Type Nine in Recovery—The Peacemaker
By Michael Naylor, M.Ed., CCS, LADC, CCPC
Copyright 2018 Version 1
The Healthy Type Nine: In the Mystical, Unifying Flow
Marty, a lanky Type Nine addiction’s counselor, glides across the room, his presence so seamlessly interwoven and in-flow with the texture, depth, and the psychological energy of the space you hardly see him. He’s beside you, he’s in you, he flows past you, a graceful chameleonic force blending and unifying with what is. You think he’s barely there, he being so invisibly nimble and non-intrusive, but he is fully alive in the psychic waters of the room, extending his awareness into the vulnerable heart-space of the men at Mercy House rehab, touching them, feeling their energy, caring for them.
There is a gentleness to his gait emitting an enveloping wave of safety, extending unseen tendrils of support to those around him. And like the Type Eight, his presence gets inside you, seeps past your barriers, touches you, soothes and cools you, and welcomes you. A sea of silence surrounds him, a silence that has a quieting depth. He touches you lightly with his presence, calms you down, softens you, lets you know that you can just settle, it’s safe here, safe to settle, safe to be. Relax, really, it’s okay to relax. And then suddenly he looks up and gazes at you, smiles, sensing perhaps a disturbance in the force, an intuitive knowing, he glancing to see what he’s felt, his eyes lakes of stillness touching you with kindness and consideration. In a blink he takes you in, reads you, without intruding, without making you uncomfortable. He’s got the gift of touching your soul with such grace that nothing in you tightens or wants to withdraw in self-defense.
At Mercy House rehab he is a precious jewel. Sitting with a group of guys in very early recovery, all gnarled, grizzled, rough-edged, punchy, heart-torn and mangled, humiliated by life’s stupidities, edgy with paranoia and wired to fiercely defend against any suggestion of insult to their body or soul, the felt sense of Marty’s presence settles them down. He’s the landing gear for their inner turbulence, their fear-jangled bodies, their trust-no-one-rigidity, their soul-scarred disappointment and hardness. He’s the welcome mat, the salve, conveying a softening psychic substance that beckons you to drop your hard stance, go easy, real easy. And it makes no difference where you’ve come from, the county jail, the streets, the homeless shelter, the state prison, the back woods of Maine, the hospital ER, an STD clinic, a mental institute—all are welcome here. Somehow this beautiful guy can hold the suffering of these men, hold it and not be broken by it, hold it with a magical non-attachment and tenderness such that it touches him but doesn’t bury him. And in holding their suffering with this gracious and light touch, not denying any of the heaviness or sharpness of their suffering, he teaches them by his example to viscerally walk easier and lighter in the belly of their suffering. Something softens, relaxes, let’s go in them. Whatever suffering they’ve come to identify themselves by, and all the psychological prison structures this suffering has created for them internally, well, their inner chains begin to loosen. It’s like a mysterious light begins to break through their conditioned beliefs that they are losers, irretrievable drug addicts, hopeless men, rejected and unwanted men, failures with no hope, forever mentally sick men, unredeemable criminal men, men of no value. Light starts to penetrate these negative self-identities such that something softer, deeper, truer starts to stir and form in them.
You see, he is a stealth ninja delivering the awesome power of unconditional love and kindness and acceptance, and you hang around Marty and you start to feel it in your bones, in your gut, in your hardened heart, that you are forgivable, lovable even, that you can redeem yourself, that you can make amends, that you can belong to this life. Such that slowly, slowly, persistently you begin, layer by layer, to let go of the chains of your past, or more clearly, you quietly relax, and they begin to slide off you. One at a time. Easy does it…one at a time. This is what Marty embodies and teaches, this letting go, in the way he speaks with earthy kindness and directness to the men (picture the beloved Mr. Rogers), in the way he honors and holds space for men regardless of how they are showing up. Big space, breathing room, a landing strip, a welcome mat, slow down, land right here—this is what Marty creates and evokes. A messenger of indomitable, kind silence, the men are touched by his unshakeable penetrating calm.”
And this penetrating calm gets to your core, flows like soothing water into the tightened muscles flexed to clamp down suffering, flows and heals as it circulates in your being without stirring your defenses; just lands…touches and heals, touches and heals, coaxes you to part with your suffering saying, “Put it down, easy does it, let go…breathe…trust…nothing to prove here…relax…it’s safe.” You see, this capacity to encourage and entice men to relax, to let their guard down, without really saying it but mostly being it, emitting it, breathing it in from the center of his belly¸ this is what Marty does best. He’s like the Shiatsu practitioner who can sense which meridian in the body needs work and loosening, that when loosened allows a magical healing force to circulate in your body. Marty senses and feels your psychological meridians, knows how to apply right attention, pressure, and gentleness to those meridians, disarms you without intruding, while transmitting this message: you are welcome here. This is not registered in the thinking center, is not a verbal message designed to land there, but is transmitted through the heart center and the gut center. Your body feels it, your heart feels it…and your mind eventually signs on.
Soft spoken, what you see is what you get, no pretensions, no ego-strutting-counselor-flaunting-his-importance-or-needing-vanity-strokes such that you sense it in your soul that he’s right on your level—this is what disarms you and allows you settle and feel safe. This guy meets you and holds space for you. There is a dignity in this that is so compelling and invites instant respect from war-torn, street-smart men who are used to being treated like disowned objects. Because of Marty’s hard-earned presence—meaning he’s transformed his inherited emotional suffering into a mountainous stillness and kindness—he sits right exactly where you are sitting, in the belly of the beast, energetically inhabiting your heart, your body, your frightened mind, your tangled confusions, not repulsed, not bailing out, not overwhelmed, but peacefully abiding in the very waters of your suffering. Hang around him long enough and you learn to calmly engage your insides, your reactivity, your heart wounds and heart insults, such that your fast-moving hypnotizing illusions and haunting fear-impressions that seal you off from reality start to slow…way…down…and you actually develop eyes to see them. And hey, let’s face it, unless you become a still presence in the middle of your own inner turbulence, nothing changes, nothing gets seen.
And with this comes the crown jewel. You begin to see yourself through Marty’s eyes of compassion and mercy. Suddenly it makes sense to extend tenderness to yourself, mercy to yourself, to relax your unrelenting self-punishment…to let love touch you. Marty’s presence—fluid, graceful and invisibly unrelenting—begins to tenderize you. And sometimes, because of his great kindness and gentleness, clients might think they can outwit Marty, that he’s an easy touch, but he has this ingenious way of righting your ill intentions, and without clamor or drama lets you know when it’s time for you to leave the rehab, you’re not ready for addiction recovery, perhaps another time, but go you must.
Clients get this. His intuitive wisdom often carries few words. But one day you sit there, aware that you do not want recovery or help, and rather than acting this out and blaming everyone for it, and leaving a dramatic emotional fire in your wake, you slowly go to your room, pack your stuff, and leave. Marty has unwittingly created a peace treaty with you and storming out of the rehab would not honor this pact. You get that in your gut. With his slow, steady gaze, his slow steady capacity to breath peace into the room, his laid back, there’s-no-hurry, no-need-for-high-drama, we-can-get-what-we-need-by-slowing-down presence, he dials the inflamed suffering and despairing intensity these men carry in the core of their soul way down. It’s often miraculous what unfolds when he enters the room, with his laid back easy-going earthiness, a tall six-foot one man, so quietly graceful—he such a major invitation to just be, just be, as you are.
So, you relax and let yourself be, and suddenly you start activating an interest in what goes on inside you. Unexpectedly you start to notice inner perceptions that you care about—soul-signs of real awareness—such that you begin to connect with hundreds of unconscious choices that led you to and on your torturous path of addiction. And from this settling into the moment an unusual motivation begins to arise in you, you haven’t felt it for a long time, but yes, you recognize that you’d like to have a life, like to be connected to people, like to live a life that is steady, sturdy and supports you. That you have something to live for, that you are in fact, most welcome and even are needed on planet earth. You have a place and you can feel it. This is the medicine that Marty delivers and teaches. In your bones and belly and heart, you begin to feel it, to know it…the palpable sense that you do belong. As in, welcome home, my brother, as Marty, and Dominic, the brave Type Eight would say. Welcome home my brother.
