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.
I was listening to an interview of meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg this morning. She quoted a line from a movie which said, ‘love is not a feeling, love is an ability”. She went on to ask what if we thought about love primarily as an ability?
Sharon explained… That means it’s not in the hands of someone else. It’s really ours to tend, to nurture. Other people can ignite or inspire it or even threaten it but ultimately its ours. If it is inside me…it is my responsibility to cultivate and strengthen it. I am not dependent on someone else to make me complete.
The wisdom she shared resonated with me as a person recovering from codependency. So often in my life, I have lived in fear of losing someone’s love. I have hustled for my worthiness and tried a myriad of codependent behaviors to try to earn or keep someone else’s love. At times, I have been compliant, controlling, enmeshed, hypervigilant and stayed in harmful situations far too long all because of the mistaken belief that if I didn’t have that person, I wouldn’t have love in my life. I have worried needlessly about whether I was indeed loveable…my lovability…instead of recognizing my love ability!
I think often we forget or don’t really understand in the first place that love is always available to us. It is not something we get from others nor can it be taken away. Real love is a capacity we all have inside us… all the time.
I am a survivor of childhood trauma and also ongoing trauma. In recovery, it has been important to me to acknowledge my successes as well as my mistakes.
In the book THE ADDICTIVE ORGANIZATION by Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel, they describe codependent behaviors as a fatal disease and say, “In fact, there is some evidence that codependents who are in addictive relationships tend to die younger than the addicts do” (pg. 75) They go on to say, “Their disease is more subtle and serious, harder to detect and more socially acceptable than that of the active addict.” They link it to specific diseases that are common to those who suffer. One of the things that I have talked of often in CoDA are the physical responses that my body has when I am in stressful situations. Often, it has not been until these physical symptoms emerge that I have been willing to leave harmful situations, or people in my life that trigger them.
This is why it is so important to persevere in our recovery and continue to take personal inventory. And we need to do this in a balanced way counting our goodness as well as what we would like to change. For me, the language in the twelve steps focuses too much on our wrongs. It feels like a blame the victim mentality when we are survivors of family and societal dysfunction that has taught us this behavior in order to survive. Schaef and Fassel describe clearly how the culture we live in expects and rewards this! The expected behavior in our families and culture expect us to take care of them and it leads to a requirement that we ARMOR ourselves. It is like a contract that we are only good when we take care of someone else. In my case, there was physical sexual abuse, and also covert incest which is defined as a child being expected to behave like an adult and take care of the parents.
No wonder this becomes deeply rooted! Recognizing this has been part of my inventory. I had to develop an ARMOR. The paradox is that the ARMOR is what keeps us from having healthy relationships. It was meant to hide even from ourselves because the trauma caused us to feel we were wrong and bad. I am recovering from feeling wrong in a shame-based way. I feel like this is related to DENIAL that is so prevalent in addictive systems.
In her book FACING CODEPENENCE, Pia Melody identifies 5 core symptoms of the disease. Number three is OWNING AND EXPRESSING THEIR OWN REALITY. This is a description of how we become out of touch with our true selves. We become caretakers and enablers and we come to believe this is our “good self”. She says: “we apparently could not please our parents by being what we were naturally. This delusion that the abuse was normal and we were “wrong” locks us into the disease of codependence with no way out.”
So, while doing an inventory we must now investigate our old beliefs. Recognizing the paradox of our belief that codependent behaviors were good because they helped us survive needs examination. Are these “character defects and shortcomings?” It is helpful even to begin to question our “wrongs”. It is uncomfortable for many to hear what our truth might be. Some of them are unspeakable and feel shameful. We may feel uncomfortable to face our own truth. To remove our ARMOR is scary. And yet recovery is about allowing vulnerability so our relationships can be healthy. What is good and what is wrong?
It has been helpful to begin to understand the dynamics of multigenerational trauma and shame. These beliefs and behaviors are passed down through many generations. I can trace sexual abuse and alcoholism on both sides of my family going back 4 generations. Words that we use to recover have power. “when we were wrong promptly admitted it” suggests that we know when we are wrong. Careful investigation of this is needed.
I am ending with the 10th step CoDA Prayer and I invite you to get in touch with how you might feel about these words versus the original 10th step as written in the 1930’s for AA.
Step Ten Prayer In this moment, I live my life in a new way. As I continue to open my heart and mind, little by little, one day at a time, I reveal my true self, mend my relationships, and touch God
I am a trauma survivor. I had difficulty feeling like I belonged in my family. I have struggled most of my life to feel like I belong. I feel fear in meetings because I choose not to identify myself as a codependent. And, I know, that to be true to myself, that is the right choice for me. I feel like that would keep me in that definition, and it is not who I am. Codependent behaviors are survival responses. It is a mask to belong. I feel like if I am honest about that with others in the program, I will be on the outside yet again. And yet the program gives us permission to take what we like and leave the rest. It gives us permission to name our own definition of our higher power. I know these things, and yet the fear persists.
