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.