LOVING MYSELF BACK INTO WHOLENESS

Bringing Compassion to our Personal Inventory

by Charlie B

I am Charlie, and I’m still recovering from the co-dependent survival patterns I learned so well in childhood. I’m also grateful I’ve come so far!  So many of the program promises have come true for me in so many good ways!  

Yet I still have much unfinished business waiting.  I can be easily triggered back into some shameful or defensive old identity.  At such moments I can be taken over by young inner “parts” of me who come on line when I’m pushed outside of my “window of tolerance.”  These parts are trying to help.  Once upon a time their strategies were vital and necessary for helping me to survive. But I’ve grown up, and these codependent strategies no longer suffice. In recovery I’ve experienced truly wholesome relations with myself and others.  This is my new vision and standard; being fully alive and connected to others in nourishing ways. 

So, in such moments I now have powerful tools and medicines for returning to my true center. Suppose I am somehow triggered into feeling insecure.  What actually happened?  Yes, someone said or did something, but it’s the interpretation I create inside which I then react to.  Why?  Because hidden deep down I still have a collection of poisonous beliefs I took on in childhood. 

Some part of me then takes this external event as proof and picks up these debilitating old negative beliefs about “myself.”  The resurgence of these destructive beliefs and thoughts can quickly generate powerful negative emotions like shame, fear, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness.  This is the process by which I can maintain a state of irrational guilt and worthlessness.

These emotions are so painful to experience that other survival patterns kick in trying to suppress or divert attention away from my emotional discomfort.  If I am not self-aware, then in seconds I may once again act out an old trauma.   Awareness of my growing new response patterns is suppressed and I forget the tools I’ve acquired for getting grounding…getting out of a victim mindset. 

If this happens when I’m in a social situation, I may suddenly feel excruciating feelings of insecurity and revert back into old defensive behaviors.  Unconsciously I may be taken over by a powerful urgency to be seen, admired, and loved.  This consuming neediness immediately switches on a sort of inner survival mode where I believe that I must make people love me

For example, I may “tap dance” for approval by trying to be clever, funny, charming, sincere, or ingratiating.  Seen from the eyes of compassion: a very young part has taken me over.  He so desperately wants to be seen that he’s not really able to see and be present with others.

This young part feels so defective and deficient that he’s hustling for his goodness again.  I’ve been taken over by a younger version of myself who feels guilty and driven.  Someone with insight might see me trying to compensate unnecessarily.  Inside I feel like I’m all alone onstage. The other people present are now just performance objects; their purpose is to mirror me, like support characters in a movie drama.  They might be great, but they’re really there to orbit around me, the main character.  They’re just a plot element in my dramatic story now. 

At such moments I can feel outside, separate, and alone.  This regression is understandable because when I was a child, I really was outside trying to get attention and acceptance. I was for years in many ways abandoned and traumatized.  I really was judged and kept at a distance.  

But I’m not really alone.  For one thing, the effects of these kinds of trauma are common, actually quite predictable.  They linger and don’t lessen unless they are faced and healed.   Until then however, my habit will be to use people in an attempt to redeem those emotional losses of my childhood…to belatedly get what my parents, older siblings and other adults didn’t give me which was acceptance, love, and validation.

I’m so happy to say that my Higher Power and program friends have helped me to finally heal these old wounds and sadness.  I was fortunate to find a truly wise and loving sponsor.   He told me that the purpose of sponsoring is for me to learn how to show up for myself.

So, while I don’t ever want or have to do this alone, I think that I’m the friend that I’ve been waiting for.   There is only one person who can really fill my hunger, who can re-parent my understandably aching heart, and that’s me.  I see myself now as a spiritual being who is having a human experience.  Now I’ve experienced my loving and wholesome self.   Now I know that my Higher Power is in charge, I’m on a steady journey of awakening. 

But I still keep running into unfinished business.  My actual healing happens one transformation at a time when as life makes moments that require me to stretch again and really work my program.  Over time I’ve seen there seems to be a trustworthy process that I can follow in these challenging moments.   The miracle always starts with compassionate awareness of my feelings.  If I can just notice when I’m feeling scared or defective, then I can stop for the moment it takes to love myself out of my “trance of unworthiness.” Tara Brach calls taking this moment The Sacred Pause.

So, I stop dancing or defending long enough to really befriend myself in the moment.  First, I name the feelings in an honest and understanding way. Then, I share compassion with myself by telling myself things like this really hurts…it’s understandable…this is a normal human reaction…I love you…I care for you…you’re beautiful…and you’re going to be ok.