I have loved the Recovery Patterns of Codependence since I first saw them. Early in my first year in CoDA, I was still seeing the left side as something bad about myself and loved that there was an affirmation on the right side to help me stop those behaviors.
Over this last year as I have been doing more work on trauma and learning more of the science of it while also doing work on self-compassion and kindness, I am coming to a different understanding of that left side. I am seeing how awesome we all are that we did survive! That we were never bad. Children conclude that if they are being traumatized it is their own fault. I am learning to honor my survival and that of all others who suffer.
What if we began to look at our codependent behaviors not as something to rid ourselves of, but as something that we can use to understand our young selves when growing up in families that did not allow us to be our true selves?
What if, by understanding our young self, we could begin to have more compassion for why we had to develop behaviors that helped us survive in our families?
What if, by developing that understanding we could embrace that young person who became codependent and now as an adult must learn something new?
What if, we became aware of how hard our lives have been and began to use tools that helped us to not have it so hard as we go forward?
What if we begin to know that codependent behavior was protection for our own survival?
And, what if through that understanding we begin to affirm how amazing we are that we survived and know at the same time that change is necessary to be in healthy relationships to be able to thrive in our lives now?
For me, the affirmations on the RIGHT side of the Recovery Patterns give me a tool that enhances and accelerates my own recovery.
And I affirm that I do not have to do it the hard way, which for me has been asking my higher power to remove things that are survival responses to trauma. I do not use the words that feel more traumatizing and changed those words in writing a substitute for them more than 30 years ago.
In RECOVERY, we affirm that others who learned new things that went before us have laid a path for us to stop suffering and make it easier for us to follow them. Years ago, 1989 in fact, a therapist told me that I was often choosing the bumpy road. She was right! It was the following year that I wrote the language into my own recovery tool to help myself heal in a way that felt kinder to myself.
For me, the Recovery Patterns of Codependence is just such a tool! Affirmations have been written to guide us like a map to behavior that can identify what behaviors are not working for our lives and an affirmation to help us heal the “untrue to ourself” behavior and replace it with a new choice that we don’t have to spend years figuring out! The path laid before our time!
And, once we have begun a practice of identifying these patterns, we can become more adept at writing ones that may be more specific to ourselves that may not be included on the list of 55!
Pia Melody says hug your demons or they will bite you in the ass. Codependent behaviors are our demons! And like demons they had protective purpose.
May the Recovery Patterns of Codependence ENHANCE your own road to healing! Affirmations help us change what we believe about ourselves!
If someone had told you in January that you would spend your entire spring and summer breaks at home, you probably would have laughed. After all, warm weather was supposed to wash away the woes of winter and give us a chance to see friends and family near and far. And then, out of nowhere, COVID-19. While Safer At Home recommendations have given us lots of time to connect with the members of our own households, it’s also given rise to an abundance of domestic tension. If you’re feeling the strain, keep reading for advice on how to loosen the proverbial belt so that you can breathe and enjoy your family once again.
Go outside and play
It’s the same advice you’ve been giving to your children all summer: go outside. As parents, we know that getting outdoors means expending pent up energy. Our hope is that this tires the little ones out so that they can take a nap and wake up refreshed and, ideally, not cranky. Take your own advice. Spend some time outside doing things like riding bicycles. Even if your local park is still closed, you may be able to sneak in a few miles in other areas, like on some back-country roads or college campuses.
This will also put you in the mindset to pay closer attention to your general wellness. When you spend more time active, you’ll want to eat better, and that will lead to changes that affect you in a positive way.
Update the inside.
While going outside is one of the best things you can do for yourself, mother nature sometimes has different plans. Days when it’s just too hot or stormy can make you feel a little cooped up. This might lead to arguments, constant complaining, or an overall bad mood. Together, these things can leave your home full of negative energy. Redfin notes that you can cleanse negative energy from your home using natural methods, much like the Native American art of smudging.
Once your home feels refreshed, spend some time making sure it stays that way. A fresh coat of paint on the wall, rearranged furniture, and even fewer electronics will go a long way toward increasing positivity throughout.
Learn to communicate
Sometimes, stress and tension come simply from a lack of communication. Even when you are stuck in the house with your entire family all day long, communication – real communication – may go to the wayside. Instead of doing things like leaving the laundry out and hoping your teenager gets the picture, talk to them. Remind them that they have chores to do, and that everyone is expected to do their part. Similarly, if your spouse is being short-tempered, let them know you recognize that they are stressed but remind them that their words and actions are causing even more pressure on the entire household. When you learn to state what you need and say what you mean, you can avoid a great deal of stress caused by miscommunication.
