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.
The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.
The world around us changes constantly. Trees turn from green to beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall. Yet, even if we watched the trees carefully, every minute of the day, we could not actually see the colors change. Change requires time, preparation, and patience.
To make the changes we want, we need to let go of unhealthy but comfortable patterns that we’re stuck in, the way the trees let their colors change and finally let go of their leaves altogether. We can’t have total change right now, no matter how much we want it. It’s important to accept both who we are now and who we are becoming. Just as the tree trusts without question that its leaves will grow and lets go of them when the time comes, we can believe in our own power to grow and let go of our accomplishments when the time is right.
When we do, we can be assured that our lives will blossom again, like trees in the spring coming to life after a cold winter.
~from the book, “Today’s Gift, Daily Meditations for Families”
by Terrie C. Abuse wounds our spirits. Living with the effects of abuse is too devastating for most people to bear without help.
Detachment is a tool for recovering people. Through detachment we learn we were not responsible for the abuse done to us. We also learn we cannot control whether the perpetrator chooses to accept responsibility for the abuse, or whether others we are in relationship with believe us or support our recovery. We learn to let go of obsessing about another’s behavior. We begin to lead happier and more manageable lives. Lives with dignity and rights. Lives guided by a spirit greater than ourselves. In recovery, we learn…
Not to suffer because of the actions or reactions of others;
Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused in the interest of another;
Not to do for others what they need to do for themselves;
Not to manipulate situations or other people;
Not to cover-up for another’s mistakes or misdeeds;
Not to create a crisis,
Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events.
Detachment is neither kind, nor unkind. It does not imply evaluation of the person or situation from which we are detaching. It is simply a means to look at our problems realistically and to give ourselves what we need. It aids us in making intelligent decisions.
Changed slightly from Al Anon version to make it more inclusive
This is not a self help program. It’s mutual support. I can read and learn on my own and that’s all fine and dandy but for me, it can’t replace the experience I get in attending regular CoDA meetings.
I, like so many, had read Melody Beattie’s book, Co-dependent No More. If that’s all it takes to heal then we’d all be living happily ever after. If only it were so easy. No offense to Oprah but just because I “know better” doesn’t mean I can “do better”.
I discovered in therapy that codependency may be at the heart of my struggles. If that’s all it took then my therapist wouldn’t have needed to suggest I get my butt to a CoDA meeting.
When I entered the program of codependents anonymous, I was blown away by how much I didn’t know about my part in my dysfunctional relationships. I was both excited and horrified. Excited to learn others like me existed and horrified to know the path to recovery would be lifelong.
It was in meetings that my progress really accelerated. Listening to the experience, strength and hope of others took me out of my own narrow perspective and gave me so many new insights. Without meetings, I don’t think I could have made the life changes I needed to make.
Meetings allow me to connect with others in recovery. I get to practice speaking and feeling my feelings in a safe place where others won’t try to fix me…they just listen with understanding.
People often ask me how to find a sponsor in CoDA. My response is always… go to meetings. Listen to what others share. For me, meetings were the place where I identified people who would become my sponsors or co-sponsors.
In meetings I can practice with the other tools I’m gaining like service, boundaries, asking for help and caring without caretaking. Hearing the crosstalk guidelines helps me remember to keep the focus on myself. And the “Welcome” reminds me that codependence is a most deeply rooted, compulsive behavior…which helps me be patient with myself and reminds me to dig down to the underlying beliefs and pain that often drive my behaviors.
Meetings are a great place to find supportive friendships and feel that sense of belonging that we all so desperately need. I love the acceptance I feel when I’m in a meeting with other codependents and I share my pain or my joy. Meetings show me that I’m not a freak. I’m ok right where I am. I’m not alone.
Chameleoning. My spell checker doesn’t recognize it. I just hate when we take a noun and use it like a verb…adulting, Googling…
It’s just that I have a hard time finding a better word to describe what I do when I change who I am to please someone else, to fit in, to avoid conflict, to earn love.
What I know now is that chameleoning doesn’t earn me the love. The chameleon gets it. The real me…my true self still lives in fear, without the love and acceptance she desperately wants.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… to a co-dependent, imitation can mean I hate who I really am. Not flattery, just a deep need to be accepted by others so we can feel okay about ourselves. Underneath that need is a deep fear that if “they” only knew what I was really like, they would leave.
For most of my life, I would copy those around me. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be. I hated the question “what do you like to do?” Duh, I like what YOU like. Just tell me what you want, need, prefer, hope for, appreciate, etc…. sounds like a plan to me. I thought the path to love and acceptance was through the door of people pleasing and compliance.
