably real. He cannot outwit it, out-think it, or tame it. Shockingly when he tries to take on ‘the voice of his addiction’ he discovers over and over again that it is quicker, smarter, and more agile than he. The rationalizations and denials that appear in his consciousness are brilliant and indefensible. They steal and disfigure his accurate perception of reality, and tell the man that he is in control, there are no worries here. It runs ‘euphoric recall’ movies through his brain that remind him of what is great about his addiction, deleting the heart-breaking scenes of his self-destruction. And most especially it tells him with utter conviction that he is a victim of circumstance and not responsible for the suffering he is experiencing, or the suffering others accuse him of causing. All of which magnetically lead him back to drinking and drugging.
A new strategy is required: Surrender.
Surrender for the Eight means humbly admitting defeat, that his addiction owns and possesses him, and beats him at every turn. Surrender means letting others in recovery be the eyes he sees with, the voices he listens to, as least for now. Surrender means not fighting against this addictive force but getting wise like a fox such that he knows how his addiction speaks to him, tempts him, taunts him, shames him, steals his attention and will, and seamlessly enters his thought and feeling stream—and possesses him. Surrender means reaching out for help and not doing recovery alone. It means understanding that picking up one drink/drug wakes the beast up, wakes the internal voice of saboteur up who chants, “Drinking is not a problem. It’s other people, places and things that are the problem. You can drink. You’re strong enough to control it.”
Surrender means that he solves the dilemma of his addiction not through will and force, and pushing against his addiction, but through understanding, awareness and compassionate self-observation (and developing ‘inner eyes’ to see with). It means surrendering to his very real vulnerability, and learning that true strength comes from being in touch with one’s weakness, in reaching out for real and skilled help, rather than shutting down with false strength and big bravado. Surrender means he accepts that he is a human being with limited power—he is not God nor the boss of the universe!—and that with the help of others he can get sober, can outwit his addiction, and can neutralize its force in his life. He must put his weapons down—his beliefs that life is a battleground in which he must fight; that only by pushing and protecting his agenda will his needs be met—and his conviction that he doesn’t need, or cannot depend on others to help him.
This is the path of transformation for the Eight who is addictively driven to assert his will, and wired to defend himself against impending, imaginary suffering. His motto “Nobody controls me. I’m in charge of me,” must and will be mercilessly destroyed. Perhaps this is the gift of his addiction.
First Twelve Weeks in Recovery—Helping the Eight
The Eight in residential treatment is a ‘big’ force. Their gift to recovery groups is their capacity to tell it like it is—blunt as birth and in-the-real. If you are a counselor who wants to be the ‘big force,’ the ‘top dog,’ or who wants ‘nice’ and ‘cooperative’ clients that make you feel like you are doing your job well (that is, they massage your counselor ego), or who is offended when someone challenges you and unveils your Achilles heel and see’s your shadow with laser clarity, the Eight will be your nemesis, the warlord, the one you wish you could just ‘squash.’ Don’t try, because he’s already been squashed and injured deeply and is more than willing to fight that battle again, to go toe-to-toe with you, just to register his deep protest at losing contact with his vitality and aliveness in the first place. In his opinion he’s got nothing left to lose, so let’s go for it. More than anything he needs you to see through his fiery veils into his big heart, to create room for him to embody his true strength, to assist him in wielding his passionate response to life skillfully (cause it won’t look pretty in the beginning). That’s the magic. Nothing to eliminate here.
When he begins to trust that he has room for his ‘bigness’ he will naturally begin to show his tender side, a little bit at a time. He just needs room, big room, for all of that. And when his protective walls weaken, be prepared for a waterfall. As grief and vulnerability open in him, his bigness takes on a new quality, because infused with his tenderness it expands, is more fluent and flexible, and the beauty of who he truly is shines through. This is the blessing of waiting out his firestorms. (And as always, there is this recovery principle: four steps forward, three steps back. When his heart unveils, his sadness thundering through, a recoil will follow as his life-long belief that ‘being vulnerable is wimpy and unsafe’ will scream like a cyclone through his being. And then, once again, he will need to be coaxed out of hiding.)
In groups he will need your help in learning when he uses too much force and intensity in his speaking, in his posturing, and his actions. When he expands and fills the room with his presence, he will not notice it. With tenacity, kindness, and clarity you must mirror him, help him to begin to sense how his energy pushes others away, or intimidates them. Courageously, in the midst of his firestorms, you must become a still and penetrating light that reflects himself to himself in real time—so that he sees, senses, feels it—there I am, bigger than big, louder than load, posturing aggression—such that a gap occurs between his instinct to protectively enlarge, and his impulse to charge. Slowly he will learn intelligent restraint, no longer a puppet on the strings of his passion to intensify himself and wield aggressive control over those around him. He’ll get ‘gut’ smart, that is, intuitively able to sense right action amidst all of his instinctual passion.
