Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Things

I love the musicals of Julie Andrews and the songs they engendered: Chim chiminey, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Edelweiss … “these are a few of my favorite things”. I was thinking of the latter a few weeks ago when a friend asked me what was my favorite Christmas treat. I looked at her rather dumbfounded. There was even, strange to say, a touch of nebulous fear. I begged off an answer telling her with a laugh that I had to think about it. The question moved on to others in the group and I sat amazed at how easily people answered. Why couldn’t I? I placed the original question and my quizzical response in my back pocket and didn’t reexamine it again until a few days ago. What was my favorite treat and why couldn’t I answer?

The funny thing about recovery from codependence is the way that certain codependent behaviours can unexpectedly bop you on the head even after years of working with them. Such is the case with this recent realized fear of declaring, and even knowing of, my favorite things. I would never had thought of it as codependent until I sat with it in all its glory ─ a nicely disguised bit of bopping.

With codependence there is a lack of value or even respect placed on our intrinsic being-ness; we transfer that value onto other people or things. What we do, who we know, and what we possess becomes more important than who we are. In this climate of externalizing our value there can be a fear of loss, especially of that which lies outside of us. In an abusive (and, ultimately codependent) relationship, for example, the abused person may fear losing connection to the abuser more than they care about self preservation. This can also be seen in how we relate to our career or money ─ we may actually put ourselves at risk in order to preserve the connection to another person, object or belief.

If I look at my reluctance to name my “favorite things” from a codependent perspective, I understand the nebulous fear that crept into my thoughts. To name these things lay the possibility for potential loss of the same and judgment of who I am for liking them.

Let’s go first with the fear of losing that treasure. I can subdivide that fear into boundary and scarcity issues. Boundaries, specifically disrespected ones, are at the root of many codependent behaviours. For example, if a child’s opinions are denigrated; emotions ridiculed; privacy denied; or the physical body hurt, the child may be inclined to suppress or deny their thoughts and feelings as an unconscious way to safeguard them ─ one cannot lose what one does not acknowledge. My confusion in naming my favorite things may have been an unconscious way of protecting myself and that which I like, a coping strategy I learned in youth.

As for scarcity, the fear of loss becomes extreme when it is paired with a feeling that there is not (or never) enough. This never enough feeling can include love, food, creativity, and support, but it motivates the person in fear to hold on tight to whatever they have. If I name my favorite thing, the fear is that it may be taken away, ridiculed or hurt and I will be left alone as nothing will be there to take it’s place. One way to hold on tight is to deny, consciously or not, what I love so no one can take it away.

Looking at judgment, I feel that many people with active codependent parts have grown up in critical environments and have either taken on the negative judgment and/or believe it is the basis for everyone else’s behaviour. Expressing a favorite thing, therefore, potentially opens me up to not only internal criticism ─ “what a stupid thing to love” ─ but external criticism as well, especially if the thing we love is childish, fattening or out of fashion.

Loss and judgment are generally not life and death issues to an adult but they can be, or at least perceived to be, to a child and the thing we must remember is that our codependent parts are usually formed in childhood. I know, as an adult, that I can declare my favorite things and be fine with whatever arises. I know that no one has the right to take them away, deny me or denigrate me for my desires but I also know that if they did, I would survive. However, as I discovered a few weeks ago, my codependent parts are not as confident in that belief. When asked about my favorite Christmas treats my codependent parts took control and, as a result, I froze.

So, I have devised a plan. Every day, maybe once a day, maybe twice, perhaps three times, I will declare a favorite thing. I will imitate a healthy, well-loved and secure little girl who when asked what her favorite thing is yells out that it is chocolate chip cookies only to change it, seconds later, to vanilla ice cream and then golden haired puppy dogs in the next breath. I will be fearless in my tastes, allowing them to change with the wind, from fanciful and unobtainable to ones I can reach into the cupboard and grab. I will take my fear by the hand and allow her to state what she most desires yet is most scared to ask for. In this way, I continue my recovery.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Half the Sky

I just finished reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by husband and wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It is a necessary read. The two writers travel the world investigating the lives of young girls and women in regions where being female is a liability.

They explore sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender based violence and maternal mortality which, they say, “still needlessly claims one woman a minute.” They relate first hand stories from the young women they meet: community leaders and entrepreneurs who have risen from horrific abuse and neglect; and, sadly, second hand stories from those that didn’t survive. But, best of all, they offer possible solutions that may not be perfect but give a glimpse of what works, what doesn’t, and what we can do as individuals to reduce the oppression.

I like the book for several reasons including that it carries on with my theme of awareness and responsibility. For example, in looking at what does and doesn’t work in terms of charitable deeds, the biggest thing to note is that no matter how good one’s intentions are, one has to be in awareness of the local situation. Sending money is fine but where and who does it go? Building a school is great but are there better ways to provide or encourage education? Stating that genital mutilation is harmful may be true but do you have local support to help change the inherent beliefs behind the ritual?

As to who to send money to, Kristof and WuDunn suggest donating to microfinancing projects that target women. They write: “some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes, but also by unwise spending —by men…Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification [alcohol, prostitution and tobacco] and more for education and staring small businesses (p.192).” These microfinancing groups are peer monitored with local women supporting each other with wisdom learned while also guaranteeing each other’s loans.

The authors have many supportive things to say about education but emphasize that solutions do not have to be grandiose. “One of the most cost-effective ways to increase school attendance,” they say, “is to deworm students which affects children’s physical and intellectual growth. ... Increasing school attendance by building schools ends up costing about $100 per year for every addition student enrolled. Boosting attendance by deworming children costs $4 per year per additional student enrolled (p. 171).” Health programs such as deworming, iodine supplements and free lunches help, of course, all children but they specifically give girls a needed boost because in many families girls are the last to receive medical attention. Some regions have even resorted to paying families small stipends to keep their children in school—even bonuses in the form of food if the child is a girl. This is great incentive as girls tend to be the first pulled from school whether due to finances or early marriage.

Regarding the imposition of beliefs onto others, Kristof and WuDonn tell a story about genital cutting that underlines this problem. Molly is an American woman who moved to Senegal, married a Senegalese man and works with local education projects. When their daughter approached puberty she told her mom, “I want to be cut, I promise I wont cry (p. 225).” Although born of parents who disproved the procedure, the child was succumbing to peer pressure —she didn’t want to be left out. Cutting was an important coming of age right affecting, among other things, marital chances. The daughter changed her mind when she was fully informed of the process but it was made clear to her mother that attitudes cannot be easily changed from without, change must come from within.

The authors continually espouse education as the way to improve children’s health, decrease family size and increase societal justice but they are huge proponents to being flexible in the search for solutions. For example, they cite a study finding “that after cable television arrived in a [rural Indian] village, women gained more autonomy —such as the ability to leave the house without permission and the right to participate in household decisions. There was a drop in the number of births… wife beating became less acceptable, and families were more likely to send daughters to schools (p. 245).” Some of the more popular shows, ironically, were not educational in the traditional sense, they were soap operas set in middle class Indian families where women held jobs and had more freedom. These shows modeled a different and more attractive lifestyle that ultimately helped changed societal mores.

Once again, I encourage you to read the book. It contains fascinating and inspirational stories from women from all over the world who are working locally to help themselves and their communities thrive. For more information on how to get involved go to

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gift Giving: Awareness and Responsibility continued

Christmas is a time for giving. Although most of us would agree I also feel that to create mutual joy in giving it must be done with awareness and responsibility. Here’s an example: a few years ago I went to an annual gathering of friends and family that was traditionally gift free. However, that year, one of the party goers gave everyone a gift: a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates. I accepted it graciously, as we all did, but it did not give me joy. When I reflect back on it, I see that my enjoyment of the gift was diminished because there was a certain lack of awareness and responsibility on the gift givers part. Although I think she wanted to do the “right” or “nice” thing there was a lack of awareness and responsibility towards self: she could ill afford the cumulative price tag; towards others: several of the group did not drink alcohol; and towards community: the chocolate was not fair trade. What was behind this person’s gift giving? Was she giving to give joy to others or was she giving so she could somehow feel good about herself?

Perhaps I have just become jaded over the years from excessive commercialization of the holidays—guilt producing advertising that beseeches us to spend more to avoid disappointing others. Regardless, I do not appreciate gifts that one, create too large of an environmental footprint; two, are created by slave-wage labour; and three, create a financial burden on the giver. It does not give me joy.

Awareness and appropriate responsibility would take care of these issues but I have come to the conclusion that for some people, awareness and responsibility is next to impossible around Christmas because our codependent parts tend to move front and centre. Gift giving has the potential to be not so much about love or sharing but an exercise in negating one’s values/beliefs and feelings in favour of how we appear to the outside world.

And how can gift giving be codependent? To quote the poet, let me count the ways:

1. I give because it’s the “right” thing to do. I give lip service to what I actually want or am financially able to do. I do what society/family/community expects of me regardless of the consequences.

2. I give because the other person will be giving to me. This is about negating my needs and right to choose as I relinquish, to another, my responsibility to self. The giving becomes not so much about love than it does about appearances, guilt, and unrealistic expectations.

3. I give because I will look bad if I don’t. Once again, this puts too much control onto others. Only I know what I can give, how I can give, and to whom I want to give. Society/family/community truly has no say in this matter.

