“…our lives had become unmanageable.”

The busyness of our lives keeps us believing that we are in control, that we are managing just fine. And no doubt there are some things we are handling: Meals are cooked. We haven’t missed many days of work. We’re on top of the bills too, maybe. But we aren’t peaceful. What’s wrong?

For many of us, our incessant thinking, running, doing, is what’s wrong. We are on a treadmill of activity that passes for good management. We are desperate to show other people that we are just fine. In reality, we are being managed by our obsession to stay busy. If we are busy, our lives don’t seem so close to falling apart.

What a gift this program is offering us! We can get off the treadmill. We can slow our thoughts to a more natural pace. We can prioritize the things we must do today. We can follow the example of others who understand our obsession.

I will quietly go about my life today. Doing one thing peacefully is enough to accomplish.

Today’s reading is from the book A Life of My Own: Meditations on Hope and Acceptance*

*Meditations can be specific, but themes are universal: apply as needed on your personal journey.

How do I get a sponsor?

People in our fellowship often ask this. Below is information taken from CoDA to guide us. Find more details at CoDA.org under the Outreach section.

Traditional Sponsorship

The place to begin the search for a sponsor is often in your home group or local meetings. Some meetings offer a list of CoDA members willing to be sponsors (but many members who are eager and qualified to be sponsors are not on the list). Over a period of time we listen to these people when they share, perhaps spending some time with them after the meetings. It may take time to get to know someone well enough to consider them for a sponsor. It is important to remember that no sponsor is “perfect”, as our program teaches us that all people are “perfectly imperfect” human beings.

We may find ourselves in a group in which there are no members willing or able to sponsor. In this case we can travel to another CoDA group in the area or perhaps a regional CoDA event. Other options are to attend a phone or online meeting and try to find someone there with whom you identify.

Co-sponsoring (adapted from Sponsorship Booklet)

Co-sponsoring occurs when two CoDA members sponsor each other. Co-sponsors meet or call regularly to share what they are learning about the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. They share experience, strength, and hope equally, growing in their own way and at their own pace.

As in all sponsor relationships, the recovery goal in CoDA co-sponsorship is to have a mutually beneficial relationship. Working the Steps, changing our behavior, and growing spiritually frees us from advising, controlling, and rescuing.

Co-sponsors may choose to have another CoDA member guide them, especially through difficult situations or when they get stuck.  Sometimes co-sponsorship is a good model for sponsorship when utilized in conjunction with a Step-Study Group.

Step Study Groups (adapted from The Meeting Handbook)

Step Study groups are groups of codependents working through the Twelve Steps (and often the Twelve Traditions) in a structured format, usually outside of a regular meeting. Step Study groups often have the same objectives as co-sponsors, but with more people, and members often make contact outside the group. Please see the Step Study Group section of the ORG for information and details on starting a Step Study Group. It is recommended that members do have sponsors outside of the Step Study Group, but the group work often inspires the desire to “go to all lengths” to find a sponsor.

Temporary Sponsor  (adapted from Sponsorship Booklet)

One way to become comfortable with a sponsor is to investigate temporary sponsorship. Often the time period for such an arrangement is left open-ended. We might want to commit to being sponsors for a couple of months and then re-evaluate the relationship.

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT: A final resource is the Outreach sponsorship workgroup. If you have tried all of the above options -or cannot- please email the workgroup at sponsorship@coda.org for more information.

Trauma Informed Recovery

By Terrie C.

trauma informed recovery, Tara Brach quote, CoDA program, co-dependency

Knowing it is not
our fault affects how we show up in the world. 
Self-forgiveness makes us
more responsible,
more able to respond wisely to our own strong emotions.

~Tara Brach

Twelve step recovery has helped to save my life. I have attended many different flavors of it and find CoDA to be the best fit. Years ago, I learned about family systems. It was very enlightening to know how my family affected what I believed and how I behaved. I began breaking those family rules to become healthy.

In the CoDA Welcome it speaks of coming from dysfunctional families, moderately and sometimes extremely. It also speaks of powerful addictions many of us have to cope with that, and names it as trauma. My family was in the “extremely” category and shame ran the show. I am a survivor of incest and was diagnosed years ago with Complex, Chronic PTSD. In 2017, I began with a new therapist who is a Ph.D. psychologist and also a neuroscientist. He began teaching me more about trauma. This knowledge has advanced my understanding of myself and my behavior radically.

