Trauma Informed Recovery

By Terrie C.

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

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

~Tara Brach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

be true to yourself

by Terrie C.

I am a trauma survivor.  I had difficulty feeling like I belonged in my family.  I have struggled most of my life to feel like I belong.  I feel fear in meetings because I choose not to identify myself as a codependent.  And, I know, that to be true to myself, that is the right choice for me.  I feel like that would keep me in that definition, and it is not who I am.  Codependent behaviors are survival responses.  It is a mask to belong.  I feel like if I am honest about that with others in the program, I will be on the outside yet again.  And yet the program gives us permission to take what we like and leave the rest.  It gives us permission to name our own definition of our higher power.  I know these things, and yet the fear persists. 

I have loved the Recovery Patterns of Codependence since I first saw them.  Early in my first year in CoDA, I was still seeing the left side as something bad about myself and loved that there was an affirmation on the right side to help me stop those behaviors. 

Over this last year as I have been doing more work on trauma and learning more of the science of it while also doing work on self-compassion and kindness, I am coming to a different understanding of that left side.  I am seeing how awesome we all are that we did survive!  That we were never bad.  Children conclude that if they are being traumatized it is their own fault. I am learning to honor my survival and that of all others who suffer. 

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

Pia Melody

What if we began to look at our codependent behaviors not as something to rid ourselves of, but as something that we can use to understand our young selves when growing up in families that did not allow us to be our true selves? 

What if, by understanding our young self, we could begin to have more compassion for why we had to develop behaviors that helped us survive in our families? 

What if, by developing that understanding we could embrace that young person who became codependent and now as an adult must learn something new? 

What if, we became aware of how hard our lives have been and began to use tools that helped us to not have it so hard as we go forward? 

What if we begin to know that codependent behavior was protection for our own survival? 

And, what if through that understanding we begin to affirm how amazing we are that we survived and know at the same time that change is necessary to be in healthy relationships to be able to thrive in our lives now?

For me, the affirmations on the RIGHT side of the Recovery Patterns give me a tool that enhances and accelerates my own recovery. 

And I affirm that I do not have to do it the hard way, which for me has been asking my higher power to remove things that are survival responses to trauma.  I do not use the words that feel more traumatizing and changed those words in writing a substitute for them more than 30 years ago. 

In RECOVERY, we affirm that others who learned new things that went before us have laid a path for us to stop suffering and make it easier for us to follow them. Years ago, 1989 in fact, a therapist told me that I was often choosing the bumpy road.  She was right!  It was the following year that I wrote the language into my own recovery tool to help myself heal in a way that felt kinder to myself. 

For me, the Recovery Patterns of Codependence is just such a tool!  Affirmations have been written to guide us like a map to behavior that can identify what behaviors are not working for our lives and an affirmation to help us heal the “untrue to ourself” behavior and replace it with a new choice that we don’t have to spend years figuring out!  The path laid before our time! 

And, once we have begun a practice of identifying these patterns, we can become more adept at writing ones that may be more specific to ourselves that may not be included on the list of 55!

Pia Melody says hug your demons or they will bite you in the ass.  Codependent behaviors are our demons! And like demons they had protective purpose. 

May the Recovery Patterns of Codependence ENHANCE your own road to healing! Affirmations help us change what we believe about ourselves! 


the four horsemen of control

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.

choosing the recovery side of the street

by Terrie C

I affirm that the codependent behaviors that I learned helped me survive. I honor them.

It is also true that they are a dysfunction that keeps me from joy.

Now, I wish to live more on the recovery pattern side of the street.

Learning takes place from repetition. Especially when old habits that do not serve me need to be replaced by something new.

It is harder to change than it is to start from scratch.

In an Ernie Larsen workshop, he taught that we must identify what the old message is (Codependent patterns). Then, we must give ourselves an affirmation that may be hard for us to believe and feed it to ourselves repeatedly until it becomes part of us.

The Recovery Patterns of Codependence have identified the dysfunctional patterns and give a healthy choice (affirmation) instead for our recovery.

Codependence often causes survivors to be unable to see choices other than the dysfunction we have learned.

I give thanks that I survived and I give thanks for recovery.

I wish not to pass dysfunction down to others.  I CHOOSE to live on the Recovery side of the street!

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 OLD PATTERNS & LEARNING NEW ONES!

I have the ability to say no to old beliefs and change them to healthier ones!