Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rules (Part Two)

I am trying to break another rule this week, that of exercise. I am still recovering from being hit by a car but the mental process of recovery and the physical one is still somewhat estranged. Theoretically, I know my body needs rest but then, perversely, my clever mind conjures up all sorts of reasons to say that physical rest should be limited. You need to exercise, it says. It is an old rule from the days when regular and strenuous exercise was the antidote to feeling vulnerable, and the metaphoric bar that prevented me from dissolving into nothingness. And while it is true that exercise is beneficial – builds strength and flexibility among other things – when accompanied by extreme beliefs, it can be detrimental rather than health giving.

My desire to exercise at this time is a perfect example of my codependent parts trying to wrest control of the show. They do this most often when I feel fearful and unsafe. When I feel that way it scares them, reminding them of times when the vulnerability of youth was a liability. Being hit by a car profoundly scared me. Although immediately after the event I felt my power through expression, at the moment of impact I felt power-less and threatened. No matter what I did or said at that moment was moot: I was going to be hit whether I liked it or not. It was a symbolic replay of times past.

As a child, with many imagined and real fears, I developed rituals to feel safe. My usual one was to touch things. I touched the bus as it moved away from the curb and the vase in the dining room; the walls as I passed byand my face as I sat. Sometimes just once, other times there was a rhythm needing to be followed. It felt uncomfortable if I didn’t touch things, like something bad would happen. As I grew older this and other rituals morphed into rules of living: rules around eating, exercise, sleeping and housekeeping. As long as I kept to the rules, I would be safe. I would have denied this, of course, stating most fervently that it was all about good nutrition, health and life skills. But, on an unconscious level, as long as I kept to my rules, I had the illusion of safety – I was forestalling bad events.

The truth is that no matter how “safe” or controlled one’s environment is, we cannot truly feel safe until we feel it within. Our codependent parts love rules because they lack trust in that internal safety. They believe safety can only come from external sources. Even people who hold others at bay — isolating to keep safe — are still referencing the other: I am only safe because I keep others away. Safety is about finding a balance in life: trusting ourselves and learning who, outside ourselves, to trust and how to trust them.

When I was hit by the car, the foundation of my internal safety cracked. It threw me off balance, both literally and metaphorically, and I resorted back to rules in an attempt to reestablish equilibrium. I exercised before my body was ready and strained weakened muscles; I isolated, limiting contact with friends who could have supported my healing. As my fears subsided, however, I was able to listen to both my internal sources (my body) and trusted external sources (friends) who could see what was happening. The light came on and the irony of my rules was once more revealed: the illusory safety net of childhood was hurting rather than helping.

So, this week, I continue my recovery. I do so with more self compassion and patience, one broken rule at a time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rules (part one)

I am having trouble writing this week’s blog. Great ideas come forth only to stop when they reach my fingertips, empty. So, I’ve decided to break my unspoken rule of writing one entry per week. I am just not going to do it. It’s a little scary for me because rules have played a large role in my life. Too much so in fact, for while rules can enhance one’s experience they have generally limited mine. I’ve made rules about exercise, eating, sleeping, housekeeping, hair washing (yes, hair washing); meditating, reading … you name it, all in the effort to enforce some control over my life.

Somewhere, not so deep inside, is a feeling that if I stick to a rule or ritual, nothing will go wrong. I will be safe. In fact, it’s more magical thinking than anything. I probably inherited that from my mom, a woman bound by superstition. She had these beautiful hand carved stone elephants from India given to her when she was a young woman in the 1940’s. Thirty years later after a string of bad luck, she gave them away. She had heard somewhere that carved elephants with their trunks pointing down (or was it up?) were bad luck. As she couldn’t remember the exact rule, she decided to be safe and give them away regardless. Sally Ann inherited its own magic that day.

When I made the rule about writing one blog entry a week, I saw it as a commitment to the writing process, which is good. However, commitments and rules are two different things and when the former turns into the latter, it becomes an albatross rather than a healthy challenge. Moreover, there is a fear just beneath the surface, that if I break my commitment there will be dire consequences.

And what will happen if I don’t write? My worst fear is that I will give in to being lazy; that I will never achieve anything and that I am indeed a failure. Whew! What a rule, thank god I at least wrote a little bit.

