Sunday, May 22, 2011

An Ending and a Beginning

Eighteen months and 87 articles later, the Creative Codependence Blog is taking a break. I've loved writing this blog and will continue to teach and write about codependence but starting tomorrow, May 23, a new blog takes its place:The Interdependent Life
Join me as I continue to explore creative ways to live life — ways that respect open and honest communication, the mutuality of need and the boundaries required to serve us in good health. As always, I welcome your comments.

For ease of searching, I've listed all the Creative Codependence articles by month below.

Stay tuned for The Creative Living workshops this fall:

• Creative Codependence™: Getting more Out of Life
• Interdependent Living: Mutuality, Respect and Self Leadership
• Awakening to Boundaries: Taking Care of Self

And... ARC Bodywork sessions are available. Go to to find out more or send me an email to get on my mailing list. Look forward to hearing from you, Jo-Ann

November, 2009
Global Dependency

December 2009

The Power of No
Self Care
Climate Change

January 2010

Horses, Boundaries and Dr. Suess
Rules (part one)
Rules (part two)

February 2010

Self Responsibility
The Girl Cell
Of Being Human
Day 1 - Day 7 of the 2010 Interdependence Challenge

March 2010

Risky Investments
The Triple C

April 2010


The Wind
A Muse on Life

May 2010

Trust and Safety Series
Trust and Safety (part one)
The Codependency of Mistrust
The Chicken and the Egg (part three)
Trust and Safety (part four)

June 2010

Centre Stage
An African Folk Tale (part one)
Name Your Hunger (part two)
The Hunger of Codependence (part three)

July 2010

The Hunger of Addiction (part four)
The Power Give Away
Self Protection

August 2010

A question on Vulnerability
More on Vulnerability

September/October 2010

Bread Making Series
The Light and the Dark of It
Perfection and the Mother Starter
Good Bread: The Hopeful Cure-All
Authority and the Art of Break Making

The Simple Life
Breaking the Contract

November 2010

Jack of the Petit Dumpling
The Road
Party On Or Not

December 2010
My Favorite Things
Half the Sky
Gift Giving
Selfishness or Health Self Care
Awareness and Responsibility

January 2011

Reclaiming Codependence
Hairdresser's Anonymous
Recovery and Sustainability: Are We Worth It

The Interconnectedness of Self Worth
The Cupboard Gourmet
Our Body; Our Self
In Praise of Being Wrong

February 2011

Hiding Behind the Socially Acceptable
Adventures in Buckwheat
Love the One You're With (part one)
Love the One You're With (part two)
Mother Issues
The Opaque Mirror

March 2011

The 2011 Interdependence Challenge
Day 1 - Day 7
Interdependence and the Social Media
Unconditional Meaning
Holding Centre

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Victor Frankl and Interdependence

I am taking a small break from writing this month. Elections Canada has hired me to teach workshops for the next three weeks and my mind is a wee bit focused on the voting “need-to-knows” for election officials. It is actually quite fascinating as I have never before been behind the scenes of the democratic process and it’s an interesting change from my usual workshop topics. The consequence, however, will be sporadic blog entries between now and D-Day, May 2.

Today I leave you with some quotes from Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl spent three horrendous years in Dachau and Auschwitz. His writings inspire me and reinforce my beliefs in interdependence.

Of his concentration camp experiences he wrote:
“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. … We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. ... No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response.”
In other words, he calls for us to be creative in our response to life regardless of where it leads us. He encourages mutuality and respect in our relationships and, above all, responsible self leadership. He calls for us to be interdependent.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Holding Centre

Communication is a funny thing. No matter how straightforward or honest you try to be, and no matter how much you try to stay out of triangles and other people’s business, you can still find yourself in the middle of a conundrum that while is not of your doing, directly affects you.

Drat it all, being human is not easy.

I found myself in a bit of an uncomfortable miscommunication triangle not too long ago. Despite the fact I was an “innocent” caught in the middle, I wavered between guilt that felt I could have made my position clearer and anger that abhorred being blamed for any of it — both nicely blended in with a caretaking desire to fix the problem. None of those responses would have been helpful and, in retrospect, all three were codependent reactions. With each of those feelings I was allowing myself to be overly affected by another because I was losing sight of my truth: the problem was not mine and, therefore, not mine to fix or worry about. The best I could do was to state my case, not take on anyone else’s responsibility, nor try to solve it for them or worry that I could have done better.

It is one of those default patterns I can fall into that drives me to sleepless nights and irritable days but also one that reinforces why I don’t want to live in codependence anymore. Anyhow, while the triangle issue is still being worked out and my codependent parts gnaw at the bit to get involved, I tenuously hold my centre.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Unconditional Meaning

Please share with me a quote from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. He writes in a few perfect words what I tried to pen in a thousand. The man was not only a genius but a poet. (See my version in The Interconnectedness of Self Worth.

What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaningless of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interdependence and the Social Media

I am back with the question I asked on March 9: does social media deter or enhance interdependence? Or, as originally stated, does true interdependence require real, face-to-face social interaction?

