LOVING MYSELF BACK INTO WHOLENESS

Bringing Compassion to our Personal Inventory

by Charlie B

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.

The miracle always starts with compassionate awareness of my feelings.

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.

the chameleon

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.

-Recovery Patterns of Codependence

why can’t I end a bad relationship?

The 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.

WTF??

I suffered from the pain of abandonment trauma. 

Huh?

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.

Promise #5

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. 

I had many of the common signs of abandonment fear including:

  • Being quick to attach, especially to unavailable partners.
  • People pleasing.
  • 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.
  • Repressed anger.
  • Big time control issues.
  • Self-blame.
  • 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.

Me.