With irony fully intact, I am not writing this week … so there!

Friday, January 15, 2010


Mark Twain said that “truth is stranger than fiction…”. What reads as contrived in a novel is often the stuff of real life, and so it seems with me. My last blog started exploring the relationship between boundaries and codependence. Well, as if to highlight my exploration, a few days ago I underwent an extreme boundary violation – I was hit by a car. And not only did I survive relatively unscathed but learned a valuable lesson: It is never too late for the disrespected boundaries of youth to be atoned.

It was early evening, rainy and very dark when I stepped across a narrow one way street. The street is adjacent to the main drag where I live. But on a Sunday night in what I like to think of as BC’s elder enclave, not many people are up and about, let alone on the main road. I was half way across when it happened.

As the car bore down– I saw it a split second before it hit – rage poured through me. It wasn’t towards the driver but this unfeeling, automaton that had no respect for my boundaries, a force that was too big, too powerful to stop. Upon impact I flew in the air, landing on my rear. I was furious.

I immediately got up, letting my “attacker” know how I felt about it. The rage boiled over and I yelled: “I am so angry”. I don’t how many times I repeated it or the variations I used, I only know that I scared the witnesses with my adrenalin powered fury. The outrage was soon replaced by terror as I sat with the shaken driver, tears running down both our cheeks.

As a child, my boundaries were disrespected. Without proper role modeling, I was vague on what was mine and what belonged to another. As an adult this confusion manifested in various ways: I let others guide me with little or no self reflection; it was difficult to hold confidences; and I did not understand self containment nor have respect for my body. I grew up rigid in some areas: exercise and food discipline to the point of ill-heath; and vague in others. I was the epitome of codependence in that I did not know who I was, and held all my value in the reflection of those around me.

Over the years I have worked hard on creating appropriate and healthy boundaries and in reassuring my young internal parts that I am no longer defenseless. When I was hit, witnesses say I flew. In retrospect, I’d like to think I jumped. I reacted as I couldn’t do as a child and did the best I could to remove myself from the situation. Moreover, I got up immediately and fought back verbally, another impossibility of childhood. It was incredibly empowering to embody the feeling of action against injustice, to feel my voice sing out how angry I was. It was the anger of a child finally able to express. It was the anger of atonement.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Horses, Boundaries and Dr. Suess

I am sitting here contemplating the relationship between codependence and horses. My friend, Carla Webb, is an Equine Guided Development™ facilitator and I am wondering how we can combine our talents to create a Creative Codependence™ à la horse workshop. It shouldn’t be too hard actually, horses are excellent teachers about boundaries and what does Charles Whitfield say about boundaries? "Co-dependence cannot develop without distortions in personal boundaries and a person cannot recover from any disorder, including co-dependence, without forming healthy boundaries." Well, guess I need wonder no more.

I visited Carla at her farm last August to get a better feel of the horses before my colleague, Heather Faris, and I taught
The Essence of ARC class at her farm. Then to we were combining horses with the subject matter… energy and mindfulness. I described the outcome of that meeting in my article Making the Invisible, Visible. Here is an excerpt from that experience:

In the next exercise,… [I wanted to see] how sensitive [the horses] were to changes in my energy field. I chose Babs, a beautiful, small in stature, Palamino. Standing in the centre, I grounded deeply and expanded my energy field while she cruised the inside perimeter of the round pen. Babs’ ears (the horse’s radar) constantly orientated towards me despite distractions from other horses, people sounds from afar and general life on the farm. I then called in my energy, pulling it down, deep within the earth, inviting her to approach me. When the invitation proved irresistible she walked the five meters towards me stopping about a body length away. Directly in front of me, I continued to pull in my energy, inviting her to come closer. She did not come forth. I ended the exercise and in talking with Carla was reminded that when horses respect you, they respect your boundaries. I wanted to argue the point stating that regardless of Bab’s respect for me, I had been inviting her to come closer. Then it hit me – the invisible had become visible. The defensive energetic boundary I had used for years to feel safe by keeping people away; the same boundary I had worked for years to be more flexible and conscious, was still yielding some power. In making that defence visible, Babs had opened up a door that I had not known was still closed.