** First, however, I must make full disclosure: I have been known to use the email (and v-mail for that matter) as a tool to avoid social contact and, if I am totally honest, to have more control over the messiness that can occur in face-to-face interactions. Electronic media helps me, to a certain extent, avoid intimacy. Thus twisted logic is born: because I do, everyone else does, resulting in my current bias against.

When I posed the question on March 9, “Bonnie” replied in the comment section:

“I find [Facebook] great to relate on some level to friends and family who live in other parts of the world, and who I don't have a face to face, telephone or even e-mail connection with very often. It helps us be a part of each other's life …”

Okay, that makes sense, “being a part of each other’s life” fits one aspect of interdependence, that of community. I come from the perspective that we are all interconnected (whether we acknowledge it or not) and if social media can help us feel those bonds then that is a positive in my books. But what of the other parts of interdependence: respect, mutuality and leadership? What about the fourth component that we played with on March 11 — simplicity?

Let’s deal with them in order. First off, is social media a respectful communication tool? If left unrestrained I would say no. Then again, isn’t that true of other sources of communication? We don’t, for example, write confidential information on the back of postcards or have embarrassing photos in the inner flap of our wallets or on our office computer screensaver. And who hasn’t wanted to tell their cell phone talking bus mate that their sex life isn’t all that interesting. All forms of communication require some form of boundary that draws the line at not only what is said but how, when and to whom it is said. That is, of course, if we want it to be respectful.

Is there mutuality to social media? Mutuality, as used here, is about mutual gain or, at minimum, an interaction in which no one is hurt or loses energy. Facebook may increase positive social connections (a mutual gain) but it can also be used as a tool to bully. Like other forms of communication, it depends on intent. We can have meaningful conversation or we can gossip; one way enhances the other hurts. A political example comes from the use of social media in mass protest movements. This was seen quite dramatically in Iran in 2009, and recently with Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Lev Grossman of Time Magazine wrote:

“… Twitter practically [is] ideal for a mass protest movement, both very easy for the average citizen to use and very hard for any central authority to control. ... On June 13 [2009], when protests started to escalate, and the Iranian government moved to suppress dissent both on- and off-line, the Twitter verse exploded with tweets from people who weren't having it, both in English and in Farsi.”

Then again, what’s good for the citizen may be a loss for the government. Mutuality can be subjective and perhaps best left in the hands of historians to debate. And, going back to intent, who is to judge that what is being said is truth? As Grossman continues:

“As is so often the case in the media world, Twitter's strengths are also its weaknesses. The vast body of information about current events in Iran that circulates on Twitter is chaotic, subjective and totally unverifiable. It's impossible to authenticate sources.”

Perhaps a more easily defended example of positive mutuality is how Facebook and Twitter provided relief for loved ones looking for lost relatives in Japan this past week.

“Less than an hour after the quake, the number of tweets from Tokyo topped 1,200 per minute, according to Tweet-o-Meter. An interactive graphic created by Facebook to illustrate status updates related to the quake shows Japan’s activity on Facebook during that day was also high.” (source:

And now we come to leadership, a key factor in interdependence. We discussed above how intent seems to be what keeps social media and other forms of communication an interdependent process. For the underlying intent to be respectful to self and others, and a tool for positive mutuality, there must be integrous self leadership.

As I disclosed at the beginning of this blog I sometimes use email and v-mail to avoid real interaction. In those instances I am not in integrity with those of whom I am relating. I am lacking in self leadership for I am allowing the parts of me that want to hide to be in charge. This is not to say that I should talk when I don’t feel like talking but that I should also not fool myself in believing I am creating community by hiding behind a computer. Another example of this is in on-line protests movements like petitions. In a review by The Guardian Weekly (Feb 4.11), Evgeny Morozov was quoted from his book, Net Delusion: How not to liberate the world

“The internet … is breeding a generation not of activists but of “slacktivists”, who think that clicking on a Facebook petition counts as a political act and who dissipate their energies on a thousand distractions.”

If signing on-line petitions is a way of comforting our self into believing we are doing the best in making the world a better place, we are not in integrity with our beliefs. On-line petitions have little pull compared with a posted letter to the government or the newspaper editor, donated money, volunteer work or peaceful marches. While it is a step in the right direction when done in isolation on-line petitions becomes another way to shield ourselves from what it means to live interdependently in community.

Finally, we add in simplicity. When communication gets complicated it generally means our codependent parts are in play. When we try to formulate our interactions with others so to consciously, or unconsciously, manipulate them to like, help, respect, be fearful of, or protect us, we not only disrespect all parties involved but we complicate the issue. We do things in reference to the other without honestly acknowledging our own needs and feelings. Instead of saying “I am lonely” we try to somehow make another need us so they will stay or love us; instead of stating our anger we project anger onto others or act passive aggressively; and instead of showing our vulnerabilities, we project fear into others to control or keep them at a distance.