4. I give because I am generous. Beautiful, a lovely thing to be but generosity comes from the heart. I need to dig down deep and make sure this is a heartfelt giving and not a codependent longing.

5. I give so that the other will see me as generous/loving/gracious etc. Here I am basing my value on the opinions of others. As above, generosity is not so much about gift gifting, it is about sharing of the heart. If I am truly generous, my generosity will be apparent regardless of whether I give a gift or not.

6. I give so that the other will see/love/acknowledge me. If this is the case, I am on a losing battle. The only way to be seen/loved/acknowledged by others is to first see/love/acknowledge myself. A cliché statement but as true as it was when it was first coined.

7. I give because I will get something back. This thought, if true, is usually buried deep in the subconscious. There is hope that if I give enough of me, the other will see my need and give back to me. This is often the case of love, but can be seen in gift giving.

Christmas giving does not have to be about negating self, unrealistic expectations, controlling others or false appearances. When giving comes from the heart with awareness and responsibility it brings joy to all. So go out and give: give loved ones your time—go for a walk and tell them how much you appreciate them; make someone laugh; give to the food bank, volunteer for world peace or canvass for your favorite environmental charity. If you want to give something material, bake some cookies, create a beautiful card or cook a loved one dinner. And, if you absolutely must give something you bought at a store, research it first. Ask yourself if this gift will be appreciated and find out the environmental or humanitarian footprint used in it’s creation. This way, all can share in the joy of giving.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Awareness, Responsibility and Wikileaks

In writing the last blog entry on awareness and responsibility, I couldn’t help but think of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. As written by Gordon Crovitz (Wall Street Journal), Mr. Assange told Time magazine, “It is not our goal to achieve a more transparent society; it’s our goal to achieve a more just society.” If leaks cause U.S. officials to “lock down internally and to balkanize,” they will “cease to be as efficient as they were.”

In reading the full article (and others), it would be easy to assume that Mr. Assange is aware of his feeling towards the matter: he doesn’t like the American government and feels they are an “authoritarian conspiracy.” Fine, we know where he stands. But in acting out in this way I question whether he is helping society become more just or is he just trading one, to use his words, authoritarian conspiracy for another. And, more to the point of this blog, is he taking appropriate responsibility for his actions? The answer, at least for me, is no as too many innocent people were adversely affected. In codependent language, one could say that Mr. Assange is a bully. He uses his knowledge and skill to control and manipulate and his version of justice is fear based.

Stephen Engelberg of Probublica wrote an informative piece on the issue in July.
For the past several decades, there has been an informal understanding between the reporters who uncovered newsworthy secrets and the government intelligence agencies, which tried to keep them from public view.

We would tell senior officials what we'd learned. And they would point out any unforeseen consequences that might arise from publication, such as the death of an American informant. Ultimately, the call on what appeared rested with editors. But it was a decision informed by more than our own guesswork.

My point in reprinting that quote is that the above mentioned editors did not act without careful in-house (and out-of-house) dialogue. They looked at potential repercussions and then printed what they felt would be responsible in terms of the public, the government and themselves. The editors made a decision that, in their minds, served all those concerned in a mutually respectful and, presumably “healthy” manner. Sure, it didn’t make for a perfect world. Perhaps it didn’t even make a more just world. But their decision could be considered interdependent. It was the best they could do so that the greatest number of people were being equally and respectfully served.

But don’t mistake me here, I am not a pollyanna believing that most large organizations and bureaucracies act or even believe in interdependence. The world isnt perfect but then again, neither is interdependence as a concept. However, let’s call Mr. Assange what he is… not a hero looking for a just society but a bully getting his needs met by hurting others.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Awareness and Responsibility continued...

To carry on from the last blog entry I want to add on to my response to Kristen’s comment. I agree with her that while self awareness and self responsibility are important in the workplace “problem[s] can stem from the upper management of an organization and how well they are setting priorities and allocating their resources.” Part of that allocation, at least from my perspective, should be in providing a safe space for staff to speak about their feelings.

I know that sounds ideal but I recently started reading a PhD dissertation by Judith Martin called Relationships of Power: Exploring teacher’s emotions as experiences as interactions with their peers where she provided such a place for the research participants. A quick perusal of her study found her results quite positive. I’ll write more about that when I finish her paper but I’ve also seen the benefits when I teach my “Interdependence in the Workplace” workshop. Its empowering for people to know that their feelings of wanting to help (to the point of rescuing); wanting to be liked; feeling resentment and/or wanting to control others are part of being human. We all feel these things at one time or another with varying levels of intensity.

Each of us has a resentful part, a needy part, and a rescuing part. (I use these examples because they are aspects of the Karpman Drama Triangle — a model I use regularly to illuminate a certain relationship dynamic. See below for a quick summary of that dynamic.*) The question is not whether we have these parts but whether we are aware of them. In awareness we can look at each of these parts and notice when they are activated. In this state we also have the ability to choose whether we want to act on them. Without awareness, these parts can take over and lead us into dynamics like the Karpman Drama Triangle.

There is a quote by the amazing Jorge Borges in his short story The Immortal “No one is anyone, one single immortal man is all men… I am god, I am hero, I am philosopher, I am demon and I am world, which is a tedious way of saying that I do not exist.” As with all Borges wrote, no sentence has one definitive meaning but for me, taken in the context of his story, we are all capable of all things. Taken in the context of this essay, yes, we are all capable but if awareness is combined with responsibility we can direct our actions with integrity.

Awareness gives us more than self compassion and a choice in how we want to behave. It provides us with knowledge that each of our parts, whether it be the one that gets resentful or the one that feels self pity, has a wide range of skills. For example, while resentment can be somewhat devious and manipulative, it is also clever at seeing where injustices lie. It sees weaknesses in the system and calls out for correction. It wants change; it wants to be heard. These skills do not have to be used in passive-aggressive or bullying tactics but can be used to change the system, whether that be how we live or how we work, for the better.

In awareness, the first thing I need to ask myself when one of my parts are activated is what is the cause of this feeling? Am I feeling resentful because I am tired or is it because I am witnessing an injustice? Or am I feeling this way because of an imbalance in my life — I am working too hard or not seeing enough of my family? When I find the answer, which will be unique to the event and person, the second thing to ask is how can I use resentment to help rather than hinder the situation?

So, if I am feeling resentful because I feel I am doing more work and getting less recognition, I can use that resentment to motivate me to first reflect on the feeling and then act on it in a respectful manner. If this feeling is due to an injustice I can choose who to talk to about it— my union rep, my supervisor or someone in human resources. Perhaps the situation calls for me to get politically involved and try to change the system from without. If my resentment is due to a personal imbalance, for example, I overwork because of a need to be seen/appreciated/valued, maybe it is time to get counselling, change my priorities or, perhaps, leave my job.

I’ve written before that nothing of what we feel is bad or invalid. It is what we do with those feelings that counts. Having a safe place, whether that be in the workplace structure or with a private mentor/counsellor, to express these feeling helps us choose healthier paths. When we set the task of serving ourselves and our community in a mutually healthy and respectful manner, we live interdependently.

* The Karpman Drama Triangle is a dynamic that can arise when we try to rescue another (especially without their permission) and end of feeling used or taken advantaged of when the rewards are not up to expectation. Overtime the potential for resentment occurs, especially towards the person we were originally trying to help.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Selfishness or Healthy Self Care?

I was talking with an acquaintance the other day about the difference between selfish behaviour and taking healthy care of self. She, a medical professional, was irritated by the lack of commitment some of her colleagues showed when overtime, or the extra “mile”, was called for. When asked to do extra, she said, the response was far too often, “no, I need to take care of myself, I am going home.” My friend called it selfish but was it? Could this not be called healthy boundaries? When is taking care of oneself selfish, and when is being selfish the best form of self care?

Of course, there is no pat answer, each event is unique onto itself. The more important question to be asked is not so much what action we end up doing but how much awareness we have in our actions. That is, what is our underlying motive and what is the consequence of the action? Do we leave work at our scheduled time, for example, because staying longer would erode our health, negatively affect our family life, or because we have better things to do, like go to a movie? Is going to a movie part of our self care or is it because we don’t care about our job? With regards to the action’s consequence, will leaving work on time negatively affect another person’s life? If we do stay longer, do we have plans to replenish our self or repair family relationships? Have we communicated our work commitments to loved ones and were we clear about our familial commitments when we took the job?

What about the person making the claim that the other is selfish? Are they feeling drained from overwork to the point of resenting another’s healthy care of self? Is their “going the extra mile” a genuine need to be in service or a desire to be recognized as heroic? Do they feel they have to do the job because “no one else can do it” and is that statement true?

Like I said, there is no easy answer but I feel we have the highest potential to live in integrity when we are self aware and when we take responsibility for that awareness. If, for example, we leave work early because we are bored or just don’t care, is there a way we can be responsible for those feelings? Is it time to leave our job? Should we ask for more (or less) responsibility? Can we talk to a mentor or counsellor? Feelings of boredom or not caring are not “bad” feelings but if we don’t take responsibility for them, our actions could negatively affect another or ourselves.