Be prepared: in the first twelve weeks of recovery the Eight will be full-fledged defense mode, unaware that what he is protecting is a very delicate soft spot in the center of his heart. He will unwittingly project a force field that is palpable and sends an intimidating message, “Do not enter my personal space unless I have given you full permission. Or better yet, make my day, and intrude. Then I can give full weight to my suppressed shame and disappointment by kicking the be-jesus out of you. It would be my pleasure.” Mired in suspicion, certain that you don’t want him around, feeling rejected and not wanted from the get-go, and able to stuff this suffering into the backwater of his heart, suspicion and scorn for the weakness of others stands paramount in his mind. The idea that he needs the help of others, that he must ask for help to recover (“Are you out of your f-ing mind?” Allan D. says), is the living hell he’s worked to avoid all his life. And yet here he is. “At a god damn rehab!” as Billy G. would say, brought to his knees countless times, his Inner Critic brutalizing him with “You are a wimp. You are a sissy. Needing help, what a pussy!” And it is this screaming voice—his Inner Critic—that calls him back to a drink or drug, where real men live, where tough men navigate life and have no needs for help, love, or compassion. Any hint of this noxious, weak-kneed ‘stuff’ touching him and the Inner Critic arises like the Balrog in the Mines of Moria, proclaiming, “You will be killed if you let your guard down, if you make yourself vulnerable, you will be f-ing destroyed. Is that what you want?” Life has taught him this lesson: He mustbreathe fire to protect himself.
Shawn, a burly, five-foot-eight, fire-hydrant of a guy, muscles rippling from head to toe, for several days in groups declares boldly and loudly, “This feelings stuff is entire bullshit. What good is this? How can I trust any of you when you are all faking it, all doing that fake-sweet-stuff-sharing? I don’t believe you and I surely don’t need it!” Very slowly his sorrow begins to emerge. As he sees that it’s safe to share, that no one will attack him when he is vulnerable, and as he witnesses the powerhouse counselor, Dominic, ferocious and tender at the same time, something breaks inside him. In a spontaneous outpouring he speaks of times as a boy, when six years old, he placed himself between his towering, raging, alcoholic, step-father, and his mother, to protect her. His anger-inflamed step-father grabbed him by the hair on his head and drove him into the refrigerator, beat his small body blue, threw him the floor, as his mother huddled in horror. Arising from a heap of shame, he interceded again, a fierce little guy, trying to protect his mom, and again was beaten down. In belly wrenching gasps the ensuing story unfolds…he swimming in a sea of sadness…through repeated scenes of violence he guides us…he failing as a protector, being forced to survive in an emotional war-zone…and slowly, but surely, becoming that raging step-father. “What the fuck! How could I let this happen?!” he says. Like a stiletto the realization pierces him—he’s become what he hated, what he vowed to never be. His rage turned towards those he swore he would protect. Tears and more tears erupt as he speaks, a fierce, unforgiving sadness pouring out of him.
Then, slowly, slowly, from the tortured well of his grief a kid with a big, sweet heart arises in the room, with glowing-blue, child-eyes peering back at us. He speaks and cries at the same time, expressing regret over lost opportunities, dropping his shield, grieving, and deeply tender. A remorseful outpouring ensues: He has failed with everyone he has cared about. He has used the best of himself to protect himself and push everyone away, treated them like objects, thought only of his next need or pleasure or relief. Puffed himself up to hide his fear. A scared boy became a bully. His heart bleeds soul-tearing truths, nothing minimized, each brazenly-real revelation dropped into the room with a chilling thud. The group is riveted into a stunning, reverential silence by the boldness of his raw truth. From the soft, now open-space of his heart comes these final words: “No one wanted me. Fucking A, how can you give this kind of message to a kid!” he exclaims, the horror of his abandonment piercing everyone in the group.
The room has become a sea of tears. This Eight has opened the door of vulnerability to everyone with his courageous sharing. The effects ripple outward as the best of the men is called forth—in their big-hearted hugs, in their loving and tender glances, and in their compassionate and brotherly words. Shawn has leaped into uncharted territory, unaware that this raw sadness was waiting for him. Matching his heroic vulnerability are the attacks of his vengeful Inner Critic, who now bears down on him—“You should have been strong. You failed in your duty to protect. You are a bad person.” It is here that the Eight can succumb to self-hatred. Having exposed his vulnerability, the key to dissolving his addiction, and humbly acknowledging his errors, he can easily turn his anger and rage onto self as an act of chastisement. If the Eight fails to keep this door of vulnerability open he may stay sober for a while but can unwittingly embody the hard-style, no-love-or-compassion approach that some wounded AA members succumb to. They become what is termed a ‘dry-drunk’ in which principles of the program are used against self or those they sponsor, punishment and shaming the weapons used to inspire healing from addiction. In essence, they become their Inner Critic and dine on the wine of negativity. It rarely works for long, and when it does, the cost is off-the-walls-high. What good is it to gain sobriety and simultaneously live on the juice of judgment and criticism of self and others? What good is it to gain sobriety, yet be unable to establish loving, tender relationships with your children or partner because you can’t let your guard down? (See Thank You for Sharing, a Netflix movie, to get an example of this kind of recovery wherein the star-recovery-person functions well and is acclaimed at meetings, but cannot create intimacy with his own son.)