Honest communication begins with self. If we are in integrity with our feelings, beliefs and actions, we have a higher potential to respectfully act on those feelings and beliefs regardless of how we choose to communicate. Interdependence has its origins within that internal honesty — that clear intent to live in integrity … simple as that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge Day 7

Yesterday I started the challenge off by asking myself what I really meant by interdependence. I found myself confused after experiencing the many emotions surrounding my father; my need for solitude and a sporadic but determined desire to be a part of the world. Through this I recognized a part of me that doesn’t want to be interdependent — the messy feelings that come from it just too damn uncomfortable. Then again, are these not my codependent parts speaking, the ones that want to hide away in a cave and find safety and reassurance within the walls of aloneness and the others that feel I can serve the world best by fixing things I have no right to fix?

I received an email a few days ago from someone responding to Day 4 of the Challenge. It was a much needed light in the dim hallway I was living. The person wrote: “I spent a lot of energy being anxious about what I should or shouldn't do. I had no compass until I found myself and started listening.” And how simple is that?

If I look at it from this perspective, interdependence may require respect, mutuality and leadership but to be truly effective the energy behind it must come from within. We must listen to and respect individual needs while interacting with others from our internal compass— the one that tells us what is right and what is wrong, what depletes and what replenishes; what strengthens and what diminishes.

Perhaps then, that is the fourth component of the interdependent tenets: Respect, Mutuality, Leadership and Simplicity. Life is complicated when our codependent parts are in charge. In the action of simplifying, however; in allowing life to flow without complicated motives, by trusting ourselves and listening to our internal compass we live interdependently.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Interdependent Challenge - Day 6

Interdependence… its been such a full and, at times, confusing week, I sit here tonight and ask, what the heck do I mean by that?

It all seemed so easy last year when I first initiated the Interdependent Challenge. Back then I had a clearer vision and a yearning to be out there while today I sit in quasi-retreat. These past few months I’ve chosen solitude over connection and have been looking at my identity in terms never fully explored before. I really don’t want to interact with anyone but life doesn’t stop because I desire it to do so: the show, as they say, goes on.

So today I went food shopping and, because the jar was there, donated $1 to a microfinancing program in Peru. I bought organic and fair trade food, wrote a letter to the government about GM foods and had a sweet talk with a friend, connecting deeply on what it means to be human. I talked to my father and, while initially struck with guilt when he sounded down (see Day 4 Challenge), came to understand that he is entitled to feel down without me trying to fix it or take responsibility — his car may be a write-off, I’d be pissed off too. In short, I did my best to respectfully connect with the world while mutually respecting my need for quiet. I took leadership over my codependent parts that wanted to fix my father and then did the laundry. Yes, life goes on, however we choose to live it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interdependent Challenge Day 5

I had an interesting conversation with a friend today about social media. Even though I write a blog (and yes, have two websites) I shy away from the Facebook crowd. I am not sure of all the reasons or even if my reasoning is logical but it feels too much like voyeurism. My friend talked, however, of a more unique way of approaching the subject: one of sharing ideas, giving freely from the heart; of networking and collaboration. My question today: is the social media movement a modern method of interdependence? Or, am I really asking, does true interdependence require a real, face-to-face social interaction?

I started to answer this and it just got too convoluted… or perhaps just uncomfortable as I do tend to prefer emails to phone calls, and reading a book over going to a party. So, I am going to sit on this for a bit and write when its clearer in my mind but please feel free to send in your comments.

On another note, during the mini crisis with my father the other day, my sister and I were in contact with three different bureaucracies: the RCMP, the hospital and ICBC (insurance). Surprisingly, all encounters were genuinely supportive and empathetic. It was amazing. Sometimes all it took was a kind word or patience for that extra question but the process seemed to glide along. This was a lovely form of interdependence where there was respectful service, a mutuality of what it is to be and feel human, and integrous leadership.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interdependent Challenge Day 4

I skipped a day but I have an honest excuse… one that doesn’t come even close to the dog-eating-my-homework kind. I speak lightly here because I am feeling happy as only a person can when a potential crisis is over. Yesterday, my father had a car accident and while everyone involved is healthy and unhurt, the potential could have been devastating. So, my sister and I spent yesterday afternoon and late evening with my father. We talked to medical personnel, insurance people and the RCMP and then, reassured that all was okay, we left his house around 10pm.

One of the effects of the incident was the questions it raised for me. In particular, how does one live interdependently with a person who is less than “able” due to age, illness, or disability? Too often it can result in codependent caretaking where the needs of one supersede that of the other, where mutuality is lost and respect transcends into resentment. Although my father is a healthy octogenarian, he can also be shy and somewhat withdrawn in the face of bureaucracy. These characteristics are compounded by impaired hearing. Because of this my sister and I often make phone calls or fill out forms for him. Last night we did our best to handle most of the red tape but there were still some loose ends to be dealt with today. The question I faced last night was whether I should stay over and assist him with the rest of the work in the morning.

I talked it over with my sister and then, in deciding to come home, spent a few more hours today agonizing whether I did the right thing. Physically and emotionally my father was fine but after any accident or crisis, support can be welcome regardless of the abilities of the people involved. But how much support is appropriate? Sometimes when I accompany my father to appointments he looks to me to take up the reigns of which, unfortunately, I am more than eager to take. My question then, is when does the supportive daughter become the enabler of dependence? Said another way, when do I become the partner in codependence?

