It’s common for us to feel uncomfortable about our bodies, especially after the holiday season. We may judge them as not thin enough or attractive enough or strong enough or young enough or healthy enough. An important part of self-compassion is extending kindness and care to the physical form we inhabit, appreciating its gifts rather than simply criticizing its shortcomings.
Our bodies are the vehicle that allow us to experience life. They give us the gift of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, thought, and feeling. They allow us to move, to dance, to sleep, or to sing.
We can get so caught up in wanting our bodies to be other than they are, that sometimes we completely overlook the miracle that our bodies provide: existence itself.
Our bodies also allow us to process emotional pain. Whether it’s stress or grief or fear or anger – our difficult emotions are experienced as sensations in the body.
When we resist these sensations by tensing and contracting physically, we develop aches, tiredness, and other somatic problems.
This is why it’s so important to consciously turn toward our bodies with kindness and compassion. When we are grateful for the gifts of the body and tender toward the pain it carries, we can develop a new relationship with our physical self that transcends evaluation and allows us to become more vibrant and alive.
Many mindfulness training programs like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction use a meditation practice called the Body Scan – which involves systematically moving one’s attention throughout the body.
In the Mindful Self-Compassion program, we teach a version of the meditation called the Compassionate Body Scan that intentionally layers in warmth, appreciation, and compassion. I hope you enjoy it!
The principle of Step 11 is SPIRITUAL AWARENESS. Prayer means asking. Meditation is a form of listening. AWARENESS comes from recognizing that we have had a Higher Power who cares for us, even when we may be not in touch with that knowledge. My experience of prayer is asking the Higher Power of MY OWN UNDERSTANDING to help me in moments where I cannot see my own way. Both prayer and meditation could be called the SACRED PAUSE.
In the WELCOME reading of CoDA, it acknowledges that our suffering is rooted in the dysfunctional systems that we grew up in. It also specifies that our childhoods were traumatic and that our behaviors are linked to “trying to restore within us the emotional losses” resulting from that.
Early in my recovery, I was quite able to pray and follow my understanding of the wisdoms of changing myself to have a better life. I found myself unable to meditate in a traditional way despite many efforts. A couple of years ago I was listening to Bessel Van der Kolk on a YouTube video talking about his book “The Body Keeps the Score” when he said that people with PTSD often have difficulty meditating. What I was able to recognize that day is that my orientation to survive caused me to be hypervigilant in the extreme. Working with a therapist in 1989 gave me a visual for seeing myself more clearly. She called it PERPETUAL PERISCOPE DUTY. At that point I did not know about hypervigilance.
Also, in a recovery group in the 80’s someone brought the book “Original Blessing” by Mathew Fox that included a chapter on Art as Meditation. I had not done art for about 20 years at that point and recognized that I had used it as a child and young adult to calm myself. I began again and it helped. In 2017, I had a Quantitative Electroencephalogram (QEEG) to evaluate my PTSD. The statistical analysis is that anything over 1.9 standard deviations from values for healthy brain function is diagnosable PTSD. I had a lot of 3s and 4s in the categories of activity I was tested in. My art segment was almost normal. It truly was meditative and calming. My spirit must have known this at a very early age!
As recovering people, we need to understand the path trauma takes to disrupt our lives. It has been described by some as a separation from ourselves. About 3 years ago my therapist asked me if I knew about ACEs. I did not. It stands for ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES. He recommended a book for me by Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. “The Deepest Well”. She is a California pediatrician. As she began her practice in a highly traumatized population, she began to question some diagnoses for some of her patients and learned about a study of this and decided to expand study for further understanding. She developed a questionnaire to address each child who came to her.
There is now much understanding that trauma gets passed down historically and intergenerationally. When our brains are developing in the first 3 years of life trauma interrupts normal development to self-regulate. Unresolved trauma throughout life affects behavior, mental health, and physical health. It is not our fault! Beginning to understand this about ourselves can help us unhook from the shame we feel about our inability to function. Trauma interferes with our ability to learn.
The changes to early brain development stay with us, and we can do something about it if we work to resolve our trauma. Notice that current science written by trauma specialists have titles like “The Body Keeps the Score”, Van der Kolk, or “Begin with the Body” by Resmaa Menakem.
