Once upon a time, I became obsessed with a narcissist. All I wanted was for him to commit to me and me alone. We had so much in common. I loved him and he loved him. This was my unconscious pattern. I’d done it before in my past relationships.
I tried everything I could think of to control and manipulate the situation. I tried different ways of saying things. I tried different ways of acting around him. I tried making him jealous. I threatened to end the relationship if he didn’t give me what I wanted. I tried to convince him he was better off without me in the hope that reverse psychology was still a thing. It wasn’t.
The truth is I was feeding his ego and like a vampire draining the life out of their hapless victim, he was sucking the life out of me. Still, I couldn’t seem to break free. My mind knew the relationship was unhealthy and that I was torturing myself. Every time I tried breaking up, I’d feel this awful emptiness and within a few weeks, we’d be back together.
Little did I realize; I was teaching him how to treat me. I was teaching him not to respect my boundaries. I was teaching him that I didn’t follow through. I was teaching him that I had no deal breakers, therefore he didn’t have to stop his selfish, hurtful behaviors to keep me in his life.
I struggled over the fact that I kept staying in this harmful situation and could not seem to let go. It was in the program of Co-dependents Anonymous that I found the answers I needed. I learned about how the pain of my past relationships, childhood hurts, family dysfunction, and old beliefs created in me this fertile soil to grow the seeds of codependency. I found the ironic truth that the pain of abandonment flared up even when it was me trying to end a relationship. I couldn’t stand the discomfort of being alone. Fear of never finding “love” again kept me hanging on to whatever I could get even if it was abuse or emotional unavailability.
The support in the program helped me start my journey of learning to love the self. I began dating myself and re-parenting my child within. Gaining new tools and practicing with safe people in CoDA, helped me find a new way of living and freedom from the bonds of codependency. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still codependent. I always will be. But I have a new awareness in my life now and I am developing healthy boundaries with myself and others. As I focus on myself, I’m attracting healthier people into my life.
Codependents often remain in harmful situations too long. That was my pattern for most of my life. Toxic love relationships, friendships, jobs. In recovery, I am committed to my safety and leave situations that feel unsafe or are inconsistent with my goals. I am learning about detaching with love and letting others own the consequences of their own choices. Best of all, I believe that I am safe and secure, worthy of love and respect, and can handle whatever comes next. There is hope in the program of Co-dependents Anonymous!
In recovery, I am committed to my safety and leave situations that feel unsafe or are inconsistent with my goals.
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 trauma survivor. I had difficulty feeling like I belonged in my family. I have struggled most of my life to feel like I belong. I feel fear in meetings because I choose not to identify myself as a codependent. And, I know, that to be true to myself, that is the right choice for me. I feel like that would keep me in that definition, and it is not who I am. Codependent behaviors are survival responses. It is a mask to belong. I feel like if I am honest about that with others in the program, I will be on the outside yet again. And yet the program gives us permission to take what we like and leave the rest. It gives us permission to name our own definition of our higher power. I know these things, and yet the fear persists.
I have loved the Recovery Patterns of Codependence since I first saw them. Early in my first year in CoDA, I was still seeing the left side as something bad about myself and loved that there was an affirmation on the right side to help me stop those behaviors.
Over this last year as I have been doing more work on trauma and learning more of the science of it while also doing work on self-compassion and kindness, I am coming to a different understanding of that left side. I am seeing how awesome we all are that we did survive! That we were never bad. Children conclude that if they are being traumatized it is their own fault. I am learning to honor my survival and that of all others who suffer.
What if we began to look at our codependent behaviors not as something to rid ourselves of, but as something that we can use to understand our young selves when growing up in families that did not allow us to be our true selves?
What if, by understanding our young self, we could begin to have more compassion for why we had to develop behaviors that helped us survive in our families?
What if, by developing that understanding we could embrace that young person who became codependent and now as an adult must learn something new?
What if, we became aware of how hard our lives have been and began to use tools that helped us to not have it so hard as we go forward?
What if we begin to know that codependent behavior was protection for our own survival?