And they mean it.
I watched him work with Rick-from-Boston, a burly tormented guy mired in loss, in depression, in hopelessness, nearly unable to function in any way. His alcoholism had further torpedoed an already unstable interior, like mixing gasoline with fire. But Marty, with his vast stillness and enduring patience, would hang with Rick and give him simple steps, over and over he’d recite them, as if there was no hurry, Rick, no hurry; here’s the simple steps. Go to meetings, ask for help, get a sponsor, show up. And Rick would remember, and then he’d forget. And back on the streets he’d go, a whirling dervish of chaotic agony, wandering in the despair of homelessness and alcoholic hopelessness, dead-eyed depression possessing him…and somehow, he’d make it back to rehab. Two legs and one arm in the grave, and there Marty would be, at the doorstep, while soul-hungry vultures sucked the last remaining blood of hope from big Bill’s soul, he so very close to becoming a lifeless stone of death.
And Marty would meet him like he’d been patiently waiting for him for a hundred years. Just hanging and waiting. No big deal, just waiting. And Rick, shocked numb from his last relapse, brain cooked and hard-boiled on confusion and turned to a scrambled mess, would listen to Marty with that 10% of him that he could still listen with, that tiny window of sanity in an otherwise torqued brain, and slowly Marty’s peace and enduring resilience got into Rick, into the pores of his heart, into the thought-stream of his mad thoughts, into the frozen musculature of his broken body. As Marty’s spirit seeped into Rick, slowly but surely he started to come on line, started to arise within himself, while Marty kept hanging next to him, one breath at a time, his still calmness touching the broken places in Rick, saying ‘No rush Rick, we’re just watching a sunrise here, just ease into this moment, and do one simple thing…one simple thing.’ And Rick, this big guy endowed with a wrestler’s body, who’d vanished into near invisibility such that he inhabited a sunken shell, disappearing into nothingness, seven years later is a peaceful rock of stillness and ease. Quietly he’s walked a thousand miles with Marty up the mountain of himself and found his soul, his sense of humor, his grateful heart, his dignity and his strength. Damn, it was amazing to watch. And Marty, his ceaseless stillness the antidote to Rick’s madness, is still humming along waiting for the next guy to help. No rush. The guy would come. He could feel it. He’d be there. He was ready. No river to push here. Quiet waiting was the magnet for the next lost and broken soul.
Type Nine in Addiction: Level 6 and Below
When the Type Nine slips down the ladder of addiction, his innate capacity to be a living well of kindness and support to others turns onward. Lou said it this way:
“When I dropped into addiction my only wish was to be left alone so I could drink. I existed in my own private bomb shelter. The lights were off, and no one was home. I was a small flame of nothingness, and utterly invisible to myself and everyone else and that was fine with me. I was a ghost, and everything around me had a ghost-like quality, as if it had no substance, no weight to it, like everything was transparent and could be seen thru. Let me drink and die alone and don’t bother me, was my wish. Put me in front of the TV, deliver my beer every day at my doorstep, all is well. I neglected everything and everyone. I wouldn’t and couldn’t see any problems and instead dropped into a drunken blur where nothing could touch me, affect me, get my attention. If my stoic silence didn’t discourage you, if my lifeless-body-sitting-at-the-grave-sight-of-my-TV didn’t rivet you into hopelessness, if my dead-man-walking-I-am-a-corpse-not-a-human-being-laying-in-the-bowels-of-death didn’t cut you to the bone such that you’d look away in utter horror and disgust at my slow-motion-merciless-wasteful-angel-saddening death, my last-ditch rages would. Rare at they were. The time came when my family abandoned me, quit trying to get me into recovery, and I thought, ‘Finally, I’m left alone. No more people to contend with.’ The point being I was entirely shut off from my heart, from the innate love I had for my kids, from the shame of disappearing with one option left—drinking until I passed out till death. This I did every day. Family could see my dying soul and I could not. Did I really understand what I was doing? Absolutely not! My awareness consisted of a vague, fleeting, flicker of reality, fogged and blurry—everything had an indistinct, shape-shifting, undifferentiated sense to it. Nothing was real. I felt like a transparent nothingness. Occasionally I’d feel the suffering of waking up out of hangover, but I was so exhausted from my drinking, so closed-down physically, emotionally, and mentally, I could barely feel it for long. So, I drank to numb out. At one point I decided to kill myself. In the dead of winter, I went into the Maine woods on land that I owned, took a ton of booze with me, drank with the intent to die. It was a week later I woke up in an AA meeting at a detox, listening to the voices of other late stage alcoholics like myself, and remember saying, “I’m Lou, I’m an alcoholic, and I want to get sober.” It was the first time I’d ever spoken these words and felt them. I don’t know how I got there and learned later that two hunters found me passed out in the freezing cold and brought me to detox. Don’t know where the wish to stay sober came from, but I’ve been sober now 9 years and realize how lucky I am to be alive. In that alcoholic fog, death seems like a form of sleep, a comfort to be sought. All I wanted to do was fall asleep.”
The Nine, whose gifts of supporting others, whose unconditional positive regard for the suffering of others is the hallmark of his humanity, slips away into the darkness of his soul when addiction takes him out. Hunkered down in the inner temple of his imagination, fantasy is his primary refuge. Unlike the Eight who when descending into addiction hell, becomes more explosive and volatile, the Nine gets more passive, more distant, more withdrawn, more wraith-like. It’s not unusual for the Nine to be literally carried into addiction recovery by loved ones because left to his own devices he will die quietly (Betty Ford is a great example) but imagining he’s resting. He’s got this dying thing mixed up with relaxing, taking a needed rest, just chilling out, while his lived life is one drink after another until he passes out. As in going, going…gone.
First Twelve Weeks in Recovery—Helping the Nine
Devan sits in group day after day, so still and quiet you’d never know he was there. Second week in it dawns on me. I continually don’t ask Devan to share. It’s like he emits a strange force-field that makes him invisible. He’s there on the couch but you can’t really see him. Your eyes pass over him without questioning him, as if he’s a part of the furniture. His ability to emit zero-life-force-energy is remarkable. It’s as if he’s a Jedi Master who waves his hand and says, “Look away, counselor, I’m not here. No need to ask me any questions, move on. Ask the next guy. Look away, counselor.” I call him on it. “Devin, how to you manage to avoid getting asked to share? How do you do it?” A big, sun-splitting grin creeps across his face, eyes suddenly lighting up with recognition, he arising from his internal camouflaged bomb shelter for a brief minute. “I learned it in grade school,” he says. “I just knew how to get teachers to not see me, to move past me, to pass over me as I lie quiet as a mouse. I got pretty good at it.”
No kidding, I think. He skillfully emits a force-field that quietly delivers the message, “Don’t bother me. Don’t approach me.” And wildly enough he can morph into the color and contour of the couch so he’s virtually indistinguishable from it—he’s become a part of the furniture. And even trickier, he can shape-shift into the client that looks like he’s doing just fine. It’s amazing (unlike the Type Eight who’s a bull in a China shop). In fact, he’s the master of “I’m fine.” (In recovery-speak that means ‘I’m F—upped, insecure, emotional and neurotic!’) He’s lost his family, his kids are broken-hearted over him, he doesn’t have a job, and he’s over there on the corner of the couch looking as chill as anyone possibly could. (We say the Nine gives ‘good face.’)
His outer expression looks like he’s appropriately engaged, listening to others, exuding facial expressions that look like he’s paying attention (not overdoing it of course, that would draw attention, but not totally checked out either, right in between where he gains no notice), adeptly not reflecting anything that might draw ‘counselor attention’ to him. No, let’s keep the counselor skillfully chilled out too. You see, he cultivates an enticing ambiance around him that has everyone nodding along in ‘spiritual bypass’ mode when it comes to him, all feeling hypnotically at ease with his I’ve-charmed-you-into-relaxing-and-over-looking-me, presence. Yes, he’s gotten everyone to disassociate from him the way he disassociates from himself! Except, with a little awareness you see that he’s a little too nice based on the terror of his situation, and so accommodating even the angels are on red alert. But he gets away with it because he can emit a kind of soothing, honey-like psychic emotional substance that wordlessly says “I-support-you-counselor-dude, I’m your friend—no problem here—all is well in my private Death Valley, in my swamp of poisonous snakes, I’ve even charmed them into relaxing and sleeping, even the vultures are passing me by for better, juicer meat”—such that he numbs you with it.
