When I choose not to forgive its like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Forgiveness is a tool that helps me move forward. I know I don’t do it for the other guy, I do it for me. So I don’t have to carry the baggage anymore. It doesn’t mean I approve of what they did but the person who hurt me doesn’t occupy space in my head anymore and that gives me my serenity back.
So with the holidays upon us I’m faced with the question of old…how do I put up with that annoying relative that crashed my wedding, always seems to find a way to insult someone at every family event and basically creates a black hole which sucks the joy from the room?
This year, the answer will be forgiveness. I’m gonna try to be polite and accept her as she is. I’m gonna tap into common humanity and try to see her someone who, like me, is just trying to find her way through life to the best of her ability, flaws and all.
There are so many tools to help us in our journey of recovery from codependency. Every Tuesday, we hope to post an article highlighting one or more of these tools. Kicking off this new feature, just in time for the holidays, we start with an excerpt written by the CoDA communications committee….
How do codependents take care of themselves during the stress of the holidays? Here are some suggestions:
1. Go to as many meetings as you need.
2. Call other members including your sponsor.
3. Set boundaries that you are willing to observe.
4. Consider reading CoDA literature and reflecting on the Steps and Traditions.
5. Take care of yourself; YOU come first!
There are also daily online and phone meetings which you can look up on coda.org. Others use the meeting phone list to reach out to newcomers with a brief message of reassurance. If needed, choosing to spend a limited time around one’s family of origin may lower holiday stress.
Making sure to take the time for sufficient sleep, and giving ourselves plenty of time to exercise, meditate and read CoDA literature are ways to remind ourselves that in CoDA we may learn to have different priorities than other folks at these sometimes difficult family holiday gatherings.
At times, the difference between having a sad holiday and having a more upbeat one is simply a matter of choosing to use program tools to help, in each challenging moment, to do things differently today, and to decide that right now serenity is your #1 priority. That includes reaching out to your CoDA family!
Chameleoning. My spell checker doesn’t recognize it. I just hate when we take a noun and use it like a verb…adulting, Googling…
It’s just that I have a hard time finding a better word to describe what I do when I change who I am to please someone else, to fit in, to avoid conflict, to earn love.
What I know now is that chameleoning doesn’t earn me the love. The chameleon gets it. The real me…my true self still lives in fear, without the love and acceptance she desperately wants.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… to a co-dependent, imitation can mean I hate who I really am. Not flattery, just a deep need to be accepted by others so we can feel okay about ourselves. Underneath that need is a deep fear that if “they” only knew what I was really like, they would leave.
For most of my life, I would copy those around me. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. I hated the question “what do you like to do?” Duh, I like what YOU like. Just tell me what you want, need, prefer, hope for, appreciate, etc…. sounds like a plan to me. I thought the path to love and acceptance was through the door of people pleasing and compliance.
Chameleoning also allows me to avoid conflict and confrontation. I fail to voice my truth when I chameleon myself. I accept someone else’s truth as my own. Ironically, each time I fail to stand up for myself in an effort to prevent abandonment, I’m actually abandoning myself.
As I have grown in recovery, I am learning to accept myself as I am. Through self-compassion practice and work in CoDA, I am changing the old belief that who I am isn’t enough. I’m starting to see evidence that it’s ok to show people the real me. If some don’t like it or even leave me, those aren’t the ones that belong in my life. Other, better relationships will come in time.
I don’t have to fear the question anymore. Go ahead, ask me what I like to do…
In recovery, I stand in my truth, whether others approve or not, even if it means making difficult changes in my life.
I’m very grateful for my new journey in CoDa. I’m learning acceptance and surrender, about trusting my Higher Power and the light that’s been placed within me to have my own experience, strength and hope that is a joy to share in the fellowship of others. I wrote this in about one minute last week as I heard my Higher Power give me this visual of my journey.
The Falling Star
The darkness fell and I was surprised because she gave little notice of dusk. So there we were together, darkness and I.
I began to fret about how I’d find my path now that she commanded her presence? Fear Doubt Anger Then…….. She pointed me to look up and I saw them, why did I not notice before? Individual lights, thousands, maybe millions, I didn’t know. Formations they made I remember pointed to directions and seasons in times past and now. I watched calmly. Then, without warning , just as the darkness had fallen, a lone star left its place in the orchestra of light! A magnificent sight!
But what’s this? I can’t believe my eyes! It’s fallen from its place and rests at my feet!
