On Habits and Healing

I listen to a weekly podcast called Typology. During these podcasts, author, therapist, and pastor Ian Cron talks with people about what it’s like to live fully in the knowledge of their Enneagram number. These conversations fascinate me.

Listening in on someone discovering and coming to terms with who God really made them to be, faults and all, is riveting to me. I love listening because I have been in a 12-step program for 10 years now that challenges me to do the same – learn about myself and let go of the things that no longer serve me. During this decade of meetings and conversations with my sponsor I have been able to make some forward progress on rooting out that which hinders my growth, understanding, and ability to love myself and others.

Sometimes I think about those ten years and wish they would have been different. That my growth would have been faster. That instead of seeing a trail of slime as I inched along the road to recovery I would see the hurdles I was able to clear as I sprinted around the track. It has most certainly not been a sprint, it has very much been a slimy inch by inch improvement and sometimes a retreat into my shell because the pain of growth was far too much to bear.

The current season of my life is eye opening for me. I am at a place on my recovery journey that I am able to take a good hard look at some of the strategies I’ve used to protect myself for a long time, some of them my whole life, that no longer serve me well. Knowing my own Enneagram number has helped me immensely in this process. I am a 6: one who is as prone to loyalty as I am to anxiety. Learning this about myself has provided me a different lens with which to view myself, to give myself a little more grace over my anxious personality and what I do to try to finagle security in a world of uncertainty. While this lens has come with great freedom it has also come with great grief.

Looking at the ways I have kept the people closest to me at arms length or decisions I made out of fear is not for the faint of heart. I’ve given these defects, these faults, these defense mechanisms a lot of thought lately. And I’ve shed more than a few tears over things I wished I could go back and do differently. I’ve slightly acknowledged that this season may be causing me some grief, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I am truly happy, joyful even, to be given the opportunity to learn and grow and make living amends. So why all the tears?

Because grief.

“Grief is a profound emotion. A sense of oh my gosh, I have been stuck in this repeating, repetitious, pattern of personality, and it has never given me-this strategy- has never actually helped me obtain what I really wanted-which was love. Which was to be seen. Which was to be valued for who I am,” says Ian Cron to one of his podcast guests.

Cron goes on, “ This [strategy] doesn’t actually work and you feel stupid, and ashamed, and grief stricken.” The strategy he is referring to is the strategy that is your go-to. What do you do 99% of the time when you’re stressed, when you have to make a decision, when you’re dealing with a difficult person and you want to be seen, hear, and acknowledged?

Anxiety. Anxiety is my strategy of habit. And I have come to the point that I know this strategy no longer serves me in the way that it once did. It used to keep me safe, secure, distant from danger. Today anxiety keeps me stuck, frozen, unable to make a decision that would truly reflect my beliefs. And I am grief-stricken over it. I desperately want to cling to that which has worked for me for years. And at the same time I can’t. I know better now, so it’s time to do better.

This doesn’t mean blowing through the grief of this realization. Cron also says, “Every [Enneagram] type feels it if it’s really doing its work,” and one, “should stay in that space until it’s [grief] is done with you.”

I’m in it. I’m feeling it. The people at my house see it leaking out of my eyes at the most random moments. I believe it’s really doing its work because sitting in this grief of letting go feels strangely good. Not in a fatalistic kind of way, more of a burn it down kind of way. A purification of sorts.

The emotional healing hurts, sometimes more than physical hurts. As a person who has had a number of organs removed I can tell you, healing from the cutting out of long held strategies for living hurts a lot worse than the removal of organs. The past few weeks I have walked around with a familiar pain in my chest. It’s a pain that constricts my heart and shortens my breath. It is most often the signal I receive when I am experiencing anxiety and danger is near.

Today, however, that pain most often means I’m getting it right; that I am doing hard things, telling the truth, and sticking up for myself. The anxiety is still there, doing new things does in fact make me anxious. The uncertainty that comes with new is uncomfortable, but the results I can’t deny.

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