Trauma Informed Recovery

By Terrie C.

trauma informed recovery, Tara Brach quote, CoDA program, co-dependency

Knowing it is not
our fault affects how we show up in the world. 
Self-forgiveness makes us
more responsible,
more able to respond wisely to our own strong emotions.

~Tara Brach

Twelve step recovery has helped to save my life. I have attended many different flavors of it and find CoDA to be the best fit. Years ago, I learned about family systems. It was very enlightening to know how my family affected what I believed and how I behaved. I began breaking those family rules to become healthy.

In the CoDA Welcome it speaks of coming from dysfunctional families, moderately and sometimes extremely. It also speaks of powerful addictions many of us have to cope with that, and names it as trauma. My family was in the “extremely” category and shame ran the show. I am a survivor of incest and was diagnosed years ago with Complex, Chronic PTSD. In 2017, I began with a new therapist who is a Ph.D. psychologist and also a neuroscientist. He began teaching me more about trauma. This knowledge has advanced my understanding of myself and my behavior radically.

One of the things that I love about 12 step work is that it gives permission to take what we like and leave the rest. It gives permission to have a Higher Power of our own understanding. For much of my life, since early education, I have been a nerd and loved science. I went into a medical field that continually changed as more knowledge was gained through rigorous research. Since working with a therapist who specializes in the science of trauma, it has been another life-changing period.

When I began in 2017, I had lived most of my life not feeling safe but wanting to and told the therapist that I wanted to get better resilience so that I would not be reacting in fear so much. His teaching was about how the body is affected by trauma and that, by certain practices, we can heal the body. Trauma is a physical dis-ease. Trauma is healed from the bottom up, and not so much from the top down, although that is also a part of healing. What is missing in 12 step recovery and CoDA is the huge wealth of trauma healing practices that have been emerging especially in the last two decades.

What I hope to do here is inspire you to learn more about trauma, as it is a way of unhooking ourselves from the shame we experienced in our early life. There is a link between shame and blame, and also shame and rage. I know many of you may already be doing trauma work. We can all benefit from talking about it more. Bessel Van der Kolk is a medical doctor, and trauma survivor who has done leading edge scientific investigation of trauma. In his book, THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE, he says that for a survivor of trauma silence = death. In my family keeping the secret was the only way to survive. When I began talking about incest and chemical abuse in my family, they disowned me. In order to save my own life, I had to follow a recovery path.

To survive, people who have been traumatized are conditioned to stay stuck in their sympathetic nervous systems. (Fight, Flight, Freeze.) Stephen Porges Ph.D. is a scientist who has done much research on healing using breathing to get ourselves out of this cycle. When we are no longer in danger our bodies are supposed to return to parasympathetic nervous system.  Parasympathetic is also called the REST and RESTORE phase. When growing up in traumatic homes, our bodies develop something called “KINDLING” where it began to take less and less of a trauma for our bodies to have a large physical response. Sympathetic and parasympathetic make up the Autonomic Nervous System. They are supposed to work like a teeter totter, when one is up the other is down, but in trauma response the sympathetic is stuck on. Our breathing is a way to train our body to relax and begin to be in parasympathetic nervous system that rests and restores us.

Meditation that focuses on breathing regulation with shorter inhale and longer exhale resets our body to a calm state. What I learned about myself is that I probably never breathed right. My breathing was ragged, short, shallow breaths. Breath regulation training has really helped to calm me. It is simple but not easy. I practice it every day. And I still default often to short, shallow breathing reflexively.

When we are children in traumatic homes, it is too scary to believe our caregivers are bad and so we blame ourselves. We grow up believing at some level we were always bad. The codependent behaviors we develop are ways of surviving in this environment. Then when we carry it into our adult lives, it no longer works and destroys our relationships. A CoDA tool to help us with seeing our survival patterns are the Recovery Patterns of Codependence which gently names our survival pattern on the left side and then gives a remedy for a new behavior we can adopt on the right. For me, it has been helpful to begin naming these patterns survival patterns as it unhooks me from feeling I am at fault. Instead, I have come to respect how miraculous it is that I made it through and am now healing. I feel like my Higher Power has brought me to words that serve my growth.