As said above I didn’t stay overnight. Instead we conversed several times on the phone and I was pleased to find that despite the inherent difficulties of the day, he handled it all quite nicely. Yes, it would have been nice if I had been there but perhaps my presence may have also inhibited his confidence in acting and thinking independently. Of course, the other element to this is my desire to be at home today. I was trying to find a balance between his needs and mine, societal expectations, and a way to empower without abandoning.

Interdependence is a fine balance between independence and dependence: a woven tapestry of different needs and wants; beliefs and abilities. Underlying is a respect for all parties involved; a mutual positive experience at best (neutral at worse); and leadership in the face of sometimes difficult choices. Only time tells us whether our choices were right and even then, sometimes those choices that seemed wrong are ultimately for the best… and vice versa.

For today, however, these were my interdependent thoughts, if not actions, of the day.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge Day 3

The thing about being interdependent is that one must acknowledge that they are not, as the saying goes, an island; that there must be a weaving of both the needs of the individual and that of the community into a fine tapestry. Then again, must it be so overt? If I stand behind my own beliefs that we are already interconnected, then no weaving is necessary. Maybe it is more like what the TV announcer tells us so earnestly: “Batteries Not Included”. The tapestry is complete but the energy behind it will remain untapped until someone finds the will to plug it in. Okay, I am mixing metaphors but to say it less poetically, interconnectedness, the foundation for interdependence, needs to be empowered not only by individuals working together but there also needs to be an underlying desire.

I was thinking about that today as I spent the day in solitude. I took a long walk up the nearest mountain, sloshed though spring snow and was gifted with terrific views of the city — a metropolis crawling with over a million people. There I was with nary a soul around while contemplating a whole soup of them lying virtually at my feet. On one hand it was calming that I could find such peace and quiet so close to the city but, on the other, it strove to emphasize how easy it is to isolate in the midst of so many. Viewing from above I could feel some connection to this town of mine but towards the people that lived there, I felt detached. I am not a social person; I like my alone time. I like closing my front door and turning off the phone and I fantasize about living in a small cabin miles away from anyone.

How can I be interdependent when I prefer sitting on top of a mountain?

On days like this, I like to think of interdependence as being a model for many aspects of my life. Today, as I kept my communication with others to a smile or nod of the head, I felt like I was respecting both their presence and my need for quiet. As I headed up the trail, I heard a raven call out and saw buds on trees near to bursting with life. I met a couple of older women on the trail and felt the kinship of mutual appreciation and respect for nature. Moreover, I didn’t use a vehicle to go to or up the mountain; my environmental footprint was small. But I feel the main component of what made my actions of today interdependent was, ironically, my move towards solitude. I needed to replenish my batteries and sought solace in nature. Because I provided leadership in my self care I will be able to face tomorrow not only with comfort but a desire to work with others. Today, although I avoided social contact, was a vital part in my process in learning to become more interdependent.

Interdependence: Respect, Mutuality and Leadership.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge - Day Two

I just came back from visiting my father. As it’s a rather long trip, I usually go on a Friday afternoon and stay over till Saturday evening. I do this every few weeks. And, while I am fortunate to have a healthy, loving and generous father who, for the most part I am happy to go visit, there are times when I just don’t want to do it… like today. And because of that, I lost energy. The question to be asked then, was my action today an interdependent one?

When I visit my dad there is a mutual appreciation of certain shared aspects of life. Although he can get on my nerves to the level of nails on a blackboard, I love him dearly and know that he loves me. We respect each other and do things we both like: we walk, take long drives, play crib and, if lucky, watch the Canucks on TV. Despite all these pluses, I would rather not do it sometimes. On those times I find myself hosting a battle between my foul mood and the desire to be a good daughter. It is the nature of families, I guess.

With today’s visit, although we had a good time together (especially when the Canucks won), I found myself alternatively enjoying the moment and then wishing I was elsewhere. But to leave early or not to have come at all would have deprived him and me of some quality time together: time I know I will be more than grateful for having experienced when he passes and time I know he appreciates as only an aging father does. So, how do I reconcile the energy loss? I take care of myself before and after the visit. I bring a light but compelling read, usually of the suspense/mystery/romantic genre; equip myself with a non-nutritious treat and immerse myself in my own world for several hours (before and after the visit) where I pretend I have no responsibilities, no claims on my time and no need to be social. If this is not enough, when I finally get home I run a long hot bath and read some more.

In other words, I replenish my energy so that ultimately no energy is loss. I take care of myself so I can give a little extra to a man who has always given extra to me. Ultimately, this also benefits my community because when I take care of myself, I take the best care of those around me whether they be the strangers standing at the bus stop or the family I’ve known forever.

And that was my interdependent action for the day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge: Day 1

My interdependent act today was more of a thought than a behavior. I woke up with one of those existential angst questions: “Why are we here?” Not the most pleasant way to wake but then again I was somewhat relieved to find the question wasn’t “what is my worth?” For all intents and purposes I seemed to have resolved that issue on that fated bus/train trip of last year. Back to this morning, however, it was more the whys that got me and these whys were followed by this feeling of emptiness; a loss of purpose. I don’t have a religion but I am also not agnostic, in fact, I have a deep sense of spirit. But it doesn’t help me understand the purpose of our existence. I walked the question down to its roots, as is my wont, and came to the following, albeit nebulous, conclusion.