Self awareness is the basis for interdependent living. It allows us to respond to our needs and wants in healthy and respectful ways while keeping in vision how our response affects our community. Self awareness builds the foundation for strong but flexible boundaries and a more compassionate view towards self and others. In short, self awareness plus responsibility is what defines seemingly selfish behaviour into healthy self care.

I have a feeling I am going to be talking more about this as I just taught a workshop on Interdependence in the Workplace… stay tuned.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Party On... or not

I must say, this past week was not the easiest I have ever had: self doubt, foul moods, crying jags… A friend suggested it was likely hormonal (yes, menopause looms just over the horizon) and, if I look at it objectively, there could be more than a little truth to that idea but I also have to acknowledge that my codependent parts were having a party at my expense. And, I cant even complain that they didn’t invite me… it was held in my head. It was a yukky experience with negative voices down calling my every move and interpreting all as doom and gloom. I knew I was losing control to these parts but I could not hold my centre long enough to tell them to take a hike—there was no enforcement of inner boundaries; no self compassion; no reality. All I could do was listen and crumble. Like I said, not too much fun.

Luckily, there was a trusted friend nearby who could stand in place of my centre and express the voice of reason. She stood fast, reminding me continually of what was truth, what was exaggeration and what was downright falsehood. She gave me space to express my fears and self doubt while storing up my inner resources. She was a rock.

Regardless of the stage of our recovery, our codependent parts tend to find us when we are not at our strongest whether it be ill health, financial burdens, or hormonal imbalance. Sometimes we can reason with these parts, set up boundaries or tell them in no uncertain terms to get lost but, at other times, the ability to regain some semblance of sanity flounders. When that happens, we need to have a trusted friend, mentor or counsellor to help us back into self leadership.

As we say at The ARC Institute, it is not so much how many times or how hard you fall it is how effective you are in getting back up and coming back to your centre. I can usually return to Self with the tools I have outlined in the many articles of this blog but sometimes, as I found out this weekend, you just need to reach out and ask for help. And so I did.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Road

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermicular patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

This is a quote, the last paragraph actually, in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. If you haven’t read this book I encourage you to do so. Yes, it is at times (okay, mostly) bleak and frightening but it is also a love story of a father and his son. It is a tale of hope and faith, and the brilliant flame within us, waiting to be ignited; waiting to free us from our fears. This flame is what connects us. It is a fiery bond that is shared between all that lives and when we acknowledge and respect that flame to it’s deepest extent we have no choice but to live in compassion and integrity. The whole book is haunting but the last paragraph reverberates throughout my whole being.

I thought of that quote after a conversation with a dear friend. We talked of our longtime friendship and I was able to see, more clearly, how over the years I have hurt her through my fears: how, in the effort to be safe, I pushed her away and had been unforgiving of her mistakes; how I betrayed her in small, seemingly insignificant ways. These were my codependent strategies for living: trust no one; use past traumas as guidelines for today; over extend myself to the place of resentment; avoid intimacy; and always expect the worst. We have talked about this many a time but this conversation was different, it was if the last veil was pushed aside. Perhaps it was because I finally saw how she never gave up on me: always spoke her truth and encouraged me to speak mine. She understood my codependent parts and, while not indulging them, infused our friendship with patience, space and boundaries so that my true self would eventually emerge.

Codependent behaviours can mimic the apocalyptic landscape of The Road. In hopes of a “better” life, our codependent parts can behave like those people in the story who hurt others in their desire to survive. These men and women were not essentially bad but, in fear of dying, they left unlit their internal flame and resorted to atrocities so that they may live. I, in fear of abandonment, dissolution and being hurt, fed off the negative and discounted the value of relationship. I was an island unto myself creating a false sense of security.

McCarthy wrote: "On their backs were vermicular patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again". Each of our lives is a map of the world becoming. Before, and in the first few years of recovery, I was too hurt and embittered by the past to see the beauty and power of this truth. I did not treasure it and lost my way: the map became an endless maze of accusations and angry recriminations.

With regards to my friendship, I know it suffered loss because of the fears of my codependent parts. And, I know it cannot be put back together again in the way it was once imagined. It can, however, begin anew, with faith and love and belief that all hurt can eventually find a safe place to heal. As I reflect on this friendship with open eyes and heart experiencing a deep sense of safety, I am more than ever aware of the mystery of life, of “all things … older than man”. I am thankful to my friend and her intrinsic understanding that there was more to me than what my fears manifested.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coming soon...

Just wanted to let you know that just because I had an anniversary, I havent given up on writing. Nope, the fact is I just got back from a week long retreat and my fingers are itching to start anew. I should have a new post up soon. So, until then, celebrate your "right to be": dance with joy; cry with full abandonment and indulge your love of whatever or whoever makes you tick with delight.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Anniversary Celebration

Its my anniversary! One year ago today, well, actually, November 8 but I am celebrating early, I started my blog. I had committed to one year and, believe me, it was no small commitment. For one, I am terrible at committing to things. Commitment has this faint resonance that murmurs, forevvvvvver. I can still hear my mother’s voice talking despairingly about “quitters”. This is not to say I haven’t quit things in my life but, in the times I have, the guilt lives on. I remember working for six horrid weeks at Safeway (a story in its own) and in every one of those weeks, coaching myself with “give it another day, it’s not that bad, you can do it”. That was several years ago but there is still a small part of myself that wont let me off the hook for quitting: a commitment is a commitment and a job needs at least a year, you owe that to the employer, you owe it to yourself. Arrgghhhh! What I really owe to myself is living a life that respects me and those around me. But like I said, Safeway is a whole other story. The point is, when I commit to something these days, I take it very seriously. I go in with eyes wide open and say, I will give this a year, if I cannot give it a year, I wont do it. What this ultimately means is that I commit to very little but, when I do commit, I really commit.

And now I deserve a pat on the back. Not only did I successfully fulfill my commitment but I established a writing practice. I had serious doubts about that also: fears of boredom and capability; fears of ridicule and a non-existent muse, but the bottom line is, over 60 articles later, I completed both, I have no plans to stop, and I am immensely proud of myself.

My anniversary present? I am not writing an original blog this week… I am going to cite some of my more interesting articles from the last twelve months.

Thanks for reading and sharing your views…

December’s Climate Change

February’s Interdependent Challenge – note: I have since changed my slogan from Mutuality, Respect and Community to Mutuality, Respect and Leadership. More on that later.

May’s Trust and Safety: Chicken and the Egg series

June’s Hunger articles

September’s Bread series

Monday, November 1, 2010

Jack of the Petit Dumpling

I carved myself a Hallowe’en pumpkin on Sunday. It’s been years since my hands have laid a knife to squash (for purely celebratory reasons, that is) and, you know, it felt good. I wasn’t planning on doing it. In fact, I told a friend a few days ago that I had no plans for Hallowe’en whether that be decorations, trick-or-treaters or crazy faced pumpkins. I live in an apartment, I said, no children live here. Besides, I am on the upper floor, decorations in my window would mean nothing. Jack-o’-laterns are for others to enjoy as they pass by your door, it would be for naught.

I didn’t think about what I had said until two days later, the eve of Hallowmas, when I realized that by saying “it would be for naught,” I was saying that I was unimportant: that my gaze upon a thing of beauty, well, sort of beauty, meant nothing. It was a subtle sort of self negation. Can I not create just for myself? Am I not worth it? Enough, I said, and got up from my comfy chair and walked to the store.

Now 5pm on Hallowe’en is not the time to start gathering pumpkins. We are all out, my local IGA man said. What, I exclaimed, no glossy jacinthe fruits of the vine? No, deeply painted nacarat or lurid shells to carve I asked? He started to back away. Oh come on, I said, what about saffron or even, yes, even a faded ochre husk that cries out to be cut (yet ever so creatively) open? Too late, he had inched his way back behind the boxes of Poptarts and Lucky Charms, lost forever in the land of pastel fantasies. They just don’t hire grocery clerks the way they used to.

I halfheartedly steered myself towards the root vegetables. Perhaps, I thought, maybe, I prayed, please I begged, let there be another form of marrow that will tickle my fancy. And, sure enough, there among the petit pan and carnival, the buttercup and golden acorn was my little wannabe Jack — a flavescent petit dumpling with splendid stripes of glaucus and a subtle croceate. I grabbed him by the nape of his stemmish neck, paid my $2, and ran home with visions of devilment dancing in my head.

It took less than five to perform the lobotomy and, after a few moments of decisive pondering I quickly slashed left, then right and scooped a bit there. An evil eye now watched me as I gave him a leer and pronounced him complete. With a strike of a match, my homunculus was born: a beautiful creation for a person of beauty (uhhh, that would be me) to perceive. Happy Hallowmas to you all!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Breaking the Contract

I taught a Creative Codependence class a few weeks ago and the topic of “breaking the contract” arose. I’ve written about contracts before but, in short, codependent relationships are a contract between the codependent parts of two people. The needs of one fulfill the needs of the other; an implicit agreement is made and survival is based on maintaining the status quo: there is no rocking of the boat.

I remember when a good friend of mine decided to “break the contract” that we had between us. My codependent parts were not ready for this, that is, I was not in recovery and I went into survival mode. She told me she needed time apart to rethink our friendship; that she was feeling drained. I felt that she had cruelly pulled the plug out on me. A gamut of emotions coursed through me from fear and grief to anger and resentment: how dare she? The situation felt desperate and, at my most extreme, I felt that I would die without her friendship.