Nevertheless, something has touched Shawn, something that was clarifying and healing. And it is by touching this inner quality of being—where true vulnerability lives—that the Eight begins to open up to real joy, happiness, and heartfelt connection with others. In the space of this vulnerability he must learn to land and settle, very gradually, to liberate himself from the tyrant of addiction, and his Type Eight, reactive patterns that fuel it.
Advice for the Counselor Working with the Type Eight
Etch this in your memory banks like a neon sign: THERE WILL BE A TEST OF WILLS. In working with a type Eight in group, if you are unable to be honest about your limitations without becoming a withering flower, if you are unable to be challenged at the core of your being without resorting to hiding behind the smooth-as-silk, I-have-no-real-flaws, you-are-the-messed-up-client, counselor mask, your goose is cooked. As in, game over! The Eight in group is nothing less than a dragon-slayer, wired viscerally to revealing who, exactly, is telling the raw truth, including you, the counselor. If sitting before him is a counselor who is unaware of himself and is caught unwittingly in an ego-inflation-story of being the-compassionate-counselor here to bring compassion to suffering souls, while ever so subtly giving the message, “I’m not messed up like the rest of you,” be forewarned. The Eight will feel this arrogance and delusion in the core of his soul and rage will ensue. If the counselor is asleep to their own personal negativity, and performing counselor-kindness-and-compassion when real compassion has not been plumbed, suffered through, and earned, the Eight will instinctively unmask him. Nothing brings the dragon-fire of the Eight out like false pretensions.
You may know all the compassion-lines on how-to-be-empathic, but if they do not match your real, lived, personal suffering and hard-earned-in-the-soul transformation, then you are a fraud, not the real thing, and the Eight smells it five miles away. Unless of course you possess that rare, courageous humility and inner strength in which you can say in word or action, “I am limited. I cannot begin to say I understand your suffering. But I am willing to learn. Teach me.” This humble admittance of your limitations and your truth, without backing down, without collapsing into a puddle of shame, without taking personal insult from the affront of the Eight and attacking, gains their respect big time. The Eight is an expert in ‘what cannot be trusted.’ Compassion without depth, meat, flesh and bones experience, and earned in the fires of life-wounding is not real, is fake, and cannot be trusted. He knows this because in his soul he carries the shock marks of betrayal emblazoned in his viscera, with this clarion call powerfully echoing from his depths: “This will not happen again. Not on my watch. I will not be betrayed again. Ever!”
The point being—the Eight in group is a troublemaker-rebel, who in the presence of others who are sincere in their efforts to grow, in the company of counselors who’ve done their inner work and can withstand having their ‘shit’ exposed without going into freak-out mode, and who do not lose contact with their inner strength and integrity while under the withering scrutiny of the Eight, will inspire the Eight to listen and embody what is real within themselves. That’s the ticket home! If the Eight’s intensity and sharp-edged probing sends you spinning, you cannot be trusted. But if you are emotionally solid, aware and flexible, he will relax and begin to reveal himself. Meaning—if you can handle the Eight’s ‘heat,’ you create an opening for the Eight to handle his personal heat, i.e., his suffering and hurt. Not easy work, to say the least. Because the Eight’s intensity is primed to whirl thru you looking for the unreal and the hidden, testing your limits and boundaries, testing the fabric of your being for real mettle, and above all else, protecting him or herself.
You will love him and you will hate him. And if you are sturdy within yourself, you will admire him. The endgame: the Eight, as he relaxes and let’s his vulnerability be seen, will lead the pack to higher ground. Men unite under his banner. In group as he relaxes his defenses, he becomes the force of thunder who calls a spade of spade exhibiting ruthless compassion, who having surrendered to the necessity of recovery and his need to receive help, plays full out, passionate to embody change and to carry others under his wing. He becomes a warrior of healing. But be forewarned: unless his self-hatred habit is softened, unless he is mirrored and shown the ways he turns against himself right on the heels of a deeply vulnerable sharing, he will undo his best efforts. Repeatedly. Too quickly he takes the hammer to himself. True, he can drive himself to be sober for a period of time, but unless he begins to soften his self-attack it is only a matter of time before he reinstitutes the very same suffering that he’s trying to heal within him. He will unwittingly create the rejection-suffering that has driven his addiction. (Take note of this: This is the trap of ‘all the types’ that after achieving a period of initial sobriety and liberation from their habits of suffering, thru the vehicle of their Inner Critic and their ego self, their type patterns re-assert in new and often unrecognizable form. Then, unwittingly they recreate precisely what they are wishing to transform, while imagining they are making spiritual progress. And then…they relapse. Be forewarned: the ego is very tricky and adaptive, always ready to shapeshift and renew its efforts. As they say, while you’re in a meeting getting recovery, your ego self is in the parking lot doing pushups, waiting for you!)
