Step 9   Trauma-Informed

by Terrie C.

The Aqua CoDA book for Step 8, which is the preparation step for making amends, advises that the first person we need to have on our list is ourselves.  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.  The traditional language for Step 9 is other-focused. Many places in CoDA literature names childhood trauma as the root of our suffering.  We need to begin with ourselves also in Step 9. 

The Recovery Patterns of Codependence lists 5 categories of survival responses to our trauma that include Denial, Low Self-esteem, Compliance, Control, and Avoidance.  Becoming aware of what we did to survive in family systems that passed trauma down is a key to our recovery.  Some of the outcomes include not being able to feel our feelings, feeling overly responsible for others, giving our power over to others, a sense of shame, etc.  In his book, the Body Keep the Score, Van der Kolk describes that we must be willing to face what happened to us in order to heal trauma.

It is instructive to examine FAMILY RULES that each of us may have taken to heart.  I am going to list several that all apply to me:  1.  It’s not OK to talk about problems. 2. Feelings should not be expressed openly.  3.  It is OK for parents to make a child a messenger to carry communications between them if they are angry at each other.  4.  Unrealistic expectations –be strong, good, right, perfect, make us proud.  5.  Don’t be selfish.  6.  Do as I say, not as I do.  7.  Don’t cry.  8. Don’t be different. (no Indians allowed) 9.  You must believe the same thing as the parent. These may apply to many and you may have many other rules. Be compassionate to yourself as you do an inquiry about your family rules. 

I see jumping right into making amends to others before we have healed ourselves as another form of avoidance and therefore codependent.  And making amends is about changing our behavior.  Facing our trauma with the help of others in groups where honesty is a value that is practiced as a recovery tool and/or professional help if we need it, is essential.  When we are able with a community of others facing their suffering, to stop minimizing how what happened to us still affects us, then we will begin to heal. 

When we can know our own truth of what happened to us, then we can turn toward nurturing ourselves.  We can imagine the little person that had to grow up with rules that did not affirm who we really were.  We suffered the loss of childhood. We did not get to grow up as the person we were meant to be. That was very painful as we lived it! 

We can begin to practice SELF-COMPASSION.  What we are working to recover is our own personhood.  When we are able to begin practicing that as much as we can every day, we will move to a place where our behavior changes naturally.  We will become better able to have healthy relationships with others because we have healed our relationship with ourselves.  There is much scientific research done on the changes self-compassion has on people’s lives.  I would recommend that if you want more about this, to look up KRISTEN NEFF/CHRIS GERMER ON YOUTUBE.

I AM GOING TO END WITH A READING FROM MELODY BEATTIE’S THE LANGUAGE OF LETTING GO:

October 1st Be Who You Are:

In recovery, we’re learning a new behavior.  It’s called Be Who You Are. 

For some of us, this can be frightening.  What would happen if we felt what we felt, said what we wanted, became firm about our beliefs, and valued what we needed? What would happen if we let go of our camouflage of adaptation? What would happen if we owned our power to be ourselves? 

Would people still like us? Would they go away? Would they become angry?

There comes a time when we become willing and ready to take that risk.  To continue growing, and living with ourselves, we realize we must liberate ourselves.  It becomes time to stop allowing ourselves to be so controlled by others and their expectations and be TRUE TO OURSELVES –REGARDLESS OF THE REACTIONS OF OTHERS. 

Before long, we begin to understand.  Some people may go away, but the relationship would have ended anyway.  Some people stay and love and respect us more for taking the risk of being who we are.  We begin to achieve intimacy, and relationships that WORK. 

We discover that who we are has always been good enough.  It is who we were intended to be. 

Today, I will own my power to be myself.

Today, I will own my power to be myself.

Justice

an essay on Step 9 by Terrie C.

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 how this 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.

Here is the link: https://www.tarabrach.com/soul-retrieval/

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.