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.


  1. Thanks, Jo-Ann! This is a brave work and one that really illuminates co-dependence in a vital living way. I am so glad I found it!

  2. Thanks back to you, Bonnie. I look forward to your comments.