step 11, spiritual awareness

by Terrie C. 

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. 

May we each be whole: Mind, Body, Spirit.  Pursue daily healthy choices that soothe you. Life is short, be present to yourself. When we can be present to ourselves, we are more present to others. An outcome is healthy relationships.

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtwmYaVTwis

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tef5_HK5Zlc&t=3555s