I feel really lucky to have a therapist who has led me to many resources to understand what is going on with me and understand physical things I can do to train my body in new pathways. It feels like my Higher Power helped me get to him and I have made the choice to do the work.
I do something every day for my recovery. A main daily practice now is slow breathing where my belly rises and falls with a slower exhale. This brings me into Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). This is opposite to the Fight, Flight, Freeze (Sympathetic Nervous System SNS) response. Normal people can do PNS without even thinking about it. I still cannot. So, a BREATHING MEDITATION is re-training my body. The science for this came from Stephen Porges. (to be found on YouTube under Polyvagal Theory)
The neat thing about this is that I am comfortable doing it. My Perpetual Periscope Duty does not get in the way like it did for other listening kinds of meditation. The activity of listening showed me to be very dysregulated in my QEEG. Another Body Meditation that has been studied and is recommended by Van der Kolk is yoga. Menakem’s trauma book has many practices to try. One is humming. This would be like slow exhale with vibrations. Shaking our body after a stressful event is recommended by Peter Levine, another trauma scientist. In a kindness and self-compassion class, I learned to put a warm hand on my heart or to cradle my face with my hands. Touching ourselves in a nurturing way increases oxytocin in our bodies which is a pleasure hormone secreted when we are touched. I have been practicing this regularly in the last year and it is very soothing. Now, in addition to art I have all kinds of mediations that are connected to my body that help me heal. Seek the things that help you feel calm.
What we have resorted to in our past that has not worked are things that gave temporary relief from our dysregulation. These in the long run were momentarily soothing but still kept us separated from ourselves and harmed us in the end. They could be substance addictions or process addictions like working, shopping or other activities. Choose proven self-soothing practices above. Learn more.
In 2019 Scotland did a summit on ACEs. You can listen on YouTube if you want to learn more.
ACE-Aware Nation Conference – The science of ACEs is fundamentally hopeful – Dr Nadine Burke Harris
Now, I know I have given you a lot of science here, and yet, even with reading and understanding all of this, I am better, but still have triggers and work to do on myself. This video on YouTube would be a GREAT start and one last thing: One of my all-time favorites to listen to is Gabor Mate (sounds like café) and he gave the keynote talk for this conference. Here is a link to his talk:
Keynote ACES to Assets 2019 – Dr. Gabor Maté – Trauma as disconnection from the self
In the Aqua CoDA book for Step 8 which is the preparation step for making amends it advises that the first person we need to have on our list is ourselves. That we have harmed ourselves the most and been unable to escape ourselves. Yet, what most often happens is that we skip over that, minimize our own pain, and focus on a list of others we have harmed.
What has been necessary in my own recovery is to really examine how childhood trauma has shaped my life responses. In codependence, what we do is focus on others through caretaking and other behaviors. We may have gotten a message that our true self was not acceptable in our family or culture, so we hide or leave ourselves and then forget who we are. For me, this has resulted in actual dissociation and other forms of leaving like getting busy doing something else that keeps me from facing the pain of trauma. I see the CoDA program as being focused on how we were hurt and how it affects our ability to be present for ourselves. If we are separate from ourselves, how can we be truly present for anyone else?
And then when our lives are not working, we blame ourselves. This continues our pain of separation, affects our spirit, and our relationship with our higher power. In the last year, I have learned that this is sometimes called the 2nd ARROW. In the original 12 step language the 9th step says “Made Amends to Such People Except When to Do So Would Injure THEM or Others. Thirty one years ago for a group I started called Sexual Abuse Survivors we rewrote this step (called a circle in that program).
We make amends with respect for all concerned, and with compassion about howthis may affect ourselves and others.
For me and members of that group, we recognized that we needed to make clear in the language that we were included in the JUSTICE of making amends. In the last year and a half, I have recognized even with that change my difficulty with sending myself the 2nd Arrow was more prevalent and destructive than I knew. My awareness was prompted by a talk with a member of CoDA who told me about Tara Brach. Listening to her opened my eyes and gave me a new understanding of the work that I still must do. A class on Kindness and Compassion gave me some new tools as did a class on Begin with the Body for racialized trauma. We used the scientific methods for healing trauma by NEUROSCIENTISTS Peter Levine, Stephen Porges and Bessel Van der Kolk as well as Resmaa Menakem, and practiced them together in small groups every other week.