A bit melodramatic? Perhaps. But the truth of the matter is that our codependent parts feel the only means to survival is to get approval from another or, adversely, to control, bully and/or rescue another. There is no safety within, so they look to another to find some sort of validation that they have the right to be. My codependent parts needed my friend to play her part and when she pulled away (out of self preservation) I felt abandoned to the wilds.

The main problem for our codependent parts is that they are confused about how to satisfy the necessities of life. All of us need love, validation and safety but these parts look for it through external sources, much like we did as children. However, young children are by nature helpless; they have specific needs and these must be met by their caregivers. When these needs are adequately met children mature into adults that can take healthy care of self and have a sense of well-being and self worth. If these needs are insufficiently met children will mature with parts of themselves still looking to external sources for not only a sense of wellbeing but a means to survive. These are our codependent parts.

It took time but after the initial “abandonment” shock subsided, I started seeing the truth of the matter. I slowly got myself back into a place where I could look objectively at our relationship. I saw how desperate I had been for her approval and how she had, just as unconsciously, fed into this need for her own sense of validation. I also saw that she was not only taking care of herself by taking a step back but how her actions could only benefit me. I got serious about my own recovery and the seeds for Creative Codependence were sowed. But don’t let me fool you in thinking my recovery was based on this one “broken contract”, I had been through several before this event. One in particular was, in retrospect, quite funny. Many years ago, having just left a long term intimate relationship I swore to myself that men were off limits until I had a stronger sense of self — I would not again lose my identity in the arms of another. Very soon after those words were spoken I entered a platonic relationship with a woman that mirrored the exact same issues. It took three years for that partnership to end only to come full circle back into another codependent relationship.

This, however, is not a morality tale about the unique timing of one’s healing journey, although that is definitely true. With each relationship breakup I learned more about myself and, equally important, I started seeking help from healthier sources. I took workshops (ARC was instrumental in my growth); got private therapy and read many books Charles Whitfield’s Co-dependence: Healing the Human Condition was the first to lay out the facts for me in a calm, easily digested (at least for me) format. Through time I built up enough internal safety to stop looking for it through my friends, teachers and others so that when this last break came, I could truly step into recovery.

My friend and I eventually re-established a more respectful relationship but, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If I had stayed in denial about my codependence the healthiest thing she could have done was to cut her losses and keep her distance: it’s hard to maintain a healthy relationship with someone who is continually (consciously or not) asking for certain needs to be filled. If she had allowed herself to be pulled back in by my desperate emotions then her codependent parts would have taken over and her recovery would have lapsed. Fortunately for both of us, she took the first step in breaking the contract and I followed along, eventually seeing the contract for what it really was, a prison of unhealthy (and unrealistic) expectations.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Simple Life

I received a comment from “Frankie” on my last blog entry and, intrigued with her photo, I checked out her blog, Artisan Lifestyle. I was instantly a fan. I love her desire to lead a simpler life with a creative flair. It reminded me of a list that Charles Whitfield composed in his book, Codependence: Healing the Human Condition, in which he characterized the differences between the "True Self" and the "False Self". I renamed them the "Interdependent Self" and "Codependent Parts" but what I get most from this list is that when we try to complicated matters, there is a good chance our codependent parts are in charge. Any thoughts?

Interdependent Self vs Codependent Parts

Authentic Self vs a mask
Genuine vs ungenuine
Spontaneous vs plans and prods
Expansive, loving vs contracting, fearful
Giving, communicating vs withholding
Accepting of Self and others vs envious, critical, idealized,perfectionist
Loves unconditionally vs loves conditionally
Feels feelings, incl spontaneous anger vs denies or hides feelings
Assertive vs aggressive and or passive
Intuitive vs rational, logical
Ability to be child like vs may be childish
Needs to play and have fun vs avoids play and fun
Vulnerable vs pretends always to be strong
Trusting vs distrusting
Enjoys being nurtured vs avoids being nurtured
Surrenders vs controls
Self indulgent vs self righteous
Simplifies vs complicates
Wants to be real vs wants to be right
Wants to connect/experience/create/love vs wants to control and win
Non defensive vs defensive
Connected to higher power vs believes it is higher power
Open to the unconscious vs blocks unconscious material
Remembers our oneness vs feels separate

Friday, October 22, 2010

Authority and the Art of Bread Making

I was making bread this morning and, once again, that familiar irritation arose. It comes half way through the kneading with unfortunate regularity— a tightening of my shoulders; a holding of breath. I slow down, rhythmically pushing and pulling the dough but now with intention rather than aggression. My mindfulness not only gets me breathing again but opens my awareness: it is not so much irritation I feel but self doubt. A part of me feels that I am failing again.

Doubt doesn’t stroll or whisper its way into these occasions; it barges in as the desire to make perfect bread becomes paramount. I am kneading and doubt shouts: The bread is too sticky, add more flour. I reach for the flour and doubt sneers, why are you doing that, you have already added twice, even three times what the recipe states. I pull my hand back and continue the seesaw motion while registering the building of inner tension. I’ve been here many a time in the last two months, this is nothing new, but today I’ve had enough — its time to break the cycle.

First off, I review the facts. I know enough (or think I know enough) about bread making to know what dough should look and feel like before the first and final rise. Moreover, there are pictures in my recipe book which I make valiant yet vain attempts to mimic: match the picture and my bread is dry and crumbly from too much flour; match the recipe and I am literally pouring the dough into the pan. These last two months, however, have been a lesson in trust. When I sink into mindfulness and truly feel the dough beneath my hands, I know how much flour is needed regardless of what the instructions demand. Unfortunately, despite this knowing, doubts can still arise at crucial times and throw me off centre.

In theory I know that bread making is never about following the recipe, at least for measurements of flour. It all depends on the kind of grain you are using, from what region it grows and the humidity in your kitchen. Furthermore, I am using new ingredients: sprouted rye berries and kamut flour. I am breaking the rules while still wanting my recipes to stand by me and lead me into certainty.

I ponder this as I transfer my molten dough into the pan. It’s too wet, doubt says, and too late to add more flour. You’ve screwed up again. I breathe into the tension and reassure myself that all will be fine. The bottom line is that no one needs to see, hear or taste this bread. If it’s a mistake, its mine alone.

Writing helps me be more self reflective and today is no different. While I wait for the final rising to be done, I sit at the keyboard exploring my feelings. The first thing I own is my desire for perfection, or at least, that is, my codependent part’s desire for perfection. These parts don’t want to fail. To fail is to solidify an age-old belief of low self worth — anything shy of perfect is just not good enough. But there is another part haunting me today: a seemingly bizarre desire for some authoritative leadership.

Authoritative leadership is one that doesn’t punish or shame (like the authoritarian kind) but guides with compassion, respect and acceptance. It encourages exploration and communication while providing boundaries for safety and space to grow. It’s the kind of leadership that most of us want in the ideal parent. With healthy parenting we can mature into adults who not only internalize a healthy sense of Self but actualize an authoritative style of Self leadership.

As a child my mother had, among other rather unhealthy mannerisms, an authoritarian bent (hairpin curve perhaps?). Without a functional role model, my internal leadership took many years to develop and I had little knowledge of healthy self care. Eventually I learned to reparent myself but even now, in times of high stress or change (didn’t summer just change into autumn?), I can fall back into default behaviours: I not only doubt, berate and/ or shame myself but look to others for some sort of leadership.

Now looking towards others is not such a bad thing if we look in the right places. An ARC therapist, for example, can help guide us back into an empowered state where healthy self parenting is part and parcel of the process. Other options include finding help in books (the Classics have served me well in this regard) or talking with a good friend. The cause of my tension today was looking for leadership in the wrong place. I wanted Peter Reinhart, the author of both the book and recipe I was following, to fill the place I had temporarily seceded— I was looking for a surrogate parent.

While I was kneading the dough and questioning my abilities, I wanted Mr. Reinhard to come through for me. I wanted him to reassure me and say: test it out, you’ll be fine, trust yourself. Instead I got pictures of perfection and exact measurements such as 2 ½ tsp of molasses. (That’s just shy of a tablespoon buster, stop being cute). I got information on why measuring out grams of flour as opposed to cups of flour was preferred and how filtered water was a necessity for perfect bread. He gave me strict guidelines and I followed them with high expectations only to be disappointed as I was in the past when another form of authority failed me. After several attempts to do it his way, I threw his suggestions out the door and did it, as Frank memorably sang, my way. And that, I finally realized, was the basis for my tension. I was trying to strike a balance along the fine line between trusting Self while trusting authority.

In the past, especially in times of stress, I forgot who I was. I relied too strongly on the advice and direction of others, relinquishing my power to those who I thought knew better. Times, thankfully, have changed. I now see who I am and value myself as one who has worth. I look to Self for leadership and find a wealth of experience, knowledge and good instincts to guide me. I also trust that I can listen and take the advice of others without losing my inner voice— my Self. Sometimes, however, I fall back and forget who I am and, for whatever reason, bread making has challenged me in this quarter. My only answer to this challenge is to keep going forth while quieting the doubts and trusting my hands. In time I know these doubtful parts will learn to trust me but until then, I will be my own ideal parent and be patient and compassionate with my fears and needs.

