On Saturday, a friend in recovery invited me to a talk about the Enneagram of personality. While the talk itself didn’t center on addiction, at least three of maybe 12 women in the room were in recovery. One of them asked the following: “Are there certain personality types that are more prone to addiction?”
I liked the speaker’s answer. It was as gratuitously nuanced as I would hope from from a fellow four: Yes. No. Both. Everything. Does that make sense?
In a bit more (gratuitous) detail, here’s what she said: different types are addicts for different reasons. Fours, for example, are often melancholic and lonely; when you feel everything deeply, escape begins to seem like a good option rather quickly. In contrast, eights, who detest feeling vulnerable, might use substance as a means of putting up (or breaking down) walls. Ones might drink out of unexpressed anger, in response to a world (or a self) that consistently fails them. So, in short, no: your “type” does not make you an addict, but it can help to explain how and why substance pulls at you.
It’s often (and accurately) said in recovery that everyone must reach their own bottom. And if each type is uniquely pulled towards substance, so they are uniquely pulled towards recovery. As much as I prefer a world in which I can assess other people's reasons for recovery - are the reasons good enough? Will they stick? - that's a fantasy. For example, I always privately wince when someone in a meeting says that they got sober for others. But for certain types - twos, for example - others may be the most powerful motivator there is. (I don't pretend to understand that.)
Prior to this Enneagram talk, I had never heard another person so precisely articulate my own reasons for recovery. As it turns out, my bottom was very four. Although external events marked the tipping point, it was the progressive sense of fraudulence which brought me there. While drinking, I was inauthentic. I blended in. While drinking, I was relaxed - often bordering on apathetic - in situations that I would now avoid like the plague. (And honestly, I might just take the plague.) My obsession with being “true to myself” - which at times has been unhealthy, bordering on egomaniacal - was my saving grace. In a moment of crisis, my authentic self sent up a smoke signal: Hey! I'm lost over here.
Although you wouldn’t know it, I’m typically hesitant to discuss the Enneagram in my posts. One reason is that I haven’t read quite enough of it. But another, more important reason is that the Enneagram doesn’t totally work with my worldview, and I suspect it challenges many of yours, too. It seems unlikely that there are actually “nine types of people.” (And yes, I understand this is reductionistic; I know about fluidity between types and the prerogative to be all types, or to live in another typeness, but still. Why nine?) Do these types hang together like psychological constructs when put to the statistical test? Have we gained information about ourselves, or simply gone cherry picking?
This isn’t a conflict that particularly needs resolution. As a four, I might even suggest that we put that conflict on anabolic steroids and give it time to bulk up. In the meantime, if the Enneagram reflects even a partial truth about the world, then we know there are at least nine reasons to drink alcoholically. And if there are nine reasons to drink, there are nine equally strong reasons to get sober. And if nine ways of being is actually more like a thousand, or more like eight billion - well then, what does that mean about the number of reasons for recovery?