One of the things that I love about 12 step work is that it gives permission to take what we like and leave the rest. It gives permission to have a Higher Power of our own understanding. For much of my life, since early education, I have been a nerd and loved science. I went into a medical field that continually changed as more knowledge was gained through rigorous research. Since working with a therapist who specializes in the science of trauma, it has been another life-changing period.

When I began in 2017, I had lived most of my life not feeling safe but wanting to and told the therapist that I wanted to get better resilience so that I would not be reacting in fear so much. His teaching was about how the body is affected by trauma and that, by certain practices, we can heal the body. Trauma is a physical dis-ease. Trauma is healed from the bottom up, and not so much from the top down, although that is also a part of healing. What is missing in 12 step recovery and CoDA is the huge wealth of trauma healing practices that have been emerging especially in the last two decades.

What I hope to do here is inspire you to learn more about trauma, as it is a way of unhooking ourselves from the shame we experienced in our early life. There is a link between shame and blame, and also shame and rage. I know many of you may already be doing trauma work. We can all benefit from talking about it more. Bessel Van der Kolk is a medical doctor, and trauma survivor who has done leading edge scientific investigation of trauma. In his book, THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE, he says that for a survivor of trauma silence = death. In my family keeping the secret was the only way to survive. When I began talking about incest and chemical abuse in my family, they disowned me. In order to save my own life, I had to follow a recovery path.

To survive, people who have been traumatized are conditioned to stay stuck in their sympathetic nervous systems. (Fight, Flight, Freeze.) Stephen Porges Ph.D. is a scientist who has done much research on healing using breathing to get ourselves out of this cycle. When we are no longer in danger our bodies are supposed to return to parasympathetic nervous system.  Parasympathetic is also called the REST and RESTORE phase. When growing up in traumatic homes, our bodies develop something called “KINDLING” where it began to take less and less of a trauma for our bodies to have a large physical response. Sympathetic and parasympathetic make up the Autonomic Nervous System. They are supposed to work like a teeter totter, when one is up the other is down, but in trauma response the sympathetic is stuck on. Our breathing is a way to train our body to relax and begin to be in parasympathetic nervous system that rests and restores us.

Meditation that focuses on breathing regulation with shorter inhale and longer exhale resets our body to a calm state. What I learned about myself is that I probably never breathed right. My breathing was ragged, short, shallow breaths. Breath regulation training has really helped to calm me. It is simple but not easy. I practice it every day. And I still default often to short, shallow breathing reflexively.

When we are children in traumatic homes, it is too scary to believe our caregivers are bad and so we blame ourselves. We grow up believing at some level we were always bad. The codependent behaviors we develop are ways of surviving in this environment. Then when we carry it into our adult lives, it no longer works and destroys our relationships. A CoDA tool to help us with seeing our survival patterns are the Recovery Patterns of Codependence which gently names our survival pattern on the left side and then gives a remedy for a new behavior we can adopt on the right. For me, it has been helpful to begin naming these patterns survival patterns as it unhooks me from feeling I am at fault. Instead, I have come to respect how miraculous it is that I made it through and am now healing. I feel like my Higher Power has brought me to words that serve my growth.

Another valuable piece of recovery science that my therapist introduced was the ACE Study. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, and it is a new handle associated with a method of systematically measuring traumatic experiences and correlating them to impacts on survivors of trauma. The original study was done at Kaiser Permanente in California and had 17,000 participants. What was found was that major morbidity and mortality outcomes were associated with the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences a person has. My score is a 5. I read THE DEEPEST WELL by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. who expanded the study and is now the Surgeon General of California. Trauma has now been proven to be associated with the formation of addictive personalities as well as many physical diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

I have been fortunate in CoDA to meet people who are finding another powerful, related path to healing with years of science behind its methodology. This is Mindful Self-Compassion work. How many of you are extremely hard on yourselves? Could it help to deeply understand that it is our traumatic experiences which led us to become both the attacker and the attacked? Mindful Self Compassion is, for me, a vital missing ingredient which is finally freeing me from the shame and blame response I learned as a child. Kristen Neff, Ph.D. is a pioneer in this research.

Just as the medical field evolves, I recognize that recovery needs to evolve. Forty years of 12 Step recovery alone did not get me there. The Steps were written in the 1930’s and were groundbreaking! Those who wrote them are the shoulders we stand on. And, we can all benefit from knowing more about trauma and how to heal from it. CoDA named it and that was a leap forward from the original 12 Steps.

