Monday, December 21, 2009

Climate Change

When I read about the Copenhagen talks on climate change I am not only reminded of the trouble we are in but of my favorite topic, codependence. Take Prime Minster Harper’s most recent comment on reducing carbon emissions: “If the Americans don’t act, it will severely limit our ability to act. But if the Americans do act, it is essential that we act in concert with them.” Okay, omitting the fact that we are economically tied with our southern neighbour and its important to forge agreements, when did we forgo our independence? When did we start basing our actions on the policy of another? Well, probably too long ago but my point is that with climate change a codependent policy like that is only a hindrance.

Codependency is about searching for self value, love and acceptance in another rather than from within. It is using others as a guiding force rather than trusting our internal leadership. It is also as entrenched in our institutions as it is in human behaviour. As within; so without: if we allow our codependent parts to lead us, we will no doubt allow our codependent institutions to act accordingly. Canada and other countries are too focused in looking for others to make things better when the ability to act can only come from within.

The good news is that a multitude of cities, the internal parts of countries, are doing just that. As reported by the Globe and Mail (Dec 5) cities as diverse as Mumbai and Edmonton are improving their track record on environmental issues. Mumbai is overhauling its lighting system and Edmonton is “on track to divert 90% of residential waste from landfills by 2011”. Mexico City restricts driving within city limits while promoting public transit and Seattle, whose “electricity production leaves virtually no carbon footprint” has committed itself to the original Kyoto agreement leading more than 1000 US cities with the same pledge.

So let us follow our municipalities’ lead and be the leader for our own codependent parts. Let us teach these parts that most of the answers lie within and that if we could only acknowledge how resourceful and creative we are, we would be in a much healthier place. Let us reduce our own energy consumption at home, drive less and take transit more; turn off lights and use a clothes line; take our cloth bags to shop and wrap presents in used wrapping or newspaper and, above all, reduce first; recycle second. Moreover, let us listen to the words of the late and great anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Self Care

My body is telling me to rest today. It actually started its whispering campaign yesterday morning, slyly tickling my ears as I woke before dawn. It is the voice that warns of forced rest – illness – if not adhered to so I listened, agreed and half-heartedly promised I would rest the rest of the day after, that is, my morning hike. And so today, I wake up and the whispers are louder, irritating my throat with their incessant whines. Rest, they say, rest. I hear them, agree once more but still ponder how much I can do within the confines of “rest”.

I am fortunate in that I work from home. Moreover, I have no clients today so rest could be easy but then again, there is my volunteer job tonight… I really should go. They count on me, don’t they? I am well enough to go, truly, I am only tired, that’s all. But then that voice comes back, gnawing my lower back … shouldn’t you rest? Do you really want to get sick?

Although I am much better than I was a few years back, the temptation to ignore my body and follow the dictates of my mind is ingrained in my persona. The desire to push through, stagger on, blindly go where I will is a default philosophy that has, in fact, served me well. Sort of. I have done miraculous things on nothing but sheer will. A few years ago I was an avid hiker, runner, energy worker and wannabe vegan (you just eat veggies, yes?). I was also on the verge of emotional, physical and spiritual burnout because I wasn’t quite in touch with my body as I professed to be. I was so out of touch or shall I say, my willful parts were so strong that I completed a two-day solo hiking trip on what I later found to be minimal blood levels of B12 and iron. Hmmm… and I just thought it was normal to be so lightheaded and tired.

It is amazing what we do when our body screams no but our mind says yes. We eat food to which we have an intolerance; help friends move house when our back gives us trouble; and stay out all night when we have to work the next day. We are gluttons for punishment, or at least that is how our body must feel at times. Take today, for example. Why would I make myself go to work when my body says no? It is not so much that it is my mind who is taking charge but my codependent parts. And, as a person with a whack of recovering codependent parts, let me count the reasons why I should work today.

