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.
Man have I been backsliding into my old friend Control. It’s okay though as most of the world seems to be joining me. I’m watching people doing all kinds of things to try to “stay safe”, protect others…and even police the behavior of people around them.
Control patterns are often the first place someone notices their codependent behaviors. The first four are grouped neatly together and pose a challenge for me in relationships across the board. I often think they should be bracketed together on the list as I rarely do one without the others.
They are: Codependents often
Believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
Attempt to convince others what to think, do or feel.
Freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
Become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
When I’m controlling, I’m NOT trusting.
I’m not trusting…that the other person can take care of themselves.
I just hate it when people offer ME unsolicited advice. Why then do I think others should appreciate it from me? It makes me feel undermined…like they don’t think I can figure it out or the way I’m doing it is wrong. Yet, I think my advice is so helpful that they’d be crazy not to do things my way.
I’m not trusting…that learning comes through experience.
When I prevent someone from experiencing consequences, I’m robbing them of the chance to learn for themselves. They can’t get the practice it takes to handle disappointments or failures and know how to move on. I cheat them out of that terrific feeling you get from knowing you can figure things out on your own. As someone in the program told me once, they won’t ever hit bottom as long as I keep throwing a mattress under them.
I’m not trusting…that they have a Higher Power who loves them…and it’s not me.
Their Higher Power’s will is for them alone and because I’m not God, I can’t know what that is for another person. If I act as their Higher Power by attempting to get them to think, do or feel…I can get in the way of that greater will for their life. Turns out, I don’t always know what’s best. Even if I think I do.
In CoDA, I am practicing using tools to counter these destructive patterns. In meetings, I can share about how my control behaviors come out when I’m afraid. I listen to others share about their struggles with control and what works for them. I get support as I practice being uncomfortable with the choices others make for themselves. In service, I get to practice letting go of my need to control and force my will. I get to build my capacity to trust others and see how people can take care of their own problems. I can practice communicating and allowing people to work through their disagreements. I don’t have to be a “right fighter” anymore.
In recovery, I can learn to trust… That other adults are capable of managing their own lives.
In recovery, I can learn to accept… the thoughts, choices and feelings of others, even though I may not be comfortable with them.
In recovery, I can learn to give…. my advice only when asked.
In recovery, I can learn to be… content to see others take care of themselves.
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.
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.
When I choose not to forgive its like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Forgiveness is a tool that helps me move forward. I know I don’t do it for the other guy, I do it for me. So I don’t have to carry the baggage anymore. It doesn’t mean I approve of what they did but the person who hurt me doesn’t occupy space in my head anymore and that gives me my serenity back.
So with the holidays upon us I’m faced with the question of old…how do I put up with that annoying relative that crashed my wedding, always seems to find a way to insult someone at every family event and basically creates a black hole which sucks the joy from the room?
This year, the answer will be forgiveness. I’m gonna try to be polite and accept her as she is. I’m gonna tap into common humanity and try to see her someone who, like me, is just trying to find her way through life to the best of her ability, flaws and all.
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.
weird thing about abandonment is that I feel it even if I’m the one ending the
relationship. This part of my codependency is a big part of why I tend to stay
in harmful situations too long.
Perhaps you are reading this because you are in a relationship with someone you wish would change. Maybe, you have tried to do the changing yourself. Or crazier still, you’ve tried to get the other person to change.
It took me 19 years to leave my husband. They weren’t all bad years but a lot of bad stuff happened along the way. There were times I almost ended it but then again…what if things got better? I tried everything to get him to change so I could be happy. It didn’t work. When I finally did divorce him, I found myself continuing to caretake him and try to fix and control his life. I couldn’t just walk away.
I followed that with another destructive and dysfunctional relationship. I would break it off but within a week or two…six at the most…be right back where I started.
suffered from the pain of abandonment trauma.
That fear of being left, of losing those you love, of being rejected, of never finding love again. Many co-dependents suffer with fear of abandonment. The roots may be in childhood when a parent or caregiver left, neglected or rejected you. Most of us don’t get to adulthood without suffering some losses. A loved one’s death, a relationship or friendship ending…it’s easy to get stuck somewhere in the process of grieving our losses.
For me it was my mom’s mental illness. I understand it now. How chaotic behavior, her periods of absence during hospitalization or incapacitation and times watching her walk out after an angry tirade left me with confusion, insecurity and self-blame.
had many of the common signs of abandonment fear including:
Being quick to attach, especially to unavailable partners.
Staying in situations no matter how unhealthy it got.
Feeling unworthy of love.
Intense feelings of separation anxiety.
Overthinking things and working hard to figure out the hidden meaning in literally everything.
Hypersensitivity to criticism.
Big time control issues.
Feelings of “otherness”, like I didn’t belong.
When I stay in harmful relationships or situations, waiting for it to get better and allowing myself to be hurt, it is self-abandonment. I’m so focused on fixing the other guy that I leave myself in the cold.
The healing started when I got into therapy, found my tribe in CoDA, and finally realized that when I fail to love and accept myself as I am and to protect myself with healthy choices, I am actually abandoning myself. This self-abandonment perpetuates my fears, insecurities and feelings of worthlessness. Then comes the people pleasing, approval seeking and other harmful, co-dependent behaviors…and we ride the crazy train back to the station once again.
If you’ve found this article and you are reading it thinking…wow, sounds a little like my life, then I have good news for you. My life changed when I found co-dependents anonymous. I found people just like myself who were actively working to heal. I didn’t feel like such a needy freak anymore. They were experiencing the promises coming true in their lives. There is hope. I was able to break the pattern of repeated, bad relationships and nurture a new relationship with a person who will never abandon me again.