Codependency and self-isolation
Even if you spend more time outside, communicate like a champion, and make your home a cozy zone, if you are codependent or live with someone who is, your stress levels may be through the roof. Medium’s Madison Epting asserts that steps such as setting boundaries, doing things on your own, and engaging in self-care are great ways to keep you from falling back into codependent patterns. If you find that your codependency doesn’t get any better via self-help, MinnCoDA can help you find a program of recovery to support you through this difficult time.
While no one knows for certain when the pandemic will actually end, we can put a stop to its negative effects inside of our homes. So when stress has you down, look for ways to lift yourself up. Communication, physical fitness, and purging all of the negative energy is a great place to start.
The principle of Step 11 is SPIRITUAL AWARENESS. Prayer means asking. Meditation means listening. One of the things I love about this step is that it gives permission to define our own Higher Power. What does my spirit tell me?
Many experiences over the last 40 years of recovery work have brought me gifts of awareness. Early, I recognized that I had rejected my female self and began to heal with naming my higher power GODDESS. I also liked the non-gender words such as HP, creator, etc. I learned this from a woman in my Al-Anon group and it has truly helped me.
Many of the members of that group were talking about how meditation was helping them. I could never seem to accomplish that. Another recovery group that was non-12 step that I began attending started with a reading of the trusted servant’s choice and someone chose Original Blessing by Matthew Fox. I got the book and there was a whole chapter on ART AS MEDITATION. It changed my life. I had not done art for about 20 years at that point and knew that it had always worked to calm me. I began doing art again and have not stopped.
A couple of years ago, I listened to a YouTube Video by Bessel Van der Kolk on healing trauma and he talked about how trauma survivors often have difficulty with meditation. This helped me to understand myself better from those years when I could not accomplish it. I still have difficulty staying present during standard meditation practice. He also describes that childhood trauma needs to be called DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA DISORDER not PTSD and that there is a difference between the outcomes of childhood trauma and trauma that happens to adults. Mostly, I still refer to it as PTSD because it takes less explanation; my spirit knows that my trauma took place during early development and it helps me to know how that affected my spirit. My therapist changed the words to Developmental Trauma RESPONSE. It helps to think of it that way instead of being disordered. Words matter!
I use art to meditate with. It has been a portal into more calm, and also was very important years ago when doing inner child work and affirmations of myself. I used old pictures of myself to draw portraits to help me see how little and vulnerable I was when the repeated trauma was happening. One of those I collaged onto a piece of newsprint advertising homes for rent. One of the ads said pets allowed. On the newsprint, I wrote the affirmation SHE DESERVES THE GOOD STUFF. A great fear was being homeless and it did not only mean shelter.
In an Ernie Larsen workshop years ago, he was teaching about affirmations. He said we need to figure out who is driving our bus (the original message) and then write an affirmation to replace that message. He said we all deserve the good stuff. And, of course the image on my art piece was me when I was young. A lot of my negative messages came from my mother. I left home when I was 16 to escape her, but I had taken her messages along with me and was acting out the beliefs she instilled. Ernie impressed on me that it does not work to say we are not going to believe that old message anymore. We have to replace it with something new. I kept that piece of art up next to the bathroom mirror for years and looked at it every day.
All of these examples are gifts of SPIRITUAL AWARENESS.
I have not talked about my husband very much in these meetings. Meeting him was one of the best gifts of my life. What neither of us knew was that he was a practicing alcoholic and I had very severe PTSD. We met in June 1979, he moved in with me in November 1980 and shortly after that his employer sent him to treatment as a requirement of employment. Since we were living together, I got to go to treatment as his significant other. That experience gave me the gift of recovery. The counselor for the significant others said if we needed help to call him. A year after treatment I did call for help. He recommended a specific Al-Anon (Women only) meeting for me and a woman pastor to check out at Plymouth Congregational Church. How did he know I needed to heal the female spirit in me? I only know that he was an angel and I followed his advice to a T. That is how I came to the Goddess language that I still need to use! I asked for his help and he saw what I needed. An important part for me was asking for help! We married in 1983 and have both been seriously working recovery. It has saved our lives and our marriage!
Each recovery group that I have been in over the years has given me different gifts…at the moment that I needed them. Too many to enumerate, but I know for sure that I have been getting help from HP. I also know that I still have recovery work to do.
Another non-12 step recovery group that I was in for over 20 years disbanded in 2016. A good friend from that group started attending Co-dependents Anonymous and told me about it. Another gift! Here I discovered the Recovery Patterns of Codependence. One of the best tools for my spirit. A way of identifying my behaviors that I want to change, and an affirmation of how. Ernie Larsen would be proud of CoDA!