I may then reflect on my thoughts and behaviors to assess whether they are healthy and connecting.  I try to take these 10th step inventories in a respectful and empowering way that leaves me feeling strong and valued.  I let go of perfectionism and am grateful for my willingness and courage to look within with compassion. 

The healing doesn’t have to happen right in the moment either.  For example, last night in my book club I started feeling competitive, anxious, and self-conscious.  However, I couldn’t seem to pull back enough to just hold myself.  Instead I just kept talking and tap dancing, even though part of me was aware that I wasn’t just being with my friends so much as performing at them.

Afterwards, I didn’t feel a sense of connection but actually felt a little more separate than before our time together. This is one of the most painful aspects of my unhealed codependency, when I can feel alone even amongst safe and loving friends or family.

The miracle always starts with compassionate awareness of my feelings.

So, upon noticing this all later, my first wise response was understanding and compassion. Ouch, I told myself, I’m sorry you’re feeling so insecure.  It’s really hard to not feel worthy.  That’s an awful feeling, and it’s not true.  It’s totally understandable that you go back into old habits though.  They worked somewhat in the past to get the attention and love you needed to survive.  I really care about you and I know you’re really good, lovable, safe, and enough.  You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t need to perform anymore.  We’re not that child anymore.  He did great.  He survived and grew up.  I’m the loving, wise and competent adult he grew up into

Since I was now standing in my adult and loving presence, I opened deeper and asked this hurting younger part what he really needed… if there was anything else, he wanted me to know and understand. 

What I got were pictures of a child within me hungering for years and years for simple acceptance and blessing.  The adults in his world were competitive, controlling, and fearfully unavailable. Looking back with his eyes I could see how these behaviors of tap dancing and hustling for my goodness actually helped me to survive.  As an adult seeing this all through his eyes, I was more able to compassionately witness and bless this part.  I shifted my view to gratitude for having these survival skills and tactics.  I didn’t want to exile this part but to integrate him…to bring these character traits into balance.  I concluded by repeating one of my most healing blessings which is “right now, I am only grateful and pleased with myself.” 

Then I spent time reflecting upon my behaviors and the results of my behaviors.   I let myself see the painful results, how those patterns no longer work.  I reminded myself of what does work…like holding myself with love…Like courageously stepping outside myself to really see and be with others fully.  By the end of all l this nurturing and self-care I was restored to myself…fully open and at ease again. 

I can now see how being fully present with myself and others is a truly courageous act.  Being open and vulnerable with others is an act of respect and dignity. It’s not easy to open up to people’s ever-changing feelings and experiences.   

Yet that edgy presence, standing with others in the naked moment, is what my heart is really hungering for.  To stand together, open and vulnerable, is as good as sharing life gets.   It happens that I’m still learning to stand in this presence.  Of course, I am.  It’s not what I learned as a child but I’m getting it now!

Finally, I invited myself to visualize and honor the connection that I do share with my friends. I pictured them and their lovable qualities.  I let the desire to witness, nurture, and just be with them arise naturally inside of my refreshed self-trust…another gift from showing up authentically for myself.  In this space what could finally arise was my authentic awe, love, and gratitude for their beautiful hearts and minds. This was the place I could really see and experience connection with them…. from a heart whose needs were met enough to have trust and room for others inside. 

When I was young, I learned to chase after thin ego foods like being admired or “special.”  I wanted so much more than this but was also afraid of it.  Now in my relations I am consciously choosing a more valuable goal which is real love and connection.  

Changing these old habits builds muscles.  Part of the work is that I have a bunch of old “payoffs” like applause and self-righteousness to surrender.  I find it difficult to sit back and just be.   A part of me still wants to talk, be seen and be in control in order to feel safe.   That part can then take up all the space needed for more meaningful interactions. 

The beautiful thing is that when I’m awake and courageous enough to really share space with trustworthy others, we then together cook a much more soul satisfying meal.  I experience the creative connected ease and flow which arises when I believe in a larger vision of us together. And because I’m really seeing my friends now, my appreciation and love for them is becoming deep and real.  

I believe that when we really pay attention to others (not in a reactive way but truly open to their experience as beings) that we inevitably feel closer to them.  Understanding others has this effect. The same is true within me.  When I authentically and compassionately witness my own experience, I can’t help but love myself.  I practice reverence for my heart’s real journey of hunger and longing, recognizing its’ courage and fortitude.  Then, I am inevitably filled with the awe, compassion, and love that is the only natural response to really seeing one of God’s amazing Children.

what you are feeling is probably grief

Someone sent me this article the other day and then a different person sent me an amazing podcast by Brene Brown where she is talking with the same author, David Kessler.