The bread is out of the oven now. It is chock full of flax, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds and surrounded by sprouted kamut kernels. It is slightly moist, the way I like it, and delightfully chewy. It is, as my hands knew full well it would be, perfect.

Friday, October 15, 2010


My thanksgiving bread was a success, thank you very much. It was a spelt sourdough loaf overflowing with flax, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds. Even my taciturn and rather stern brother gruffly said, “good bread”. Thrilled me to the core … literally. I mean, I knew it was good bread, with or without my family’s acknowledgement, but it sure felt good to hear it from them. It’s like I say at my Creative Codependence workshops, it’s nice getting external validation. The point, however, is that it should be a bonus — a healthy complement to who I am and not a necessity in my life. And so it was.

Here’s another question:

What is the difference between being codependent with one’s career and just wanting to be seen and validated as a valuable employee?

With codependence, a part of us looks to another to get basic internal needs taken care of. These needs can include happiness, validation, and safety. Moreover, we can be codependent with anything: people, places, pets, hobbies… uhhh, even our homemade bread. This does not mean that when we receive satisfaction and fulfillment by being in service to another (or when we receive a promotion or a compliment) that we are codependent with that person, place or thing. Rather, as I said above, it adds to the quality of life. The question to be asked, however, is job satisfaction (or making good bread) the only reason we are fulfilled? If I was to leave my job tomorrow would I feel like I was no longer whole? Note: I am not talking about short term depression that quite often happens when we leave someone or something we love. What I am talking about is a fear that without this other person or thing in my life, I will be nothing. At the end, it comes down to balance. We need to feel fulfilled not just in our career and hobbies but in our relationships and quiet times alone. There needs to be places in our life that support us when we suffer loss in other areas, however that loss manifests. This helps us move on and realize that we are worthy and valuable as human beings, regardless of what we do, own or achieve.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Good Bread: The Hopeful Cure-All

I made one tasty loaf of sprouted kamut and spelt sourdough bread yesterday. Sour, but not too sour; moist, but not like Betty Crocker’s infamous cake that squishes between the fork tongs moist; and sliceable so I can toast it with ease. Ahhh, the joy of basking in the light of perfection. Until at least Saturday, that is, when I bake a loaf for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Can I repeat this success? Am I a one-trick pony? What if I fail?

I am actually exaggerating these voices right now. Oh, my inner Doubting Thomasina is there alright but not loud enough to be too much of a distraction. It is just that she knows when I am most vulnerable and a family visit is high on that list.

Families tend to be a touchy point for most of us, especially when we are dealing with our codependent parts. After all, it is usually the place where they first came to be. I, for one, learned at an early age that if I wanted attention I needed to be someone different than who I was. I created a lot of different parts to achieve this attention: an entertainer and a sickly part, a tough and independent part and one that was good as gold, to name a few. I was protean in my abilities to get my needs met— reaching out towards others in however they needed me to be, or what I thought they needed me to be. There was always the hope that if I was funny, sick, hardy or quiet enough, I would be safer, more loved or just plain accepted. The result, of course, is that I negated my true self. I became a master at being anything but who I was.

Back to this coming weekend, I am going to be visiting people that I love but also people who tend to see only parts of myself — notably the parts I showed them in my early days of attention seeking. Some of my family see me as a bit too sensitive, others see me as not quite able while some view me as a bit of a show off (my entertainment sojourns tended to backfire). And, unfortunately, parts of me (uhhh, that would be my codependent parts) are seeing them through the eyes of my childhood. These parts still see members of my family as people I have to please somehow or risk abandonment. Huh. Seems like I am the one that has to change. “Bother,” as pooh would say.

Oh well, if the bread is bust, wont be the first less than worthy loaf of bread baked and besides, I have a contingency plan. If need be, there is a good bakery up the road that can provide.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Perfection and the Mother Starter

I make bread every week now and have started noticing a few things about myself. Take this morning: while replenishing my Sourdough Starter (the “Mother starter”, they call it), I started to worry. My starter, you see, is a bit too sour for my taste. Not bad, mind you, but a little less of the sour would suffice just nicely. So, this morning I started changing it from a rye to a spelt starter and got thinking of experimenting with different consistencies— more liquid, less liquid, ect. While mixing in my seed culture with more flour and water I noticed how tense my shoulders were. Using ARC BodySpeak™ skills, I asked my shoulders what was up — why so tense? The answer was my age old nemesis, perfection. A part of me feels that I need (ha! no pun intended … maybe) to do this right —I mean really right. I need to bake perfect bread every time or my inabilities— my unworthiness—will be public knowledge. An inadequate loaf of bread is the equivalent to a neon sign blinking “failure, failure”.

The search for perfection, or the manifestation of perfection, is the trait of one of my more familiar codependent parts. If only I was perfect, this part bemoans, I, too, would be accepted, worthy, even loved. A bit dramatic but you got to love her, she keeps me entertained. At least she does now. In days gone by, she hounded me with threats of abandonment and rejection if I failed her.

I recently saw this dynamic at play during a community event. A couple of participants were demonstrating their unique skills and, despite being acknowledged and praised, could not see themselves in this light. It was frustrating but also embarrassing to witness. It was like looking at old funhouse mirror images of myself. In the past when my perfectionistic part was at the helm, I could not see myself in a positive light nor let the complimentary words of others penetrate. I saw myself as walking proof that no matter how hard I tried to be better, it would never be enough.

I sit here now at my computer typing furiously away, illuminating this perfectionistic part of myself. She needs to be seen for what she is: a codependent part that desperately wants to be found worthy. My job — me, my Self, the authority of who I am — needs to let her know, she already is.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Light and Dark of It

And now, the bread story. It is, alas, a tale of approval seeking but, without being too much of a spoiler, one with a happy ending.

I’ve been meaning to revisit bread making for fifteen years. Back then I was baking quite regularly. I co-owned a guiding outfit and, as such, I had clients and family to feed; bread making became second nature. Best of all, I developed a reputation for it, it was part of who I was. When I left the business (and my partner), however, to start again in the city, bread making died a natural death.

Last spring, the topic of bread, and the baking thereof, arose in a group in which I was participating. I stayed quiet but was almost overcome with this mad desire to be seen by this group, especially the leader, as a baker. I knew that I would have come across somewhat immature claiming a fifteen year old identity but inwardly I was yelling, “see me; see me. I, too, am a baker”. If I baked bread, this part of me argued, I would have their approval, perhaps even their respect. Funny how the seemingly innocuous can trigger larger than life desires. Baking bread became synonymous with identity, validation and recognition.

I didn’t act on this urge right away. There were two main reasons. For one, I had other matters to contend with like irrational fears that the thoughts of baking produced. These were, for the most part about control (safety), or lack of, and included: weight gain (I wouldn’t be able to stop eating), bug infestation (how to keep the kitchen free of flour dust), and the age old “there is not enough time” (I would be drained from overwork). The main reason, however, for not acting right away was that I took leadership over my parts — the needy and the fearful ones. I, in Self leadership, made time to get to know them better, acknowledge their truths (or what they perceived as truths) and reassure them that I could provide for their needs. I let them know I appreciated who they were and why they were so fierce in their beliefs while allowing them to see yet another perspective. The result was that I began seeing a more rounded picture of my parts, the good and the bad; how they served me in times of old and how they could yet do the same today, albeit in healthier ways.

I recently facilitated an evening presentation on interdependence. Interdependence, I suggested was the marriage of self care and harmonious community living: the healthy and respectful care for self results in the healthy and respectful care of others. I concluded by saying that one way to do this was to come into relationship with all of our internal parts. I stated that if we come to know each of our part’s unique characteristics — how they perceive and act upon life— we can not only serve ourselves better but ultimately serve our community to its highest good. It is about trust. If our parts feel heard and validated they are more apt to stop trying to take over — they learn to trust our Self leadership. This is the foundation for interdependence: trust in Self equals good self care; good self care equals healthier communities. In codependence, the opposite happens, our parts take leadership over Self, self care falters and communities suffer.

I have, as most of us do, a variety of parts both interdependent and codependent. Two of my favorite, in the latter department, are the ones that like to go into self pity and the ones that denies any self compassion, treating life with stoic precision. What I like most about these two parts are their unique characteristics or, as I like to call them, their skill sets. Take my stoic part. Sure she’s anal and controlling, rigid and a tad perfectionistic but she also gets the job done. She is disciplined and strong; knows the difference between right and wrong and is directed enough to act on her beliefs. My self pity part, on the other hand, can be whiny and dependent; a bit too self centred and tunnel visioned but she is also in touch with her feelings, recognizes injustices and is self compassionate. As such, she recognizes and is emphatic with those who are hurting. My stoic part is actually quite a leader and my self pity part is my strength, one who is not afraid to show her vulnerabilities or to reach out to others in need. The light and dark of it, I like to say.