The Core Suffering and Dilemma of the Eight in recovery
The Eight enters recovery feeling that at a core level, no one wants him or cares for him (this will be a key issue he will transform at deeper levels throughout his recovery). Instinctively he feels that people cannot be trusted or allowed to get close to him. He has learned to defend his heart against rejection by hardening his sensitivity, and intensifying his energy so he is bigger, tougher, and intimidating. Thus he overrides his suffering through his capacity to generate internal intensity by pushing harder against life, by his confrontations with others, by getting louder and more in your face, making everything he experiences more powerful. In his attempt to feel strong he unwittingly turns people into objects and becomes intolerant of any responses that smack of weakness or emotional vulnerability. He has come to believe that if he opens his strong heart he will be violated deeply. When afraid or hurt he protects himself with his rage or over-assertion.
His relapse triggers (his Achilles heel) are his addiction to intensity and rage, and his inability to allow himself to be emotionally tender and vulnerable. At the average levels of health and below his gut response to perceived threats is unrestrained anger and assertion, forceful and quick. As in, “Get the hell out of my way. This is war. Don’t mess with me or I’ll hurt you, now!” But here’s the deal. When the Type Eight is unaware of himself and his defensive personality patterns (that he’s amplifying his intensity and his use of power while unable to sense that he feels hurt or rejected—L5 and down) he will be prone to attacking and confronting the environment, people, groups, etc., when they aren’t really attacking or threatening him in the least, while feeling certain that they are (This is called a sincere delusion). If he stays unconscious to this internal response pattern, he will feel justified in attacking whenever he senses a threat, real or imagined (Level 5-8 dynamics). Ironically, by his aggression he will create the betrayal by others that he fears, which he will use to further justify his aggression. This is the Eight’s treadmill of repetitious and unnecessary suffering.
Unless he opens up and lets himself become vulnerable, he will live habitually in the belief that people are out to harm him, rip him off or violate his independence, and will habitually prepare himself for these anticipated battles by hardening himself in advance (and deadening his vulnerability). He will snap into assertive action when he feels an attack is coming or happening. In effect, he becomes an attack-waiting-to-happen and will experience life through the tiny window of “Life is a battle that I must defend myself against.” The more unconscious he is (L5 and below), the more he will be an attack-dog simply waiting to be betrayed. He will make himself big and large and formidable, while not noticing or realizing when he has used too much power, or has truly harmed someone by his actions. His hard-edged insensitivity will give him the illusion of being in control and invulnerable, and will set him up for loneliness (a core relapse trigger for the Eight) while he simultaneously denies and deadens his need for satisfying, emotional contact with others. Which, ironically, will enrage him (while he is remains clueless to why he is enraged). And all of this wakes up his addiction, calls it to him like a slathering, blood thirsty dog. Although he unconsciously fears going dead, losing his power, and being lifeless, his very actions create what he fears—emotional and instinctual deadness. In like manner he will create the very rejection by others that he fears through his aggressiveness. Addiction relapse will edge closer, as will misery. Enraged at the world, his addiction will swallow him whole. He will drink ‘at the world.’
This is core identity that runs the addicted Eight: I am the strong one who must be formidable and always in charge (Why? Who says so?). I can show no weakness. I can’t feel weak. I can’t feel hurt. I must harden my heart. I can’t feel my need for people or my need to be nurtured. I can’t soften and feel my sweetness. I must assert my independence. If I need people, then I’m a failure.
Welcome to the prison system of the Eight in addiction recovery. If he is ever to achieve a happy and satisfying sobriety, he will and must make a jail-break from this heart-closed, ruthless, internal system. He must recognize the unconscious pride he’s developed in actually maintaining this prison system, the pride he’s developed in believing he has no needs, and his notion that being emotionally shut down equates with strength! Not an easy task, but certainly doable.
Protective Mechanism of the Eight: I’m in Charge—You Will Not Mess With Me
The Eight defends himself against being rejected or hurt by instinctively creating a protective barrier around him, actually, an impenetrable shell which he mistakes as ‘power.’ He exudes an intense force-field that unwittingly says, “Touch this force field without welcome and all hell could break lose.” This “push away” energy is often visually evident in his posture, his gait, his intense glance, and his voice. You get the message clearly—“You will not bully me, coerce me, or hurt me. It’s not going to happen. Tread unwelcome and I might need to bully you or hurt you. This is familiar territory so don’t even test me. I like to be challenged, and am not likely to back down.” He is often addictively committed to holding this boundary—nothing gets to me, nothing!—while insisting that others respect him whether he’s earned it or not (the healthier Eight does the opposite).