He is the world’s foremost expert on grief and co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. So I thought I must share this insight with you here because it resonated with me…

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.




the power of connection

Excerpt from an article by Sarah Kaplan, Reporter for Speaking of Science
see full article with links to the research here.

Six feet has never felt farther away.

Psychologists are worried about the long-term effects of our new, socially distant reality. Decades of research have shown that loneliness and isolation are associated with high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, weakened immune systems and a host of other health issues.

But there is also hope in the data. Studies have revealed that human connection — something as simple as getting an offer of help from a stranger or looking at a picture of someone you love — can ease pain and reduce physical symptoms of stress. People who feel supported by their social networks are more likely to live longer. One experiment even found that people with many social ties are less susceptible to the common cold.

A supportive phone call, an empathetic ear, an expression of love — these things can bolster the immune system on a molecular level.

But when we are on our own, or even when we just feel friendless, our bodies gear up for danger. Our nervous systems produce norepinephrine, a hormone associated with the “fight or flight” response. Inflammation — the way the immune system heals wounds and fights off bacterial infections — goes into overdrive. (Ironically, our anti-viral response is suppressed when we’re lonely.) Many of the hormones involved in stress, like cortisol, hinder immune cells’ ability to function.

One of the most important things kindness can do is ease our reaction to stress.

“There are powerful protective effects that we shouldn’t ignore,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. “And the extent to which we cannot only be open to receiving support from others … but be a source of support to them, can potentially help us all get through this.”

We shouldn’t even think of what we’re doing as social distancing, Holt-Lunstad said. She prefers the term “physical distancing.” It’s a reminder that the virus may have forced us apart, she said, but it doesn’t have to make us alone.

life is teaching us

Staying calm in the midst of chaos and uncertainty has not been easy for me in my life.
I feel triggered by the circumstances relating to this COVID 19 pandemic.
The craziness of it.
The isolation.
The paranoia.
The feeling of scarcity.
The confusing and ever-changing information.
It reminds me of my childhood.
Of my mom’s mental illness.
I know logically that this isn’t that.
My inner parts don’t know it though.

What’s good is that I’m getting a chance to grow in my awareness that the parts are there. The defenders and the exiles.
I can see myself clearer and I know when this is over I will be changed for the better because of it.
This self-induced suffering is changing us all in some way.
I am awakening to Self and that is where the calm is found.

CoDA Tool Tuesday…Forgiveness

When I choose not to forgive its like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Forgiveness is a tool that helps me move forward. I know I don’t do it for the other guy, I do it for me. So I don’t have to carry the baggage anymore. It doesn’t mean I approve of what they did but the person who hurt me doesn’t occupy space in my head anymore and that gives me my serenity back.

So with the holidays upon us I’m faced with the question of old…how do I put up with that annoying relative that crashed my wedding, always seems to find a way to insult someone at every family event and basically creates a black hole which sucks the joy from the room?

This year, the answer will be forgiveness. I’m gonna try to be polite and accept her as she is. I’m gonna tap into common humanity and try to see her someone who, like me, is just trying to find her way through life to the best of her ability, flaws and all.

the falling star

by DeAnn B.

I’m very grateful for my new journey in CoDa. I’m learning acceptance and surrender, about trusting my Higher Power and the light that’s been placed within me to have my own experience, strength and hope that is a joy to share in the fellowship of others.
I wrote this in about one minute last week as I heard my Higher Power give me this visual of my journey.

recovery is a light in the darkness…

The Falling Star

The darkness fell and I was surprised because she gave little notice of dusk.
So there we were together, darkness and I.

I began to fret about how I’d find my path now that she commanded her presence?
Fear
Doubt
Anger
Then……..
She pointed me to look up and I saw them, why did I not notice before?
Individual lights, thousands, maybe millions, I didn’t know.
Formations they made I remember pointed to directions and seasons in times past and now.
I watched calmly.
Then, without warning , just as the darkness had fallen, a lone star left its place in the orchestra of light!
A magnificent sight!

But what’s this?
I can’t believe my eyes!
It’s fallen from its place and rests at my feet!