In reviewing the skill set of this part of me that wants validation, I note that she is needy and demanding, a bit of a show-off and somewhat given to melodrama. However, she is also motivated, slides past irrational fears— as she did with my fears of fat, bugs and being drained— is not shy and can be quite entertaining. Most importantly, at least right now, is that this part of me that can still feel ignored, neglected and not up to snuff, and who sometimes does embarrassing things in order to get attention, got me making bread again, a hobby I quite enjoy. I, for one, am forever grateful. And, when the person who I was originally trying to impress eventually said, “hey, good bread” it was nice but not necessary. By slowing down and taking time with this part that needed to be seen; by taking care of and calming my fears, I was taking care of myself. I was not only taking leadership over my parts but baking helluva good bread. Creative Codependence at its best.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm Back...

I’ve just had a kick in the butt. My friend, Kristen, someone who I very much admire and respect (check out her beauty speaks project) emailed me with a lovely comment about my blog. Damn it, I thought, if she isn’t being polite, I don’t know what polite is. I haven’t written anything in ages and of what I have written, wasn’t worth the comment. In other words, she jolted me (or perhaps it was my codependent parts) into action: there was approval to be had and writing to be done.

I started out this blog with a commitment to write weekly for one year. I made it until the end of July when, much to my surprise, my world fell apart. Okay, a little melodramatic but I discovered a truth about myself that not only hurt to the core but made me doubt much of who I was. Moreover, I knew the truth to be founded on codependent behaviour. It was, without exaggeration, devastating.

As soon as it happened, a part of me knew that I had to write about it but the shame, which I wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge, was too big. Instead I lamely suggested in my submission on August 17 that I just needed a summer hiatus, that I was, “repeating things and, perhaps, not willing to go to the required depth”. True enough but not the complete picture. The real story is that my blog had become another codependent crutch: I was attempting to find self value in my writing.

I had been writing in a mad frenzy (note: a little hyperbole is good for the soul) all winter and spring in order that I could stand proud come November and say, see, I did it, I am great. I wrote (and published) an article every week. In retrospect, the goal had become my reason to be and the process was falling by the wayside. And there was more: I wanted, dreamed, fantasized about people responding on the comment page; the blog going viral and Meryl Streep playing me in my own version of Julia & Julia. When people didn’t respond or acknowledge my blog, I hit my personal self doubt button. When they did respond, I either hit the “I want more button” or declared myself undeserving. My avatar was a bunch of paragraphs strung together under the name Creative Codependence: I was codependent with my codependence blog — how embarrassing.

As I’ve described in previous articles, both responses of self doubt and “I want more” are codependent behaviours. With the former, it is fairly obvious. I was placing my self worth on what other people thought or what I perceived they were thinking. The latter response is a little more interesting in that with codependent parts, there is never enough. I could have been getting ten, no, one thousand comments a day, and it still wouldn’t have been enough. Oh sure, the first day would have been exciting but then there would have been this ultimate craving for two thousand, three and then four thousand comments increasing exponentially thereafter. I was the crack addict with open sores and vacant eyes, scratching and pleading for one more hit. But my hunger wasn’t for coke or another comment. Underneath is all was a desire for validation. But as I forever am saying (and yes, isn’t it about time I listened to my own teachings) you cant receive love, respect and acknowledgment, until you love, respect, and acknowledge yourself. A cliché but also a truism. We will always be wanting if we neglect our own self care.

So, as I wrote in Summer Hiatus, I needed time to refocus, regroup and, as also stated, time to bake bread. I now have an incredible sourdough mother starter living in my fridge and a repertoire of several sprouted whole grain breads with chewy mouthfuls of taste. But all that is for another story. I am back and watching (and even enjoying) my codependent parts as I maneuver around this latest learning experience.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Creative Codependence Workshop

Creative Codependence:Getting More Out of Life

Saturday, October 16, 2010
10:00 – 6:00 pm, $95
Solace Centre, Nanaimo, BC

Note: Creative Codependence is CCA CEU Approved

Codependence is a label that many of us shy away from. The word conjures up images of helpless, needy souls pleading, begging to be liked.

But what if that wasn’t the entire picture?

What if being independent, strong and in control were also symptoms of codependence? What if codependence was simply a creative way we learned as children to get our needs met? And what if that same creativity could be used to meet those needs more effectively today?

Join Jo-Ann Svensson of The ARC Institute in this full day workshop as she compassionately explores codependence. Through discussion and exercises, she will demonstrate the idea that codependence is a unique and healing journey towards reclaiming our wholeness.

Check out the testimonials at
Register at or call 604 619-3904

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More on Vulnerability

This question came to my email...

What does it feel like to be vulnerable, how will I know?

The Oxford dictionary defines vulnerable as that which may be “wounded or harmed”. At first glance then, vulnerability appears as a weakness as in “my computer is vulnerable to viruses without adequate protection.” However, when used in the context of humans, admitting one’s vulnerabilities is actually a sign of strength.

Vulnerability begins with opening our heart — opening our heart to all our inner parts, the ones full of light and the ones mired in shadows. It is saying: “This is who I am. I may not be proud of all these parts but they are all a part of me.” For example, I have a part of me that goes into self pity ever so often. I am not proud of that but with an open heart I can acknowledge when I feel self pity and say: “A part of me needs attention right now. How can I give it the attention it needs in a healthy way?” With an open heart, pride steps aside for compassion to enter.

It can feel vulnerable to say we have needs, especially if those needs have been ignored, denied or judged in the past. To express our needs opens our self to the possibility of rejection. To avoid this, we often reject ourselves — we deny our needs — before another can do so. This may feel like we are protecting our self, or being “strong”, but, in reality, self rejection weakens us.

Ironically, when we deny our vulnerabilities we become more vulnerable to life’s challenges. Denial does not make the problems disappear, in fact, they usually increase. In denial, using the above example, the part of our self wanting attention will still try to get its needs met but will do so without our full awareness. We may end up doing unhealthy things to get attention or, alternatively, may try to drown our needs in addiction: drugs, alcohol, work and shopping, to name a few.

I feel most people feel safer, at first, in being vulnerable with another.. Many of us come from codependent backgrounds and, as such, we have come to rely on others for not only self validity but a sense of safety (I have written about self trust and inner safety in other blogs. Check out May blogs) Because of this, it sometimes requires another to help us open our heart to self compassion and to begin building the foundation for our own internal safety. We confide our worst fears to our best friend, therapist, spiritual advisor or even our pet before we can actually go within to explore. It is like testing the waters. If this person I trust accepts me without judgment, perhaps I, too, can accept myself and stop judging.

Being vulnerable with a trusted individual can eventually allow one to accept and love themselves regardless of what or who they have been. And this is not about evading responsibility. Being vulnerable includes admitting our wrongs and making amends where needed. It is vulnerable to admit how we have hurt another but only in acceptance of what we have done and the taking of appropriate responsibility can we transform guilt and shame into gifts from which we can learn.

And finally, it is a gift to ourselves to choose when and how to be vulnerable with others. If we are vulnerable to a person who is filled with self judgment it will be doubtful whether we will encounter an open heart. It is not that their judgment need necessarily hurt us — those with a strong sense of internal safety can withstand quite a lot of external judgment — but who needs it? Healthy vulnerability means having strong but flexible boundaries that help you choose when and how to express.

Here are some self reflective questions to help explore our more vulnerable parts:

• Do I judge myself for having a part of myself that feels/behaves/thinks a certain way?
• In judging this part am I denying my feelings but still acting on this part’s needs?
• What can this part teach me?
• Can I thank this part for perhaps getting me through a difficult time in life?
• Did this part hurt myself or others while trying to get its needs met?
• Can I forgive myself for these hurts and make appropriate amends?

Accepting our vulnerabilities is about coming out of denial and living life with an open heart. As such, it is a strength rather than a weakness. How will you know you are being vulnerable? For everyone it is different but for me, I can tell you when I am not being vulnerable. As soon as I pass judgment on another or myself, I have closed my heart. When I do that I ask: What is happening for you right now, Jo-Ann? And with that I am once more being vulnerable.

Monday, August 30, 2010


If anyone wants to post an anonymous question, email me at

Be writing soon, Jo-Ann

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Question of Vulnerability

I did a workshop on boundaries the other day at Awakenings Book store in White Rock. The question was asked: how can I be vulnerable, live with an open heart, and not get walked on?

I think the root of the question here is not so much about being vulnerable but our belief in our intrinsic “right to be”.

I’ve printed this quote before but I find it is fitting once again:

When a rebel army took over a Korean town, all fled the Zen temple except the abbot. The rebel general burst into the temple and was incensed to find that the master refused to greet him, let alone receive him as a conqueror.
"Don’t you know," shouted the general, "that you are looking at one who can run you through without batting an eye?"
"And you," said the abbot, "are looking at one who can be run through without batting an eye!"
The general's scowl turned into a smile. He bowed and left the temple.

The abbot presents himself in all his vulnerability — no sword, no armour —and states who he is. He makes a conscious decision, stating to the general that he can try to walk all over him but he, the abbot, will not be affected. The abbot is basically saying that this bullying behaviour is about the general. It is his need to be in control and that he, the abbot, will not play the game. The general can try to run over, threaten or abuse the abbot but the abbot will not succumb. The abbot is putting up a boundary. He is standing tall and stating his truth — he believes in his right to be.