Chameleoning also allows me to avoid conflict and confrontation. I fail to voice my truth when I chameleon myself. I accept someone else’s truth as my own. Ironically, each time I fail to stand up for myself in an effort to prevent abandonment, I’m actually abandoning myself.
As I have grown in recovery, I am learning to accept myself as I am. Through self-compassion practice and work in CoDA, I am changing the old belief that who I am isn’t enough. I’m starting to see evidence that it’s ok to show people the real me. If some don’t like it or even leave me, those aren’t the ones that belong in my life. Other, better relationships will come in time.
I don’t have to fear the question anymore. Go ahead, ask me what I like to do…
In recovery, I stand in my truth, whether others approve or not, even if it means making difficult changes in my life.
I’m very grateful for my new journey in CoDa. I’m learning acceptance and surrender, about trusting my Higher Power and the light that’s been placed within me to have my own experience, strength and hope that is a joy to share in the fellowship of others. I wrote this in about one minute last week as I heard my Higher Power give me this visual of my journey.
The Falling Star
The darkness fell and I was surprised because she gave little notice of dusk. So there we were together, darkness and I.
I began to fret about how I’d find my path now that she commanded her presence? Fear Doubt Anger Then…….. She pointed me to look up and I saw them, why did I not notice before? Individual lights, thousands, maybe millions, I didn’t know. Formations they made I remember pointed to directions and seasons in times past and now. I watched calmly. Then, without warning , just as the darkness had fallen, a lone star left its place in the orchestra of light! A magnificent sight!
But what’s this? I can’t believe my eyes! It’s fallen from its place and rests at my feet!
The darkness then spoke to me for the first time, and know what she said? “ I am as sacred and beautiful as the daytime sun, and there is light in me that few notice. The arrangements of my heavenly lights in the dark offer its own beauty. Your eyes must look up to see these and upward reflection is what was needed for you. I’ve given you a special light of your own. All you must do is embrace it from whence it came, in the dark.” I picked up the fallen star I accepted it fully Hope replaced fear Faith replaced doubt Forgiveness replaced anger. And I was strangely grateful for her, the night, for without her, I would have never picked up a falling star!
“Our emotions drive us to recreate situations in which we will feel the feelings we need to face. We do not have to do anything except allow ourselves to feel them.”
My work history is full of losses. I look back and see how I’ve repeated a pattern of hanging on, controlling and attaching to outcomes.
It began with the loss of my favorite job. I had managed a video store for several years while going to college. After I graduated, I continued to work there despite the fact that I had started a new “day job”. Of course, I butted heads with the new manager. She wanted me to change how the store was organized. I felt like she was telling me I was doing it wrong. One night, the owner came in and fired me. Six years of work… and then it was over.
I lost two more jobs after that.
I taught for Head Start. Of course I butted heads with the director. She wanted me to “do less” and be satisfied with my low wage and minimal benefits. I loved the work and gave my full effort, like always…I felt like she was saying I was doing it wrong. So I went over her head, writing the governing board. They later suspended me and although I won a court battle, I never went back to the job. I just moved on without grieving the loss.
The last job I lost was my own business. I know… who gets fired from their own business?
I ran a non profit and of course, butted heads with my business partner. She wanted me to do things her way and we jockeyed for control. Again, I felt those feelings of being wrong…right up to and including the moment my board laid me off. I loved that job and poured my heart into it for 12 years then in one moment… it was over. No time to feel…just move on.
So last week, while helping my husband move his business into a new location, I bumped into those old feelings again. I became hugely triggered when his office manager and other staff members changed how I had arranged a wall of products. While some of my hurt feelings were understandable, my reaction was out of proportion to the situation at hand. I cried for two days.
The ugly cry kind of cry.
What I came to realize was the trigger showed me an area of unresolved grief. It felt familiar… to my past losses, none of which I ever grieved.
Thank God for my program of recovery.
Recovery doesn’t mean never being triggered. It means when I bump up against a trigger, I have a chance to see something unhealed in myself… and to heal it by allowing myself to feel the feelings.
That’s it, just make space for them. Naming them helps in taming them. Feeling them helps in healing them.
Oh, that’s grief. That’s sadness. There’s anger and disappointment in there. Breathe and allow. It’s hard to feel this way. I’m sorry this happened. It’s painful to hold the belief that I’m doing everything wrong…that I’m not good enough. You are just human. You deserve love. I’m here for you.
It’s okay. I’m okay.
Now, work the program. Go to meetings. Talk about it with recovery friends. Cry when the tears come. Feel the old grief coming out. Instead of stopping it, I’m allowing it. On the other side is acceptance. That is a wonderful place to be.