And, what if through that understanding we begin to affirm how amazing we are that we survived and know at the same time that change is necessary to be in healthy relationships to be able to thrive in our lives now?
For me, the affirmations on the RIGHT side of the Recovery Patterns give me a tool that enhances and accelerates my own recovery.
And I affirm that I do not have to do it the hard way, which for me has been asking my higher power to remove things that are survival responses to trauma. I do not use the words that feel more traumatizing and changed those words in writing a substitute for them more than 30 years ago.
In RECOVERY, we affirm that others who learned new things that went before us have laid a path for us to stop suffering and make it easier for us to follow them. Years ago, 1989 in fact, a therapist told me that I was often choosing the bumpy road. She was right! It was the following year that I wrote the language into my own recovery tool to help myself heal in a way that felt kinder to myself.
For me, the Recovery Patterns of Codependence is just such a tool! Affirmations have been written to guide us like a map to behavior that can identify what behaviors are not working for our lives and an affirmation to help us heal the “untrue to ourself” behavior and replace it with a new choice that we don’t have to spend years figuring out! The path laid before our time!
And, once we have begun a practice of identifying these patterns, we can become more adept at writing ones that may be more specific to ourselves that may not be included on the list of 55!
Pia Melody says hug your demons or they will bite you in the ass. Codependent behaviors are our demons! And like demons they had protective purpose.
May the Recovery Patterns of Codependence ENHANCE your own road to healing! Affirmations help us change what we believe about ourselves!
The principle of Step 11 is SPIRITUAL AWARENESS. Prayer means asking. Meditation means listening. One of the things I love about this step is that it gives permission to define our own Higher Power. What does my spirit tell me?
Many experiences over the last 40 years of recovery work have brought me gifts of awareness. Early, I recognized that I had rejected my female self and began to heal with naming my higher power GODDESS. I also liked the non-gender words such as HP, creator, etc. I learned this from a woman in my Al-Anon group and it has truly helped me.
Many of the members of that group were talking about how meditation was helping them. I could never seem to accomplish that. Another recovery group that was non-12 step that I began attending started with a reading of the trusted servant’s choice and someone chose Original Blessing by Matthew Fox. I got the book and there was a whole chapter on ART AS MEDITATION. It changed my life. I had not done art for about 20 years at that point and knew that it had always worked to calm me. I began doing art again and have not stopped.
A couple of years ago, I listened to a YouTube Video by Bessel Van der Kolk on healing trauma and he talked about how trauma survivors often have difficulty with meditation. This helped me to understand myself better from those years when I could not accomplish it. I still have difficulty staying present during standard meditation practice. He also describes that childhood trauma needs to be called DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA DISORDER not PTSD and that there is a difference between the outcomes of childhood trauma and trauma that happens to adults. Mostly, I still refer to it as PTSD because it takes less explanation; my spirit knows that my trauma took place during early development and it helps me to know how that affected my spirit. My therapist changed the words to Developmental Trauma RESPONSE. It helps to think of it that way instead of being disordered. Words matter!
I use art to meditate with. It has been a portal into more calm, and also was very important years ago when doing inner child work and affirmations of myself. I used old pictures of myself to draw portraits to help me see how little and vulnerable I was when the repeated trauma was happening. One of those I collaged onto a piece of newsprint advertising homes for rent. One of the ads said pets allowed. On the newsprint, I wrote the affirmation SHE DESERVES THE GOOD STUFF. A great fear was being homeless and it did not only mean shelter.
In an Ernie Larsen workshop years ago, he was teaching about affirmations. He said we need to figure out who is driving our bus (the original message) and then write an affirmation to replace that message. He said we all deserve the good stuff. And, of course the image on my art piece was me when I was young. A lot of my negative messages came from my mother. I left home when I was 16 to escape her, but I had taken her messages along with me and was acting out the beliefs she instilled. Ernie impressed on me that it does not work to say we are not going to believe that old message anymore. We have to replace it with something new. I kept that piece of art up next to the bathroom mirror for years and looked at it every day.
