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.
I am Charlie, and I’m still recovering from the co-dependent survival patterns I learned so well in childhood. I’m also grateful I’ve come so far! So many of the program promises have come true for me in so many good ways!
Yet I still have much unfinished business waiting. I can be easily triggered back into some shameful or defensive old identity. At such moments I can be taken over by young inner “parts” of me who come on line when I’m pushed outside of my “window of tolerance.” These parts are trying to help. Once upon a time their strategies were vital and necessary for helping me to survive. But I’ve grown up, and these codependent strategies no longer suffice. In recovery I’ve experienced truly wholesome relations with myself and others. This is my new vision and standard; being fully alive and connected to others in nourishing ways.
So, in such moments I now have powerful tools and medicines for returning to my true center. Suppose I am somehow triggered into feeling insecure. What actually happened? Yes, someone said or did something, but it’s the interpretation I create inside which I then react to. Why? Because hidden deep down I still have a collection of poisonous beliefs I took on in childhood.
Some part of me then takes this external event as proof and picks up these debilitating old negative beliefs about “myself.” The resurgence of these destructive beliefs and thoughts can quickly generate powerful negative emotions like shame, fear, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness. This is the process by which I can maintain a state of irrational guilt and worthlessness.
These emotions are so painful to experience that other survival patterns kick in trying to suppress or divert attention away from my emotional discomfort. If I am not self-aware, then in seconds I may once again act out an old trauma. Awareness of my growing new response patterns is suppressed and I forget the tools I’ve acquired for getting grounding…getting out of a victim mindset.
If this happens when I’m in a social situation, I may suddenly feel excruciating feelings of insecurity and revert back into old defensive behaviors. Unconsciously I may be taken over by a powerful urgency to be seen, admired, and loved. This consuming neediness immediately switches on a sort of inner survival mode where I believe that I must make people love me.
For example, I may “tap dance” for approval by trying to be clever, funny, charming, sincere, or ingratiating. Seen from the eyes of compassion: a very young part has taken me over. He so desperately wants to be seen that he’s not really able to see and be present with others.
This young part feels so defective and deficient that he’s hustling for his goodness again. I’ve been taken over by a younger version of myself who feels guilty and driven. Someone with insight might see me trying to compensate unnecessarily. Inside I feel like I’m all alone onstage. The other people present are now just performance objects; their purpose is to mirror me, like support characters in a movie drama. They might be great, but they’re really there to orbit around me, the main character. They’re just a plot element in my dramatic story now.
At such moments I can feel outside, separate, and alone. This regression is understandable because when I was a child, I really was outside trying to get attention and acceptance. I was for years in many ways abandoned and traumatized. I really was judged and kept at a distance.
But I’m not really alone. For one thing, the effects of these kinds of trauma are common, actually quite predictable. They linger and don’t lessen unless they are faced and healed. Until then however, my habit will be to use people in an attempt to redeem those emotional losses of my childhood…to belatedly get what my parents, older siblings and other adults didn’t give me which was acceptance, love, and validation.
I’m so happy to say that my Higher Power and program friends have helped me to finally heal these old wounds and sadness. I was fortunate to find a truly wise and loving sponsor. He told me that the purpose of sponsoring is for me to learn how to show up for myself.
So, while I don’t ever want or have to do this alone, I think that I’m the friend that I’ve been waiting for. There is only one person who can really fill my hunger, who can re-parent my understandably aching heart, and that’s me. I see myself now as a spiritual being who is having a human experience. Now I’ve experienced my loving and wholesome self. Now I know that my Higher Power is in charge, I’m on a steady journey of awakening.
But I still keep running into unfinished business. My actual healing happens one transformation at a time when as life makes moments that require me to stretch again and really work my program. Over time I’ve seen there seems to be a trustworthy process that I can follow in these challenging moments. The miracle always starts with compassionate awareness of my feelings. If I can just notice when I’m feeling scared or defective, then I can stop for the moment it takes to love myself out of my “trance of unworthiness.” Tara Brach calls taking this moment The Sacred Pause.
So, I stop dancing or defending long enough to really befriend myself in the moment. First, I name the feelings in an honest and understanding way. Then, I share compassion with myself by telling myself things like this really hurts…it’s understandable…this is a normal human reaction…I love you…I care for you…you’re beautiful…and you’re going to be ok.
I may then reflect on my thoughts and behaviors to assess whether they are healthy and connecting. I try to take these 10th step inventories in a respectful and empowering way that leaves me feeling strong and valued. I let go of perfectionism and am grateful for my willingness and courage to look within with compassion.