Also having a big effect on me is the therapy that I have been doing since early 2017 that prepared me to make a bigger leap this last year. Trauma creates changes in the brain and separation from the body so becoming embodied is an important part of recovery. I could not even feel my body in an early session where that was tested.
As I have done this work, I have been kinder and more compassionate to myself, and I am seeing that spill over into my relationships. An amend is not so much about an apology as it is about a change in understanding and behavior. That had to start with recognition of how I was still harming myself.
An amend to myself includes recognizing people I must leave. There have been some in my life who harmed me on purpose and would not change their behavior even when asked. I did give myself permission to leave home at 16, to leave an abusive husband at 29 and to cut relationships permanently with my parents and one brother. In the DETACHMENT reading it says Not to allow ourselves to be used or abused by another. This permission has been a very important tool for my recovery. I have had to grieve these losses. Grief is an important recovery process. Even giving myself permission to cry was difficult in my early recovery.
And an amend to them means that I recognize that they too survived trauma but could not or would not do their own recovery work. I practiced LET GO AND LET GOD with them. I cannot open the door back up to them as boundaries are not something that are respected.
I am feeling much gratitude that my youngest brother did choose to do recovery work and our estrangement has ended. Now we are communicating in a way that is safer for each of us and sharing our feelings in an honest and compassionate way. It feels like our true selves that we lost during childhood are re-emerging.
Abuse has been described as murder of the soul. In being traumatized I have left through dissociation most of my life. Leaving myself continually is the pattern that I most need to make an amend to myself for. It was not my fault, but I blamed myself. In a talk called SOUL RETRIEVAL given September 24th, 2008, by Tara Brach, the description says:
When we become stressed and reactive, we lose contact with our natural spontaneity, wisdom and openheartedness. This talk investigates the ways we become caught in the stress-trance and the key elements in awakening: pausing and remindfulness. Using the gateway of the senses, we explore both the pathway of presence and the gifts of reconnecting with soul, spirit, essence.
My recovery is about reconnecting myself with my own spirit. We need to know our own wisdom before we can deliver JUSTICE to ourselves. It is from the healing of self that we can then apply it to others we have harmed. An old saying in recovery is that we cannot give away what we do not have. My recovery is about being kind to myself for the years of not being able to get rid of the belief that somehow, I was at fault. I was able to figure this out intellectually, but just in the last year and a half, I have been more able to see that my emotions were still in the pattern of self-blame. The second arrow.
In a therapy session on February 26, 2018, my therapist said to me “Terrie, you can just stop.” I did not know exactly what that meant, but it was so important to me that I wrote it on a note to myself and put it up in my studio and dated it. What my study of Tara Brach has helped me with is to recognize that I can pause when stress begins and make a different choice than my old pattern. I can choose my reaction. What has been happening for me is that I am actually able to accomplish that more and more.
The JUSTICE I receive from this is reparations. A way back to my own soul. In neuroscience it is said that the neurons that fire together wire together. My dream in life is to be whole. In my imagery of this I am emptying my quiver. The arrows are not needed.
When we fly, the airline staff tells us to apply our own oxygen mask first in an emergency. My hope is that if you have not focused on yourself first, that you now give yourself permission and forgiveness.
I am a survivor of childhood trauma and also ongoing trauma. In recovery, it has been important to me to acknowledge my successes as well as my mistakes.
In the book THE ADDICTIVE ORGANIZATION by Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel, they describe codependent behaviors as a fatal disease and say, “In fact, there is some evidence that codependents who are in addictive relationships tend to die younger than the addicts do” (pg. 75) They go on to say, “Their disease is more subtle and serious, harder to detect and more socially acceptable than that of the active addict.” They link it to specific diseases that are common to those who suffer. One of the things that I have talked of often in CoDA are the physical responses that my body has when I am in stressful situations. Often, it has not been until these physical symptoms emerge that I have been willing to leave harmful situations, or people in my life that trigger them.
