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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.