Self-compassion toward our bodies by Dr Kristin Neff

It’s common for us to feel uncomfortable about our bodies, especially after the holiday season. We may judge them as not thin enough or attractive enough or strong enough or young enough or healthy enough. An important part of self-compassion is extending kindness and care to the physical form we inhabit, appreciating its gifts rather than simply criticizing its shortcomings.

Dr Krisitn Neff speaks on self-compassion for our bodies

 Our bodies are the vehicle that allow us to experience life. They give us the gift of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, thought, and feeling.  They allow us to move, to dance, to sleep, or to sing.  

We can get so caught up in wanting our bodies to be other than they are, that sometimes we completely overlook the miracle that our bodies provide: existence itself.

Our bodies also allow us to process emotional pain. Whether it’s stress or grief or fear or anger – our difficult emotions are experienced as sensations in the body.

When we resist these sensations by tensing and contracting physically, we develop aches, tiredness, and other somatic problems.

This is why it’s so important to consciously turn toward our bodies with kindness and compassion. When we are grateful for the gifts of the body and tender toward the pain it carries, we can develop a new relationship with our physical self that transcends evaluation and allows us to become more vibrant and alive.

Many mindfulness training programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction use a meditation practice called the Body Scan – which involves systematically moving one’s attention throughout the body.

In the Mindful Self-Compassion program, we teach a version of the meditation called the Compassionate Body Scan that intentionally layers in warmth, appreciation, and compassion. I hope you enjoy it!

Compassionate Body Scan | Click Here to Practice 

For more resources on self-compassion and guided practices, you can visit my website, self-compassion.org. For online self-compassion training, please visit the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.

 

Step 9   Trauma-Informed

by Terrie C.

The Aqua CoDA book for Step 8, which is the preparation step for making amends, advises that the first person we need to have on our list is ourselves.  We have harmed ourselves the most and been unable to escape ourselves.  Yet, what most often happens is that we skip over that, minimize our own pain, and focus on a list of others we have harmed.  The traditional language for Step 9 is other-focused. Many places in CoDA literature names childhood trauma as the root of our suffering.  We need to begin with ourselves also in Step 9. 

The Recovery Patterns of Codependence lists 5 categories of survival responses to our trauma that include Denial, Low Self-esteem, Compliance, Control, and Avoidance.  Becoming aware of what we did to survive in family systems that passed trauma down is a key to our recovery.  Some of the outcomes include not being able to feel our feelings, feeling overly responsible for others, giving our power over to others, a sense of shame, etc.  In his book, the Body Keep the Score, Van der Kolk describes that we must be willing to face what happened to us in order to heal trauma.

It is instructive to examine FAMILY RULES that each of us may have taken to heart.  I am going to list several that all apply to me:  1.  It’s not OK to talk about problems. 2. Feelings should not be expressed openly.  3.  It is OK for parents to make a child a messenger to carry communications between them if they are angry at each other.  4.  Unrealistic expectations –be strong, good, right, perfect, make us proud.  5.  Don’t be selfish.  6.  Do as I say, not as I do.  7.  Don’t cry.  8. Don’t be different. (no Indians allowed) 9.  You must believe the same thing as the parent. These may apply to many and you may have many other rules. Be compassionate to yourself as you do an inquiry about your family rules. 

I see jumping right into making amends to others before we have healed ourselves as another form of avoidance and therefore codependent.  And making amends is about changing our behavior.  Facing our trauma with the help of others in groups where honesty is a value that is practiced as a recovery tool and/or professional help if we need it, is essential.  When we are able with a community of others facing their suffering, to stop minimizing how what happened to us still affects us, then we will begin to heal. 

When we can know our own truth of what happened to us, then we can turn toward nurturing ourselves.  We can imagine the little person that had to grow up with rules that did not affirm who we really were.  We suffered the loss of childhood. We did not get to grow up as the person we were meant to be. That was very painful as we lived it! 

We can begin to practice SELF-COMPASSION.  What we are working to recover is our own personhood.  When we are able to begin practicing that as much as we can every day, we will move to a place where our behavior changes naturally.  We will become better able to have healthy relationships with others because we have healed our relationship with ourselves.  There is much scientific research done on the changes self-compassion has on people’s lives.  I would recommend that if you want more about this, to look up KRISTEN NEFF/CHRIS GERMER ON YOUTUBE.