This is why it is so important to persevere in our recovery and continue to take personal inventory. And we need to do this in a balanced way counting our goodness as well as what we would like to change. For me, the language in the twelve steps focuses too much on our wrongs. It feels like a blame the victim mentality when we are survivors of family and societal dysfunction that has taught us this behavior in order to survive. Schaef and Fassel describe clearly how the culture we live in expects and rewards this! The expected behavior in our families and culture expect us to take care of them and it leads to a requirement that we ARMOR ourselves. It is like a contract that we are only good when we take care of someone else. In my case, there was physical sexual abuse, and also covert incest which is defined as a child being expected to behave like an adult and take care of the parents.
No wonder this becomes deeply rooted! Recognizing this has been part of my inventory. I had to develop an ARMOR. The paradox is that the ARMOR is what keeps us from having healthy relationships. It was meant to hide even from ourselves because the trauma caused us to feel we were wrong and bad. I am recovering from feeling wrong in a shame-based way. I feel like this is related to DENIAL that is so prevalent in addictive systems.
In her book FACING CODEPENENCE, Pia Melody identifies 5 core symptoms of the disease. Number three is OWNING AND EXPRESSING THEIR OWN REALITY. This is a description of how we become out of touch with our true selves. We become caretakers and enablers and we come to believe this is our “good self”. She says: “we apparently could not please our parents by being what we were naturally. This delusion that the abuse was normal and we were “wrong” locks us into the disease of codependence with no way out.”
So, while doing an inventory we must now investigate our old beliefs. Recognizing the paradox of our belief that codependent behaviors were good because they helped us survive needs examination. Are these “character defects and shortcomings?” It is helpful even to begin to question our “wrongs”. It is uncomfortable for many to hear what our truth might be. Some of them are unspeakable and feel shameful. We may feel uncomfortable to face our own truth. To remove our ARMOR is scary. And yet recovery is about allowing vulnerability so our relationships can be healthy. What is good and what is wrong?
It has been helpful to begin to understand the dynamics of multigenerational trauma and shame. These beliefs and behaviors are passed down through many generations. I can trace sexual abuse and alcoholism on both sides of my family going back 4 generations. Words that we use to recover have power. “when we were wrong promptly admitted it” suggests that we know when we are wrong. Careful investigation of this is needed.
I am ending with the 10th step CoDA Prayer and I invite you to get in touch with how you might feel about these words versus the original 10th step as written in the 1930’s for AA.
Step Ten Prayer In this moment, I live my life in a new way. As I continue to open my heart and mind, little by little, one day at a time, I reveal my true self, mend my relationships, and touch God
Step 4 Prayer
In this moment, I am willing to see myself as I truly am: a growing, unfolding spiritual being resting in the hands of a loving God. I can separate who I am from what I’ve done knowing that the real me is emerging—loving, joyful, and whole.
In the Welcome we read that “We have each experienced in our own ways the painful trauma and emptiness of our childhood and relationships throughout our lives.” Starting with coming from a place of trauma, that is affirmed throughout the welcome reading, we can look at how our responses to this trauma became deeply rooted. Small children, being abused conclude that it is somehow their own fault. We often draw the conclusion that there is something wrong with us, and therefore we are to blame. There is a connection between shame and blame. We become shame based in a deeply rooted way. In 1990 I gathered a group of 5 other women who were incest survivors. We wrote a new program for ourselves and called it the THIRTEEN HEALING CIRCLES.
Today, starting with Circles one and two:
1. We admit that we were abused, were powerless over the abuse at the time, and that its consequences deeply affect our lives.
2. We come to believe that the Goddess will awaken a healing power within us. We become ready to open ourselves to this power and realize that we no longer need to be victims.
In recovery I AM working on changing the belief about myself THAT there was always something wrong with me. In recovery groups, we are working on becoming honest with ourselves. For me, this has been a long, hard process of recognition. In the 3rd step prayer, it says:
I can set aside all the old beliefs about who I am not and be who I am—a child of God.
For me this means an action of allowing my higher power to show me new ways of believing that are not shame based.