Let us use the more pedestrian example of love. Letting someone know you love them is a vulnerable act. The object of our love can respond in many ways from returning, abusing or rejecting it and, of course, the many variations between. The thing to note, however, is regardless of how the other person responds, their response is about them, not us. It is about their feelings and/or way of coping with life. If we have a right to state our love, then they have a right to state their feelings … even if it is hurtful to us. Their feelings, including defensive reactions spoken out of fear, is authentic for them at that moment.

It is essentially human that a negative response to open-heartedness adversely affects us. Its hurts to be rejected. However, if we allow that rejection to overwhelm our sense of who we are and to negate the authentic expression of our feelings, we have been overruled by our codependent parts. We are allowing another to walk over us because we are elevating their feelings above our own.

Said another way, it is about self trust. Self trust, as I have noted before, is contingent on an internal sense of safety (and vice versa). If we feel safe in who we are; and trust that our feelings are important, we are more apt to feel okay in our vulnerability. It is about knowing that whatever happens as a result of stating our deepest thoughts or feelings, it is secondary to the fact that we have been true to our self.

In codependence, we allow the feelings, thoughts or actions of another to supersede our own in value. We react to another’s negative response and judge it to be about us. In codependence, we let others not only walk over us but hurt us along the way. Let’s look at some simplified dialogues to explain further:

Ann: I love you
Bob: If you love me you will do this for me.

Bob is abusing Ann’s love. If Ann responds by saying, “okay”, her codependent parts are in control. She is stating that the only way she will gain Bob’s love is by bending to his will. If Ann sets up a boundary, however, she might say: “my love is not contingent on your conditions, my love is about how I feel towards you.”

Max: I love you
Sally: I don’t love you, you are not good enough

Sally is rejecting Max’s love and hurting him with abusive words. If Max believes these words, his codependent parts are in control. He is allowing another’s opinion to be more important than his own. Max could respond with boundaries and say: “that is your opinion. In expressing my love, I am stating my truth, not an invitation for you to abuse me.”

Sue: I am scared
Jim: I will take care of you

Here Sue is being vulnerable in stating her fear. If Sue allows Jim to take control her codependent parts have taken control of her. With strong boundaries Sue could respond: “I did not ask you to take over, I am only stating how I feel. If you want to help, ask me what I need right now.”

We cannot be walked over, abused, and/or controlled unless a part of ourselves, however small, deems we deserve it in some way. Or, said another way, that a part of us feels we are not worthy of respect. (And I am not talking about children or forced confinement in its myriad of physical, financial and emotional manifestations.) The act of putting up a boundary states we do not expect, want or deserve abuse and we will not stand for it.

The strongest boundary we have is the one that comes from the belief that says, unconditionally, we have the right to be. It allows us to be vulnerable, the purest manifestation of that belief. The more we practice it, the deeper we trust who we are and the more authentic our response to life. We may still get hurt by others but the hurt is temporary, and ultimately soothed by our belief in who we are and our right to be.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer Hiatus

I’ve just come back from taking a few weeks hiatus from writing. I had come to an impasse; feeling a bit redundant, especially in my thoughts on codependence. I had decided to write a blog for two main reasons (and I quote from November 10): one, it would be a great way to establish a writing regime which all writing experts seem to say you must do and which concept I have eternally struggled with and two, I would learn more about codependence and my relationship to it. I did and continue to do both but, as I say, I find myself repeating things and, perhaps, not willing to go to the required depth. In other words, I need a break from this blog while I explore life (and codependence) through other means… bread making, for example.

That said, I do welcome comments and questions. I’ll check in every so often and answer what I can. Happy Summer to you all, Jo-Ann

Sunday, July 25, 2010


In a previous blog I briefly mentioned that codependence destroys intimacy. I need to restate that comment or, as Sarah Palin would say, “refudiate” it. While codependence can destroy intimacy, more likely it will just prevent intimacy from happening.

Intimacy, according to Harriet Lerner in The Dance of Intimacy, is when “we can be who we are in a relationship, and allow the other person to do the same.” An intimate relationship, “is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way”. Intimacy, therefore, requires a healthy dose of self care.

Codependent relationships, on the other hand, tend to negate self rather than care for it. It reminds me of the old Dusty Springfield song, Wishin’ and Hopin.’ “Show him that you care just for him; do the things he likes to do; wear your hair just for him, 'cause you won't get him thinkin' and a-prayin', wishin' and a-hopin'” Indeed. In codependence, a certain investment underlies our behaviours: we do things for (or to) another in hopes that the other will like, love, respect, care for, and/or, among other things, see us—we care for self by caring for the other. Within this investment there also lies an inherent self betrayal as our well-being is dependent not on what we feel about ourselves but what the other thinks or feels about us. By focusing on the other as an indirect form of self care, we lose sight of who we are. The relationship is no longer balanced and intimacy is constrained.

The question, however, is not so much what is intimacy but do we want it? Intimacy can be scary and challenging as it asks us to be open and vulnerable not only with our partners but, more importantly, with ourselves. To be loved by another, to share a deep form of shared intimacy, our biggest challenge lies in loving our self.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Self Protection

How do we protect ourselves from the unwanted influence or pull of another? Is it through emotional or psychological walls, breathing in white light, or carrying a big stick? Is it locking oneself in the bathroom, taking self defense classes, or wearing a seatbelt? All can be valid depending on the situation and individual involved, but I find myself wondering if this is the main question we should be pursuing. Life, as The ARC Institute teaches, is made to challenge and help us grow. We come across such challenges everyday in people who try, for example, to control us or disregard our boundaries— sometimes in annoying ways, other times in a more threatening or physical manner. We can do our best to physically protect ourselves but an emotional component tends to piggyback on this unwanted influence—we take it personally, end up capitulating, or react in other ways that doesn’t quite serve us. For example, while we can avoid spending time with a “needy” friend who pulls on too much of our energy, do we suffer guilt as a result? Is it easier to have self anger than to say “no” for continually giving in to the financial requests of a family member, and do we end up taking on too much responsibility for another person’s emotions because we feel sorry for them?

How do we protect ourselves from taking on other people’s issues or ignoring our own needs in favour of another? How do we take care of our self in the face of challenging people and events? I feel the best way to care for one’s emotional self, whether through a boundary invasion or a pull on one’s energies, is less a wall, an infusion of white light or a defensive reaction than in nurturing a strong sense of Self.

When I think about a strong sense of Self, I reflect on the following:

When a rebel army took over a Korean town, all fled the Zen temple except the abbot. The rebel general burst into the temple and was incensed to find that the master refused to greet him, let alone receive him as a conqueror.
"Don’t you know," shouted the general, "that you are looking at one who can run you through without batting an eye?"
"And you," said the abbot, "are looking at one who can be run through without batting an eye!"
The general's scowl turned into a smile. He bowed and left the temple.*

We can look at this in esoteric terms and say that the abbot believes in an eternal soul but I don’t feel we have to take it that far. For me it is more a metaphoric tale of the abbot’s strong sense of Self. He doesn’t bow down to physical might or relinquish his power. Instead, he emanates a sense of Self that quietly states to the general, nothing you can do can take away my power.

Self is the core of who we are. The capacity to have a strong sense of Self resides in all of us, regardless of age, situation or mental capacity. It is our authentic being-ness—that which remains untouched through the countless traumas, big and small, that incur in life. It is what gets us through the tough times when brawn or brain can do no more: the metaphysical spinal fluid that courses through our body, illuminating our inner power.

When Self is strong, we are resilient to life challenges. We see them as gifts and as a way to understand ourselves better. For example, if a friend becomes too needy we can reflect on whether this need is temporary or chronic and how much time we are willing to give either way. We can delve deeper into our psyche and ask what needs of our own are being met (by giving too much) and how the friendship could be strengthened by making it a more mutual give and take. If we share space with an angry coworker we can state our boundaries and say, “enough”, letting them know it is not appropriate to be venting in such manner. In Self, we can be compassionate to others but firm in knowing where our responsibility begins and ends. As such, we can respect their position (or not) but have the boundaries to avoid taking their issues personally.

When our codependent parts are at play, our sense of Self is not as strong. We allow people to negatively affect us: we do things we don’t want to do; and expend energy in ways that do not serve us. In this state, we don’t feel entitled to personal boundaries or the expression of our feelings. Alternatively, we hide behind psychological walls or bully others to avoid showing our vulnerabilities. Rather than gifts, our codependent parts see challenges as an external force that requires drastic solutions: rigid control and reactive anger or isolation and capitulation.

Self, however, is like a muscle, one that needs to be exercised to be at its optimum. For Self to be strong, we must recognize, appreciate and listen to what our body tells us, and validate our emotions. In the practice of body awareness we know how our body feels when it is centred, and how it feels when it has been thrown off or affected by another. And, while a strong Self is compassion to the idea that it will be thrown off centre throughout the day, it is secure in the knowledge of how to regain a balanced state. Self is neither rigid, judgmental, nor afraid of change. These attributes allow a person with a strong sense of Self to creatively respond, rather than react to life, thus transforming challenges into the gifts they are.