Well, it’s trickier that than…he can sooth you with his numbness. That’s his other Jedi gift: he emits that calming, hypnotic, sweet as sugar, sit-back-and-relax energy through his instinctive center and swear to god you get lulled to sleep and complacency, and you like it. He’s found your numbing button and he’s pressing it. (Of course, this is a gift of his instinctual intelligence wherein he’s learned to survive in traumatic situations and not draw dangerous attention or circumstance to him.) And next thing you know he’s left rehab, a wave of pleasantness coating your most recent perception of him, so you didn’t notice the impending signs that he was leaving, that he’s slipping away. He was so likable, you think to yourself. In retrospect, like waking from a dream, it dawns on you that’s he’s been gone ever since he arrived in rehab as he’s hidden skillfully and seamlessly in your fast-asleep-perception, and only the next day do you barely notice he’s not in group. Where the hell did Devan go? Hey, did anyone see him leave?
And what drives Nine’s passion to stay hidden behind their invisibility cloak? Fear. Utter, vulnerable, raw, I could die if I’m seen, fear. If I’m seen, located in space, I will be annihilated, cut off from all that I love. Like the terror Sandra Bullock exuded in the role of an astronaut in Gravity, nearly cut loose from the mother ship and sent spasmodically out of control into deep space, nothing to hang on to but her lifeline as the terror of her impending death and end of contact with all she loved, family, children, home, hung in the balance. If that fear doesn’t freeze you with a bone-chilling wish to not be seen and to stay invisible, I don’t know what would. So, I (the Nine speaking) lie low, below the surface of my life, a stone underneath the surface of the stream, life gliding over me, you not noticing me. In fact, I don’t notice me. I’m so good at hiding, you don’t notice me, and I don’t notice me, so no disturbance occurs inside or outside me. I hide out, go for cover, trying not to be affected by anything because being noticed means losing all security, safety, and peace that I imagine I’m in possession of, regardless if it’s only my imagined, delusionary peace found between my ears.
Which is it. It is…it is…it is!
Problem is, this ‘I-protect-myself-by-disappearing’ phenomena is the exact, precise thing that calls his addiction to him, wakes the slithering snake up, because in the fog of this dream undigested and unrecognized emotional disturbance located in his real, lived life, located in the interior of his being—fear, anger, shame, vulnerability, powerlessness—can only be held at bay outside of his awareness for just so long before it merges with the vampire force of his addiction, and wakes it up such that suddenly, out of the blue, three years sober, the Nine finds himself drinking himself to death not knowing how he picked up the booze in the dreary alcohol aisle of Shop N’ Save. How did that happen? I don’t even remember picking the bottle up! Truth is he was mesmerized watching a euphoric-recall video of his addiction life (all the good parts, that is) that crept into his mind-stream in the midst of his fog of numbness, and unwittingly seduced him, saying, “Time to drink, time to shoot up, then you’ll feel relaxed and at peace; then you will feel as if you are home.” As the Type Nine later describes it, “Entering my thought stream like an old friend, erasing all memory of the terror and horror that awaits, I sipped on the euphoric recall of past drinking and drugging experiences and down I went, into the forgotten abyss of my repetitious suffering. And weirdly it felt good to sink into annihilation, like dropping into the arms of an old friend. How can hopelessness feel good? How weird is that?” It is a song, a hypnotic movie, a videotape that is always willing to meet him, that seeks him out.
So the work is cut out for the Nine, from the standpoint that he has been residing, hibernating, building a secret garden of pleasure and comfort in his imagination while his “lived life” where real family members have lost faith in him, where his children grieve deeply for him, where his contact with reality has been avoided by the next moment of shooting up with heroin or dousing his life force with other painkillers. Everything has been reversed. His real thoughts and real suffering that brought him into addiction treatment feel like ‘unreal’ thoughts, dreamlike thoughts having no substance or capacity to ‘touch’ him. His imaginary life where pleasurable scenes and euphoric recall images of all his fun moments drinking and drugging play like a nonstop movie in his imagination—these feel real to him. (An example of this dream world addiction is found in the movie Requiem for Dream, most especially in the role played by Ellen Burstyn. Her imagination becomes what she experiences as ‘real.’)
He has learned to fix his attention here on his imagined life, to mistake this fantasy safe-zone, imagination-world as the ‘real,’ where he is anesthetized from his life-suffering until he can’t avoid it. Take the drugs away, drugs that fuel the inflamed imagination-retreat he has unwittingly created for himself, and he is left with no defenses except his capacity to withdraw, to pull an invisibility cloak over himself, and simply hunker down in hiding mode. And in that moment, he is gripped by terror, the terror that he is unprotected and could die, simply by being here. The terror that what he imagined as real is nothing but. It is at this perilous point of awareness—in the cradle of emptiness in new sobriety—seeing that he’s sunk into a snake infested world of illusion—recovery begins. From this tender and most vulnerable place, those around him must be his anchor of reality until he begins to make friends with reality. (Fours also struggle with this imagination disease.)
In the first weeks of recovery when discomfort arises, dragons of annihilation at every turn, his suffering will arise unedited. His defenses will not work. Either he cracks open into reality, or he dives back into familiar suffering. It will take a monumental effort for him to simply say out loud what he is experiencing, and to stay with the realizations (Surely this is difficult for everyone!). Remember, his internal survivor script is to do nothing that causes conflict or suffering for others, and nothing that allows him to be seen. And yet, here on this cliff of death where he dangles off the overhang, he must be seen, must be heard, cannot stay mute. Yet the Inner Critic voice will screech through his brain, “You are nobody special and you better keep it that way.” When he starts to speak up and tell his truth, his Inner-Critic-fire-breathing-dragon will blare, “Who do you think you are? You’re taking up the breathing space of others simply by being here. Shut up!” And often he will. Or, as Bill-from-Chicago would say, “When feelings arise I feel so incredibly tired I could fall asleep on the spot. All energy drains from my being. I instantly forget what I was feeling or thinking. I go blank.”
His habit of retreating into non-reality awareness is a powerful magnet as is his habit of blurring all things of discomfort into unrecognizability. Feelings? What feelings? Marty says it this way:
“When I was in early recovery and you asked me what I was feeling I felt like I looked down into a deep well of foggy murkiness. I was upset, was feeling something, but the minute you asked me about it, it immediately became so indistinct and unclear, would fog up into a cloud of confusion, that mostly I’d say, ‘I have no idea.’ And I meant it. I felt a vague formless discontent that if I rested in it too long, would suddenly ascend from this fog in the form of unnamed anxiety, like a snake slithering up my spine. I’d immediately shut down and slip into my delusion-space where comforting dreams could settle me down. Learning to feel inner distinctions around my feelings took a long damn time. My first task was to simply stay sober, keep showing up, and find someone to lean on, who could guide me, because I felt like I had no ground underneath me, and no inner sense of knowing what was real. My feelings and wants and needs, well, ask me about this and you’re asking me to speak a foreign language. I simply had to hang on with faith that at some point I’d come out of the fog. I didn’t realize I was in a fog until I started to get glimpses of real feelings. I needed my counselor, my recovery friends, to teach me to identify my feelings. Often, they’d see and sense that I was sad and they’d note it for me, bringing my attention to my voice, saying, “You sound so sad. I hear it in your voice. Can you hear yourself as you speak?” Or bringing attention to my facial expression, they’d say, “Your eyes are moistening. You look sad. Can you feel sadness in your face, or your throat, or your chest? What do you notice?” I had to practice attuning to these details, sensing into them, inch my inch, allowing myself to open to what was going on inside me. It was extremely weird and difficult because I had so many buffers built in to keep my emotional experience on a very thin band of existence. No highs, no lows, just a gray zone that kept me safe, so I thought. Widening that band of feeling experience, well, I needed people to notice and teach me the language, teach me how to identify what was going on inside me. Slowly I learned to lean into the terror that I was going to be abandoned if I felt anything. Little by little I learned that it is safe to be here as I am, with the feelings I’m experiencing, with the desires I possess.