I AM GOING TO END WITH A READING FROM MELODY BEATTIE’S THE LANGUAGE OF LETTING GO:

October 1st Be Who You Are:

In recovery, we’re learning a new behavior.  It’s called Be Who You Are. 

For some of us, this can be frightening.  What would happen if we felt what we felt, said what we wanted, became firm about our beliefs, and valued what we needed? What would happen if we let go of our camouflage of adaptation? What would happen if we owned our power to be ourselves? 

Would people still like us? Would they go away? Would they become angry?

There comes a time when we become willing and ready to take that risk.  To continue growing, and living with ourselves, we realize we must liberate ourselves.  It becomes time to stop allowing ourselves to be so controlled by others and their expectations and be TRUE TO OURSELVES –REGARDLESS OF THE REACTIONS OF OTHERS. 

Before long, we begin to understand.  Some people may go away, but the relationship would have ended anyway.  Some people stay and love and respect us more for taking the risk of being who we are.  We begin to achieve intimacy, and relationships that WORK. 

We discover that who we are has always been good enough.  It is who we were intended to be. 

Today, I will own my power to be myself.

Today, I will own my power to be myself.

hope for healthy relationships

Once upon a time, I became obsessed with a narcissist. All I wanted was for him to commit to me and me alone.  We had so much in common.  I loved him and he loved him.  This was my unconscious pattern.  I’d done it before in my past relationships.

I tried everything I could think of to control and manipulate the situation.  I tried different ways of saying things.  I tried different ways of acting around him.  I tried making him jealous.  I threatened to end the relationship if he didn’t give me what I wanted.  I tried to convince him he was better off without me in the hope that reverse psychology was still a thing.  It wasn’t. 

The truth is I was feeding his ego and like a vampire draining the life out of their hapless victim, he was sucking the life out of me. Still, I couldn’t seem to break free.   My mind knew the relationship was unhealthy and that I was torturing myself.  Every time I tried breaking up, I’d feel this awful emptiness and within a few weeks, we’d be back together. 

Little did I realize; I was teaching him how to treat me.  I was teaching him not to respect my boundaries.  I was teaching him that I didn’t follow through.  I was teaching him that I had no deal breakers, therefore he didn’t have to stop his selfish, hurtful behaviors to keep me in his life. 

I struggled over the fact that I kept staying in this harmful situation and could not seem to let go.  It was in the program of Co-dependents Anonymous that I found the answers I needed.  I learned about how the pain of my past relationships, childhood hurts, family dysfunction, and old beliefs created in me this fertile soil to grow the seeds of codependency.  I found the ironic truth that the pain of abandonment flared up even when it was me trying to end a relationship.  I couldn’t stand the discomfort of being alone.  Fear of never finding “love” again kept me hanging on to whatever I could get even if it was abuse or emotional unavailability. 

The support in the program helped me start my journey of learning to love the self.  I began dating myself and re-parenting my child within.  Gaining new tools and practicing with safe people in CoDA, helped me find a new way of living and freedom from the bonds of codependency.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still codependent.  I always will be.  But I have a new awareness in my life now and I am developing healthy boundaries with myself and others.  As I focus on myself, I’m attracting healthier people into my life.

Codependents often remain in harmful situations too long.  That was my pattern for most of my life.  Toxic love relationships, friendships, jobs. In recovery, I am committed to my safety and leave situations that feel unsafe or are inconsistent with my goals.  I am learning about detaching with love and letting others own the consequences of their own choices.  Best of all, I believe that I am safe and secure, worthy of love and respect, and can handle whatever comes next.  There is hope in the program of Co-dependents Anonymous!

In recovery,
I am committed to my
safety and leave situations that feel
unsafe or are inconsistent with my goals.

Step 2 Our Authentic Self

by Terrie C

Came to Believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Being RESTORED suggests that we were sane to begin with.  Step 2 invites us to change our beliefs about ourselves.  The 12 Step Program encourages us all to choose a Higher Power of our own understanding.  CoDA acknowledges that we grew up in dysfunction.  Coming to terms with the harm that came to us from this dysfunction is key to understanding our own insanity and the ROOT of its genesis. 

In dysfunctional families people who were supposed to keep us safe and meet our needs were unable to do this for us.  Dysfunction is passed down historically and intergenerationally and it is likely that our parents did not get their own needs met.  It became our job to meet their needs.  Our insanity was trained into us from an early age and became deeply rooted as it says in the CoDA welcome. 