Whether by chance or design, we are here. I don’t have to know why but in this place of “here” I can love or hate; destroy or create. It is all a matter of choice. I don’t have to know the whys as much as the hows: how do I want to live my life?

And that is my interdependent thought for the day: I will do my best to act with love and to create with care so that no one (including myself) loses energy or hurts; my actions are at worst benign but at best beneficial to all I encounter.

I am off for another long bus/train ride… may that thought carry me through.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Interdependent Challenge 2011

It’s time again! Yes… (drum roll please), it is time for the Interdependent Challenge. Go to February 20, 2010 for a complete description but basically, for the next seven days, I invite you to write down something you did that was interdependent and why you felt it was so. I will post my responses and welcome you to post yours in the comment section. I look forward to hearing your stories.

Note: last year I summarized interdependence as “mutuality, respect and community”. But after teaching a couple of workshops I changed it to “mutuality, respect and leadership”. Interdependence is about taking leadership over our internal parts, especially our codependent ones, so to live in community with mutuality and respect. So that with each and every encounter no one hurts or loses energy but, if there is an energy loss, specifically for ourselves, we let it go with mindfulness (not martyrdom) and take time to replenish with healthy self care.

I start the challenge tomorrow …

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Quinoa; Buckwheat: What Joy Doth Mud Bring?

New experiment: sprouted quinoa and buckwheat bread. First the quinoa. My internet source states this is a three day event. I soak the seeds overnight and then place in my ultra-fancy (quiche dish with wet cloth above and below) sprouting pan and voila, sprouts in three hours. (I have been known for a green thumb but geez, all my fingers must have been channeling verdant magic.) I mix that up with the regular dose of seeds (pumpkin, flax and sesame); oil, salt, molasses, sourdough starter and buckwheat until I realize that I have used far too much buckwheat, leaving no room for kamut. And yes, I could have added more water and then more flour but, hey, the question on my mind was what would happen if I didn’t? So, I kneaded away —quite the workout as the dough was very heavy —and popped her into the fridge for the slow rise. This morning I opened the door and was greeted by a solid mass of cold, hardened clay. When I picked her up, she crumbled like ancient artifice. Hmmm, so this is what happens when the cup overfloweth with buckwheat. Regardless, I put her in the pans to enjoy the final rising, if you can call sitting motionless with baleful eyes “rising”, and then popped her in the oven.

Well, she’s out now, and just to be clear, when you bake cold, hardened clay, there’s a good chance you end up with warm, hardened clay.

Truth? My sprouted quinoa and buckwheat bread is edible. Edible, of course, as in the edible of the seventy’s granola heads but, edible — especially recommended it if you prefer food that taste like it’s been marinated with mud. Alas, back to the drawing board.

But that is the beauty when you are in recovery from codependence: taking risks because you know it is not about the outcome; it’s the journey that counts.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Opaque Mirror

I recently rewrote my bio for one of the websites I advertise on and, not having done that for a few years, it took me on a little journey of self-discovery.

The request for the bio came on a day I was not feeling my best. My emotions were flat and while I could tell you (with passion) the attributes and skills of others, for myself, the mirror was opaque. In the past I would have pushed through it, writing things by rote, maybe asking friends for advice or just resubmitting an old bio but this time, I really couldn’t bring up the energy to care. I didn’t want to express what I wasn’t feeling or worse, express in writing exactly what I was feeling — for a bio, that wouldn’t have been, shall we say, inappropriate. I felt at the time the only thing I could do was ignore the request and let the fates have their way.

Of course, that is not how the fates, aka website managers work. Employment, marketing, and other people’s needs and demands carry on despite one’s individual moods and peccadilloes. Normally, as I wrote above, I acquiesce and am generally pleased with the result but, on that day, no pleasure would have come from denying my internal state. And, it turns out, it was the healthier (business and personal) option.

As I have written before, our codependent parts can be quite the pleasers, attention grabbers, wall flowers, bullies, or the “whatevers” in order to get their needs met. In regard to this little bio writing episode, one could imply then that my codependent parts were perversely refusing to cooperate so that another would come in for the rescue: tell me how wonderful, skillful, and talented I was; and then recite a variety of bon mots to be gilded on my epitaph. And perhaps that held some truth but, in retrospect, now that I have come through it and, yes, rewritten my bio (quite nicely, thank you), it was more about my Self, my internal leader, taking charge and saying: “you know you are fine. You know you are skillful, creative, and knowledgeable. In fact, Jo-Ann, you know it so well that it doesn’t matter if anyone else does. The important thing is that you know.”

So, perhaps you could say that for a few days I had a distorted image of myself that refused to cooperate with the rest of the world but, on the other hand, you could also say that the “opaque mirror” was just a rebellion of all my parts that were sick and tired of trying to prove to others that I am good enough.