Working with the Type Nine
Very different from working with the Type Eight who has a quality of irrepressible, in your face, sometimes explosive presence, the Nine is in many regards, the opposite. While working with the Eight has much to do with sometimes restraining the Eight’s intensity, working with Nine has something to do with waking up their intensity, turning up their life-light, calling them out of hiding such that they begin to trust that contacting their innate aliveness will not destroy them, but empower them. The core message of the Nine’s Inner Critic warns them that if they are not peaceful, or the people around them are not at peace—meaning if they can’t fix the upsets and conflicts of others—then they are not lovable. Well, lovable is putting it mildly. As William, a Nine, reports in recovery:
“The moment I begin to arise and tell my emotional truth, or state my individual perspective, I was greeted by the terror of annihilation. Kind of like the annihilation Dave, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, experienced when jettisoned by the plucky, rebel-robot-computer Hal into space in a space capsule, experiencing the real annihilation of his existence, and captured in the last words of Dave saying, ‘Hal…Hal…Hal’ while Hal gleefully said nothing. This is not a quiet annihilation but one that speaks of losing everything and everyone I am connected with. It hits hard and quick, and what I do as a Nine is I back right off and accommodate those around me while I disappear under a cloud cover and drop through the entrance to by rabbit hole where I am safe. Now you see me, now you don’t.”
So, it’s important to understand the recovery needs of the Nine. The first is simply this: pressuring them to change locks the Nine into resistance (as in, change will destroy all my peaceful connections with those I love, back the ‘f’ off), a quality of stubbornness that may not be externally visible but is immovable and outstandingly effective (the Nine can become an invisible mountain in a heartbeat). It’s like trying to get the wind to change directions. Put pressure on the wind and your hands slide right through the substance, affecting nothing. Exert pressure on the Nine to change and your intentions and pressure pass right through them. The magic trick of the Nine is to pretend he’s going along with your good intentions and your oh-so-thoughtful-advice so that you’ll get off his back while digging his heels in protesting, “Hell no, I won’t go.” Encouraging and inviting the Nine out of hiding works far more effectively than pressure which means that there is an element of patience that you must be comfortable with to really help the Nine. Meaning you’ve got to get it out of your counselor-sponsor-thick-head that you know how quickly the Nine should be moving. You don’t! I repeat, you don’t.
Truth is, they have this funny thing they do wherein they move as slow as molasses, or as one Nine put it, “I move in slow-motion to stay invisible, where I’m safe.” And then, when you’re not looking, they burst forth and fly by you in the jettisoned flow of their personal transformation. So, the ultimate question is can you be patient enough to trust their chosen speed? Can you stay away from that addictive and compelling and very well intended AA recovery habit of saying things like, “This is an action program and you’re not taking any action. Speed this ship up or you will relapse.” Not useful, usually to anyone, but truly well-intended. The Nine yawns and externally agrees, and then hides out. Take the pressure off him, and he gets curious about coming forward. And hey, some folks, namely the Three, Seven, and Eight need to stop action, slow down, get still, don’t move at all. With a little observational skill, one sees that each recovery slogan only fits some of the Types. One size does not fit all.
So, what do they need? Space, room to move, trust in their process, understanding that for the Nine, stepping into life, taking steps to assert or nurture themselves, feels as alien as learning Russian. They are hardwired to accommodate you, and to accommodate you some more. And buried down deep is a wish to have a life. Your job as a counselor or sponsor is to notice this, notice the signs of their meaningful preferences, point to it without expectation, simply reflect, as in “I really feel your wish to get connected with your kids.” Notice it and notice again, because as their real passion arises on their screen of perception, it will disappear as quickly, as if it was never there in the first place.” Or, “I notice that when you talk about your dreams or hopes, that you quickly change the subject and bring attention back to others in the room. What’s it like to talk about what you want? What were you feeling when you were talking about a dream to be a teacher? Where did you experience that in your
Like this, mirror them, feel and name for them what they are feeling. “I noticed that when you spoke, I could feel anger. Did you feel it? I often experience it in my belly. Where did you notice it in your body? Some Nine’s report that when they feel anger they dissociate from it quickly, so quickly that many times they don’t notice they were actually experiencing anger. It’s like wind that slips thru their fingers. Is this true for you? Like right now, where did your anger just vanish too?” Be prepared and patient when they reply, “I don’t know. I don’t know where my feelings vanish to.” And keep gently and patiently noticing. When they finally get it, when they drop into the sensations of their feelings, watch for a revolution in their awareness.
I watch Dominic, the majestic Type Eight counselor, work with Frankie the Flower, a type Nine client. Dominic’s gift is to give a client a name that exposes their weakness and strength, and then uses it to point to their growth edge. Dominic sees that Frankie is terrified, that his backbone is shaky if not non-existent, and Dominic, being a protector of the weak, does what he does. He loves a guy out of hiding. So, one day in the middle of the group, his back to Frankie, he says, “Now let me tell you guys about Frankie the Flower from New Yawk,” Dominic’s Brooklyn twang sliding thru his words. “I saw him with his kids yesterday and what I noticed was just how much he loved them, just how much he revered them, just how passionately he cares about them. Oh my God, his eyes lit up like the New York sun, which is by far the coolest sun on the planet. Hey, I’m from Brooklyn and I know these things. And his kids, the look in their eyes—they adore him. They couldn’t take their eyes off him. Frankie over there looks really quiet, but don’t you buy that shit for one second. With his kids, he cares for them from the belly of his soul. Here he’s got fire. Not wimpy fire, but here he’s got sizzle, passion, guts. He just doesn’t show it. His passion, if you notice closely, will be found in his gentleness. This is a quality we all need to cultivate, gentleness and kindness. And this too, is muscular, dudes, muscular gentleness and kindness,” Dominic says, his eyes hot with conviction. “And when he gets over his fear, he will touch all of you. His kindness will melt you down into a kinder version of yourself.”
Turning to Frankie the Flower and holding him in the force-field of his attention, well, Frankie is in tears. He’s been seen by the majestic Dominic who has named his inner world. He has touched the chords of his real and caring heart. With his impacting instinctual energy, he has felt deep inside Frankie’s soul, and struck chords of truth. He continues. “And I can only imagine after the kids left from the visit, the heartbreak that cut thru him, that almost knocked him breathless. I saw this. He was sitting over in the corner with his head down, chest sunken, both grieving and raging at himself. See, Frankie is deeply sensitive, and he cares passionately about the people in his life, so much so that he can’t find words yet to convey his love and caring for them, and he’s way more alive than you might notice. But we’ve got to notice him and help him find words to call out these feelings so that he begins to name what is beautiful within him, so that he can see his gifts. See, when he gets really quiet, when he’s disappeared before your very eyes, when he is so quiet he dissolves into the couch, you know that some intense shit is going on, so we got to help him notice this, and coax him out. Right Frankie?”
And Frankie, looking up at Dominic, is a well of sadness, tears streaming down his cheeks. Dominic has seen and mirrored him in a way nobody ever has. Because of Dominic’s magnanimous words, Frankie now has a felt connection with a very real part of his soul that matters to him. He’s been handed a precious jewel: the compelling reason for getting sober and walking through all the inconceivable, god awful discomfort of early recovery. Dominic’s words zapping his inner world, reaching in and touching the very real fabric of his heart—has touched the ‘real’ in him, and the real in him feels ‘good.’ Dominic called it out, named it, brought it into the room, resurrected the real in him so that Frankie is developing ‘eyes’ to sense and feel himself.
Now Dominic—Brooklyn Dom he calls himself—his eyes teary too (and it is such an honor to see a powerful man, filled with the granite of courage, so powerfully vulnerable at the same time), says, “Okay, enough of this soft shit. Next thing you know you’ll have me doing yoga and eating vegetables, and this ain’t happening soon. I eat steak. And I eat potatoes. That’s it, dudes!” he says, eyes full of playful fire. And turns to Frankie, “Just remember this, Frankie the Flower from New York, whose soul is as soft and lovely as a flower, I have your back. We have your back. You can come forward and be seen. We want you to shine your light here. It is time for you!” And dear Frankie, blown away by how he has been touched, says meekly, “Thank you,” and bows his head in humble thanks. This is what is called loving a guy into reality. And what follows over the next several weeks is that Frankie starts talking in group, starts telling his truth, starts to arise, discovers he has a belly-splitting, unexpected, sense of humor, while Dominic continues to turn the fire of truth up in him little by little, inch by inch, saying ‘Come forward my brother, you belong here.”
