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.