They need me
One of my more classic codependent responses: they need me. Uh huh. Need me for what? As soon as I start thinking myself indispensable, I am in trouble. I am feeding into the codependent parts that base my value on the needs of others. The only person that truly needs me in the full sense of the word is myself. I need me to listen to my body’s cry for rest, and to take time and space when I need it. I need me to be there for myself. And the ironic thing is that the better I take care of my needs, the more I can be there for others.

What will the staff think?
Yes, well, important as their opinions are, what others think of me is not always relevant. Once again, if I guide my actions on the basis of another’s beliefs I am falling into codependent territory. If another chooses to believe that I am a slacker for taking care of my health needs, then it is more about them than me – or rather their codependent parts that are unwilling to be self compassionate when they themselves need rest. I would rather have the staff think that I am a person who takes good self care rather than a martyr who comes to work and makes everyone else sick.

Which segues nicely into this one…

If I get sick they will see how dedicated I am
I love this one, the martyr in me sings out in praise at such a statement. I will sacrifice myself for the good of the cause! Jo(Ann) of ARC is my name and I suffer gladly for your sake. You gotta love it (and me). For that is what my codependent parts believe: I will only be loved, accepted, wanted and/or respected if I do for others. The truth, however, is that people generally dislike working alongside martyrs as they tend to promote such feelings as irritation and anger with some, and guilt and shame with others. What my codependent parts do not realize is that the more I take care of, love and accept myself, the more people will be attracted to me out of respect. They will see me as someone who will not drain them of energy but be capable of a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Moreover, in terms of dedication to my career or work, dedication, like love, respect and compassion, always begins with self. If I dedicate myself to a balanced and healthy lifestyle, my path, what ever that may be, will flourish regardless of any sick days I take.

I am such a wimp if I stay home
Being sick, tired and not up to snuff is the antithesis for what I have too long considered the goal of a strong and self sufficient lifestyle. To show my vulnerable side is to show weakness and to be weak is scary for my codependent parts. Growing up in a family that ridiculed signs of vulnerability I hid my vulnerable parts behind a fa├žade of strength. While that protected me to some degree, it also hid my authenticity. My true self is a composite of all my parts: tired, strong, weak, sick, sad, happy, angry and so on. To be truly strong is to embrace the whole kit and caboodle.

And finally, I need the money
While this didn’t apply to me in this situation, it is true that we all need money and missing work can put a dent on finances. But how many times have I gone to work tired and on the verge of being sick only to have to stay home twice as long with a nasty cold or flu because I didn’t take care of myself on that one day? And how many other people have I infected with a virus because I needed the money? And was I really knocking on financial disaster or was there another reason I went to work?

So, instead of going to work tonight I stayed inside, had a hot bath and cup of tea ….and wrote this article. In other words, I gently reeducated my codependent parts that life doesn’t just go on when I practice good self care but travels on in a healthier and happier way for all involved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Power of No

I was thinking about the word “no” the other day. That is, the no you use to set up boundaries … but then again, is there any other way to use it? No to more ice cream, no to unwelcome advances and no to I just don’t wanna moments. I especially love the NO that comes from toddlers. They are emphatic, making every letter count in that heavily invested word. (Of course I am not a mother of a two year old so I can say that with complete sincerity). Anyhow, without getting into the “no means no” campaign of unwelcome sexual advances, of which I stand behind 100%, I want to talk about the nos that are not so heavily invested. The nos that come from our codependent parts.

For years, when I would say no, a part of me, the codependent part that is, was really thinking, I am saying no but the truth is, I don’t really have the right to say no. In fact, that part of me would sometimes feel better when others didn’t honour my no. I was used to that response and hence it was more comfortable in a familiar sort of way. As a result, many people would unconsciously not respect my boundaries. I was sending out mixed messages.

I’ll give you an example: About 10 years ago, I worked for a bully. Well, she didn’t call herself a bully, her official title was manager but bully will do. I held what is called a casual part time job with some regular shifts and some optional on-call shifts. One day, after finishing my regular hours the bully called me into the office asking if I would work the next day. I said no. Although I didn’t say why, the fact was I hated the job, wasn’t desperate for money that week and was tired; no seemed appropriate. My boss didn’t accept it. She “made” me stay in her office while she looked for someone to fill the shift. The implicit threat was that if she couldn’t find someone else I would take the shift or be without a job. It was a most uncomfortable ten minutes listening to her phone the on-call list. She, glaring at me while looking for someone to work and me, hoping, praying, someone would come to my rescue. Thankfully, someone eventually did say yes and I was “free” to go.