It is in these holy moments that I am fully aware of the power of love. This above all else is what calls men to sobriety—sheer love and kindness for the suffering of the others, naming it, seeing it, and calling it forth. Powerful.
The Core Suffering and Dilemma of the Nine in Recovery
You see the Type Nine—the peacemaker, the easy-going, self-effacing type—sitting at an AA meeting, initially withdrawn and distant, but with a little time clean and sober, a sort of likable, relaxed, I-won’t-bother-you-character, emerges. Gentle, kind, unobtrusive. Not quick to speak, and not wanting attention. Quiet. Humble. Unassuming. Considerate. Shunning loud and abrasive sharing. Occasionally emitting a smile, sweet and tender. Yes, at his best, when he’s present, you’ve got your own Mr. Rogers in your meeting, and such a blessing this is to everyone. There are enough gruff, ill-mannered, self-indulgent, loud mouthed, ego-bragging recovering alcoholics to go around (well, that is the nature of addiction), and without the Nine cooling the waters you’re just in another bar except there’s no booze flowing, only egos that are not fuel-injected. Believe me, you can still be a complete drunk without picking up a drink, and the Nine is there to de-ego people.
Yet, with closer insight, one senses that a great deal is going on beneath the surface. One wonderful Nine said it this way: “I’m sitting in recovery group and it appears as if I’m listening. But, I’m often off in my imagination constructing a cozy hobbit hole where I am comfortable, stockpiling this inner refuge with all the stuff that makes me feel good. I’m remembering those good times, my favorite times, reliving the positive moments, the positive times with friends, lovers, family, taking in only the positive impressions of the past like a wonderful visual drink. All is well. No one knows this but myself. It’s what I do to avoid the more horrific feeling that at any moment this peace can come undone, a tidal wave of disorder can disrupt me and annihilate me. My ability to preoccupy myself with my imagination is the tool I use to keep my personal suffering at bay. There,everything is fine with my family and kids, nothing has been lost, there are no fights, my drinking hasn’t harmed anyone, there’s no crazy behavior that I can remember. All of this I magically edit without even thinking about it.”
There is also a vigilance, a watchfulness the Nine embodies, quietly, secretly checking to see if any unwanted intruders or circumstances are approaching. Although sometimes appearing sleepy and distant, this watchfulness does not subside. It’s like a cat resting sleepily, eyes closed, but completely wired and present to any sounds or stirrings around him. He’s so quiet you don’t even see him as he blends into the woodwork of other recovering souls in the room. It’s the Nine’s fundamental strategy to stay safe. I see the danger before I become victim to it. I shapeshift into a quiet stream of nothingness so even the air I breathe is not disturbed.
And one day, as soft as quiet wind on your face, you arrive and notice that the Type Nine has disappeared from meetings, left the playing field of recovery. The gentle presence gently left. He is hardly noticed. Where did he go? What happened? Later investigation will reveal these facts. “I forgot to show up for my counselor’s meeting. I made a list of recovery meetings that I was going to attend, but I forgot about them. I don’t know why. I was going to see my sponsor today, but I spaced it out. And I completely forgot what happens when I drink. How’d that happen? It’s like the knowledge that would scare the shit out of regarding my drinking got deleted from my memory tracks.”
This sleepy forgetfulness is typical of the Nine in early recovery, and surprisingly typical in later recovery. The baseline sleeping pill of the Nine: “I just forget what is critical to my growth and development. I flow with the stream of things, hide or get lost in the waves of the moment where I am not detectable, to myself or others, such that fifteen years sober, I have not ruffled the waves, and in fact, cannot feel my own existence. It’s like I become a vacant lot inside myself. It is then that partners abandon me (in my imagination I thought we were fine), friends tire of me, my connections with others lose vitality because I can’t show up as a full-feeling, individual in the matrix of my own life. In fact, spouses and friends often want to shake me to see if I’m home, if I’ve got any juice, spine, aliveness, fire, or individual perspective. As in, Dude, do you ever get angry? Does anything move you? At year five, ten, fifteen of my recovery, when personal losses occur, when my unconscious strategy to avoid being disturbed actually causes the disturbance I wish to avoid—disruption and abandonment—my addiction slips quietly up my soul stream and takes me over. Maybe it’s done so from the very start of my recovery after breaking thru the chains of drug addiction, when overeating, shopping, indulging in fantasy dreams, finding comfort systems that fill in for my real existence become my bargaining tool for avoiding any further contact with my real and felt sense of myself.” (We know this happens with all the types, they stop one addiction and pick up another, almost instantly.)
One very present and spiritually-seasoned Nine put it this way: “Like all the types, I began my recovery by finally dipping into the real, allowing myself to feel both my internal and external disturbances. I learned I can handle this. I felt an initial aliveness that was liberating. And then I discovered that I found a new, improved ‘automatic pilot,’ a new pattern of survival that allows my newly awakened ‘real awareness’ to slip beneath the waves. A newly formed automatic pilot sneaks in, steps into the driver’s seat, and I fall back to sleep. I start to disappear from real engagement with others, while having a better act, a more functional act, that makes me look like I’m really engaging. As I cheerily proclaim how great recovery is, my inner life is reverting to its default… numbness and disconnection, the very suffering that I drank over. It’s so challenging to spot this habit, this mechanism of my ego-personality.
Remember this if you can (you can’t—forget about it—you need wise men around you to keep you awake!): every new awakening, stretching you into new openness and vulnerability and humility—which feels really good—is followed by a new, slippery version of “I’m sound asleep just wearing different clothes” mechanism, in which one unconsciously steps away from one’s new found aliveness (it’s hard to stay present to the next arising moment) while imagining one is still open and present. All the types do this. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. It’s human. We learned it as kids to survive. Just need to know this is what happens in recovery. Our well-honed survival habits don’t disappear because we’ve had a few months (or few years) of opening our hearts. These are the survival habits that are doing push-ups in the parking lot while we attend another recovery meeting. Now you look like a person in recovery, you say the right lines, you take the right ‘recovery’ actions but you’ve managed to find a new form of ‘showing good recovery face’ and unconsciously drop back into a newly anesthetized, numb-my-real-life mode. This pattern is insidious, and unless you know of its existence you will succumb, and so many do. In fact, this habit of falling back asleep is the real addiction one is challenged to navigate and master. This fundamental principle applies: You grow, or you go.
A.H. Almass describes the very real power of the ego personality in these words:
“The personality will do anything in its power to preserve its identity and uphold its domain. This tendency – or, let’s say, this need – is so deep, so entrenched, so completely the fabric of our identity, that only the person who has gone a long way toward establishing the essential life will be able to apprehend and appreciate this. This need is in our flesh, blood, bones even our atoms. The power of the personality is so great, so immense, so deep, so subtle that the person who contends with it for a long time will have to give it its due respect. Its power is awesome. Its subtlety is unimaginable. Its intelligence is limitless.” (from Giving the Personality Its Due Respect, by A.H. Almass)
Protective Mechanism of the Nine—You will not affect me nor will you see meThe Nine’s protective mechanism is to not let life affect him, intrude upon him, or disturb his inner peace by not paying attention to what is disturbing. When in conflict he thinks about comforting things, he distracts himself with thoughts and images that don’t activate or disturb him. It’s as if everything slides past him, rather than landing and registering inside him. His safety depends on his ability to avoid being affected by events and people that evoke conflict—the dreaded ‘C’ word—so he retreats to an inner world we call his Inner Sanctum, a kind of internal cathedral consisting of all the impressions of experiences he’s collected that have soothed him, settled him down, made him feel at ease, or gracefully numbed him out. Having a difficult time with his wife, well, he’s got an internal repository of positive memories about her from those times when they were doing well, an inner video library that he can select from, like pulling a DVD from the historic library of his mind, he can, when needed, experience the ‘good’ wife whenever he wants to. Never mind the grouchy one!