The darkness then spoke to me for the first time, and know what she said?
“ I am as sacred and beautiful as the daytime sun, and there is light in me that few notice. The arrangements of my heavenly lights in the dark offer its own beauty. Your eyes must look up to see these and upward reflection is what was needed for you. I’ve given you a special light of your own. All you must do is embrace it from whence it came, in the dark.”
I picked up the fallen star
I accepted it fully
Hope replaced fear
Faith replaced doubt
Forgiveness replaced anger.
And I was strangely grateful for her, the night, for without her, I would have never picked up a falling star!

feeling my feelings

by CM (compassionate mess) 😉

“Our emotions drive us to recreate situations in which we will feel the feelings we need to face. We do not have to do anything except allow ourselves to feel them.”

My work history is full of losses. I look back and see how I’ve repeated a pattern of hanging on, controlling and attaching to outcomes.

It began with the loss of my favorite job. I had managed a video store for several years while going to college. After I graduated, I continued to work there despite the fact that I had started a new “day job”. Of course, I butted heads with the new manager. She wanted me to change how the store was organized. I felt like she was telling me I was doing it wrong. One night, the owner came in and fired me. Six years of work… and then it was over.

I lost two more jobs after that.

I taught for Head Start. Of course I butted heads with the director. She wanted me to “do less” and be satisfied with my low wage and minimal benefits. I loved the work and gave my full effort, like always…I felt like she was saying I was doing it wrong. So I went over her head, writing the governing board. They later suspended me and although I won a court battle, I never went back to the job. I just moved on without grieving the loss.

The last job I lost was my own business. I know… who gets fired from their own business?

I ran a non profit and of course, butted heads with my business partner. She wanted me to do things her way and we jockeyed for control. Again, I felt those feelings of being wrong…right up to and including the moment my board laid me off. I loved that job and poured my heart into it for 12 years then in one moment… it was over. No time to feel…just move on.

So last week, while helping my husband move his business into a new location, I bumped into those old feelings again. I became hugely triggered when his office manager and other staff members changed how I had arranged a wall of products. While some of my hurt feelings were understandable, my reaction was out of proportion to the situation at hand. I cried for two days.

The ugly cry kind of cry.

What I came to realize was the trigger showed me an area of unresolved grief. It felt familiar… to my past losses, none of which I ever grieved.

Thank God for my program of recovery.

Recovery doesn’t mean never being triggered. It means when I bump up against a trigger, I have a chance to see something unhealed in myself… and to heal it by allowing myself to feel the feelings.

That’s it, just make space for them. Naming them helps in taming them. Feeling them helps in healing them.

Oh, that’s grief. That’s sadness. There’s anger and disappointment in there. Breathe and allow. It’s hard to feel this way. I’m sorry this happened. It’s painful to hold the belief that I’m doing everything wrong…that I’m not good enough. You are just human. You deserve love. I’m here for you.

It’s okay. I’m okay.

Now, work the program. Go to meetings. Talk about it with recovery friends. Cry when the tears come. Feel the old grief coming out. Instead of stopping it, I’m allowing it. On the other side is acceptance. That is a wonderful place to be.

I’ll get there in time. 

practicing gratitude

All of us have reasons to be grateful. How can I show my gratitude today?

People who live wholeheartedly actively practice gratitude. On this day of national thanksgiving it’s nice to reflect on the positive benefits we can gain from a regular, daily gratitude practice.

Gratitude improves our emotional wellbeing and motivation, gives us better sleep and for me, can even reverse a shame spiral!

We all know about gratitude journaling but we don’t always have the time or even the desire to journal. You can find other ways to practice gratitude.

One way to increase your practice is by finding new cues for your gratitude. Cues help us make new habits.

For example, take the opportunity every time you’re standing over the sink and brushing your teeth to say three things you’re grateful for about the day.

Research shows that when you practice gratitude before you go to sleep, it can help increase optimism and overall satisfaction with your life.

Another cue could be at the grocery store…Whether you’re in line to pay for groceries or as you walk the aisles, the grocery store is a perfect time for gratitude.

Try breathing in what you’re grateful for and breathing out the things that are giving you stress and anxiety.

Drinking water throughout the day is a key to good health—which means it’s the perfect opportunity to thank your body for all the wonderful things it can do.

As you sip, scan from your head to your toes, bringing grateful awareness to all aspects of your existence to be grateful for.

These are just a couple of ways to add in a cue to bring in a grateful mind-state. The important thing is consistent effort over time… that is how we can work towards progress.

