Suggestions for the Nine in Recovery
- 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 of 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 drawn 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.
- 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.
- 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 you’re fists are clinched and your face is tense and hard? Can you sense this in your body?” Find these friends.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 actually make real effort to put your fantasized life into real actions?
- 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 actually 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 in reality 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!
- Become aware of how your deeper wishes and desires arise and vanish like the wind. That is, begin to 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 a number of 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 you 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.
- 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.
- 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. Almass:
“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.”