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
True Happiness: Realizing Well-Being – Well being is the deep contentment that arises from a relaxed, wakeful presence.
This talk explores the beliefs and habits that contract us away from presence, and several key ways we can nourish our natural capacity for happiness.
Lots of messages in this podcast that resonate with what I am learning in CoDA. The tool of meditation can be challenging for me and I have found listening to these types of talks to be helpful in exploring and building on what I am learning.
I am not trying to endorse this specific teacher however this talk on happiness resonated with my life circumstances right now and also with my tendency to frame things as “this is not supposed to be happening” and “something is missing”.
If this is not your cup of tea, feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.
“In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.”
We cannot control the painful experiences we endured as children or mistakes we made in the past, and because we are human beings we cannot expect to live life without encountering pain in the future. What we can learn to control, however, is the second arrow, our reaction to the pain we encounter.
Through attending CoDA meetings, I learned how to breathe through dark feelings like sadness and fear rather than avoid them, and to share my experience with others who are also on a path of emotional healing.
The first arrow of pain is part of the human emotional experience, but the second arrow of suffering is a choice.
Rather than suffer alone in silence or numb the painful emotions with excessive food, technology, work, alcohol, or drugs, we can attend a meeting and feel the common humanity and support of others who are working to live life fully. As the first CoDA promise says,
“I know a new sense of belonging. The feeling of emptiness and loneliness will disappear.”
This is not a self help program. It’s mutual support. I can read and learn on my own and that’s all fine and dandy but for me, it can’t replace the experience I get in attending regular CoDA meetings.
I, like so many, had read Melody Beattie’s book, Co-dependent No More. If that’s all it takes to heal then we’d all be living happily ever after. If only it were so easy. No offense to Oprah but just because I “know better” doesn’t mean I can “do better”.
I discovered in therapy that codependency may be at the heart of my struggles. If that’s all it took then my therapist wouldn’t have needed to suggest I get my butt to a CoDA meeting.
When I entered the program of codependents anonymous, I was blown away by how much I didn’t know about my part in my dysfunctional relationships. I was both excited and horrified. Excited to learn others like me existed and horrified to know the path to recovery would be lifelong.
It was in meetings that my progress really accelerated. Listening to the experience, strength and hope of others took me out of my own narrow perspective and gave me so many new insights. Without meetings, I don’t think I could have made the life changes I needed to make.
Meetings allow me to connect with others in recovery. I get to practice speaking and feeling my feelings in a safe place where others won’t try to fix me…they just listen with understanding.
People often ask me how to find a sponsor in CoDA. My response is always… go to meetings. Listen to what others share. For me, meetings were the place where I identified people who would become my sponsors or co-sponsors.
In meetings I can practice with the other tools I’m gaining like service, boundaries, asking for help and caring without caretaking. Hearing the crosstalk guidelines helps me remember to keep the focus on myself. And the “Welcome” reminds me that codependence is a most deeply rooted, compulsive behavior…which helps me be patient with myself and reminds me to dig down to the underlying beliefs and pain that often drive my behaviors.
Meetings are a great place to find supportive friendships and feel that sense of belonging that we all so desperately need. I love the acceptance I feel when I’m in a meeting with other codependents and I share my pain or my joy. Meetings show me that I’m not a freak. I’m ok right where I am. I’m not alone.
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.
weird thing about abandonment is that I feel it even if I’m the one ending the
relationship. This part of my codependency is a big part of why I tend to stay
in harmful situations too long.
Perhaps you are reading this because you are in a relationship with someone you wish would change. Maybe, you have tried to do the changing yourself. Or crazier still, you’ve tried to get the other person to change.
It took me 19 years to leave my husband. They weren’t all bad years but a lot of bad stuff happened along the way. There were times I almost ended it but then again…what if things got better? I tried everything to get him to change so I could be happy. It didn’t work. When I finally did divorce him, I found myself continuing to caretake him and try to fix and control his life. I couldn’t just walk away.
I followed that with another destructive and dysfunctional relationship. I would break it off but within a week or two…six at the most…be right back where I started.
suffered from the pain of abandonment trauma.
That fear of being left, of losing those you love, of being rejected, of never finding love again. Many co-dependents suffer with fear of abandonment. The roots may be in childhood when a parent or caregiver left, neglected or rejected you. Most of us don’t get to adulthood without suffering some losses. A loved one’s death, a relationship or friendship ending…it’s easy to get stuck somewhere in the process of grieving our losses.
For me it was my mom’s mental illness. I understand it now. How chaotic behavior, her periods of absence during hospitalization or incapacitation and times watching her walk out after an angry tirade left me with confusion, insecurity and self-blame.
had many of the common signs of abandonment fear including:
Being quick to attach, especially to unavailable partners.
Staying in situations no matter how unhealthy it got.
Feeling unworthy of love.
Intense feelings of separation anxiety.
Overthinking things and working hard to figure out the hidden meaning in literally everything.
Hypersensitivity to criticism.
Big time control issues.
Feelings of “otherness”, like I didn’t belong.
When I stay in harmful relationships or situations, waiting for it to get better and allowing myself to be hurt, it is self-abandonment. I’m so focused on fixing the other guy that I leave myself in the cold.
The healing started when I got into therapy, found my tribe in CoDA, and finally realized that when I fail to love and accept myself as I am and to protect myself with healthy choices, I am actually abandoning myself. This self-abandonment perpetuates my fears, insecurities and feelings of worthlessness. Then comes the people pleasing, approval seeking and other harmful, co-dependent behaviors…and we ride the crazy train back to the station once again.
If you’ve found this article and you are reading it thinking…wow, sounds a little like my life, then I have good news for you. My life changed when I found co-dependents anonymous. I found people just like myself who were actively working to heal. I didn’t feel like such a needy freak anymore. They were experiencing the promises coming true in their lives. There is hope. I was able to break the pattern of repeated, bad relationships and nurture a new relationship with a person who will never abandon me again.