Another valuable piece of recovery science that my therapist introduced was the ACE Study. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, and it is a new handle associated with a method of systematically measuring traumatic experiences and correlating them to impacts on survivors of trauma. The original study was done at Kaiser Permanente in California and had 17,000 participants. What was found was that major morbidity and mortality outcomes were associated with the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences a person has. My score is a 5. I read THE DEEPEST WELL by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. who expanded the study and is now the Surgeon General of California. Trauma has now been proven to be associated with the formation of addictive personalities as well as many physical diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

I have been fortunate in CoDA to meet people who are finding another powerful, related path to healing with years of science behind its methodology. This is Mindful Self-Compassion work. How many of you are extremely hard on yourselves? Could it help to deeply understand that it is our traumatic experiences which led us to become both the attacker and the attacked? Mindful Self Compassion is, for me, a vital missing ingredient which is finally freeing me from the shame and blame response I learned as a child. Kristen Neff, Ph.D. is a pioneer in this research.

Just as the medical field evolves, I recognize that recovery needs to evolve. Forty years of 12 Step recovery alone did not get me there. The Steps were written in the 1930’s and were groundbreaking! Those who wrote them are the shoulders we stand on. And, we can all benefit from knowing more about trauma and how to heal from it. CoDA named it and that was a leap forward from the original 12 Steps.

The Winding Road

– by Beth

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.

be true to yourself

by Terrie C.

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. 

Hug your demons or they will bite you in the ass.

Pia Melody

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! 

BE TRUE TO YOURSELF!

Accepting all parts of ourselves

The Self is who I truly am.

I know I’m in Self when I am compassionate, curious and connected.

I know I am in Self when I accept, without judgement, all my parts…even those that may create problems in my life.

I know ALL my parts are trying to help and protect me in their own ways.

The healing of my parts can happen when I relate to them from the Self in openness, compassion and without judgement.

All parts are welcome.

trust the gold

Wonderful meditation by Tara Brach on healing shame. Trust your goodness. Be self-compassionate. Breathe. Listen. Enjoy.

Step 11-finding my higher power

By Terrie C.

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!

There’s a hole in my sidewalk

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.

Chapter Five
I walk down another street.

what you are feeling is probably grief

Someone sent me this article the other day and then a different person sent me an amazing podcast by Brene Brown where she is talking with the same author, David Kessler.

He is the world’s foremost expert on grief and co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. So I thought I must share this insight with you here because it resonated with me…

Kessler explains…
“We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Personally, I agree and there are a lot of losses to grieve. Grief is not just about the death of a loved one. For me, any change can be a loss and any loss can trigger grief. Here we all are with the loss of how things used to be. Loss of our jobs. Loss of physical touch. Loss of gathering to celebrate together. Loss of our routines. Loss of the way the world was before all this happened.

And…”Your loss is not a blessing or a test, it’s not about finding gratitude…loss just happens in this world.”

So what can we do with all this grief?

The stages of grief are not really linear but rather act as a guide. Understanding them helps us navigate…

Kessler says, “There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We have to name it in order to feel it and feel it to heal it.

I found a lot of wisdom and validation in this work on grieving and who doesn’t love to hear Brene Brown? so here are the links to the full article and the podcast.




the power of connection

Excerpt from an article by Sarah Kaplan, Reporter for Speaking of Science
see full article with links to the research here.

Six feet has never felt farther away.

Psychologists are worried about the long-term effects of our new, socially distant reality. Decades of research have shown that loneliness and isolation are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues.

But there is also hope in the data. Studies have revealed that human connection — something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love — can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.

A supportive phone call, an empathetic ear, an expression of love — these things can bolster the immune system on a molecular level.

But when we are on our own, or even when we just feel friendless, our bodies gear up for danger. Our nervous systems produce norepinephrine, a hormone associated with the “fight or flight” response. Inflammation — the way the immune system heals wounds and fights off bacterial infections — goes into overdrive. (Ironically, our anti-viral response is suppressed when we’re lonely.) Many of the hormones involved in stress, like cortisol, hinder immune cells’ ability to function.

One of the most important things kindness can do is ease our reaction to stress.

“There are powerful protective effects that we shouldn’t ignore,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. “And the extent to which we cannot only be open to receiving support from others … but be a source of support to them, can potentially help us all get through this.”

We shouldn’t even think of what we’re doing as social distancing, Holt-Lunstad said. She prefers the term “physical distancing.” It’s a reminder that the virus may have forced us apart, she said, but it doesn’t have to make us alone.