In Step 4, the language is problematic for me. I have never felt that I was fearless. In fact, part of the difficulty of my life and relationships is being in fear most of the time. In my trauma as a child, I thought that I was immoral because of sexual abuse. So, to try to heal by saying that I was fearless and to take a moral inventory, actually increased fear.
The 4th Circle reads:
We search deep within ourselves to appraise the abuse done to us, and how it still affects us. We celebrate our strengths and gently acknowledge the ways we would like to change.
WE COULD SUBSITUTE THE WORD TRAUMA AND TRAUMATIZED FOR THE WORD ABUSE. THIS RECOGNIZES THAT THERE IS INTERGENERATIONAL TRAUMA PASSED DOWN IN FAMILIES AND OUR FAMILIES ACTED OUT OF THEIR OWN TRAUMA. Blame and shame are left out.
Important questions to ask ourselves: WHO WOULD I BE IF I HAD NOT BELIEVED ALL OF MY LIFE THERE WAS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME? Who would I be if I had not had to develop ways to survive in my family? How would I be different?
I have PTSD which is a body response to trauma. People with PTSD live with the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze) turned on all the time, never getting to full parasympathetic nervous system mode where we are in rest and relaxation. In other words, never feeling fully safe! Some of the symptoms are exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance. Also, dysregulation of our brain function. This can be seen on QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalograms) and functional MRI’s.
The very first 4th step inventory that I prepared was the story of my trauma. I wrote down things that had happened to me when I was powerless. It was my honest truth.
When I began telling my truth in my family, they disowned me. That was another trauma. I was told they just wanted their “Happy” Terrie back. But I was never really that. It was a mask I wore to survive in the family. One of the recovery sayings is ACT AS IF. I feel like I have been recovering from acting as if. I said this in a meeting after another person had been speaker and disclosed her incestuous family history. She came up to me after and said that was true for her too. That felt like a true connection to another honest human being. A wonderful thing about 12 step meetings is that we really can tell our truths and have a deep connection with another trauma survivor.
Of all the weekly readings in CoDA my favorite is the welcome because it acknowledges our trauma throughout.
One of the things that I get scared about in the meetings is being judged because since the beginning of my recovery I have had difficulty with the words, and yet, have felt the principles are right. I believe the 4th step is about telling the truth about our lives. That is the principle. Words are powerful.
In the last year, because of connections with people in CoDA it has been affirmed that adding kindness and compassion is a powerful healing way and there are many who are teaching this way. I have been listening to Tara Brach, Pema Chodron and am reading the Dali Lama’s book on Happiness. I have begun an 8 week course on Mindful Self-Compassion at Common Ground.
A good 4th step guide is to recognize what we believe about ourselves that is judgmental. This leads me right back to the Thirteen Healing Circles of 30 years ago. I KNEW THEN THAT I NEEDED KINDNESS AND COMPASSION IN THE WORDS OF RECOVERY.
I believe that I can heal, and it is my responsibility to do so. I was not responsible for the trauma. For me, the trauma gave me a core belief that there is something wrong with me. That instills fear and means healing from being in fear all of the time. Today, we know that neuroplasticity exists. It is said by scientists that the neurons that fire together, wire together. Feeding ourselves recovery in a community of others who are on this path helps us all heal together. I believe the truth for all of us is that we are doing this work because we learned codependent behaviors to survive dysfunctional families.
The work is to examine (INVENTORY) our beliefs and change what needs it. We seek through prayer and meditation for help in changing that deeply rooted trauma that led us away from who we were meant to be.
I love the CoDA Recovery Prayers and have begun to use them more than the steps. Starting with CoDA step one the principle is to work on our own life (we are powerless over others). Where I am not powerless is to make the choice to do the work of changing my belief about myself.
I end with the 2nd Step Prayer and an affirmation.
In this moment, I can believe that I am never alone; I can experience the sense of freedom that having a Higher Power offers me. I can remind myself that believing is also an action, and if I am willing to practice it, one moment at a time, I will develop faith.
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 the OLD PATTERNS & LEARNING NEW ONES!
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.
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.