Whatever the reason, my bio is great … and I am not so bad myself.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mother Issues

I was replenishing my sourdough starter the other day when I made a big “oops”. I wasn’t in a great mood but I knew I needed bread and my process from replenishing to sitting down and slathering butter takes at least three days and, well, I just wasn’t in the mood to start things rolling and one thing led to another and “oops”.

But first things first: the process. I keep my starter, aka mother starter, in the fridge. She’s been there for about six months and, as long as I feed her ever so often and give her a good “shake” now and then, she’s happy. (Did someone say “mother issues”?) Anyhow, she was getting kind of low, so I pulled her out, added some flour (kamut, this time, cause I am still experimenting with cutting rye out of my diet), about half as much water, and then gave her about a five minute kneed. I am not developing gluten so its just about bringing air into the mix — starter’s like a lot of air. I then sat her aside, room temperature, for about seven hours. Now, not all recipes recommend this but I find after the first seven she hasn’t really risen enough so what I do is repeat the process of kneading and sitting. After another six to eight hours and a final knead she’s ready to go or, at least, sit in the fridge again. From that stock I take what I need to make a loaf of bread until she’s low again and needs replenishing.

So, there I was, the end of the day, tired, kind of grumpy but more than anything not very mindful. I spray my counter with cleansing vinegar in preparation for mother’s final knead. As I spray the area I remember that I forgot to scrub my hands and nails — I’m adamant about cleanliness when I bake. After attending to the washing I come back and turn the nicely risen, pokey-soft (imagine the Pillsbury doughman) mother starter onto my counter. Immediately she starts frothing. I watch in horror as she spreads across the table top like Elmer’s glue. My brain takes a while to catch up with this bizarre sight but when it does my oops comes into focus, I forgot to wipe the vinegar off the counter. I softly curse as I contemplate the repercussions of my act: have I killed mom? Starters tend to be finicky at the best of times or at least in their youth. Mom was only six months old, could she handle the contamination?

I am glad to say I didn’t panic nor dump her in the garbage. Instead I gave a good sniff and thought, hmmm , sour, that cant be too bad and stuffed her back in the fridge after scooping her up from the counter in dripping spoonfuls.

Mistakes have always been my nemesis. Mistakes showed my flaws; laid me bare to critique and ridicule. From those words it would seem that I came from an overcritical family or was brow-beaten to assumed perfection. Not so. If anything, there was an absence of words, a vacuum that enhanced the feelings of not being good enough. In that arid container where nothing is sufficient, mistakes only compounded the feelings.

Perfectionism, of course, is one of the cornerstones of codependence. Depending on the speaker, to be perfect is to have no needs, no flaws and no weaknesses. So, even though as human we all have needs, flaws and weaknesses, our codependent parts will go through extremes to hide them. To be human is antithetical to their beliefs.

One of my goals in the last few years has been to transform the definition of mistake as a fatal flaw to a more compassionate idea that it is more of a learning experiment. I am quite pleased to say that when I stuffed said syrupy, foaming mother back in the fridge, a part of me was kind of excited as to what would happen.

So, I let mother rest a few days, watching with cautious surprise as she still continued to ferment in the cool darkness. When I brought her out to make bread she responded magically and produced a pleasantly plump round of dough that bounced back nicely when I molded her final shape. Seems mom likes a bit of vinegar. Hmmm, my “other” mom liked to nip a bit too. And there, you see, is the truth of the matter, vinegar is fermented ethanol, otherwise known as alcohol. Moreover, vinegar is the composite of both bacteria and yeast, just like the sourdough starter, with bacteria being the element that gives it its flavour. It is not a simple as I am making it sound as there are many strains of bacteria and yeast and the ratios have to be just so BUT it seems like my vinegar oops was the perfect amount. My kamut/buckwheat multi-seed sourdough not only rose delightfully but has a new distinctive flavor… no quite the San Franciscan flavor created by the Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis but Lactorbacillus jo-annensis will do just fine.

James Joyce said: "A man's errors are his portals of discovery". What do I say? One woman’s oops is another’s loaf of tasty bread.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Love The One You Are With (Part Two)

Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate the cause of love I am passing this blog off to Herr Goethe. But before I do I must clarify that I don’t mean LOoooooVE with a heady drawl, but the unconditional kind instead, the kind that lights up the world with understanding and compassion; beauty and joy. Now I am not a Christian by practice, more prone to Animism if anything, but I am rather fond of some of the old Christian poets and their descriptions of spiritual love. Like this one in Faust. It is near the end of the poem (part two) and Mephistopheles (a rather delightful rogue) is standing over the grave of Faust (a rather obnoxious sod) trying to maintain his ownership of the latter’s soul. Although Faust sold his soul to the devil years before Mephistopheles knows he still has to fight for it to the bitter end with the angels.

As Mephistopheles complains:

There lies the body: should the soul seek flight
I’ll show him straight the bond, the blood-writ scroll;
But nowadays too oft the devil’s right
Is thwarted by new means to save the soul.
So, as Faust’s soul starts to rise from the grave, the heavenly angels start strewing roses at Mephistopheles and his crew of hapless demons. The demons cannot bear the “love” and desert their post but Mephistopheles endures, struggling to beat off the hovering roses.

