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.

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/