The wife on the outside, in real life, might be a first-rate pain in the neck to him, but not to worry, he’s hanging out with his ‘inner’ wife and all is well. He so loves her, and hey, what conflicts are you talking about, we’re doing great, why would you possibly want to go to couples counseling, we’re good, he replies, while his ‘real’ wife glares at him, wanting contact with something real in him, wanting on some level to shake him awake. In fact, his real wife sometimes feels more imaginary to him than the one he’s constructed in his imagination. In place of his substance abuse he’s become addicted to his soothing imagination-impressions and now drinks them for solace. In time, after suffering many losses due this his habit of disappearing under stress, he will relapse for certain, as it is only a matter of time before real life cracks into his Inner Sanctum.
Tommy the T-bone—as counselor Dominic calls him—came to men’s group because his wife was demanding that he have one real, intimate conversation with her, or she was leaving him. This got his attention especially since this was his second marriage and he’d heard this ultimatum before. After nine months slip by in group, one of the men notices he hasn’t talked about this, or anything else of personal relevance, as in, “Tommy, what’s really going on in your life?” which Andrew, the gorilla-like Eight, asks, voice gruff, husky and piercing as in ’give me the straight talk and nothing less.’ You see Tony has that smooth-as-silk Nine skill of deflecting attention even with these experts of bullshit detection, so able to sit still as a stone and not be seen, his emotional house on fire but disassociated from while he hangs out in the basement of his awareness watching inner videos of The Walton’s. In this case it took nine months for these guys to notice him. Not bad amongst men whose bullshit detectors are faster than a speeding bullet.
Tommy replies, “Everything is great. Everything, really, really great,” a smile gleaming from his face, he looking like a joyful, innocent nine-year-old, no ill-intention to be found anywhere (who could get angry with that face!) while his eyes flicker subtle signals of trepidation (Uh oh, this guy is coming after me.). Pressed on the validity of his everything-is-great-life, he gives up a few secrets, hoping this offering will be enough to stop further interrogation, saying gingerly, “Well, she did call me a racist pig last week, but I know she was having a bad day.” A perky, non-convincing smile flickers back at the men, while the jaws of eight men simultaneously drop to the floor. And Andrew the Eight, his instinctual radar registering a fantastic lie, says firmly, “Tommy, what the hell kind of Kool-Aid are you drinking, bro? Something laced with Valium? Geez Louise, she called you a racist pig. Dude, she is freaking furious with you. That’s a slam dunk that says don’t even think of getting close to me. Does she have to grab you by the ball-sack to get your attention? She’s asking for a response, insulting you to see if there is any life in you, and you sit there like white bread, smiling back at her? That’s what you do with us, bro, exactly the same! It’s a really subtle way of saying F.U. while smiling back at us. It’s maddening!”
Andrew the Eight takes a breath, aware he’s getting amped up, lie-detecting-fury rising in his spine and now entering his fists which he’s unconsciously clenched, furious that he’s been duped for nine months, lulled to sleep by Tommy’s excellent snake-charming trick. He continues. “So, if things are so-o-o-o great, when was the last time you had sex?” Tony searches his memory banks, the pressure of the Type Eight bearing down on him like a laser, and replies, “Well, it’s been a month. She’s been having a hard time and I’ve been trying to not upset her more,” he says, boy-like innocence flickering in his eyes again. Meaning…at home he’s walking on eggshells so he’s not pushing the sex agenda and deftly dodging this reality by imagining that his avoidance is an act of kindness and peace, that he doesn’t want to cause his wife further suffering—when in fact he is freaking terrified. Andrew, now up on the edge of his seat, his eyes black bullets of truth and intensity, is not buying it and quickly responds to Tony’s bullshit-deflect-the-question-I’m-just-being-a-peaceful-and-loving-guy ploy. “I can’t feel an ounce of truth coming from you. You know that, don’t you? You probably haven’t had sex for 6 months, right?” Tony, a flush of embarrassment filling his cheeks with bright crimson, looks down at the floor. Bingo! He’s been read and found out, and sputters to explain himself. Shame cuts the air, thick and sorrowful and heavy, the shame-knife hanging from his heart. This is exactly what he tries to avoid so desperately, this sense that he has created conflict and disturbed the inner peace. God forbid!
Still on it and ramping up with intensity at discovering something false, Andrew the Eight says, “Okay, man, you came here because your wife demanded you have an intimate conversation with her. Remember, that’s what you told us. How’s that going?” his question sharp and bristling with impatience. Tony ponders a minute, head down, hands in his lap, and then starts in, “Well, she got furious the other day and I left the house. I got in the car and began to drive, and as I drove, I had a conversation with her. She spoke, I spoke, she spoke, I spoke, and 30 minutes later we’d resolved it. We were friends again,” he says, his eyes full of redemptive hope. Andrew looks back at him, face coiled in a question mark. “So, where was she during this conversation?” Tony perks up, “Oh, she was at home.” Andrew’s eyes magnify and darken, a dragon of disbelief flaring inside him, and says, “Dude, that does not qualify as an intimate conversation. That’s you in your damn imagination dreaming you had a conversation and mistaking it for real. No wonder you haven’t been laid in 6 months. Do you see that?”
Tony’s eyes fall again to the floor. He knows no better. Sober five years, people in recovery know him as a kind and decent man, which he is, he wouldn’t hurt a flea. What they are unaware of is just how often he lives in his Inner Sanctum, how he seamlessly and invisibly slips into this cave in the face of conflict, how he can put on a happy, puppy-dog face when he is terrified, or god forbid angry, and how distant he is from real contact with folks in recovery. He can recite the lines, he can do the steps, he can be a dutiful recovering alcoholic and please his sponsor, he can sponsor other men and at the same time, can totally not be home. I repeat: Not…be…home. As one Nine put it, the lights are on, but no one is home, and frankly I like it that way.
Andrew and the group members are visibly shocked at what they have witnessed, this vulnerable unveiling of Tony’s retreat pattern. With heart-filled compassion they ask how they can help him. Tony stands at a perilous ledge of transformation, with what feels like an alligator-filled-quarry waiting below him. His annihilation is certain. This is no opportunity but an encounter with death. He listens but can’t really reply, is so flustered, can’t find words—what were we talking about, I can’t remember—his mind fogged and details lost, the shame an iron hand tightening around his throat. Others sooth him, reminding him that this is an opportunity to see a pattern that keeps him closed off to others, that he is cared about, hang in there, man. At best, he mutters, “I just can’t express my anger. I feel so selfish when I do. I don’t want to upset anyone,” and his words trail off in a grief-hidden silence to some distant place of familiar despair. Group ends, and Tony leaves the room, sheepish yet cheerful. Man, he can pull cheerful out of nowhere.
And…he never returns to group.
In his Nine fashion he’s delivered the message, quietly and silently: “Do not mess with me.” The downside of not allowing life or people to affect you is that no one gets inside you and gets to know you, nor can help you, not even yourself. One remains a sort of invisible person, a wraith or phantom. If one always appears easy-going as Tony did, has no feathers that ruffle, appears to glide seamlessly around and under events, then what is seen is a constructed vehicle of no-response-peaceful-nothingness. You stay invisible to avoid conflict and your invisibility causes conflict. People get affected by your non-presence and in fact, your non-presence ruffles feathers in ways you don’t plan for and surely don’t want! Not to mention the war you create inside yourself, resisting your anger and your wish to show up in the world.
In addiction recovery, this Nine style is an important hurdle to be overcome. Here’s what happens for the Nine: they sit at meetings, never complaining, or reacting, or sharing their particular truth, and people think the Nine is doing fine and doesn’t need help. Underlying all of this is a fundamental childhood message that rules this quiescent behavior: It’s not okay to be seen, or to stand out. Better to stay invisible and unseen. Better to go along with other’s wishes, desires, and commands than to cause upset or turmoil for anyone, or do anything that might disturb their peace, or bring attention to oneself. You don’t really matter. Your presence doesn’t matter. With this message etched deeply into the Nine’s psyche, the idea of asking for help is fiercely dangerous. Better to appear to go along with others, to appear as if one is at peace with those around oneself, to appear as though you only need the slightest of help, if any. Appearing to be at ease with everything also fulfills the deeper desire of not being messed with or intruded upon. And why would anyone want to intrude on the Nine when they appear to be so peaceful and in agreement with those around him. No need for concern, all is well, better than well. They can be safely left alone and unattended to.
