Lessons I’m Trying To Learn: Life Won’t End If I Don’t Get Dopamine

This is part of Fire! Ready! Aim! Series: Essays on Lessons Learned by an Enneagram Social 8w7

The vice of an Eight is lust, or what Richard Rohr would call intensity. The ego tries to force life into feeling real and alive again and looks for any opportunity to do that. The vice of the Seven is gluttony and the belief that more is always better. Let’s just say I relate to both a lot. I am always looking for more and more opportunities to feel alive. I love organizing trips, parties and find it really difficult to sit down and read by myself.

It’s difficult to explain to anyone else, but the focus and energy that I long for is something that I learned early on in life that was a good thing for me, despite how detrimental that might be to my own emotional growth. I have worked on trying to regulate that energy towards good and I feel like in most aspects of my life I have got it under control. A lot of the businesses I’ve helped start, events I’ve helped run and trips around the world I’ve taken are a result of me being able to harness that energy towards benefiting the broader group.

That said, there is still this outlier in my life that creeps in and takes over at times and I have to reel myself back in. It’s a steady source of dopamine and hits all the right buttons when it comes to wanting justice in the world. That is the world of writing for the public.

I remember the first time I got this overwhelming feeling that I was doing the right thing because of the words that I was writing on the internet. It was in May 2006 and I had written a scathing review about a “revival” that was happening at my home church in Sarnia. I hadn’t really used my blog to be so public before but this was a situation that just had to be confronted. Families were falling apart, leaders were manipulating, the hype was overriding love and many people that I respected were getting caught up in cultish behaviour. The response to my post was, for 22-year-old Nathan, something that I will never forget. I found myself in the middle of a whirlwind of hundreds of people either mad at me or proud of me and days of conversations discussing the validity of such a spectacle. I felt like I was doing the right thing, that I had touched a nerve and that I was helping expose something that would have long term effects. What I didn’t pay attention to though was what it had set me up for moving forward.

I realized in those moments that writing (what I believed to be) truth publicly and was giving me all the feelings of being alive and real. When you mix that with social media, and you start to see the comments and the engagement multiply, it’s a perfect way to validate an 8w7. I carried those habits, as many of you know, right up until the present. Whether it be organizing a protest and resistance to George Bush speaking at a fundraiser at our old Chrisitan school, or writing pieces on how our local member of parliament has a dangerous ideology, running a counter-conference to Mark Driscoll’s Act Like Men event, or picking apart a local pastor’s sermon on the ‘gay agenda,’ or challenging the Sarnia mayor’s actions and spending – I have found myself in controversy after controversy. When I reflect back, stretching across the last fourteen years of situations, while I have some pride in what I’ve done, the one thing that stands out to me is how much these types of situations have defined “realness” for me.

I can catch myself now if I’m reading the news (especially local) feeling the rise in my body when there is something that is happening ‘out there’ that I feel the need to respond to. I get this overwhelming sense of needing to say something to confront the ridiculousness of whatever is happening. The positive feedback loop of comments and dialogue is self-reinforcing and I get lost in a whirlwind of managing my social media accounts for a day. And those days I am on high alert. I’m focused. I have a clear purpose. I am not bored. I feel fulfilled and alive again. Something inside of me is screaming “This is real, this is important, this is why you are alive!” 

The lesson in front of me, which has been difficult especially since becoming a city councillor, has been to learn that the times in between those exciting situations aren’t something to avoid. Life isn’t going to end just because I don’t get a hit of controversy and a new chance to speak truth that day. Who I am is not determined by those moments of intensity but rather all the moments in between; and if I spend those moments obsessed with the next intense moment, I will have squandered my life.

Further to that, I am learning that the more I align myself with the idea that I am important, that I can change things and that I need to be there — the more I start to feed into a false sense of self; that the right thing wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t there. This is the beginning of a messiah complex where I keep telling myself “if I don’t do it, then it won’t happen, and it has to happen.” What a harmful cycle of ego and control that gets me going down. When I am in that cycle, I cannot have an honest view of the world around me. Rather than being able to detach from the outcome and move forward in peace, I end up having to beef up my controlling behaviours and wrongly associate good outcomes with my own participation.

So I am learning, albeit slowly, that the world can go on without me and that there is plenty of goodness to align myself to without being the center of attention.  That on the days where I’m not getting my hits of dopamine, that I am most likely to find the peace and grace that I am chasing if I allow it.

“Because Eights fear that they will be destroyed, they overdo everything to make themselves feel alive—even overdoing things that are harmful to themselves. This often leads to tremendous pain for themselves and those they love. . . .when Eights give up their own willfulness, they discover the Divine Will. Instead of trying to have power through the assertion of their egos, they align themselves with Divine Power. . . .Eights also remember the omnipotence and strength that comes from being a part of the Divine reality. The Divine will is not the same as willfulness. As Eights understand this, they end their war with the world and discover that the solidity, power, and independence that they have been seeking are already here.” 

Richard Rohr paraphrasing Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types

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