An interesting scenario: the manager had no legal authority to hold me there; demand that I work; or fire me if I didn’t, but I stayed in her office out of some feeling that perhaps she did. My initial no meant nothing because I wasn’t backing myself up. It was a no with no substance. A part of me felt I had no rights, so instead of giving her an undeniable NO I sat waiting for another employee to come to my rescue. Worse, in retrospect, I know that if I had worked the shift, I would have later cached in with sympathy votes from my friends. I was the perfect codependent partner for my bully boss: she used me to feel powerful and hence valid in who she was; I used her to get social support, another form of validity.

To say no and mean it we have to fully believe in our right to be: the right to exist here and now in safety; to believe and feel what we want; to laugh, sing, dance, express anger and sadness; to love and to maintain the right to silence and personal space. When we feel the right to be we feel a validity in who we are. Without a belief in this intrinsic right, we end up looking towards others for validation. In the above story, neither my boss or I felt we had the intrinsic right to be. Unconsciously, my manager was relying on her power over me, to give her validity and I was relying on her to validate my victimhood, an unconscious way to get people to care for and love me.

Becoming conscious of our less than adamant nos is embarrassing when we first see our complicity. However all is not lost. Regardless of the past, when we do stand up and say no with all intent, people stand up and listen. Only the true abuser will attempt to tread over that sacred ground because they sense their power diminishing in the face of such conviction. When we say no and mean it we are assuring our codependent parts that we have every right to be. And with that assurance our power is unshakable.

Friday, December 4, 2009


A few years ago, I met an artist with an interesting attitude towards art and, by extension, life. Although his art was beautiful and, in my opinion, valuable, he tended towards giving it (at least his smaller pieces) away or selling it at a low price. This wasn’t in anyway a reflection of how he felt about his art (or himself) – he appreciated his art; respected it and even enjoyed it – he just had no need to hang on to it or sell it at a price that society expected . Art was to be enjoyed by all; he wanted to share it. The attitude, and the man, at first confounded me.

I understood how art should be available to all but to give away pieces or to sell yourself short…? What if the creative process comes to a halt? What if you are giving away something that is limited? Or, more to the point, how will you survive if you have given away all of your value.

My reaction was codependent in at least three ways. First, I was scared of depletion. Having grown up with the idea that I had to somehow earn my value, I was used to giving too much of myself in hopes of getting my needs met. I felt I needed to protect my energy less it be drained from yet another source.

Secondly, I was coming from a scarcity belief that there is never enough and, by extension, I was not enough. The artist was coming from a philosophy that creativity springs eternal: that humans are inherently creative and therefore the creative expression is infinite and, by extension, so is human worth.

And finally, I felt that giving away one’s art was like giving away one’s source of value. Because I felt unworthy (not enough) I placed my source of value in what I did rather than who I was. If I gave away all my art and the creativity ran out (which it surely would because of my scarcity beliefs) … who would I be then?

Now I don’t want to get into a debate about the value of art. Aside from my codependent parts I do believe one’s creation should receive monetary respect. So take this as a metaphor because the truth is that many of us live in scarcity, a belief there is not enough to go around. Scarcity can be reflected in both hoarding and excessive behaviour – two sides of the coin. For example, a scarcity belief with food may result in eating less (must make the food last) or overeating with wolf-like avarice because it might not be available tomorrow. Scarcity beliefs might also have someone fall into apathy or, alternatively, do too much because of the perception of not enough time. It is not a conscious thought but an unconscious drive that believes wealth, joy, beauty, sinfully sweet cookies and of course, are own worthiness, is scarce.

Self worth, however, is only scarce in our minds. Like creativity our worth holds no bounds… we only have to acknowledge it.