The darkness then spoke to me for the first time, and know what she said? “ I am as sacred and beautiful as the daytime sun, and there is light in me that few notice. The arrangements of my heavenly lights in the dark offer its own beauty. Your eyes must look up to see these and upward reflection is what was needed for you. I’ve given you a special light of your own. All you must do is embrace it from whence it came, in the dark.” I picked up the fallen star I accepted it fully Hope replaced fear Faith replaced doubt Forgiveness replaced anger. And I was strangely grateful for her, the night, for without her, I would have never picked up a falling star!
“Our emotions drive us to recreate situations in which we will feel the feelings we need to face. We do not have to do anything except allow ourselves to feel them.”
My work history is full of losses. I look back and see how I’ve repeated a pattern of hanging on, controlling and attaching to outcomes.
It began with the loss of my favorite job. I had managed a video store for several years while going to college. After I graduated, I continued to work there despite the fact that I had started a new “day job”. Of course, I butted heads with the new manager. She wanted me to change how the store was organized. I felt like she was telling me I was doing it wrong. One night, the owner came in and fired me. Six years of work… and then it was over.
I lost two more jobs after that.
I taught for Head Start. Of course I butted heads with the director. She wanted me to “do less” and be satisfied with my low wage and minimal benefits. I loved the work and gave my full effort, like always…I felt like she was saying I was doing it wrong. So I went over her head, writing the governing board. They later suspended me and although I won a court battle, I never went back to the job. I just moved on without grieving the loss.
The last job I lost was my own business. I know… who gets fired from their own business?
I ran a non profit and of course, butted heads with my business partner. She wanted me to do things her way and we jockeyed for control. Again, I felt those feelings of being wrong…right up to and including the moment my board laid me off. I loved that job and poured my heart into it for 12 years then in one moment… it was over. No time to feel…just move on.
So last week, while helping my husband move his business into a new location, I bumped into those old feelings again. I became hugely triggered when his office manager and other staff members changed how I had arranged a wall of products. While some of my hurt feelings were understandable, my reaction was out of proportion to the situation at hand. I cried for two days.
The ugly cry kind of cry.
What I came to realize was the trigger showed me an area of unresolved grief. It felt familiar… to my past losses, none of which I ever grieved.
Thank God for my program of recovery.
Recovery doesn’t mean never being triggered. It means when I bump up against a trigger, I have a chance to see something unhealed in myself… and to heal it by allowing myself to feel the feelings.
That’s it, just make space for them. Naming them helps in taming them. Feeling them helps in healing them.
Oh, that’s grief. That’s sadness. There’s anger and disappointment in there. Breathe and allow. It’s hard to feel this way. I’m sorry this happened. It’s painful to hold the belief that I’m doing everything wrong…that I’m not good enough. You are just human. You deserve love. I’m here for you.
It’s okay. I’m okay.
Now, work the program. Go to meetings. Talk about it with recovery friends. Cry when the tears come. Feel the old grief coming out. Instead of stopping it, I’m allowing it. On the other side is acceptance. That is a wonderful place to be.
I affirm that the codependent behaviors that I learned helped me survive. I honor them.
It is also true that they are a dysfunction that keeps me from joy.
Now, I wish to live more on the recovery pattern side of the street.
Learning takes place from repetition. Especially when old habits that do not serve me need to be replaced by something new.
It is harder to change than it is to start from scratch.
In an Ernie Larsen workshop, he taught that we must identify what the old message is (Codependent patterns). Then, we must give ourselves an affirmation that may be hard for us to believe and feed it to ourselves repeatedly until it becomes part of us.
Have you ever had someone tell you to “be aware of your face”? Have you ever worried that showing your feelings would make someone else feel bad? Have you ever smiled in agreement while silently screaming inside? Have you ever listened to the song, “Put on a Happy Face” and wanted to pull your hair out?
Facial expression is one way we communicate our feelings to others. When someone says or does something that brings joy and you respond with a smile, they know you agree with their message or feel happiness. When someone says or does something that brings up feelings of anger and you respond with a scowl, they see that you don’t agree or dislike what is happening. Perhaps they will stop the behavior or at least observe your disagreement.
Some of us were taught to hide our feelings behind a mask which contradicts them. When I was a kid, I was told to smile and show a happy face even when it didn’t match how I was feeling on the inside. I did that to make other people feel more comfortable. I often pretended to agree with others so they would like me. Before recovery, I didn’t know that it was OK to feel feelings other than “happy” or “fine” and certainly not to show them if I did. Angry feelings weren’t allowed.