This year I have recognized that I still hold myself back and have difficulty reaching out. I made a decision to change that and have been implementing it. One of the people I reached out to from my CoDA meeting told me about TARA BRACH. She is truly feeding my spirit. I am listening to her talks on her website several times a week. One of her talks called HEALING SELF DOUBT describes the Buddha as praying to the Goddess! How happy I felt to hear that. She has many talks on healing fear and recognizing how alike we all are in having fears. A human condition. Her voice is soothing and each talk has an element of self-compassion and kindness! I have been calling her my new HP. Her talks are spiritually focused.
I am feeling that group attendance in CoDA has brought me in touch with many people I can learn important lessons from. My success in outreach since I made the decision to do it more has been a rich experience in feeling more connected. That does not mean I have not been afraid! It is outside my comfort level! A recent Tara Brach talk titled SPIRITUAL HOPE is what I feel emanates from my CoDA group.
For about a year before I volunteered to be a Group Service Representative, I started going to all of the intergroup meetings. I met someone there that became very important to my recovery. We never know what gift of recovery that we will get by attending meetings. I can look back on so many over 40 years. The Goddess is with me!
AWARENESS comes from recognizing that we have had a higher power who cares for us, even when we may not be in touch with that knowledge. Writing this piece has reaffirmed all the times in my life when my needs were met and now, I can thank my Goddess for being there. This answers my question at the beginning. What does my spirit tell me?
Some quotes to close with… A recent book by Nobel Prize Winning Neuropsychiatrist has found in imaging and QEEG studies that both creating art and beholding art affects our brains…
“Color and color combinations can have profound emotional effects” and “abstract art triggers rich completion by the observer….”
Eric R. Kandel Reductionism in Art and Brain Science
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. The mind that responds to the intellectual and spiritual values that lie hidden in a poem, a painting, or a piece of music, discovers a spiritual vitality that lifts it above itself, takes it out of itself, and makes it present to itself on a level of being that it did not know it could ever achieve.”
Original Blessing by Matthew Fox in the chapter on Art as Meditation
MAY YOU GIVE YOURSELF YOUR OWN PERMISSION TO DISCOVER WHAT WORKS AS YOUR HIGHER POWER!
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters By Portia Nelson
Chapter One I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost …. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter Two I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend that I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But, it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter Four I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Man have I been backsliding into my old friend Control. It’s okay though as most of the world seems to be joining me. I’m watching people doing all kinds of things to try to “stay safe”, protect others…and even police the behavior of people around them.
Control patterns are often the first place someone notices their codependent behaviors. The first four are grouped neatly together and pose a challenge for me in relationships across the board. I often think they should be bracketed together on the list as I rarely do one without the others.
They are: Codependents often
Believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
Attempt to convince others what to think, do or feel.
Freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
Become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
When I’m controlling, I’m NOT trusting.
I’m not trusting…that the other person can take care of themselves.
I just hate it when people offer ME unsolicited advice. Why then do I think others should appreciate it from me? It makes me feel undermined…like they don’t think I can figure it out or the way I’m doing it is wrong. Yet, I think my advice is so helpful that they’d be crazy not to do things my way.
I’m not trusting…that learning comes through experience.
When I prevent someone from experiencing consequences, I’m robbing them of the chance to learn for themselves. They can’t get the practice it takes to handle disappointments or failures and know how to move on. I cheat them out of that terrific feeling you get from knowing you can figure things out on your own. As someone in the program told me once, they won’t ever hit bottom as long as I keep throwing a mattress under them.
I’m not trusting…that they have a Higher Power who loves them…and it’s not me.
Their Higher Power’s will is for them alone and because I’m not God, I can’t know what that is for another person. If I act as their Higher Power by attempting to get them to think, do or feel…I can get in the way of that greater will for their life. Turns out, I don’t always know what’s best. Even if I think I do.
In CoDA, I am practicing using tools to counter these destructive patterns. In meetings, I can share about how my control behaviors come out when I’m afraid. I listen to others share about their struggles with control and what works for them. I get support as I practice being uncomfortable with the choices others make for themselves. In service, I get to practice letting go of my need to control and force my will. I get to build my capacity to trust others and see how people can take care of their own problems. I can practice communicating and allowing people to work through their disagreements. I don’t have to be a “right fighter” anymore.
In recovery, I can learn to trust… That other adults are capable of managing their own lives.
In recovery, I can learn to accept… the thoughts, choices and feelings of others, even though I may not be comfortable with them.
In recovery, I can learn to give…. my advice only when asked.
In recovery, I can learn to be… content to see others take care of themselves.