Our culture also taught us beliefs that are not true.  My family was not deeply religious but believed children should get religious education.  There I learned that we are born in Original Sin.  This concept came from the Romans through St. Augustine in the 4th century AD.  Other faiths reject it.  The Christian church adopted it to keep citizens and soldiers in line.  Page 5, Original Blessing by Matthew Fox. 

Another belief across the world is that women and girls are not as valuable as men and are property.  When I was born women had only been allowed to vote in this country for 28 years.  Most stories only had boys as heroes.  We still do not have equality.  The choices for careers for women did not appeal to me.  I chose a field that at the time was less than a quarter women.  I wanted to be a healer and went to pharmacy school.  At orientation the dean of the pharmacy school singled me out and said that “there are no second chances here”.  After I was accepted to the program my husband at the time began punishing me.  I petitioned the school to allow me a year off and had to pay them a large sum not to give my place to another student.  No one thought I would come back.  I did come back and also tried the marriage again.  I left the marriage for good with my car, some personal belongings and only $30 with nowhere to live and a year and a half left to graduate.  I did graduate. Looking back, I believe this was my AUTHENTIC SELF. 

In my growing up years I suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as neglect and had a parent who was a sociopath and one who had severe PTSD.  This counts in the ACEs Study, (Adverse Childhood Experiences) evaluation as a score of 6.  In order to survive in that family I had to adopt survival responses that we in this program call codependence.  Some of the Compliance Patterns and some of the low Self-Esteem patterns fit these survival responses the most for me. 

It is important for all recovering people to begin to understand the biology of TOXIC STRESS.  In a 1993 book about PTSD came my first lesson of this.  A phenomenon called KINDLING.  Repeated trauma causes a change to our body related to the release of norepinephrine which changes our nervous system and brain so that it takes less and less of a trigger to initiate a full-blown case of frayed nerves.  So, a seemingly inconsequential event can lead to full hypervigilance, startle response, anger,  and irritability.  The victim essentially develops a case of chronic over-arousal and can never “relax”.  Paraphrased from PTSD:THE VICTIMS GUIDE TO HEALING AND RECOVERY, RAYMOND FLANNERY PhD. Assistant Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School.

How many of us have blamed ourselves for having these responses?  It is not our fault, and it also IS our responsibility to understand and heal from.  Much more is now understood and written about by Bessel Van der Kolk M.D. in THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE published in 2014.  One foundation of his work was the original ACEs study published in 1998.  Van der Kolk has been working to get the language changed for the diagnosis because it is now understood that children who have TOXIC STRESS experience it while their brains and bodies are growing.  It changes their physiology.  Adults who have a traumatic event already have developed and their outcome and some recovery modalities are different.  For example, EMDR often thought of as helpful had a 73% positive outcome for adult onset PTSD and only 25% for victims of child abuse. 

Lately I have been immersing myself in listening to Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. who expanded the ACEs study.  Here is a link to her Ted talk about this.  It is only 16 minutes long and there are many more if you wish to learn more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk&t=610s

What Van der Kolk says is that we need to learn to tolerate DEEP EMOTION which is essential in becoming embodied.  We need to understand what happened to us to unhook ourselves from beliefs that we were always wrong or bad. 

In 1995 I had a breakdown as a result of a forced indoctrination into a cult at my workplace.  I was diagnosed 100% disabled and was told never to work again.  Work had been my safe place and was very much a part of my self-esteem.  I felt like my education had been ripped from me.  It had taken me 7 years to get through a 5 year pharmacy program at great effort to overcome many obstacles. 

What I am feeling like now is that the education that I gave myself then is standing with me now in being able to heal myself and pass it on to others.  Trauma is rarely taught in medical school or in our public schools science.  Van der Kolk’s efforts to get it labeled correctly has not yet been successful.  It should be called DEVELOPMENTAL STRESS.  He uses the work disorder and my therapist says the word response would be a better, kinder word.  What I would want is for all of us to understand our wounds and the remedies for it that can reduce our own suffering and that of others.  I Believe this is my AUTHENTIC SELF! Through understanding our pain and the path to health we ARE RESTORED!

Each of us is born as a spiritual person.  From the DETACHMENT (original from Al Anon) reading it says “Abuse wounds the spirit.”  This is not a spirit outside of us, it is inside of us.  I believe that is the power we were disconnected from and to reconnect is to restore us.  A Higher Power of our OWN understanding!

