This abbreviated life story from my forthcoming book with C.J. Fitzsimons is condensed from an interview with an Enneagram Eight. In the book there will be eighteen life stories, two for each Enneagram style.
I can remember the exact date of what was probably my biggest transformational experience. It was gut-wrenching! I recognized I could no longer live the way I’d been living with the man I was married to. That relationship was so incongruent with who I was and what I believed. It had been impossible for me to sort out what was me and what was internalization of other peoples’ expectations, not conscious, I didn’t say, Well, this is what they expect so this is what I’ll do, even though I don’t want to. But when this shift occurred, those others’ shoulds and rules for my life were blown out of the water. Gone. And it scared the shit out of me! Yet I’ve got to tell you, somewhere in there was exhilaration. This is transformation – profound moments in my life, actual events where I came out the other side.
When I was sixteen year old, standing buck naked in the shower with my friend at the Y, she asked me, “What do you really wish for?” And I said, “I just hope my life isn’t too easy.” I guess I was thinking, I want to wrestle, I want to engage, I want it to be real, I don’t want it to be all warm and fuzzy. I want to be who I am without apology! I also want to be able to acknowledge my own shit and I not hide it from others, but sometimes I’m less successful than others – it’s part of my history to hide it from myself. This can be bad if I’m being hyper-responsible – which I tend to do – because then I’m the fixer, I’ll take care of it. And tied to this willingness to acknowledge my own shit is the tendency to go too far, taking on too much, and then that becomes a burden.
My current husband is sometimes baffled, I think, because he’s seeing a different person than the woman he married. I’m baffled, too, except I’m moving into this new place of comfort that feels like I’m getting down to the core. When I divorced my first husband to marry my current husband, my mother stopped speaking to me, and my father followed suit. After three years I found out my dad had a heart attack, and there was a shift from, Well, OK, this is the way they want it, to Fuck what they want! I’m not playing by their rules anymore! I called immediately, and we were there that day. Mom was a bitch with a capital B for months, but it finally warmed up. Here’s the way I’m different. Before, she never hugged me, I wouldn’t hug her. She wouldn’t tell me she loved me, I’d never tell her I loved her. Now that’s over: I hug her, I tell her I love her. And she’s changed. This last time when my husband and I went on vacation and they were nearby, she could not keep her hands off of me! I talked to her on the phone last night, and at the end I said, “I love you.” And she said, “Oh, I love you, too.”
I’ve always had people who helped me along the way. In childhood my Dad was a great dad for a little kid – playful, active, doing cartwheels, handstands, very physical, fun and funny, and then in my teens I was turned over to my mother. I remember telling her I felt I was falling apart and she said, “Well, now I suppose you’re going to tell me you need a psychiatrist!” You know what I did? I said, “I don’t need anything,” and shut it all down. But I had a surrogate family, the family of my best friend – who’s still my best friend in the whole world. I lived with her family and they loved me unconditionally.
I’ve had little success with therapists – most likely because I’d bought the message I don’t need anything to the point of It’s not O.K. for me to get help. I did finally find help with one psychologist, but before that it was just an intellectual exercise.
I go on long walks and my preparation beforehand is, Whatever I draw to me, I’ll take it in. On one of these walks I had an encounter with a Red Fox. It was truly awesome! I was leaving a meadow heading into the woods, and there before me was this creature, just a few feet away, and I thought, Is that a dog? Oh, fuck! It’s a red fox! This is really hard to put into words, but we looked at each other for an endless amount of time and there was no fear. Then as soon as I became self-conscious, she turned and walked away. Did I make this up? I don’t even care!
That same kind of opening, that same receptive state I also use in my meditation. I see steps made of stone that take me into a pool where I submerge myself, and then I go farther down through what looks like a storm sewer, but I end up in a place where I’m floating or flying. And that’s an energizing piece, because that little seed or whatever comes out, goes above me, catches all the energy that’s in the universe then goes back into me. In the next stage there’s this vortex and an androgynous person named Paul. Boy this sounds crazy! This is anonymous, right? Well, he is constantly there – he, she, it – and we have dialogue. He never, ever, ever, ever tells me what to do. He just asks the right questions.
I’ve kept a diary since I was ten years old. And drawing helps. As a child, even, I’d go up to my room, close my door, lock it, get my pencils and paper out, and draw scenes. The other thing I’ve always done is get into my body – walk, run, feel the burn, treadmill, swimming, those kinds of things. I like a book called Sweat Your Prayers.
If I feel threatened I withdraw. Maybe it’s the Eight disintegrating to Five, but there are times in my marriage where we will have a disagreement and I get angry, then I get hurt, then I go away. It’s not conscious; I don’t say to myself, I’m going to withdraw. I fucking disintegrate! That’s what it feels like! My thoughts are gone, I’m in little pieces, feeling, That’s enough, go away, stop, I am gone, I am out of here. So I don’t want to paint myself as some paragon. Heaven forbid!
When I feel defensive – when I’m trying to defend my ego – I get in my own way. This occurs when I feel attacked by someone really important to me. You know, there are other people who can attack me and I’ll turn it right back on them, or let them know how little their opinion means to me. But when I’m conscious of how I might be harmed, that’s when the armor goes up. It doesn’t let anything out and it doesn’t let anything in.
Do you know the book, The Soul’s Code, by James Hillman? The premise is that you come into the world with a soul, a core that’s solid, real, warm, and all this light resonates from it. What appeals to me about this metaphor is that oftentimes when we think about spirituality it’s kind of a coming up and going out. This is not. This is going in and going down, and that really resonates with me. I’m being drawn down, and yet it’s not ever a place I’ll reach because it’s never-ending. The other thing I know is that it’s always been with me.
The only advice for other Eights that comes to mind is something I think is pretty commonly known. And that would be, When you’re in it, stay in it. Don’t push it away. Don’t leave. Stay there. You may find it’s not what you thought it might be. I was working with my therapist on a dream where I was really terrified, running down this hall, and behind me creepy-crawly things were after me. And I got to this door thinking, Don’t open the door! Oh, God, don’t open the door! I opened the door, and you know what was there? It was a little Jack-in-the-Box. It came out and went Boinggg, and I said, You’re kidding! It had a really ugly face, but I was like, And…? So that’s what I mean, don’t waste your energy wrestling things to the ground, because you may not need to. Stay with it. And just have courage.
Mary Bast, PhD, coach and coach mentor, is co-author of the first Enneagram coaching book – Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram – and author of several coaching workbooks. More information at www.breakoutofthebox.com.