All of these examples are gifts of SPIRITUAL AWARENESS.
I have not talked about my husband very much in these meetings. Meeting him was one of the best gifts of my life. What neither of us knew was that he was a practicing alcoholic and I had very severe PTSD. We met in June 1979, he moved in with me in November 1980 and shortly after that his employer sent him to treatment as a requirement of employment. Since we were living together, I got to go to treatment as his significant other. That experience gave me the gift of recovery. The counselor for the significant others said if we needed help to call him. A year after treatment I did call for help. He recommended a specific Al-Anon (Women only) meeting for me and a woman pastor to check out at Plymouth Congregational Church. How did he know I needed to heal the female spirit in me? I only know that he was an angel and I followed his advice to a T. That is how I came to the Goddess language that I still need to use! I asked for his help and he saw what I needed. An important part for me was asking for help! We married in 1983 and have both been seriously working recovery. It has saved our lives and our marriage!
Each recovery group that I have been in over the years has given me different gifts…at the moment that I needed them. Too many to enumerate, but I know for sure that I have been getting help from HP. I also know that I still have recovery work to do.
Another non-12 step recovery group that I was in for over 20 years disbanded in 2016. A good friend from that group started attending Co-dependents Anonymous and told me about it. Another gift! Here I discovered the Recovery Patterns of Codependence. One of the best tools for my spirit. A way of identifying my behaviors that I want to change, and an affirmation of how. Ernie Larsen would be proud of CoDA!
This year I have recognized that I still hold myself back and have difficulty reaching out. I made a decision to change that and have been implementing it. One of the people I reached out to from my CoDA meeting told me about TARA BRACH. She is truly feeding my spirit. I am listening to her talks on her website several times a week. One of her talks called HEALING SELF DOUBT describes the Buddha as praying to the Goddess! How happy I felt to hear that. She has many talks on healing fear and recognizing how alike we all are in having fears. A human condition. Her voice is soothing and each talk has an element of self-compassion and kindness! I have been calling her my new HP. Her talks are spiritually focused.
I am feeling that group attendance in CoDA has brought me in touch with many people I can learn important lessons from. My success in outreach since I made the decision to do it more has been a rich experience in feeling more connected. That does not mean I have not been afraid! It is outside my comfort level! A recent Tara Brach talk titled SPIRITUAL HOPE is what I feel emanates from my CoDA group.
For about a year before I volunteered to be a Group Service Representative, I started going to all of the intergroup meetings. I met someone there that became very important to my recovery. We never know what gift of recovery that we will get by attending meetings. I can look back on so many over 40 years. The Goddess is with me!
AWARENESS comes from recognizing that we have had a higher power who cares for us, even when we may not be in touch with that knowledge. Writing this piece has reaffirmed all the times in my life when my needs were met and now, I can thank my Goddess for being there. This answers my question at the beginning. What does my spirit tell me?
Some quotes to close with… A recent book by Nobel Prize Winning Neuropsychiatrist has found in imaging and QEEG studies that both creating art and beholding art affects our brains…
“Color and color combinations can have profound emotional effects” and “abstract art triggers rich completion by the observer….”
Eric R. Kandel Reductionism in Art and Brain Science
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. The mind that responds to the intellectual and spiritual values that lie hidden in a poem, a painting, or a piece of music, discovers a spiritual vitality that lifts it above itself, takes it out of itself, and makes it present to itself on a level of being that it did not know it could ever achieve.”
Original Blessing by Matthew Fox in the chapter on Art as Meditation
MAY YOU GIVE YOURSELF YOUR OWN PERMISSION TO DISCOVER WHAT WORKS AS YOUR HIGHER POWER!
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters By Portia Nelson
Chapter One I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost …. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter Two I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend that I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But, it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter Four I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Man have I been backsliding into my old friend Control. It’s okay though as most of the world seems to be joining me. I’m watching people doing all kinds of things to try to “stay safe”, protect others…and even police the behavior of people around them.
