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 Naylor insertbackwater 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 must breathe fire to protect himself.
Working with the Eight: the Type Eight is often unaware of how his intense presence affects others. He frequently has an underlying belief that you should be able to handle whatever he puts out, or you’re a wimp and not worth his time. That said, he actually doesn’t get how he easily intimidates others, thus making it difficult for others to trust him or get close to him. Courageously mirror for him just how he shows up, how he viscerally affects others, intimidates or scares them, perhaps noting when he speaks too loudly, or takes on a body posture that says, “I am going to kick your ass,” without even realizing it. Courageously see and be with him.
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.
Deep Wound/Relapse Pattern of the Type Eight—feeling disconnected from his true strength and innocence which he compensates for with rage and intensity. Key Commandment—You must be in control and in charge or others will hurt you and take advantage of you. Deep Wish—to be strong, in deep contact with his heart, to embrace life with power and aliveness. To reconnect with his innocence. He sees himself—as powerful, strong, real, alive, passionate, decisive and capable. At Level 4 and below—he falls prey to the Emotional Habit of Lust in which he compensates for his broken heart by being intense, aggressive, habitually getting too expansive, and using too much force. Add to this his Mental Habit of Objectification in which he sees people as objects without feelings to be utilized and pushed around for his purposes, to do his will. His Inner Critic tells him that he is good and lovable when he’s in charge of whatever situation he finds himself in, if he isn’t affected by those around him, and stays self-reliant at all costs. He must be the protector and boss.
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.