But what is the Type Nine feeling in early recovery? What’s on their insides? Many report a sense of deep anxiety, the sense that their comfortable world has dissolved and they are racing as fast and invisibly as they can to establish a new sense of inner stability, to feel as though they’ve got things back in place, that there is a routine to their life that is working, all the while projecting the image of being peaceful and at ease. And ironically, angry at those who are trying to get them to stop self-destructing, as in, “Why don’t they just leave me alone. I’m fine!” Talk about a high wire, balancing act. And yet here they are at AA or NA meeting or in a support group surrounded by grumpy, unpredictable recovering strangers who speak out, sometimes blunt as birth, sometimes crude and rough and threatening, mostly edgy and not peaceful, and the Nine is supposed to enter this dangerous chaos? Fat chance, dawg! More likely, instead of focusing on themselves and what they need to do to stay clean and sober, they are lying low not wanting to wake up a hornet’s nest in the room while they ruminate in their Inner Sanctum, dreaming about loved one’s at home, the son, the daughter, the girlfriend, the spouse. While their body is at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, they are with their family in their imagination, or chewing on comfortable thoughts like wouldn’t it be nice to drink as a diversion to feeling their anxiety.
It is a most difficult time. Discomfort crawling up and down their spine, their sense of safety and security severely threatened or destroyed, they put on the mask of “the calm one” while their insides freak out and the deep loss of disconnection with loved ones’ churns just outside the confines of their inner sanctum, trying to break into the delusion tunnel they are hiding themselves in. Internally they are a mess, a mess that does not want to reveal itself to self or other, that wants to reconstruct the peaceful façade immediately, both externally and internally. So, with survival instincts alive and well, nothing spontaneous is going to pour from them. No fast moves. They are working full-time to maintain a fabricated harmony. They are careful to stay in a low key, laid back, easy-does-it, just-out-of-sight framework so as to not wake up sleeping devils, even if those sleeping devils reside inside them and must be awakened for them to grow and survive. Stay calm, stay calm, make no waves, things will return to normal.
And yet they are sitting on a ready-to-erupt Mount Vesuvius, the peace that they have yearned for having come completely undone by their substance use. Their attempt at unifying with those they love via their imagination has utterly failed. In their mind they are running unity scripts, making plans, holding up the hope that they can return to their dissolved life and establish the unity they so long for without actually doing the recovery work—the 12 Steps, getting a sponsor or coach, letting themselves be seen, working with a therapist, uncovering internal dead bodies of suffering that they’ve numbed to sleep—and waking up their innate capacity and right to be here. Amid these scripts they can silently disappear from the room…quiet as a whisper.
Suggestions for the Nine in Recovery
1. You must learn to lean into conflict. Okay, let’s face it, this is last item on your Nine list of “Things I’d love to do in 2017.” As with all your fellow traveling Nines, you’ve mistakenly learned to pursue your true self, which is the very stuff of well-being, through avoiding anything that disturbs you or increases the intensity of your experience, and eventually retreating via substances into your safe cave. Avoiding conflict gives you the feeling that you’ve spared yourself discomfort, but truth is, avoidance insures that your connection with your aliveness is stilted, and stilting your aliveness is the very thing that will unconsciously call your addiction to you, like a vampire ghost. You stay stilted and in a safe range of emotional response, and one day your addiction will slither right into that deadness unseen, and next thing you know you will magnetically draw to your drug of choice and enter an old hypnotic movie theater that only plays replays of All the Good Times I Had in Drug Oblivion—minus the suffering.
2. You need the support of trusted friends to alert you to the very signs that indicate you are angry, or sad, or fearful. As many Nines say, “Trying to feel and locate my distinct feelings is like looking for a needle in a haystack. My feelings arise, and just as quickly disappear into some internal morass of fog.” Friends, sponsors, counselors can help you to begin to discern your feelings. Ask for help. Truth is, you’ve developed protective patterns that edit out your anger, edit out your right and need to have a voice, edit out any emotional responses that draw attention to you. In fact, you can speak angrily (your voice carries the anger, your body shows it clear as daylight) and not feel it. As in, “I’m not angry” while the rest of you growls like a fierce dog. Talk about disassociation. You need your friends to help you out of hiding, who teach you about the very camouflage you are hidden in, unbeknownst to yourself.
3. Start by finding your anger. This is at the top of your list. It is not unusual for Nines to report that anger is simply not a feeling they have much familiarity with, as in, “I haven’t felt or expressed anger for the past 15 years. It’s just not there.” That’s because you are practiced at turning away from these feelings as a means of surviving in an alien and sometimes mean-spirited world. Or when you start to experience it, it vanishes from your awareness so quickly you hardly notice it. So where to start. Ah yes, with those you trust who you’ve invited to let you know when your external manifestations show signs of anger. As in, “Bill from Calais, your body is showing sure signs of rage. Do you notice that you are growling, dude, like a cornered animal? Do you notice your fists are clinched and your face is tense and hard? Can you sense this in your body?” Find these friends.
4. Notice your belief that you are responsible for the peace of others. This means becoming conscious of the message your Inner Critic is piping into your stream of consciousness twenty-four-seven: “You’re good (or lovable) if you are at peace and those around you are at peace. If people are uneasy or disturbed, you’re responsible for calming them down. If you’re not at peace, you are not lovable and could be banned to an Iceberg in Antarctica.” What an impossible order. But this happens all the time in recovery. The Nine comes into recovery, is so skillful and attuned to the upset of others, that he does what he does best. He doesn’t dig down into the circumstances and suffering that brought him into recovery, not at first, but goes on ‘automatic pilot’ and begins being the soothing force of peace for others. That’s his habit, to sense the state of others and bring down the volume and tension around him. Which is what we love about him. But, as one teacher said to me, unless you learn to be an expert in asking for help, you will not be healthy enough to give away your gifts. You must come first, in the beginning.
5. Become particularly aware of how you unconsciously express your anger in passive-aggressive ways, such that you silently do things that irritate the hell out of people, and just can’t understand why they are enraged with you. I’m so peaceful, what is their problem. For instance, your spouse asks you to “Please pick up after yourself, you ever-loving slob” and you say, “Sure, hon, I got it.” And then, day after day, when confronted about the ever-growing mound of your clothes on the floor, with the kindest of hearts, and biggest puppy-dog eyes, you say, ‘I am so sorry. I’ll get to those straight away!’ And you don’t. These situations, if you inquire deeply within yourself, will show you where you might be holding onto some anger and deflecting it into stubborn-forgetfulness-I-hate-you-and-leaving-my-clothes-on-the-floor-works-best-to-piss-you-off.
6. Become mindful of your repetitious thoughts and fantasies. This is no easy feat, but so necessary to your ability to arise and enter your life. Thoughts and fantasies come in a variety of ways, but most important here is to notice what your stream-of-consciousness-fantasy-life-is, and how this habitual fantasy activity distracts you from being present, destroying your ability to experience your lived-in-the-moment life. Your Inner Sanctum, your Secret Garden is a comfortably-disguised-burial-ground-for-your-soul which devours your attention seamlessly such that your aliveness and your soul gets buried there—yes, you are held up as a prisoner imagining you are free—sipping Pina Coladas with little attention-quotient left to actually feel and sense the experience of you. This is life as a ghost, in case you were wondering. Reality Check: Do you make real effort to put your fantasized life into real actions?