Eights have a tremendous sensitivity—a blaring instinctual radar—to anyone intruding on their boundaries, be it moving too close without a welcome, invading their personal territory by looking at them for too long, or holding concealed, ill-intent for the Eight (the Eight feels this in his gut.). As one Eight in early recovery put it, “If someone looks at me in the eye for more than two seconds without my permission, that’s a challenge and I can’t allow it. I feel disrespected and I will confront the individual.”
In the beginning of recovery they know no other way than to be in attack mode, to show no weakness or vulnerability, and to stand up to any one they feel threatened or disrespected by. Not the easiest position to be in to receive or invite help. And getting help, well, this violates their fundamental code of survival: Never put yourself in the horrendous position of actually needing help, let alone ask for it! They face their own private Idaho when walking through the doors of recovery: They must do what they are certain will destroy them—ask for help. So caught between the reflex of protecting themselves and being the strong one, and asking for help to stay sober, they more easily take on the role of protector, or attacking defender of others in recovery, before they’ve gotten the real help they need.
Here’s how one Eight took care of himself in early recovery: Martin, a 35-year-old, Type Eight guy, three months into sobriety, raises his hand to speak at a men’s AA meeting. He begins, as he often does, with, “I’m Martin, and this is the last place on earth I’d ever want to be, so let me be clear with all of you. You’re all a bunch of pussies and assholes, and I don’t like any of you. So go fuck yourself. I could care less if you like me. I don’t need your friendship and I don’t want it. I can’t bear to be around such a bunch of wimps. And just get this straight, I am not following your stupid rules. Like who invented the idea that you don’t have sex for a year? That is completely messed up. Hey, you might not be able to get it up, but I can. If I can get laid, then good for me. If you can’t, too bad for you. I am definitely not buying into this pansy-ass shit. If you guys don’t have a cock, then screw you. I do. I plan to use mine. I got sober so I could have sex as often as possible, not to take a damn year off. Easy for most of you I suppose, because by the looks of you guys, you probably couldn’t get laid if you tried. And if you need to drink over what I say, then go for it. So are we clear?” he says, a Type Eight, fuck-all-of-you-expression vibrant in his tone of voice. The shock of stunned quiet permeates the room. No one moves a muscle. Then, taking a deep breath, he says, “I’m Martin and I’m a fucking drunk and I need to be here, but I don’t like it. Okay. There, I feel better.”
That said, and five years sober, Martin laughs at himself. He’s been a hard hitter from the start, tough and combative, but today will fight for any man trying to get sober, while clearly stating what he does or doesn’t believe. Fiercely he proclaims, “Don’t let God drive you from these rooms. Don’t let anyone’s opinions about how to work a recovery program drive you from these rooms. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t believe in everything AA says, but I don’t need to believe. Today I have faith. I take what I need and leave the rest. I don’t know who or what God is, and I don’t need to,” he states, his vibrant truthfulness vibrating through everyone. And like all the types, he has room for growth. He says, “It’s taken me quite a while to trust that it’s okay for me to ask for help. But I do it for only one reason. You told me that if I didn’t ask for help, if I didn’t use a sponsor, I would drink. So I do it. I don’t like it, but I’ve gotten better at it. I do wait too long to reach out, but it’s a growth curve. I show up for meetings daily. And I pray because you told me to pray to a Higher Power. I don’t know what I’m praying to, I don’t like praying, I don’t believe in praying, but I know that I’m sober today, and I trust what you tell me to do.”
This trust took time. What supported him was his sponsor and fellow AA members, willing to sit with him through his storms, his raging, his don’t-mess-with-me-behavior till he saw that no one was leaving him, that people could handle him, could handle his anger whether expressed healthily or not, till he settled down, landed, and became willing to be vulnerable. And then he softened, in the powerful way a Type Eight softens—like a skilled martial artist blending strength and tenderness simultaneously!
The Spiritual Journey of the Eight—Taking Back One’s Will
The Eight’s journey through recovery will be a continual relearning of the precious lesson of ‘surrender.’ Once sober, once both feet are landed back on the ground and he no longer taken by his addiction, as soon as he can, he will, as is said in recovery circles, ‘take back his will.’ Borrowing from a recovery analogy, while he’s at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, his Type Eight personality habits (and his addiction) are out in the parking lot, doing push-ups and strategizing ways to more invisibly inhabit him. Everyone in recovery knows this stark lesson: just when you think you’ve extricated an unwanted personality habit (these are sometimes named ‘personality defects’ but I choose to call them ‘personality defenses’)—presto! The habit is back and riding comfortably in the driver’s seat! From somewhere in the depths of your being it reconstituted itself and before you can say ‘I’m liberated from my suffering,’ it’s in charge again! And—the god’s be damned—it arrives in a new disguise! Welcome to lessons of real-time humility. Very hard to get too big for your britches when your patterns have their way with you…once again…once again…once again.