Now I’ve been in recovery for several years. I am learning that I can have a wide variety of feelings and that they are ALL okay. I have a right to feel my feelings. All my feelings are valid even the ones that make other people uncomfortable. Now, if someone does something I don’t like such as violating my boundaries and I feel mad about it, I know I don’t have to smile. I don’t even have to hold a “neutral” expression. I can restate my boundary and my face may show my displeasure. When they see my angry expression, they might become uncomfortable. It’s OK. I don’t have to attack the other person. I also don’t have to hide my feelings.
I’m not saying rolling your eyes at your boss is a good idea. I understand the importance of respectful communication. What I am saying is that it is not my responsibility to take care of the feelings of others. I can feel my feelings and let others take care of their feelings. If someone doesn’t like the expression on my face, they can tell me that. I get to choose how I respond to that information. I do not need to change or hide my expression behind a mask to make others comfortable.
When someone pushes past my boundaries, I can feel mad. When I feel mad, I may show it on my face. It’s OK.
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference.
I have prayed this prayer literally hundreds of times in meetings over the last 2 1/2 years and many more times on my own when looking for strength courage and peace.
Like many others fortunate enough to have found CODA, I was relieved and excited to learn the patterns of co-dependence and begin applying the healthy thought patterns and behavior to my daily life. My most obvious issues were listed in the Control Patterns which I quickly dropped to the delight of my immediate family.
Here is where the recovery process got a little tricky for me. Everyone around me was feeling better and I was proud of myself for the positive changes I had made but something still wasn’t right. This brings me back to the Serenity Prayer. In my sincere effort to mend my ways, I had gone to the other extreme adopting many of the Compliance Issues including my interpretation of the Serenity Prayer. Accepting the things I could not change meant to me that I should accept everything that comes my way without regard to my likes or dislikes, personal boundaries, or moral compass. This misguided thinking was reinforced by others using recovery jargon to convince me I was on the right track for their benefit.
I have come to learn that acceptance isn’t tolerance of the intolerable or giving up my true self in an effort to accommodate a relationship. For me, acceptance is seeing things as they truly are and accepting the reality of the situation. With this understanding, I can now make choices that work for me and allow others to be who they truly are.
weird thing about abandonment is that I feel it even if I’m the one ending the
relationship. This part of my codependency is a big part of why I tend to stay
in harmful situations too long.
Perhaps you are reading this because you are in a relationship with someone you wish would change. Maybe, you have tried to do the changing yourself. Or crazier still, you’ve tried to get the other person to change.
It took me 19 years to leave my husband. They weren’t all bad years but a lot of bad stuff happened along the way. There were times I almost ended it but then again…what if things got better? I tried everything to get him to change so I could be happy. It didn’t work. When I finally did divorce him, I found myself continuing to caretake him and try to fix and control his life. I couldn’t just walk away.
I followed that with another destructive and dysfunctional relationship. I would break it off but within a week or two…six at the most…be right back where I started.
suffered from the pain of abandonment trauma.
That fear of being left, of losing those you love, of being rejected, of never finding love again. Many co-dependents suffer with fear of abandonment. The roots may be in childhood when a parent or caregiver left, neglected or rejected you. Most of us don’t get to adulthood without suffering some losses. A loved one’s death, a relationship or friendship ending…it’s easy to get stuck somewhere in the process of grieving our losses.
For me it was my mom’s mental illness. I understand it now. How chaotic behavior, her periods of absence during hospitalization or incapacitation and times watching her walk out after an angry tirade left me with confusion, insecurity and self-blame.
had many of the common signs of abandonment fear including:
Being quick to attach, especially to unavailable partners.
Staying in situations no matter how unhealthy it got.
Feeling unworthy of love.
Intense feelings of separation anxiety.
Overthinking things and working hard to figure out the hidden meaning in literally everything.
Hypersensitivity to criticism.
Big time control issues.
Feelings of “otherness”, like I didn’t belong.
When I stay in harmful relationships or situations, waiting for it to get better and allowing myself to be hurt, it is self-abandonment. I’m so focused on fixing the other guy that I leave myself in the cold.
The healing started when I got into therapy, found my tribe in CoDA, and finally realized that when I fail to love and accept myself as I am and to protect myself with healthy choices, I am actually abandoning myself. This self-abandonment perpetuates my fears, insecurities and feelings of worthlessness. Then comes the people pleasing, approval seeking and other harmful, co-dependent behaviors…and we ride the crazy train back to the station once again.
If you’ve found this article and you are reading it thinking…wow, sounds a little like my life, then I have good news for you. My life changed when I found co-dependents anonymous. I found people just like myself who were actively working to heal. I didn’t feel like such a needy freak anymore. They were experiencing the promises coming true in their lives. There is hope. I was able to break the pattern of repeated, bad relationships and nurture a new relationship with a person who will never abandon me again.