Now take a minute to focus on self-gratitude for what you are doing right now to benefit yourself!

the 10th Step…

Step 10 “offers us not only consistency, but also continued progress in our continued relationships. Continuing to take our personal inventory keeps us ready to change our codependent behaviors. Some of our habits are ingrained. Our goal, however, is to make consistent progress. We look for familiar codependent behaviors and areas where our boundaries with others need strengthening.”
~CoDA Aqua Book page 68

So my daughter is now a teenager and the timing is a bit challenging as I am in menopause. It’s a perfect storm of hormones in our home at times. I’ve been carrying a lot of her feelings for her and projecting my old unhealed teenager yuck onto her as well. When I reflect on my day, often I am seeing how I overreacted out of fear, raged, tried to control, took on her responsibilities and later resented her for it, tried to shield her from consequences, gave unsolicited advice or direction, and of course, shamed and judged myself harshly for my mistakes. I get super frustrated with myself. I want to do it differently with her. Each morning I get in the car with the intention for things to be peaceful and supportive as we drive to school. By the time we get there, one or both of us are in tears.

I have recently learned that habits take much longer to break than one might think and forming new habits can be a long process as well. The info out there that it takes 21 days is actually false. Research has shown it can take between 18 and 256 days to make a habit depending on how complex the behavior and how habitual the person. Yikes. My codependent behaviors are pretty complex! This new perspective does give me more patience with myself as I try to change old behaviors into new healthy ones.
Little by little, one day at a time.

The CoDA book lists 10th step questions like:
Have we been feeling sorry for ourselves or isolated from others? …check.
Did we rage, overreact or passively abuse someone? …check.
Did we take on others’ feelings or responsibilities? …check.
Have we been controlled or manipulated by people, not said anything, and then resented them? …check, check and triple check.

These and other questions can help us take an honest look at our behaviors and feelings toward God, ourselves and others. Over time, we notice patterns and uncover the roots of our codependency. We can choose to respond differently. My habits are becoming clearer and I am working to change them. It’s progress not perfection. I can see that my lack of healthy boundaries with others is a big part of the problems in my relationships. I allow my daughter to cross my boundaries when she speaks to me harshly or I fail to enact consequences. I trample on her boundaries when I over caretake or demand that she do things my way without hearing her out. Parenting is difficult. Parenting as a codependent is crazy hard. I’m so grateful I have a relationship with a loving Higher Power so that I don’t have to go this alone.

I love the Step 10 prayer. It gives me hope. In this moment, I live my life in a new way… check.

the view is worth the work

person sitting on an overlook looking at the view of the forest below

I went hiking on our beautiful Superior Hiking Trail with my husband awhile ago. He is an experienced hiker and I am a novice. There were times I really struggled to keep up and he would have to stop and wait for me to catch up. There were times when it was a lot of uphill and rocky terrain. There were obstacles and twists in the path. As I hiked along I grew tired and had to overcome my desire to “keep up” with him. It was then I started to recognize my Higher Power was whispering recovery wisdom to me. My HP knows how much I love a good analogy! Stopping to make notes in my phone gave me both a pick me up and a needed break. There are many connections between hiking and my recovery:

  • I can only see as much of the trail as I can handle. If I saw the whole thing at once, I’d get overwhelmed or ahead of myself, or I might not even try.
  • The forest is dense and it would be easy to get lost unless I stay on the trail. My program of recovery helps me stay on course through the twists and turns in life.
  • I usually can’t see around the bends and rarely is there a bear waiting…it’s usually safe.
  • It is always worth the work to get to the vista!
  • Sometimes it is hard to see the path in front of me. Most of the trails have been walked by many others before me so I know it is doable…difficult but doable.
  • Sometimes I need or want to repeat the same path again and again and I can always choose to go back the way I came if I am not ready.
  • I can keep the focus on myself instead of worrying about what the other guy is doing.
  • Experience counts on the trail so it helps to have a guide.
  • Practice makes things easier and my skills will improve over time.
  • It’s always surprising.
  • I can use tools to help myself when the going gets tough.
  • Stopping to look around once in awhile allows me to appreciate the view from where I am. I can give myself credit for what I have accomplished so far.
  • I need to take it at my own pace and be patient with myself. When I think I am stuck, I can choose to stop and rest or to just take the next small step. Every tiny step gets me closer to that beautiful, new view!
  • It’s about the journey as much as the destination.
  • Sometimes I feel like I am alone on the trail and that’s okay. I will see others along the way in time.
  • Hiking stretches muscles I didn’t even know I had. My recovery does that too. It can be painful and I can choose to push through the pain and keep going, knowing that next time it may hurt less as I get stronger and healthier.