For the Eight, the patterns of asserting oneself to protect oneself and shutting down one’s vulnerability are hardwired deep into his being. His walk into the rooms of AA will give birth to his freedom from addiction. But now the long and prosperous journey begins of undoing all the ways his personality structure is configured to harden his heart, to shut down the tender capacity of his soul, to keep people at a safe distance, and to survive amongst others as the strong one who protects his chosen allies, or intimidates his enemies. This is his deeper addiction—his addiction to intensity, force and control. Slowly but surely as a sober man he will see how these patterns continually and relentlessly assert through him till he realizes they have a life of their own within him, just like his substance abuse controlled him. He will experience emotional relapse over and over again until Step One looks like this: Came to believe and clearly perceive that I am powerless over my personality patterns. They are often quicker and faster than me.
At deeper and deeper levels, year five, year ten, year fifteen, year twenty in recovery he will need to relearn the deeper meaning of surrender, and how he is imprisoned by his addiction to intensity and control (“pacing he cage” of his ego as Bruce Cockburn wrote). Like peeling the skin off an onion, he will slowly but surely move towards real freedom. Meaning this: surrender is not a one-shot event. As he witnesses his personality in action, and as he learns to resist its dictates, slowly but surely he will feel the heartbreak and rejection that drove him to relying on his intensity and forcefulness. Courageously he will allow himself to feel and surrender to this. In so doing he will deepen his capacity to feel the real strength, realness, and aliveness that he truly loves, and the capacity to connect with his spacious and big heart. Then his powerful actions will be in service of love, instead of being driven by love of power. It’s a long slow journey through the labyrinth of one’s learned defenses. One can take heart that everyone moves slowly, and that baby steps are powerful!
What Helps the Eight to Stay Clean and Sober
1. Notice how you get taken by your need for intensity. At your best you want to feel strong, safe, self-reliant, passionate, alive and real. Your task is to notice when these healthy drives turn to forcefulness, intimidation, expansiveness, and control of others when you are feeling rejected, scared and unwanted. You are hard-wired to this habit of getting bigger, louder, fiercer and more aggressive when feeling rejected or threatened. When hurt, you harden. It’s automatic. This well-honed habit will wake up your addiction, and will insure that you have little satisfying emotional contact with reality. You will be unable to feel what you need, and alcohol will gladly be the replacement for soulful experiences with life. You must learn to sense your body in order to catch the early warning signs of arising mechanical aggression.
2. Enlist the support of another to help you become aware of when you are too loud, too aggressive, and too forceful. It takes time to learn to observe your personality-in-action, so in the beginning allow a trusted friend (sponsor, therapist, coach) to be a mirror for you. It takes many humbling moments of self-reflection to become conscious of the ways your personality habit has taken charge, observing that you’ve gotten too big and inflated to actually communicate in a way that really works. Begin to see that you like the intensity and flush of power that comes with it—it’s exciting and oh-so-stimulating, the adrenaline rush of amped up energy, the rush of power that deadens vulnerability and feeling of weakness, the inflated sense of self-importance, hey, damn, it’s juicy! Learning to withdraw your identification from this adrenaline rush is big work because it’s so blinding, fast, and so intoxicating you hardly notice you are engulfed in it. The dead bodies in your wake are sometimes your only clue that you’ve come off the rails.
3. Learn to be aware of your immediate impact on others. When caught up in the juicy and adrenalized energy of intensity, all four cylinders firing, you cannot feel how you’ve hurt, scared, intimidated or insulted another. These sensitivities seal over in your awareness. Start to notice the telltale signs that you’re ‘hitting too hard, too loud, too much!’ You will see it in the body posture of someone you’re interacting with as they shrivel away from you because you’ve scared them, they trying to stay beneath your radar and save their life. You’ll see the look of shock or intimidation on their face, their sudden silence and downward glance. You must consciously learn to ‘hear’ your volume level (Just how loud are you? Ask your friends, they will tell you! Instruct them to give you the sign: thumbs down.) Listen to your tone of voice and be conscious of its nuances. Is your voice threatening, commanding, pushy, angry? Notice how are you holding your body? Is your chest puffed out, are you intimidating others through your physicality, pressing too close to them, coming at them? Do you notice that individuals are freely expressing their opinions around you, or are they flying under the radar of ‘you,’ holding back their opinions to avoid igniting a dragon, i.e. you! Notice this! Your recovery counts of this.