I burn, head, heart, and spleen, a flaming evil,
This is an element of super-devil,
More sharp and keen than hell’s own fire….
Us spirits you call damned, and look askance.
Witch-masters, you, par excellence;
For man and a maid you lead astray. —
What an adventure curst and dire!
Is this love’s elemental game?...
He starts to falter as love enters his dark soul and, somewhat off-balance, begins to see the angels in a more lewd light:

With you, tall youth, I’d choose in love to fall,
This parson-visage suits you not at all,
Then give a wonton loving look, just one.
You could with decency appear more nude,
The surplice vaunts too much the acolyte —
And now they turn, and from behind are viewed —
Ah, how the rascals stir the appetite.
Until he finally pulls himself together and repels the love while admitting defeat as the angels win the right to Faust’s soul.

Sigh… aint love grand? Topples the bad guy every time. So, Happy Valentine’s Day to you all. And, in praise to this thing called love, let us open our hearts to angel (or whoever) strewn roses and, once again, invoke my more earthly hero, Stephen Stills, and love the one you are with.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Love the One You're With

WARNING: I am not only going to write of love in this week before Valentine’s but I am also going to embed a couple of clichés. My apologies but I couldn’t help it, love made me do it!

We all know the quote that suggests when you do something you love you will never work a day in your life. There was a time when I was enthralled with this message; believing it wholeheartedly and even carrying it further to say that if I did what I loved, success in all its manifestations would follow. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there were different expressions of love. Unfortunately, the love that I was expressing back then was that of my codependent parts.

A quick recap. Behind every codependent behavior lies a desperate hope of getting one’s needs met. Said another way, things are given, more often than not, with investment in mind. If I love you, you will then love me. If I help you, you will then help, like; need me. If I show you that I am smarter, stronger; more powerful than you, you will then need me, look up to me, fear me and/or make me important in your life.

What I know now is that to love something or someone is to forgo expectation and to live in the joy of an open heart. To love with our codependent parts is to be imprisoned with a fierce and never satisfied longing. Non-codependent love sets the stage for mindfulness — a joy in the present moment. It is not limited by what we do or who we are but is all encompassing; all expansive. In love you will never work a day in your life because when you are engaged in something or someone you love, the heart opens and life is more play than work. Even the mundane or awful can transform in the face of love.

Love doesn’t mean we will be loved back, make money, have everlasting health, or have good things come back to us. Love is just love. While singular in its meaning it is also a world unto itself — a love without expectations allows us the freedom to live beyond expectations.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, I invite you, as I encourage myself, to look to love not as a step towards a goal but as an expansion of the heart; an expression of beauty and joy in the creative art of living. Love for the sake of loving or, as Stephen Stills so aptly wrote, when you cant be with the one you love, love the one you are with.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Adventures in Buckwheat

I’ve started experimenting, intrepid soul be I, with different flours for my bread. After seven months of baking, I am finally branching out. This is so typical of me. I tend to need a firm foundation, to really feel comfortable with something, before breaking new ground. It is also reflected in my hiking style. As a notoriously directionally challenged person I am at a disadvantage whenever I head into the mountains. Sure I take a compass and map but truly, I have no sense of north, west, east or south. I am lucky to live in a city where from every vantage point you can see the local hills. I know just by looking up where north is, makes life quite easy except, of course, on cloudy days. I wont mention the times I have gotten lost in the rain. Anyhow, regardless of this inherent trait, I prefer to hike alone. Trouble waiting to happen, you ask? Perhaps, but I also have a certain routine I follow. I find a well marked trail and then hike it several times over the course of a few months. During these walks, I gain a certain comfort and, as I ease into the forest, my sense of safety and awareness grows. I start to notice more: the less used paths to the side, a seldom used game trail; a natural landmark. When the time is right I venture off, going slow, never needing a final destination but getting comfortable with this new element of the mountain’s aspect. My needs of solitude and safety combined in one lovely adventure package.

And so it is now with bread. Last week I introduced buckwheat to my ever so tasty, sprouted kamut, pumpkin and flax seed sourdough (rye starter) bread. Buckwheat, for you curious minds, is not a cereal or grass. It is, according to Wikipedia, a pseudocereal, called so to emphasize the fact that despite its name and its grain-like usages, it is not related to wheat. It is, in truth, a seed and the flour is made from the endosperm that feeds the inner germ. Shall I continue? No? Hmmm. Fine. Why I chose to explore this seed of all seeds is a minor case (or major if you are standing next to me) of passing air or gas as some may call it. It would seem that my bread making days are at an end if I cannot find my allergen. I am hoping it is the type of flour I am using and, as such, have chosen buckwheat to being experimentation. But, as some of you may know, not only is buckwheat a seed but it is void of gluten — a detriment for many a baker. My first try worked well, quite tasty, but as I just reworked the ratios of rye and kamut and only added two cups of buckwheat, the source of methane still exists. Next week I will convert the starter from rye to kamut (hopes hinging on the former as the source of all evil) and up the quantities of this upstart seed flour. I will, of course, one way or the other, keep your enquiring noses informed.