7. Learn to sense your body. Because you are wired for having your attention stolen by your ruminating thoughts and your inner fantasy world, that is, your secret garden of cushy pleasantness where everything that instigates pleasure and calm is at the fingertips of your imagination, learning to sense your body and bring attention into your body is a survival skill that will actually free-up some of your ‘attention,’ pulling it away from the addiction-suck of your imagination machine. What’s this mean? Well, as you gain more attention and presence in your body you will start to more directly experience the living state of body—awake and alive or contracted and disassociating—and your feelings. You’ll begin to experience warning signs, and if particularly awake may say to yourself: “I’m disappearing from reality because it feels uncomfortable & unpredictable, yep, I can feel my body numbing as I begin to watch my pleasant inner video of Life’s Great and Beautiful in Here and This is Where I will Hide out for Eternity, or at Least Until the Storm Passes. Yes, it’s a long name for your inner video, so name your own. The point being that when you begin to feel the experience of your body numbing out and your mind going into bliss-mode-all-is-well-no-suffering-to-be-found-anywhere-in-my-universe you will have created enough awareness in yourself to be able to make a choice. While you feel the gravitational-siren-call to pull up the covers of your imagination and sleep, you can begin to choose to stay, and deal with life on life’s terms. Or you can ca-pluck yourself down into your favorite imagination river of peace and tranquility and numb out! But a choice will arise, and it’s great to have the choice. Recommendation: make it a practice to sense your body at least 10 minutes each morning, going thru each limb, hand, foot, trunk, face, mouth, jaw, eyes, just bringing attention to your body and noticing sensations arise of their own volition. Inhabit your body!
8. Become aware of how your deeper wishes and desires arise and vanish like the wind. That is, notice the wishes you have for self-expression or fulfillment, and how you have a built in ‘forgetter’ that makes it near impossible to remember what you have affection and desire for. As you begin to identify and lean into your passion (what you deeply care about), when registering it on your screen of perception several not-cheerful-traps await you. The first is the voice of your Inner Critic—the Balrog in Mines of Morea comes to mind—who will scream, threaten, and push you over the ledge of oblivion—whatever it takes, and says, “Who do you think you are for thinking you can do this? What gives you the right to do this? No one will care about what you do. It doesn’t even matter if you try. You are nobody special and should remain that way. Really, why bother?” Now if that doesn’t cheer you up such that you devote yourself to eating potato chips and watching reruns of Cheers or Seinfeld until you die of escapism-gluttony, I don’t know what will.
9. Become aware of your sloth! This symptom of your personality-machine-in-action often registers as ‘tiredness.’ You finally get excited about something, and it’s as if someone pulled the plug on your energy. Time for a nap. Time to withdraw. There you are in poppy fields with Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz falling fast asleep. This energy-suck is a trick of your Inner Critic—also known as The Big Snooze in the book You Are A Badass who, if he can’t discourage you by frontal attacks reminding you that you an idiot of the worst sort, simply drains your felt sense of energy and confidence out the backside of your soul. That is, he steals your will without ever raising his voice in insult. Observe the pattern: You start to get excited and take real action towards your chosen dream, followed by a strangely soothing loss of energy, or a mesmerizing loss of clarity about what you wanted. Everything gets blurry such that whatever direction you were feeling, is lost in the fog-scape of your mind and your parasitic-inertia. And, scarily it feels good to lose track, to drop into la-la land. You’ve just been drugged by your Inner Critic! Here’s where you need a coach to keep you on track.
10. Notice when you experience compassion and understanding for those you are interacting with while curiously forgetting to include yourself. Here’s a habit that will hold you in a trance of confusion and shock forever. You begin to notice that you are so automatically wired towards sympathizing and empathizing with others that in crisis all of your attention goes to the inner state and outer circumstances of the ‘other’ such that any grounds you have for experiencing personal feelings related to the negative actions of another upon you—such as personal shame, blame, hurt, judgment or, god forbid, betrayal—swoosh!—disappear! It’s as if you are observing someone else in a movie going through your suffering. You’ve vanished into the thin air of your hermetically sealed inner-chamber labeled ‘disassociated feelings,’ or ‘things-that-aren’t-really-happening-to-me-even-though-it-appears-that-someone-with-my-name-is-going-thru-them.’ Example: Tommy B. discovers that his wife, Mary from Topeka, has begun an affair with a friend of his. In the midst of feeling hurt and betrayed, his personality mechanism gives him a spiritual bypass, and instead of saying something like, “I’m going to pluck the eyeballs from the head of my so-called friend, Roving Jack of Des Moines, and my erring wife (like a hearty Four might do, at least verbally), Tommy B. says, “Well, I can see why my wife had an affair. She’s been lonely. I’ve held her back, and of course, she’s got childhood issues that play into this. As for my friend, well, he too must have needed someone to quell his loneliness.” When asked if he’s angry he replies, “No, not really. Well maybe a little. I don’t know, I can’t feel the anger. Just seems like there were good reasons for why this happened. I feel bad for them. I can feel their pain.” This is called being pathologically nice. As in, I’m so conditioned to modify and shape-shift my anger and hurt into a plate of understanding-for-all, that I cannot and do not have permission to say “I am shocked to the bone, feel no empathy for anyone at this moment, am both hurt and enraged, and it’s not pretty inside. I think I want to kill something.” That is, the Nine’s direct experience of rage gets instantly lost in the role of Mr. Rogers-on-steroids soothing the waters around him ‘as if he wasn’t in the actual experience of being betrayed,’ as if he weren’t a participant.
11. Attempt to work against your inertia that disconnects you from your passion. Choose one of your passions and notice how quickly is moves to the background of your awareness. Choose it. Name it. Decide you are going after it. Let a coach, friend or therapist know what your goal is, and create a clear set of steps for reaching it. Let’s say you’ve chosen to write a book. Create a start date. Write all of this down. Place it on a wall near your writing space. Begin. And watch. First day of writing goes well and you feel inspiration and flow. You think, “This is going to be easy.” Day two arrives, and the passion is gone. Or you can’t remember specifically what your goal was. Or you magically find yourself transported to the shopping mall to buy socks, underwear, blueberries, something! And you remember, oh yes, that writing project. Then five days roll by because the fog amnesia, the fog of anti-passion energy, owns you. Well, the good news is you’ve written it down somewhere. Find it. Start again. Then, start again. And, start again. That’s the drill.
12. Keep your commitments visually available so that when the mind-drift of nothing-really-matters-it-feels-so-soothing-to-rest-in-this-nonmotivated-nothingness-that-I could-die-here-peacefully hits you at least remember to look on your wall-of-forsaken-passions to remind yourself before you totally sink into the slip-stream of my-passion-doesn’t-exist, it was only a passing thought, never mind. Believe me, it happens so magically that a year later you come to the surface and realize, oh, geez, something completely stole my attention and put my passion to sleep. This dynamic, if not handled, will lead you to the emptiness that calls your addiction to you like stampeding horses. It’s shocking to realize that it feels good to disconnect from the real expression of your passion and your dreams and that you must develop the will to work against this energy of death. Just saying.
13. Lean away from your instinct to accommodate the wishes of others to keep the peace. This is the Wake-Up call for the Nine, as in “I say yes when I mean no. I say yes when I don’t know what I want. I agree pathologically, smile as if I agree, and don’t notice the wrenching feeling of self-abandonment in the pit of my stomach, or the volcanic rage simmering in my depths for self-abandoning me most of my life.” Dip your toes into the waters of conflict, slowly but surely. You will discover that you can tolerate it, and learn to navigate conflict skillfully, one inch at a time. Easy does it but do it!
So beloved Type Nine, you are on a journey of discovery. Let me end with these wise words of A.H. Almas:
“Your conflicts, all the difficult things, the problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are actually yours. They are specifically yours, designed specifically for you by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. You are not going to go in the right direction unless there is something pricking you in the side, telling you, “Look here! This way!” The part of you loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It will go to extreme measures to wake you up, it will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That is its purpose. How much suffering, how much difficulty it brings us is immaterial in relation to the fulfillment and satisfaction you will have when you actually struggle and see the fruits of the struggle.” (Diamond Heart Book One, p. 140.)
That said, I do believe you are ready to rock n’ roll your way down the aisle of recovery. Yes, there will be bumps, but they will be good bumps. And besides, although playing the most difficult game in town, you can rest assured that it is the one game truly worth playing. The benefits, well, you shall see. As one recovering man said, “You can’t even begin to imagine the gifts that will come from your labors because you’ve never thought of them or perceived them. So, hang on thru the dark times, because every journey of endarkenment is followed by equal enlightenment.”