Love is an ability

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.

Perseverance

by Terrie C

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

May you have much success in 2021!

finding personal healing in recovery

By Terrie C.

Step 4 Prayer
In this moment, I am willing to see myself as I truly am: a growing, unfolding spiritual being resting in the hands of a loving God. I can separate who I am from what I’ve done knowing that the real me is emerging—loving, joyful, and whole.

In the Welcome we read that “We have each experienced in our own ways the painful trauma and emptiness of our childhood and relationships throughout our lives.”  Starting with coming from a place of trauma, that is affirmed throughout the welcome reading, we can look at how our responses to this trauma became deeply rooted.  Small children, being abused conclude that it is somehow their own fault.  We often draw the conclusion that there is something wrong with us, and therefore we are to blame.  There is a connection between shame and blame. We become shame based in a deeply rooted way. In 1990 I gathered a group of 5 other women who were incest survivors.  We wrote a new program for ourselves and called it the THIRTEEN HEALING CIRCLES.

Today, starting with Circles one and two:
1. We admit that we were abused, were powerless over the abuse at the time, and that its consequences deeply affect our lives.

2. We come to believe that the Goddess will awaken a healing power within us. We become ready to open ourselves to this power and realize that we no longer need to be victims.

In recovery I AM working on changing the belief about myself THAT there was always something wrong with me.  In recovery groups, we are working on becoming honest with ourselves.  For me, this has been a long, hard process of recognition.  In the 3rd step prayer, it says:

I can set aside all the old beliefs about who I am not and be who I am—a child of God.

For me this means an action of allowing my higher power to show me new ways of believing that are not shame based.

In Step 4, the language is problematic for me.  I have never felt that I was fearless.  In fact, part of the difficulty of my life and relationships is being in fear most of the time.  In my trauma as a child, I thought that I was immoral because of sexual abuse.  So, to try to heal by saying that I was fearless and to take a moral inventory, actually increased fear.

The 4th Circle reads:
We search deep within ourselves to appraise the abuse done to us, and how it still affects us.  We celebrate our strengths and gently acknowledge the ways we would like to change.
WE COULD SUBSITUTE THE WORD TRAUMA AND TRAUMATIZED FOR THE WORD ABUSE.  THIS RECOGNIZES THAT THERE IS INTERGENERATIONAL TRAUMA PASSED DOWN IN FAMILIES AND OUR FAMILIES ACTED OUT OF THEIR OWN TRAUMA.  Blame and shame are left out.

Important questions to ask ourselves: WHO WOULD I BE IF I HAD NOT BELIEVED ALL OF MY LIFE THERE WAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME?  Who would I be if I had not had to develop ways to survive in my family?  How would I be different?

I have PTSD which is a body response to trauma.  People with PTSD live with the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze) turned on all the time, never getting to full parasympathetic nervous system mode where we are in rest and relaxation. In other words, never feeling fully safe! Some of the symptoms are exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance.  Also, dysregulation of our brain function. This can be seen on QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalograms) and functional MRI’s.

The very first 4th step inventory that I prepared was the story of my trauma.  I wrote down things that had happened to me when I was powerless.  It was my honest truth.

When I began telling my truth in my family, they disowned me.  That was another trauma.  I was told they just wanted their “Happy” Terrie back.  But I was never really that.  It was a mask I wore to survive in the family.  One of the recovery sayings is ACT AS IF. I feel like I have been recovering from acting as if.  I said this in a meeting after another person had been speaker and disclosed her incestuous family history.  She came up to me after and said that was true for her too.  That felt like a true connection to another honest human being.  A wonderful thing about 12 step meetings is that we really can tell our truths and have a deep connection with another trauma survivor.

Of all the weekly readings in CoDA my favorite is the welcome because it acknowledges our trauma throughout.
One of the things that I get scared about in the meetings is being judged because since the beginning of my recovery I have had difficulty with the words, and yet, have felt the principles are right.  I believe the 4th step is about telling the truth about our lives.  That is the principle.  Words are powerful.

In the last year, because of connections with people in CoDA it has been affirmed that adding kindness and compassion is a powerful healing way and there are many who are teaching this way.  I have been listening to Tara Brach, Pema Chodron and am reading the Dali Lama’s book on Happiness.  I have begun an 8 week course on Mindful Self-Compassion at Common Ground.

A good 4th step guide is to recognize what we believe about ourselves that is judgmental. This leads me right back to the Thirteen Healing Circles of 30 years ago. I KNEW THEN THAT I NEEDED KINDNESS AND COMPASSION IN THE WORDS OF RECOVERY.

I believe that I can heal, and it is my responsibility to do so.  I was not responsible for the trauma. For me, the trauma gave me a core belief that there is something wrong with me. That instills fear and means healing from being in fear all of the time.  Today, we know that neuroplasticity exists.  It is said by scientists that the neurons that fire together, wire together.  Feeding ourselves recovery in a community of others who are on this path helps us all heal together.  I believe the truth for all of us is that we are doing this work because we learned codependent behaviors to survive dysfunctional families.

The work is to examine (INVENTORY) our beliefs and change what needs it. We seek through prayer and meditation for help in changing that deeply rooted trauma that led us away from who we were meant to be.

I love the CoDA Recovery Prayers and have begun to use them more than the steps. Starting with CoDA step one the principle is to work on our own life (we are powerless over others). Where I am not powerless is to make the choice to do the work of changing my belief about myself.

I end with the 2nd Step Prayer and an affirmation.

In this moment, I can believe that I am never alone; I can experience the sense of freedom that having a Higher Power offers me. I can remind myself that believing is also an action, and if I am willing to practice it, one moment at a time, I will develop faith.

Affirmation:
I affirm that codependent behaviors are a survival response to early and long-term trauma.  That I am recovering the person that I was meant to be by BREAKING the OLD PATTERNS & LEARNING NEW ONES!

A Tara Brach talk on this:
Freedom from the Prison of Limiting Beliefs
https://www.tarabrach.com/freedom-prison-limiting-beliefs/

the four horsemen of control

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.

life is teaching us

Staying calm in the midst of chaos and uncertainty has not been easy for me in my life.
I feel triggered by the circumstances relating to this COVID 19 pandemic.
The craziness of it.
The isolation.
The paranoia.
The feeling of scarcity.
The confusing and ever-changing information.
It reminds me of my childhood.
Of my mom’s mental illness.
I know logically that this isn’t that.
My inner parts don’t know it though.

What’s good is that I’m getting a chance to grow in my awareness that the parts are there. The defenders and the exiles.
I can see myself clearer and I know when this is over I will be changed for the better because of it.
This self-induced suffering is changing us all in some way.
I am awakening to Self and that is where the calm is found.

Welcome to Recovery From Codependency | The Phoenix Spirit

I had difficulty in my love relationships, friendships and relationships with co-workers and my family. Everything felt so difficult. Why did I keep getting
— Read on thephoenixspirit.com/2020/03/welcome-to-recovery-from-codependency/

CoDA Tool Tuesday…Forgiveness

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.

why can’t I end a bad relationship?

The 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.

WTF??

I suffered from the pain of abandonment trauma. 

Huh?

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.

Promise #5

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. 

I had many of the common signs of abandonment fear including:

  • Being quick to attach, especially to unavailable partners.
  • People pleasing.
  • 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.
  • Repressed anger.
  • Big time control issues.
  • Self-blame.
  • 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.

Me.