Boundaries come in all forms: strong ones, rigid ones, vague and non-existent ones. Or, as Dr. Suess might say: short ones, fat ones, blue ones, red ones… or is that just fishes? Anyway, my point is, because horses are so sensitive to our inner states they also tend to fish out our boundaries, finding out where we really stand.

Case in point: In my first meeting with May, a rather “I’m here, whether you like it or not” kinda gal, I mean mare, she started rubbing her two-foot long nose against my body. It felt kind of nice, like a cat pushing against one’s leg wanting attention. The gesture went immediately to my soft spot and I went, ahhh, she likes me. Not so, said Carla, trashing my fantasy. “She is treating you like a fence post, her nose is itchy. Moreover, she knows you are not a fence post and this is her way of telling you who’s boss.” Oh, I said.

We quickly remedied the situation by having me push her away when she tried it again. By physically stating my boundaries, I told May that not only was I not a fence post but that my space was to be respected. May responded immediately – she stopped doing it. If I had been half-hearted about it her response would not have been so favorable, she would have kept pushing my boundaries. And there’s one of the beauties of working with horses: these 1000lb, long, tall and wide, enormously big, four legged animals respond to our assertions for space. They respect our boundaries if we respect our own need for them.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I had a lovely Christmas with family. Every year I do (well, at least the more recent ones) and each year its always a surprise. It usually unfolds as follows: I do fine as the season approaches but then, a few days before the Big Day, I start feeling melancholy. Anxiety creeps around the corner and then downright fear barges in. A part of me shouts: I don’t want to go. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to spend time with loved ones, just leave me alone. And, while I have my reasons, its strange how every year I go through the same thing with the same conclusion: its quite okay to be with family for an extended period of time. I guess I need a few more Christmases under my belt to satisfy my disbelieving parts.

In retrospect, I think one of the main reasons Christmas started being okay for me was because I started taking better care of myself especially during the holidays. Unfortunately, I have to admit it wasn’t by design. As all great ideas seem to germinate, it was by accident. It happened about six years ago on Christmas Eve. As per usual I was dreading the season and the concomitant family obligations when my nose started to tickle. I was cleaning a friend’s house (taking in some extra cash) when this warning bell rang. I carried on, scrubbing the toilet and bathroom tiles but as the day progressed, so did the symptoms. By late afternoon on the bus ride home, the dreaded post nasal drip had begun. Christmas Eve was looking dreary. So, talking to my private “chauffer” – no one else was on the bus – I whined about my oncoming cold. He suggested I go home, take a hot bath and drink some hot honey lemon tea. “You want to be well for tomorrow, don’t you?” I grunted. A good Christmas Eve meant spending time alone with a trashy romance, a bottle of red and some delightful food, sweet and savory. Tea and hot baths had no place in this girl’s plans. Nevertheless we playfully argued the merits of each until we reached my stop. I gathered my belongings and, lowering myself down the stairs, felt suddenly quite old, decrepit and sick. I turned to say goodbye and admit he has won the argument when I collided with his parting words: “Don’t forget now, tea and honey. Have a nice Christmas!” My reaction was visceral. “NO! Forget that, I am having wine.” His words had startled me out of my downtrodden mindset. If I was going to take care of myself that night, I was going to Take Care of My Self at that Moment in Time and not for my family who expected to see me the next day.

And so I did. Between bouts of sneezing and nose blowing, I toasted my life, my desires and my dreams with wine, dined on delightful food and read to my heart’s content. The next day I was sicker than a dog but felt tremendous. I called in sick to the family and spent the rest of Christmas day resting, finishing up the wine and reading more trash. It was great.

Now I am not going to conclude that wine and rich foods are ideal ways of self care but it is worthy to know that not only did I have a great day but the family dinner went on schedule. I was missed but there was no great calamity. Moreover, it taught me that I don’t have to get sick to take care of myself – I can take care of my needs with conscious awareness. And so I do. I attend (and enjoy) family celebrations but only after I have taken care of my own needs, whatever they may be: quiet time, a good book, wine and good food, or a walk in the woods … whatever. Consequently I am happier and much able to deal with the standard and not so standard issues that haunt any return to the roost.

May your New Year be sparkling with lots of light and laughter!