The healing doesn’t have to happen right in the moment either. For example, last night in my book club I started feeling competitive, anxious, and self-conscious. However, I couldn’t seem to pull back enough to just hold myself. Instead I just kept talking and tap dancing, even though part of me was aware that I wasn’t just being with my friends so much as performing at them.
Afterwards, I didn’t feel a sense of connection but actually felt a little more separate than before our time together. This is one of the most painful aspects of my unhealed codependency, when I can feel alone even amongst safe and loving friends or family.
So, upon noticing this all later, my first wise response was understanding and compassion. Ouch, I told myself, I’m sorry you’re feeling so insecure. It’s really hard to not feel worthy. That’s an awful feeling, and it’s not true. It’s totally understandable that you go back into old habits though. They worked somewhat in the past to get the attention and love you needed to survive. I really care about you and I know you’re really good, lovable, safe, and enough. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t need to perform anymore. We’re not that child anymore. He did great. He survived and grew up. I’m the loving, wise and competent adult he grew up into.
Since I was now standing in my adult and loving presence, I opened deeper and asked this hurting younger part what he really needed… if there was anything else, he wanted me to know and understand.
What I got were pictures of a child within me hungering for years and years for simple acceptance and blessing. The adults in his world were competitive, controlling, and fearfully unavailable. Looking back with his eyes I could see how these behaviors of tap dancing and hustling for my goodness actually helped me to survive. As an adult seeing this all through his eyes, I was more able to compassionately witness and bless this part. I shifted my view to gratitude for having these survival skills and tactics. I didn’t want to exile this part but to integrate him…to bring these character traits into balance. I concluded by repeating one of my most healing blessings which is “right now, I am only grateful and pleased with myself.”
Then I spent time reflecting upon my behaviors and the results of my behaviors. I let myself see the painful results, how those patterns no longer work. I reminded myself of what does work…like holding myself with love…Like courageously stepping outside myself to really see and be with others fully. By the end of all l this nurturing and self-care I was restored to myself…fully open and at ease again.
I can now see how being fully present with myself and others is a truly courageous act. Being open and vulnerable with others is an act of respect and dignity. It’s not easy to open up to people’s ever-changing feelings and experiences.
Yet that edgy presence, standing with others in the naked moment, is what my heart is really hungering for. To stand together, open and vulnerable, is as good as sharing life gets. It happens that I’m still learning to stand in this presence. Of course, I am. It’s not what I learned as a child but I’m getting it now!
Finally, I invited myself to visualize and honor the connection that I do share with my friends. I pictured them and their lovable qualities. I let the desire to witness, nurture, and just be with them arise naturally inside of my refreshed self-trust…another gift from showing up authentically for myself. In this space what could finally arise was my authentic awe, love, and gratitude for their beautiful hearts and minds. This was the place I could really see and experience connection with them…. from a heart whose needs were met enough to have trust and room for others inside.
When I was young, I learned to chase after thin ego foods like being admired or “special.” I wanted so much more than this but was also afraid of it. Now in my relations I am consciously choosing a more valuable goal which is real love and connection.
Changing these old habits builds muscles. Part of the work is that I have a bunch of old “payoffs” like applause and self-righteousness to surrender. I find it difficult to sit back and just be. A part of me still wants to talk, be seen and be in control in order to feel safe. That part can then take up all the space needed for more meaningful interactions.
The beautiful thing is that when I’m awake and courageous enough to really share space with trustworthy others, we then together cook a much more soul satisfying meal. I experience the creative connected ease and flow which arises when I believe in a larger vision of us together. And because I’m really seeing my friends now, my appreciation and love for them is becoming deep and real.
I believe that when we really pay attention to others (not in a reactive way but truly open to their experience as beings) that we inevitably feel closer to them. Understanding others has this effect. The same is true within me. When I authentically and compassionately witness my own experience, I can’t help but love myself. I practice reverence for my heart’s real journey of hunger and longing, recognizing its’ courage and fortitude. Then, I am inevitably filled with the awe, compassion, and love that is the only natural response to really seeing one of God’s amazing Children.
As the news reports on this outbreak of the coronavirus, feelings of fear, stress, and worry often emerge. These feelings are normal. Lives may be impacted in large and small ways. Social distancing is happening as a way to decrease the risks especially for those with health issues and the elderly. For some people with codependency, this can increase feelings of isolation and separation.
