I was listening to an interview of meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg this morning. She quoted a line from a movie which said, ‘love is not a feeling, love is an ability”. She went on to ask what if we thought about love primarily as an ability?
Sharon explained… That means it’s not in the hands of someone else. It’s really ours to tend, to nurture. Other people can ignite or inspire it or even threaten it but ultimately its ours. If it is inside me…it is my responsibility to cultivate and strengthen it. I am not dependent on someone else to make me complete.
The wisdom she shared resonated with me as a person recovering from codependency. So often in my life, I have lived in fear of losing someone’s love. I have hustled for my worthiness and tried a myriad of codependent behaviors to try to earn or keep someone else’s love. At times, I have been compliant, controlling, enmeshed, hypervigilant and stayed in harmful situations far too long all because of the mistaken belief that if I didn’t have that person, I wouldn’t have love in my life. I have worried needlessly about whether I was indeed loveable…my lovability…instead of recognizing my love ability!
I think often we forget or don’t really understand in the first place that love is always available to us. It is not something we get from others nor can it be taken away. Real love is a capacity we all have inside us… all the time.
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.
When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.
Let us practice together in these difficult days so we can be that person.
As the news reports on this outbreak of the coronavirus, feelings of fear, stress, and worry often emerge. These feelings are normal. Lives may be impacted in large and small ways. Social distancing is happening as a way to decrease the risks especially for those with health issues and the elderly. For some people with codependency, this can increase feelings of isolation and separation.
Grounding ourselves with good information on what is happening, keeping things in proper perspective and focusing on what we can reasonably do to keep ourselves physically and emotionally healthy are important ways we can hang onto our serenity in stressful times.
written by Terrie C
As we face a pandemic many people will be unable to stay home from work and public places. One of the best things we can do is to practice kindness to all we come across.
The practice of kindness can reduce the stress of those we meet as well as helping our own stress level. Decreased stress increases immune response.
SElf-compassion and Covid-19
Excerpt from a letter By Drs Chris Germer and Kristin Neff, Co-founders, Center for Mindful Self-Compassion
Self-compassion boosts the immune system, it reduces anxiety, and it’s the easiest way to keep our hearts open to others. Some measure of fear is a healthy response to a contagious virus, of course. We want to respond to the contagion in a wise manner – with preventive measures that benefit ourselves and others.
Self-compassion can help if the virus is causing you unnecessary anxiety, limiting your ability to work or travel, reducing your income, or if you or someone you know has already contracted the virus. A self-compassionate response to the COVID-19 epidemic may look something like this, modeled on the Self-compassion Break:
Mindfulness – Become aware of how you feel about the virus. Are you feeling anxious, disheartened, confused? Can you feel it in your body? If so, where? Is your mind preoccupied with the virus? If so, what are your thoughts? Can you validate for yourself how you think or feel in a kind and understanding manner? For example, “Yes, this is hard.” “This is difficult.” “This is really stressful.” Can you offer yourself a little space around your feelings, knowing that it’s part of the current situation we’re all in?
Common humanity – When you hear news of people struggling with the virus, can you allow this to enhance your sense of being part of a global family rather than feeling separate? Can you imagine yourself in their situation and say, “Just like me.” Or when you reflect on your own distress, can you remind yourself, “Others feel as I do—I am not alone.” “Sickness is part of living.” “This is how it feels to be a human being right now.”
Self-Kindness – Try putting your hand on heart or some other soothing place, helping to calm some of your anxiety through touch. What words do you need to hear to comfort or reassure yourself about the virus right now? Are they realistic? Can you talk to yourself in a warm, compassionate voice? What actions do you need to take to protect yourself, or to provide for yourself? Can you encourage yourself to take these steps, in a supportive manner?
Notice if this practice makes you feel more relaxed and compassionate or encourages you to take positive action. Feel free to find your own way to be compassionate with yourself, perhaps by engaging in everyday self-care behaviors such as enjoying a cup of tea or taking a warm bath.
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.
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.