The Ongoing Shocks of Recovery—Embracing the Shadow

Recovery for the Four truly begins when he sees he has erroneously imagined himself being  sensitive, compassionate, and emotionally honest while under the influence of his addiction—when his real behavior has been self-absorbed, hateful, and self-centered (Level 6 and 7 behavior). As he stays clean and sober, he witnesses the countless unconscious lies he’s told himself. Where he imagined he was sensitive, he sees self-absorbed, self-pitying behavior. Where he dreamed himself creative, he sees work that was never started or completed. Where he thought he was emotionally honest, he sees that he used friends to dump his feelings. Dreaming himself empathic and kind, he sees the many times he was cruel, mean-spirited, and judgmental, often in the name of emotional honesty.

This is the process of being stripped of one’s delusions (and it will recur throughout one’s recovery). As he sees his real behaviors revealed, remorse and humiliation will drop him to his knees. It is then that he must not flee but sit with the feelings, resist attacking himself with self-hatred, allow others to support, guide and empower him to walk through the fire of self-revelation. He has walked through the first door of freedom and angels greet him amidst the storm of insights that are hitting him hard and fast.                                                                                                 The process of deepening one’s contact with one’s heart, with one’s body, with quiet mind, will entail learning at deeper and deeper levels, how one’s actions do not match one’s imagined idealized self, confessing and groaning out loud that one has discovered another level of illusion. “It is possible…not another illusion!” And at each discovery, if compassion ensues rather than self-hatred, what arises for the Four is a deeper sensitivity to his heart, and the heart’s of others, a deepened capacity to sense and experience beauty wherever he sets his eyes, and a felt sense of his significance.

Beyond Early Recovery: Journey Down the Strata

Thomas, a Type Four, explains the paradox and sometimes confusing territory of the recovery journey down the Strata:

“When I came into recovery, I was so grateful to be sober and clean. Slowly but surely my life began to get on track, my work evolved, I got married, and started to create a life. What was perplexing to me is that every several years the feeling of being insignificant and having no identity would arise in me. At first I didn’t really notice it distinctly because I was accustomed to dodging it by getting into creative action, trying hard to build a new sense of unique identity through my work or in how I presented myself to the world. Or I’d just feel a stark emptiness that freaked me out—like I was absolutely nobody, I virtually couldn’t remember any of my gifts—and suddenly I’d be having all sorts of mood swings, angst, feelings of intense envy of others, emotional touchiness and reactivity, and overwhelming despair. Each time this cycle occurred I discovered that I had to find answers, deeper insights because I was feeling intense pain. I needed more specific support for engaging myself at deeper emotional and psychological levels of awareness. Sometimes it meant doing body work, sometimes trying a new spiritual practice, sometimes opening up to deeper sorrow, so that the arising of my core fears of insignificance always sent me on a journey that was very positive in the long run. At year thirty of my sobriety I was overwhelmed with the feeling of utter insignificance in the face of everything in my life going well. Logically it didn’t make sense. How could things be going so well but myself in terrible, heartbreaking suffering. Fortunately I had wise counsel who encouraged me to sit with the feelings, to allow myself to embrace them at depth, to feel through them, to not try to divert them into some new identity project. This was incredibly hard because I felt such emptiness, such heart-breaking sadness, touching into the terrible loss of real contact with my father at a little boy. I was filled with utter rejection, with the horrific sense that dad could not see me or really be with me. I would die here it was so painful. I’d felt aspects of this throughout my inner journey but here, I felt in completely and utterly, and wailed from the depths of my being for my father. And then, over three years, very slowly the feelings shifted from utter insignificance to joyful openness, to feeling my heart filled with light and love, to an unshakeable and delightful sense of knowing myself at depth, but with no self-image attached to it. Utterly miraculous! The emptiness I felt was replaced with a sense of inner solidity. I existed, I felt my fullness of my being, the innate aliveness of my soul. Never would I have imagined things getting more poignantly painful thirty years into recovery, and never could I have imagined the depth of joy, love and satisfaction that followed.”

Journeying down the strata for Thomas meant slowly but surely passing through his core fears, his emotional suffering of envy, his sense of being utterly nothing, a nobody, triggered by his father’s inability to be present for him. To experience this directly and not act out or stuff it where it would fester as depression or unnamed sorrow, required a great deal of presence, the capacity to bear this suffering without falling into the reactivity of his type, and strong and wise support from those who have traveled down this path.


Michael Naylor, M.Ed, CCPC, LADC, CCS, is a faculty member of the Enneagram Institute, a Certified Professional Coach, an Authorized Riso-Hudson Enneagram Teacher, and IEA accredited teacher, and a Licensed Addictions Therapist. He teaches in the U.S.A and coaches internationally.