4. Forewarn your loved ones, friends, and business associates. One Eight in recovery said, “I let those who work for me know in advance, that at times I will come across as threatening, scary and intimidating, and I won’t realize it. I invite them to let me know when this happens, to please bring it to my attention, because many times I am clueless about how I come across. I think I’m communicating in a calm manner and later am told that my voice was raised, that I sounded very angry, like I was going to hit someone. I was shocked to hear this, and sadly, I hear it more often than I would like, but this is my growing edge. I have to be honest…part of me likes overusing my power. It makes me feel in control and strong.” The point being, invite those you care about to call you on your stuff, to tell you when you’ve puffed up too big, even if it means coming up with a hand signal that says, “Too loud. Too harsh. Too scary. Stifle thyself” And when they hold you accountable, take a breath, listen, don’t fight back, don’t defend, become receptive to hearing them.
5. Inhabit Your Body. Your growing edge is in learning to sense your emotions and the emotions of others. One fast doorway to empathy begins by learning to sense your body (via body scan meditation, etc.), learning to inhabit it such that when you begin to harden yourself, to ramp up your energy, or when taken by the rush of intensity, you’ll feel it in your body. Your body becomes the alarm system, the wake-up call for your intensity. The more often you actually keep contact with your body (we call this ‘being present in the body’), the more often you will sense your internal shifts—contracting and intensifying physically when angered or hurt, feeling your body toughen and enlarge under stress—and the better chance you can practice conscious restraint when triggered. Just being conscious of your body’s response when triggered will slow down your addiction to intensity, and your tendency to plow forward full bore.
6. Train your capacity for empathy. As an Eight, noticing that you cannot feel or sense the suffering or feelings of others, that the tender spot in your heart has disappeared, is a growing edge for you. Learning to put yourself in another’s position so as to realize their difficulties is a powerful exercise for developing heart-felt empathy (Gurdjieff, a magnificent Type Eight, called this ‘external considering’). Begin to take time to actually visualize and imagine what it is like to live in the skin of another. Become them in your imagination, inhabit their body, heart and thoughts. That is, you become that person that you dislike, or criticize, or hate, or distain because they are acting weak and powerless. You sense their suffering. And then, becoming this person, imagine you are looking out at yourself through their eyes. What do you see? This active visualization of considering others, sensing what drives them and affects them (which Twos are pros at), will begin to wake up your ability to feel empathy, and to notice when you are hardening yourself, hurting others and hurting yourself.
7. Be aware when the sensitive vulnerability of others triggers you. Notice when you experience revulsion when others appear to you as too sensitive, vulnerable, weak, soft or unable to embody their strength and power. Most often their behavior bothers you because they are expressing vulnerability to emotional states you’ve had to ban and deny to survive as a mighty Eight (surely your childhood was a crucible for these patterns). In these moments take time to sense your heart and see if feelings of sadness, neediness, or emotional vulnerability are being triggered inside you, and if you can, breathe into the tenderness you are resisting (or breathe into the resistance you feel). Trust me, you will not lose your ability to be strong and protective if you give way to these feelings. Nor will you become a mush of weakness and inability to function. No, you’ll still keep all your gifts, but you’ll add your heart to the mix.
8. Learn to modulate your confrontation skills. One of your precious gifts is the ability to call out the demons and devils in the room (AA meetings, group therapy meetings, conversations with friends) and confront them in a singular triumphant declaration of truth—nothing sugar-coated—a dagger of truth cutting thru the darkness lighting up the whole room (and destroys innocent bystanders at times!). This gift of delivering naked, lie-dissolving truth and waylaying all ego activity in an AA meeting is remarkable but the problem lies in the precision of the delivery. You easily cut to the chase with abandon while everyone shivers and awakens from the encounter with your intensity, and when used well, this is an astounding gift. Everyone feels more real from the inside out. You are wired to believe that the more intense you become (as in confronting your addiction, yourself and the neurotic behavior of others with a steel-penetrating laser of realness) the more effective you are. But more intensity isn’t better when others around you have withered like flowers onto the floor. Then you’ve missed the mark. In service of truth you’ve destroyed the receiver. In fact, you will discover a quiet, riveting intensity, when the words you speak are so real, so alive, so spot-on-amazingly true, that all that is required is a whisper and everyone is riveted and shocked into the truth of the moment. (The point being ‘it’s not the volume that wakes people up.) You must learn this art of precision, the art of noticing when silence, quietness, delicacy or a softer, gentler tone delivers the fierce truth just as effectively as your high intensity delivery. In learning to blend soft with direct and firm (the heart and soul of Chinese Goju martial arts), you deliver an even more precise, impacting, real, and passionate message. People hear you more easily when you are not plastering them to the walls. Full-on aliveness means you attune to the energy that is required in the moment to speak your deepest truth. Sometimes gentleness, sometimes fierceness. Realness and passion comes through many channels, and healthy Eights know how to play all the strings on the instrument of their soul. At your best you are as strong as a bulldozer, flow like hot lava, and are precise as a needle.