Control patterns are often the first place someone notices their codependent behaviors. The first four are grouped neatly together and pose a challenge for me in relationships across the board. I often think they should be bracketed together on the list as I rarely do one without the others.
They are: Codependents often
Believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
Attempt to convince others what to think, do or feel.
Freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
Become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
When I’m controlling, I’m NOT trusting.
I’m not trusting…that the other person can take care of themselves.
I just hate it when people offer ME unsolicited advice. Why then do I think others should appreciate it from me? It makes me feel undermined…like they don’t think I can figure it out or the way I’m doing it is wrong. Yet, I think my advice is so helpful that they’d be crazy not to do things my way.
I’m not trusting…that learning comes through experience.
When I prevent someone from experiencing consequences, I’m robbing them of the chance to learn for themselves. They can’t get the practice it takes to handle disappointments or failures and know how to move on. I cheat them out of that terrific feeling you get from knowing you can figure things out on your own. As someone in the program told me once, they won’t ever hit bottom as long as I keep throwing a mattress under them.
I’m not trusting…that they have a Higher Power who loves them…and it’s not me.
Their Higher Power’s will is for them alone and because I’m not God, I can’t know what that is for another person. If I act as their Higher Power by attempting to get them to think, do or feel…I can get in the way of that greater will for their life. Turns out, I don’t always know what’s best. Even if I think I do.
In CoDA, I am practicing using tools to counter these destructive patterns. In meetings, I can share about how my control behaviors come out when I’m afraid. I listen to others share about their struggles with control and what works for them. I get support as I practice being uncomfortable with the choices others make for themselves. In service, I get to practice letting go of my need to control and force my will. I get to build my capacity to trust others and see how people can take care of their own problems. I can practice communicating and allowing people to work through their disagreements. I don’t have to be a “right fighter” anymore.
In recovery, I can learn to trust… That other adults are capable of managing their own lives.
In recovery, I can learn to accept… the thoughts, choices and feelings of others, even though I may not be comfortable with them.
In recovery, I can learn to give…. my advice only when asked.
In recovery, I can learn to be… content to see others take care of themselves.
Once again, we can look to our Traditions to guide us as we navigate through difficult and uncharted ground. When faced with difficult life circumstances and relationship issues, the 12 Traditions can be the principles of our meetings as well as our interactions with others. Who hasn’t benefitted from Tradition 12’s reminder to place “principles before personalities”?
What more controversial topic is there right now than how and when to reopen our world after the last months of lockdown? There are so many stories and opinions as well as triggers for codependent behaviors. CoDA wisely lays out the guidance in Tradition 10 offering us no opinion on outside issues, which helps us keep the focus where it needs to be, our personal program of recovery.
As we keep the focus on our primary purpose, to carry our message of recovery to those who still suffer, we are opening up our local recovery community to even more options where people can discover the gifts of the program of Co-Dependents Anonymous. Fortunately for us, we live in a time of advancement which allows us to have choices. As face to face meetings resume, some local zoom meetings will also continue to be available on an ongoing basis. This allows each individual to make the choices that are right for themselves. MinnCoDA’s “Staying Connected” page will become our “Local Online Meetings” page and links to join zoom meetings will be able to be accessed there.
Of course, each group is autonomous and can discuss and work out the details of how that particular meeting will move forward using the group conscience process. When we gather in our meetings either face to face or online, it is wonderful to know we have a safe place to express our feelings about what is happening in our lives. I invite you to find your voice in light of the 12 Traditions of Co-Dependents Anonymous, CoDA’s Guide to Sharing and the Recovery Patterns of Codependence. In order to ensure the emotional safety of those present, we refrain from advice giving, controlling or debating, etc. We recognize that other people are capable of managing their own lives and that we can accept the thoughts, choices and feelings of others even if we are not comfortable with them.
Ultimately, the tools of the program which include the Serenity Prayer, 12 Steps and Traditions and many more are here to help each of us find our recovery from our codependence. They remind us where we are powerless and where we have choices. We grow in our trust of a Higher Power of our own understanding. They guide us to learn to take care of ourselves and allow others to do the same.