Grounding ourselves with good information on what is happening, keeping things in proper perspective and focusing on what we can reasonably do to keep ourselves physically and emotionally healthy are important ways we can hang onto our serenity in stressful times.
written by Terrie C
As we face a pandemic many people will be unable to stay home from work and public places. One of the best things we can do is to practice kindness to all we come across.
The practice of kindness can reduce the stress of those we meet as well as helping our own stress level. Decreased stress increases immune response.
SElf-compassion and Covid-19
Excerpt from a letter By Drs Chris Germer and Kristin Neff, Co-founders, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion
Self-compassion boosts the immune system, it reduces anxiety, and it’s the easiest way to keep our hearts open to others. Some measure of fear is a healthy response to a contagious virus, of course. We want to respond to the contagion in a wise manner – with preventive measures that benefit ourselves and others.
Self-compassion can help if the virus is causing you unnecessary anxiety, limiting your ability to work or travel, reducing your income, or if you or someone you know has already contracted the virus. A self-compassionate response to the COVID-19 epidemic may look something like this, modeled on the Self-compassion Break:
Mindfulness – Become aware of how you feel about the virus. Are you feeling anxious, disheartened, confused? Can you feel it in your body? If so, where? Is your mind preoccupied with the virus? If so, what are your thoughts? Can you validate for yourself how you think or feel in a kind and understanding manner? For example, “Yes, this is hard.” “This is difficult.” “This is really stressful.” Can you offer yourself a little space around your feelings, knowing that it’s part of the current situation we’re all in?
Common humanity – When you hear news of people struggling with the virus, can you allow this to enhance your sense of being part of a global family rather than feeling separate? Can you imagine yourself in their situation and say, “Just like me.” Or when you reflect on your own distress, can you remind yourself, “Others feel as I do—I am not alone.” “Sickness is part of living.” “This is how it feels to be a human being right now.”
Self-Kindness – Try putting your hand on heart or some other soothing place, helping to calm some of your anxiety through touch. What words do you need to hear to comfort or reassure yourself about the virus right now? Are they realistic? Can you talk to yourself in a warm, compassionate voice? What actions do you need to take to protect yourself, or to provide for yourself? Can you encourage yourself to take these steps, in a supportive manner?
Notice if this practice makes you feel more relaxed and compassionate or encourages you to take positive action. Feel free to find your own way to be compassionate with yourself, perhaps by engaging in everyday self-care behaviors such as enjoying a cup of tea or taking a warm bath.
Remember that game show? Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? They’d give the contestant 3 “life lines” one of which was to “phone a friend”.
In recovery, it can sometimes seem like the hardest thing to do to pick up a phone and call someone to talk. Why is it so hard to ask for help?
For me, it’s part of my “dis-ease” to wrestle with the thoughts that I might be bothering someone. So I don’t reach out for help. Or maybe it was that family “rule”…the don’t talk one. So I don’t reach out for help. It could be the belief that no one understands that leaves me feeling terminally unique and alone in my misery. So I don’t reach out for help. For some of us, when we’ve reached out for help in the past, we’ve been shamed, disappointed or abandoned. So we stopped reaching out for help.
In CoDA, when I go to a meeting, I find an important “life line” there. A phone list of people in the program who are willing to share their experience, strength and hope with others. I don’t need to worry about “bothering” them because they get to decide when and how they respond. It’s actually good practice for them in setting boundaries. If the first person doesn’t answer, I can go on to the next. I don’t take it personally, I take action to get the help I need.
It’s helpful to know the phone list has people who will relate to my struggle with codependency and I can identify with their stories. I find I’m not alone. Part of the program involves practicing things like asking for help when I need it and developing trust in those who are trustworthy.
Sometimes, chatting with someone else who understands or who takes time to listen is all I need to change my perspective. Often I already know what it is I need or want to do. Talking it out with someone else, who isn’t as invested in the outcome, can be all I need.
It can help to have another voice in my head besides my own. That old tape keeps playing in the background until I do something to quiet it. Sometimes calling a recovery friend is the something I need.
Codependents often don’t consider the consequences of our actions or decisions. Talking with a recovery friend can sometimes allow me to consider the consequences before I make decisions.
It’s getting harder for me to find excuses not to use this tool of recovery…thanks to technology. Nowadays people often text before calling and this makes picking up the phone even easier. When you feel alone, triggered, confused, hurt, even happy and just want to connect with someone, whatever…shoot out a text first to see if the person is open to a call… go ahead, use the life line…phone a recovery friend.
I’d love to hear how this tool has helped you. Or if you have a hard time with it, what stops you from reaching out?