Building a strong sense of Self is not a one-time goal but a life-long journey. I remember first feeling my own sense of Self many years before I ever heard of or understood the concept—many years before I even started building upon this inner power. I was on Mt. Baker’s Skyline Trail in Washington State. It was a drizzly, grey day, with low cloud and poor visibility. I was ahead of my hiking partner and decided to sit down on a rock and wait for her. As I sat, a feeling of primordial strength came over me: of being one with the rock, the moss; the fine droplets of mist. I felt calm and capable; unafraid and in charge of my life. Although the feeling did not last, over the years I was able to come back to that feeling in times of doubt and fear, when life challenges seemed to overwhelm and I felt only emptiness. It was that small glimpse of Self, so many years ago, that got me through and enabled me to begin practicing a lifetime of lessons in self awareness, self trust and an acceptance of who I am.

• Reprinted from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Summer 2002. From Zen Poems of China and Japan: The Crane’s Bill, by L. Stryk, T. Ikemoto & T. Takayama

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Power Give Away

I have a pet peeve. It’s the statement: “well, nothing I can do about it,” usually given in response to news of government corruption or environmental disaster. For me it’s the ultimate of victimhood; it screams powerlessness. And, in terms of this blog’s nom de guerre, it allows another to take over thereby fulfilling the partnership requirements of codependence.

Codependence takes two to tangle. The partner can be a person, career, religion or a pet— anything outside of our self, that we instill hopes and dreams to fulfill some internal need. The following is an oversimplified example using the intrinsic need to feel self worth. “Sharon” does not feel loved or, shall we say, worthy of love. In search for a remedy she gives her love to “Bill” in hopes that he will love her back. Bill also has a sense of unworthiness but for him it manifests in terms of powerlessness and, because of his self-judged shortcomings, he rejects Sharon’s love. Sharon finds her love rejected and concludes it is because she hasn’t loved Bill “enough”. She works harder at loving him “better” and, ironically, finds a renewed sense of purpose – it increases her sense of self worth. Bill, on the other hand, finds a sense of power in Sharon’s behaviour — it makes him feel worthy: the more he rejects Sharon, the harder she tries and the more powerful he feels. The relationship becomes based on two people feeling unworthy but feeding each other in such a way that superficially fills, much like candy given to a hungry child will, each other’s needs. One gives; one takes: the codependent partnership is complete.

Let’s look at it from another perspective using the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as an example. In 2001, BP did an internal review of their Alaska operations and “found that the company wasn't maintaining safety equipment and faced ‘a fundamental lack of trust’ among workers.” Six years later in a follow-up study, “[n]early 80 percent of the workers interviewed … said that gas and fire detection systems -- perhaps the most important equipment to saving lives and among the most critical in preventing an environmental disaster -- were either not functioning or were obsolete [and that] 50 percent of everything that was originally brought up was not fixed, it was ignored." . The end result? We now have a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In reading that, one could say, “well, nothing I can do about it. BP is a powerful company, they do what they want to do.” Sure enough, but who gives them that power? They have the power because we, North Americans as a whole, want oil. We want oil because it makes us feel indirectly powerful: we can drive a car; keep the house warm, use plastic in all its many conveniences, produce fertilizers and pesticides, and run our businesses. Oil helps us to live a life to which we have grown accustomed and in that we feel powerful. But it’s a false power. It is false because we have, in fact, given our power over to multinational cororations whose eminent concern is not our standard of living but of money. We give them the power for obvious and rational reasons: as individuals we do not have the ability to extract oil; its convenient to let someone else do it; they say they are going to be ethical and environmentally concerned; and, ultimately, we feel powerless with such overwhelming concerns.

Corporations, such as BP, take the power because power (and control) can exponentially produce more money. And, just as it’s a false sense of power that we feel when driving our cars, it’s a false sense of powerlessness that says we have no control over the inadequacies and failures of companies such as BP. We have given them that control, we have given them our power.

How can we take back that power?

We can take back our power by letting go or decreasing our need for oil. Ask yourself: am I really feeling empowered by having 20,000 to 50,000 barrels of oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico every day so that I can drive a car? Are thousands of dead birds really worth the convenience of plastic? Do I really need to create a dead zone in the Gulf so I can live with this false sense of power?

I am not saying here that we should be martyrs and give it all up. I am saying, however, that we can take back the power by being less needy. We can cut back on the driving: use a car pool, buy a bike; take transit. We can do without that new plastic doo-dah and buy oil free products. We can lobby our governments to find alternative fuel sources and monitor projects in our own back yard such as the Alberta Oil Sands. In short, we can be more conscious of how our false sense of power impacts the rest of the world.

Giving someone else power so that we, however indirectly, feel empowered has the potential to work quite well on a temporary basis. However, in the long term it only spells disaster. Power, like love, respect and safety, must first be directed towards self: if we feel empowered we wont need to look for power in commodities such as cars, other people or in corporations. Codependence relationships are based on looking outside ourselves for what we need most to give to our self. In people it destroys intimacy and within governments and corporations, it has the potential to destroy our environment.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Hunger of Addiction

Last week I suggested that often at the core of one’s hunger, there is a desire to be loved, accepted and validated; to be respected and seen as worthy. I also suggested that the hunger is often hidden by defensive behaviours, ones that seek, albeit in a dysfunctional way, to protect us. For example, one common defence against feeling one’s emotional hunger is, ironically, to overeat. We stuff ourselves with food to prevent us from experiencing our truth. In fact, any addiction is useful in distracting us in that way. Addiction may include work, internet surfing, anorexia (the addiction of food avoidance), sex, drugs, alcohol, exercise, shopping, reading and obsessive thoughts—anything that takes us away from the truth of what we need to feel. Another reason to distract our self from feeling this hunger is that there may be a part of us that actually believes we don’t deserve to have this hunger satiated. We may say we are unworthy and act as such but very few, if any, want to believe it is true. So addictions work in two ways: they try to feed the hunger (with the wrong food) and they also distract us from the belief that we don’t deserve to be emotionally fed in the first place.

To restate this, our core needs, as suggested above, include love, validation, safety, and acceptance. The reason we hunger for these is because some where along the way, whether through neglect, abuse or inadequate parenting, we didn’t get sufficiently “fed”. And, because we weren’t given this support, we not only judged ourselves to be unworthy of it but we did not learn how to self validate; to love and have self respect. Good role modeling, external validation and functional care teaches us how to do these things. As we could not find this support within our caregivers and hence, ourselves, we concluded that they must be outside ourselves. We look to get these intrinsic needs met through work, our partners, our careers, drugs, sex, food, and exercise to name a few. The search for these foundational needs is a driving force; there is innate knowledge that we cannot survive without them but also a false knowledge that they must be found in the external world. The result is an insatiable appetite for love and acceptance that is never fulfilled, and the need for work, drugs, food, sex, internet, etc, becomes all consuming but never enough. This is addiction.

Addictions, then, take us away from a valid internal search and also provide for a distraction. Addictions deceive us in to believing we can be fulfilled by them and they also provide an escape: to not feel or be in one’s body. Addictions, therefore, take us away from our emotional hunger.

What can we do?

First, of all, name the addiction. Ask yourself if there is anything in your life that you feel compelled to do and, more importantly, feel uneasy if obstructed from doing it? Do you need to check your email regularly? How do you feel if you cannot do that? Do you need that chocolate or glass of wine at the end of the day? Do you have a sense of uneasiness if you don’t get it? What happens when you don’t get to go for your run or kickboxing class? How do you feel if you don’t get to read your book at night, have sex or bring your work home with you? These are all normal and common activities: the question is not if and when you do them but how it feels if you cannot do them? Are you dependent on them for your sense of wellbeing? And, a note here about addictions such as exercise—a hard one to discern due to societal approval and the well-documented positive effects. I am not talking about feeling lethargic without your exercise, I am talking about an internal tension that, at its height, feels like an internal time bomb, a sense of doom, fear or madness.

When you identify your addiction, ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do it. Notice how that feels inside even just to ask it. Then keep asking questions.

For example:

Q: What if you don’t check your email today?
A: I will get behind in work.
Q: But today is Saturday…
A: I don’t want to be bogged down with all these emails on Monday
Q: What happens if you get bogged down?
A: I wont finish my work
Q: What if you don’t finish your work?
A: It wont look good
Q: What if it doesn’t look good?
A: People will think I don’t know how to do my job
Q: And then?
A: I will lose my job … lose my identity … lose my house, car …. I would be nothing.

Look at the final result: I would be nothing if I don’t check my email today. Ask yourself if this is rational. If not, then sit with the tension of not looking at your email and see what happens internally. This is the most difficult part of working through our addictions… the discomfort. It can be a physical tension, like the withdraw from heroin; or an emotional one, like the withdraw from working but both will still, at times, feel unbearable.

I guarantee that the tension, if allowed just to be, will eventually decrease. Some of you will need the support of a good therapist through this but when the tension decreases, the true hunger will reveal itself. Perhaps the need to exercise is a distraction from feeling lonely or not loved. Maybe the need to work overtime hides your hunger for safety, distancing you from intimate relationships. It takes time and courage to name the hunger behind the addiction and more so to feed it with what it actually needs. But like the small tortoise in the Bantu tale (June 18) who, despite all the odds against her, travelled though the dark jungle to find the name of her hunger you, too, will find abundance if you undertake the journey. The abundance to be found is our only true wealth: a love and acceptance and trust in self.

Codependence underlies all addictions. It is the need to look outside of our self to find fulfillment in life. The journey of recovery begins when we start to look within.