If someone had told you in January that you would spend your entire spring and summer breaks at home, you probably would have laughed. After all, warm weather was supposed to wash away the woes of winter and give us a chance to see friends and family near and far. And then, out of nowhere, COVID-19. While Safer At Home recommendations have given us lots of time to connect with the members of our own households, it’s also given rise to an abundance of domestic tension. If you’re feeling the strain, keep reading for advice on how to loosen the proverbial belt so that you can breathe and enjoy your family once again.
Go outside and play
It’s the same advice you’ve been giving to your children all summer: go outside. As parents, we know that getting outdoors means expending pent up energy. Our hope is that this tires the little ones out so that they can take a nap and wake up refreshed and, ideally, not cranky. Take your own advice. Spend some time outside doing things like riding bicycles. Even if your local park is still closed, you may be able to sneak in a few miles in other areas, like on some back-country roads or college campuses.
This will also put you in the mindset to pay closer attention to your general wellness. When you spend more time active, you’ll want to eat better, and that will lead to changes that affect you in a positive way.
Update the inside.
While going outside is one of the best things you can do for yourself, mother nature sometimes has different plans. Days when it’s just too hot or stormy can make you feel a little cooped up. This might lead to arguments, constant complaining, or an overall bad mood. Together, these things can leave your home full of negative energy. Redfin notes that you can cleanse negative energy from your home using natural methods, much like the Native American art of smudging.
Once your home feels refreshed, spend some time making sure it stays that way. A fresh coat of paint on the wall, rearranged furniture, and even fewer electronics will go a long way toward increasing positivity throughout.
Learn to communicate
Sometimes, stress and tension come simply from a lack of communication. Even when you are stuck in the house with your entire family all day long, communication – real communication – may go to the wayside. Instead of doing things like leaving the laundry out and hoping your teenager gets the picture, talk to them. Remind them that they have chores to do, and that everyone is expected to do their part. Similarly, if your spouse is being short-tempered, let them know you recognize that they are stressed but remind them that their words and actions are causing even more pressure on the entire household. When you learn to state what you need and say what you mean, you can avoid a great deal of stress caused by miscommunication.
Codependency and self-isolation
Even if you spend more time outside, communicate like a champion, and make your home a cozy zone, if you are codependent or live with someone who is, your stress levels may be through the roof. Medium’s Madison Epting asserts that steps such as setting boundaries, doing things on your own, and engaging in self-care are great ways to keep you from falling back into codependent patterns. If you find that your codependency doesn’t get any better via self-help, MinnCoDA can help you find a program of recovery to support you through this difficult time.
While no one knows for certain when the pandemic will actually end, we can put a stop to its negative effects inside of our homes. So when stress has you down, look for ways to lift yourself up. Communication, physical fitness, and purging all of the negative energy is a great place to start.
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.
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.
Once again, we can look to our Traditions to guide us as we navigate through difficult and uncharted ground. When faced with difficult life circumstances and relationship issues, the 12 Traditions can be the principles of our meetings as well as our interactions with others. Who hasn’t benefitted from Tradition 12’s reminder to place “principles before personalities”?
What more controversial topic is there right now than how and when to reopen our world after the last months of lockdown? There are so many stories and opinions as well as triggers for codependent behaviors. CoDA wisely lays out the guidance in Tradition 10 offering us no opinion on outside issues, which helps us keep the focus where it needs to be, our personal program of recovery.
As we keep the focus on our primary purpose, to carry our message of recovery to those who still suffer, we are opening up our local recovery community to even more options where people can discover the gifts of the program of Co-Dependents Anonymous. Fortunately for us, we live in a time of advancement which allows us to have choices. As face to face meetings resume, some local zoom meetings will also continue to be available on an ongoing basis. This allows each individual to make the choices that are right for themselves. MinnCoDA’s “Staying Connected” page will become our “Local Online Meetings” page and links to join zoom meetings will be able to be accessed there.
Of course, each group is autonomous and can discuss and work out the details of how that particular meeting will move forward using the group conscience process. When we gather in our meetings either face to face or online, it is wonderful to know we have a safe place to express our feelings about what is happening in our lives. I invite you to find your voice in light of the 12 Traditions of Co-Dependents Anonymous, CoDA’s Guide to Sharing and the Recovery Patterns of Codependence. In order to ensure the emotional safety of those present, we refrain from advice giving, controlling or debating, etc. We recognize that other people are capable of managing their own lives and that we can accept the thoughts, choices and feelings of others even if we are not comfortable with them.
Ultimately, the tools of the program which include the Serenity Prayer, 12 Steps and Traditions and many more are here to help each of us find our recovery from our codependence. They remind us where we are powerless and where we have choices. We grow in our trust of a Higher Power of our own understanding. They guide us to learn to take care of ourselves and allow others to do the same.
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.
Kessler explains… “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”
Personally, I agree and there are a lot of losses to grieve. Grief is not just about the death of a loved one. For me, any change can be a loss and any loss can trigger grief. Here we all are with the loss of how things used to be. Loss of our jobs. Loss of physical touch. Loss of gathering to celebrate together. Loss of our routines. Loss of the way the world was before all this happened.
And…”Your loss is not a blessing or a test, it’s not about finding gratitude…loss just happens in this world.”
So what can we do with all this grief?
The stages of grief are not really linear but rather act as a guide. Understanding them helps us navigate…
Kessler says, “There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We have to name it in order to feel it and feel it to heal it.
I found a lot of wisdom and validation in this work on grieving and who doesn’t love to hear Brene Brown? so here are the links to the full article and the podcast.