I long as does every other human being to be at home wherever I find myself ~ Maya Angelou

step 11, spiritual awareness

by Terrie C. 

The principle of Step 11 is SPIRITUAL AWARENESS.  Prayer means asking.  Meditation is a form of listening.  AWARENESS comes from recognizing that we have had a Higher Power who cares for us, even when we may be not in touch with that knowledge.  My experience of prayer is asking the Higher Power of MY OWN UNDERSTANDING to help me in moments where I cannot see my own way. Both prayer and meditation could be called the SACRED PAUSE. 

In the WELCOME reading of CoDA, it acknowledges that our suffering is rooted in the dysfunctional systems that we grew up in.  It also specifies that our childhoods were traumatic and that our behaviors are linked to “trying to restore within us the emotional losses” resulting from that. 

May we each be whole: Mind, Body, Spirit.  Pursue daily healthy choices that soothe you. Life is short, be present to yourself. When we can be present to ourselves, we are more present to others. An outcome is healthy relationships.

Early in my recovery, I was quite able to pray and follow my understanding of the wisdoms of changing myself to have a better life.  I found myself unable to meditate in a traditional way despite many efforts.  A couple of years ago I was listening to Bessel Van der Kolk on a YouTube video talking about his book “The Body Keeps the Score” when he said that people with PTSD often have difficulty meditating.  What I was able to recognize that day is that my orientation to survive caused me to be hypervigilant in the extreme.  Working with a therapist in 1989 gave me a visual for seeing myself more clearly.  She called it PERPETUAL PERISCOPE DUTY. At that point I did not know about hypervigilance.

Also, in a recovery group in the 80’s someone brought the book “Original Blessing” by Mathew Fox that included a chapter on Art as Meditation.  I had not done art for about 20 years at that point and recognized that I had used it as a child and young adult to calm myself.  I began again and it helped.  In 2017, I had a Quantitative Electroencephalogram (QEEG) to evaluate my PTSD.  The statistical analysis is that anything over 1.9 standard deviations from values for healthy brain function is diagnosable PTSD.  I had a lot of 3s and 4s in the categories of activity I was tested in.  My art segment was almost normal.  It truly was meditative and calming.  My spirit must have known this at a very early age!

As recovering people, we need to understand the path trauma takes to disrupt our lives.  It has been described by some as a separation from ourselves.  About 3 years ago my therapist asked me if I knew about ACEs.  I did not.  It stands for ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES.  He recommended a book for me by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. “The Deepest Well”. She is a California pediatrician.  As she began her practice in a highly traumatized population, she began to question some diagnoses for some of her patients and learned about a study of this and decided to expand study for further understanding. She developed a questionnaire to address each child who came to her.   

There is now much understanding that trauma gets passed down historically and intergenerationally.  When our brains are developing in the first 3 years of life trauma interrupts normal development to self-regulate.  Unresolved trauma throughout life affects behavior, mental health, and physical health.  It is not our fault! Beginning to understand this about ourselves can help us unhook from the shame we feel about our inability to function.  Trauma interferes with our ability to learn. 

The changes to early brain development stay with us, and we can do something about it if we work to resolve our trauma.  Notice that current science written by trauma specialists have titles like “The Body Keeps the Score”, Van der Kolk, or “Begin with the Body” by Resmaa Menakem. 

I feel really lucky to have a therapist who has led me to many resources to understand what is going on with me and understand physical things I can do to train my body in new pathways.  It feels like my Higher Power helped me get to him and I have made the choice to do the work. 

I do something every day for my recovery.  A main daily practice now is slow breathing where my belly rises and falls with a slower exhale.  This brings me into Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).  This is opposite to the Fight, Flight, Freeze (Sympathetic Nervous System SNS) response.  Normal people can do PNS without even thinking about it.  I still cannot. So, a BREATHING MEDITATION is re-training my body. The science for this came from Stephen Porges. (to be found on YouTube under Polyvagal Theory)

The neat thing about this is that I am comfortable doing it.  My Perpetual Periscope Duty does not get in the way like it did for other listening kinds of meditation. The activity of listening showed me to be very dysregulated in my QEEG.  Another Body Meditation that has been studied and is recommended by Van der Kolk is yoga.  Menakem’s trauma book has many practices to try.  One is humming.  This would be like slow exhale with vibrations.  Shaking our body after a stressful event is recommended by Peter Levine, another trauma scientist.   In a kindness and self-compassion class, I learned to put a warm hand on my heart or to cradle my face with my hands.  Touching ourselves in a nurturing way increases oxytocin in our bodies which is a pleasure hormone secreted when we are touched.  I have been practicing this regularly in the last year and it is very soothing.  Now, in addition to art I have all kinds of mediations that are connected to my body that help me heal.  Seek the things that help you feel calm.