9. Notice the behaviors indicative of your loss of presence, awareness and contact your magnificent heart. When your personality is taking over, telltale signs arise: you begin to mistrust the loyalties of others, you perceive that others are teaming against you, you become harsher and more threatening, and you push yourself and others harder and harder. You become a hard-driving task-master. You talk louder, you believe that no one can be trusted and that you don’t need anyone (people are replaceable, commodities, not worth much), you think you are the most important person in the room (You are no longer right-sized!). You inflate your self-importance and thrive on feeling superior. When all this occurs be certain—you are headed down the road of self-destruction and addiction is waiting enthusiastically for you. Realize this: people are abandoning you because they feel you will not listen or consider them, and find it hopeless to even try. They sense you are in the game for yourself, and their only value is whether they produce for you. They feel like disposable objects in your projects. Because you’re scary they won’t confront ego. So, being smart…they leave. This is one of your wake-up calls—people are leaving because you are driving them away.
10. Humbly and quickly apologize when you’ve caused harm. Nothing blows people away like a powerful Eight humbly apologizing for hurting, offending, or scaring them, or for being caught up in egotistical self-importance. It’s uncomfortable as hell to do—apologizing—because it smacks of weakness (in the eyes of your ego) and you will feel weak, humbled and vulnerable when you do it. But it is a doorway to your peace and happiness. Invite friends and co-workers to let you know when you’ve stunned them, ridden rough-shod over them, been insensitive to their feelings, got caught in big-shot-ism, or disregarded and disrespected their approach to problem-solving. Apologize quickly. Plan to do it often. Cherish the humility that arises as it is a sign that essence is speaking through you And understand and appreciate this with compassion: your less desirable behavior that intimidates, scares, hurts or threatens others happens so automatically under stress that in the moment you do not see, smell, feel, ear it. Apologizing will begin to give you eyes to see yourself in action. Humbly apologize (your heart will hurt when you do this). Humbly apologize. Humbly apologize. And get curious. Ask people “How did my behavior make you feel?” This too will begin to give you eyes to see yourself.
11. Notice when you are threatened by the genuine power of others. When you are caught in the fixation of your personality (meaning you are being taken by your need to assert your strength, power and control and out of touch with essence, etc.) you will feel threatened by the genuine power of others, and will begin to undermine them or outdo them as a response to feeling like you’re throne of power is being threatened. The ego agenda of the Eight (which is vastly different than the healthy agenda) is “I am the only one who can be in control. I don’t share power. If I share power I am weak and will be taken advantage of. There is only room for one of us.” Your real power, your healthy power comes online when you are genuinely interested in empowering others. If you are present and awake, you know that empowering others never diminishes your power, but actually expands and nurtures it. Can you tell the difference?
12. Learn to sit with your intensity before acting on it, i.e., learn to relax and ‘be.’ You must learn restraint. This comes from doing a meditation practice on a daily basis in which you sit quietly, noticing the rising and falling of thoughts, emotions, and the tides of your passion and intensity. Learn to sit in the furnace of yourself allowing your intensity and fire to simmer, cook, clarify, settle, and purify without getting up and going into action. Practice ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’ You will begin to notice more clearly and acutely when you are being driven to intense action in order to avoid deadness, fear, ego-diminishment, or vulnerability. With time you will notice how and when you jump into intense action or confrontation as a means of escaping these less-than-strong feelings. A growing edge for you is in discerning when your adventurous spirit is being called into action for real, life-enhancing adventures, or when your defensive patterns are activated to avoid fear, deadness, and vulnerability.
Message to the Eight
Your deep gift is to empower others to arise and own their innate power and autonomy, to champion them to step forward into life, fully alive and lit up with passion, realness, capacity, big-heartedness, generosity and energizing juiciness. As you model and embody this in your personal action-filled, passionate life, your magnanimous heart is like a tornadic firestorm cutting through the deep losses and humiliations individuals have experienced activating their can-do courage, their dignity, their ferocious love of life, and their personal will. Such that they arise and declare, “I am here. I will live this life fully. I will give everything I’ve got. I will be anything but half-hearted.” This is the clarion call of the Eight. Your impassioned aliveness touches a life wire, invigorating and inciting people to be resourceful, independent, able to stand on their own two feet, able to think for themselves, able to walk through whatever challenge they face. Your lion-hearted message is loud and clear: you can arise and meet your challenges, you can muster the will, courage, and wisdom to match your difficulties and claim your autonomy.
These are some of the beautiful gifts of inspiration you give to the world!! Thank you!
…additional story follows
A Perilous Eight Journey to Level Nine
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.
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, 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.