What we have resorted to in our past that has not worked are things that gave temporary relief from our dysregulation. These in the long run were momentarily soothing but still kept us separated from ourselves and harmed us in the end.  They could be substance addictions or process addictions like working, shopping or other activities.  Choose proven self-soothing practices above.  Learn more.

In 2019 Scotland did a summit on ACEs.  You can listen on YouTube if you want to learn more. 

ACE-Aware Nation Conference – The science of ACEs is fundamentally hopeful – Dr Nadine Burke Harris

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtwmYaVTwis

Now, I know I have given you a lot of science here, and yet, even with reading and understanding all of this, I am better, but still have triggers and work to do on myself.  This video on YouTube would be a GREAT start and one last thing:  One of my all-time favorites to listen to is Gabor Mate (sounds like café) and he gave the keynote talk for this conference.  Here is a link to his talk:

Keynote ACES to Assets 2019 – Dr. Gabor Maté – Trauma as disconnection from the self

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tef5_HK5Zlc&t=3555s

Justice

an essay on Step 9 by Terrie C.

In the Aqua CoDA book for Step 8 which is the preparation step for making amends it advises that the first person we need to have on our list is ourselves.  That we have harmed ourselves the most and been unable to escape ourselves.  Yet, what most often happens is that we skip over that, minimize our own pain, and focus on a list of others we have harmed. 

What has been necessary in my own recovery is to really examine how childhood trauma has shaped my life responses.  In codependence, what we do is focus on others through caretaking and other behaviors. We may have gotten a message that our true self was not acceptable in our family or culture, so we hide or leave ourselves and then forget who we are.  For me, this has resulted in actual dissociation and other forms of leaving like getting busy doing something else that keeps me from facing the pain of trauma.  I see the CoDA program as being focused on how we were hurt and how it affects our ability to be present for ourselves.  If we are separate from ourselves, how can we be truly present for anyone else?

And then when our lives are not working, we blame ourselves.  This continues our pain of separation, affects our spirit, and our relationship with our higher power.  In the last year, I have learned that this is sometimes called the 2nd ARROW.  In the original 12 step language the 9th step says “Made Amends to Such People Except When to Do So Would Injure THEM or Others.  Thirty one years ago for a group I started called Sexual Abuse Survivors we rewrote this step (called a circle in that program).

We make amends with respect for all concerned, and with compassion about how this may affect ourselves and others.

For me and members of that group, we recognized that we needed to make clear in the language that we were included in the JUSTICE of making amends.  In the last year and a half, I have recognized even with that change my difficulty with sending myself the 2nd Arrow was more prevalent and destructive than I knew.  My awareness was prompted by a talk with a member of CoDA who told me about Tara Brach.  Listening to her opened my eyes and gave me a new understanding of the work that I still must do.  A class on Kindness and Compassion gave me some new tools as did a class on Begin with the Body for racialized trauma.  We used the scientific methods for healing trauma by NEUROSCIENTISTS Peter Levine, Stephen Porges and Bessel Van der Kolk as well as Resmaa Menakem, and practiced them together in small groups every other week.

Also having a big effect on me is the therapy that I have been doing since early 2017 that prepared me to make a bigger leap this last year.  Trauma creates changes in the brain and separation from the body so becoming embodied is an important part of recovery.  I could not even feel my body in an early session where that was tested.

As I have done this work, I have been kinder and more compassionate to myself, and I am seeing that spill over into my relationships.  An amend is not so much about an apology as it is about a change in understanding and behavior.  That had to start with recognition of how I was still harming myself.

An amend to myself includes recognizing people I must leave.  There have been some in my life who harmed me on purpose and would not change their behavior even when asked.  I did give myself permission to leave home at 16, to leave an abusive husband at 29 and to cut relationships permanently with my parents and one brother.  In the DETACHMENT reading it says Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by another.  This permission has been a very important tool for my recovery.  I have had to grieve these losses.  Grief is an important recovery process.  Even giving myself permission to cry was difficult in my early recovery. 

And an amend to them means that I recognize that they too survived trauma but could not or would not do their own recovery work.  I practiced LET GO AND LET GOD with them. I cannot open the door back up to them as boundaries are not something that are respected.

 I am feeling much gratitude that my youngest brother did choose to do recovery work and our estrangement has ended.  Now we are communicating in a way that is safer for each of us and sharing our feelings in an honest and compassionate way.  It feels like our true selves that we lost during childhood are re-emerging. 

Abuse has been described as murder of the soul.  In being traumatized I have left through dissociation most of my life.  Leaving myself continually is the pattern that I most need to make an amend to myself for.  It was not my fault, but I blamed myself.  In a talk called SOUL RETRIEVAL given September 24th, 2008, by Tara Brach, the description says:

When we become stressed and reactive, we lose contact with our natural spontaneity, wisdom and openheartedness. This talk investigates the ways we become caught in the stress-trance and the key elements in awakening: pausing and remindfulness. Using the gateway of the senses, we explore both the pathway of presence and the gifts of reconnecting with soul, spirit, essence.

Here is the link: https://www.tarabrach.com/soul-retrieval/

My recovery is about reconnecting myself with my own spirit.  We need to know our own wisdom before we can deliver JUSTICE to ourselves.  It is from the healing of self that we can then apply it to others we have harmed.  An old saying in recovery is that we cannot give away what we do not have. My recovery is about being kind to myself for the years of not being able to get rid of the belief that somehow, I was at fault.  I was able to figure this out intellectually, but just in the last year and a half, I have been more able to see that my emotions were still in the pattern of self-blame.  The second arrow.

In a therapy session on February 26, 2018, my therapist said to me “Terrie, you can just stop.” I did not know exactly what that meant, but it was so important to me that I wrote it on a note to myself and put it up in my studio and dated it.  What my study of Tara Brach has helped me with is to recognize that I can pause when stress begins and make a different choice than my old pattern.  I can choose my reaction. What has been happening for me is that I am actually able to accomplish that more and more. 

The JUSTICE I receive from this is reparations.  A way back to my own soul.  In neuroscience it is said that the neurons that fire together wire together.  My dream in life is to be whole.  In my imagery of this I am emptying my quiver.  The arrows are not needed.

When we fly, the airline staff tells us to apply our own oxygen mask first in an emergency.  My hope is that if you have not focused on yourself first, that you now give yourself permission and forgiveness.

The Winding Road

– by Beth

I don’t know about you, but my life journey feels like it has had so many twists and turns within that I lost sight of what was right or wrong and how to make a decision without feeling any fear that the decision would be the wrong one. Just when I thought it would be a straight road ahead, I would hit another fork in the road. Yet this time, there was no fork in the road. I HAD to make a decision – Do I keep living in the same cycle and repeating with the same outcomes; or do I push through this dark, messy/dense forest and uncover my truths and discover who I am at my core? It took me two years talking with a therapist on co-dependency before I could work up the courage to open the door to a meeting. I was afraid, afraid I would get the looks that I had grown accustomed to, or the comments of “I wish I could just shake you”, “why can’t you just let it go and not try to fix it?” – from friends/family who I now know, were only trying to understand but didn’t, and that’s okay.

I remember like it was yesterday. I was driving into the sunset and the song “Surrender” by Natalie Taylor came on. Her words hit me with such clarity – Allow yourself to surrender. Allow. Surrendering to the unknowns has always been terrifying to me, but I felt this presence inside of my entire being that was saying – It’s okay to let go. The BEST thing that I discovered from crossing that door into the meeting? Having the realization that the “door” was a clearer path to my “self”. To be around strangers that at times, seem to have a better understanding of me more than family/friends and even myself, but without judgement – only support.

There have been moments of painful reminders just how much denial I was in about myself and how I thought: If I can just control the situation, I can control my life. Things that I thought I could push down and ignore, have come roaring out louder than waves in the ocean. However, this time – my legs and feet no longer feel like they are stagnant and helpless. They’re moving – moving towards positive change, healthier relationships with others but the best and most important – Learning to have a better and more loving relationship with myself. Though this path has been long and hard and also one that is not finished, I can also see the miracle that is so often talked about in the near distance. I am able to recognize and be more self-aware which is such an incredible feeling and one that I’m still getting used to, but appreciating. So, I’m learning – instead of trying to always control the outcome, some days believing and others trying to believe, that my higher power truly does have me right where I’m meant to be. For that and for the unconditional support of everyone in CoDA, I am forever grateful.