Moving slow and creating a strong foundation is one way that I create safety for myself. The other is to be impulsive, even impetuous but, then again, those are the methods of my codependent parts. The mixture, however, is an interesting compilation — at times embarrassing, at times rewarding, but in all ways and all times, unique: my own version of a fine artisan bread.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hiding Behind the Socially Acceptable

One of the more interesting things I find about codependence is its ability to mask itself as a socially accepted way of being. Included among its many facades are workaholism, over-exercising, and über-independence. All three activities or ways of being are fine in moderation but when used as a defence against feeling, self reflection, or intimacy, they can be aspects of our codependent parts. Another way that codependence can mimic socially appropriate mores is to hide behind values or beliefs such as self-responsibility and the pursuit of excellence.

Self-responsibility is an important and, perhaps, sacred credo for many individuals and even groups, for example, when instituted as a company value. It states that I will look in the mirror first and adjust my behavior before seeking external solutions. It is a belief that most problems are not created in isolation and, rather than resorting to blame, prioritizes self-reflection, clear communication, honesty, and collaboration for resolution. For some, it is the philosophy that lies behind the famous Kennedy quote: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

However, the statement can also be used as a defence or a block against further discussion transforming self-responsibility into a message of it is your fault, not mine. An example of this is when a company employee feels management is not listening to or responding to staff issues. If a company upholds the maxim of self responsibility but is using it as a defence, it will put the problem back on the employee and say it is each staff member’s responsibility to make themselves heard. A Catch-22 if there ever was one, especially when the problem lies with management not giving space and credence to work force issues. This can also happen between couples or friends. Even when the person declaring the wrong is not accepting their part of the problem (i.e. not taking self-responsibility), it is incumbent for the one receiving the accusation to take some time and reflect on their behavior before putting the mantra of “you’re not taking responsibility for your actions” back on the person who feels wronged. Solutions lie in safe and effective communication, not aphorisms. Moreover, on the other end of the spectrum, one must know when they are taking too much responsibility. Self responsibility is knowing where the boundary lie: what belongs to you and what belongs to the other.

The other motto that I find potentially problematic is an individual’s or company’s stated goal of excellence. Once again, an admirable pursuit but instead of encouraging high caliber performance it can sometimes become a nagging inner voice (or company voice) that says you are not good enough, that you must always try harder. I had a friend who, after putting in several years of passionate service for a company, found that he had lost his sense of balance: all work and no play. When he started to take care of himself better his work performance went from over-achiever to high achiever. As a result, the company let him go, basically saying his best was not good enough. We all, of course, have the potential to do excellent work but is it sustainable on a continuous level and, if it is, is it healthy? And what is excellence? Who measures it? Is it our personal best or some unobtainable goal?

Taking self responsibility and pursuing excellence are healthy only when partnered with self compassion, reflection and self care. Without these the former, when used as a defence, can shut down one’s humanity or, adversely, become a platform of guilt and self-denigration and the latter can transform into unhealthy and unattainable goals that put unrealistic expectations on self and others. In either case, codependence at its best.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Praise of Being Wrong: The Imperfect Life

For this blog entry I quote Zuckerman, narrator of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Although Zuckerman is coming from a writer’s perspective and the reality (or not) of ever really knowing his or her subject, I believe it can be taken to a larger audience. I find it a perfect ode to our codependent parts that yearn to get it right— to be perfect — regardless of the subject.

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness , so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that get getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that —well, lucky you.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Our Body; Our Self

Sometimes in therapeutic sessions, depending on the situation and need, I give my clients the homework exercise of just noticing their body. I ask them to slow down several times a day and notice, for example, what they are sitting on. How does the chair feel, hard or soft? And how does that feel against their legs. I ask them to notice their feet and the texture of the floor or ground. What does the rug feel like under their stocking feet? If they rub their feet against the floor, what does that feel like? What do they notice about the air as it touches their face? Very simple noticings that, for the most part, many of us ignore throughout the day.

I am inevitably asked why this is important. How does noticing how soft or hard the chair is affect my emotional well-being?

Our emotional well-being is contingent on knowing our selves. As written in Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy (Ogden, Minton and Pain, 2006), “[t]he sense of self is first and foremost a bodily sense, experienced not through language but through the sensations and movements of the body.” When we connect with our body in such an elementary way, we reconnect with our self at its most basic level.

The problem is that many of us leave our body in varying degrees throughout the day. A boring meeting or a crowded bus finds us drifting away to a better place. Then there are the somewhat more scary experiences of driving a car and realizing, when we get to our final destination, that we have no memory of the journey. Sights, sensations, and noises have slipped by us. We have, on some level, left our body and operated on cruise control.

Others have had trauma as young children and find the best way to cope, then and now, is to “disappear” or numb out. Some find it best to disregard feelings in order to avoid pain, they think it better to be “strong”, not vulnerable, and, therefore, inviolate. And then there are those who because their body was the focus of past hurts have moved away from it in distaste or, alternatively, compartmentalized it with fetishistic fervor.

When we lose sense of what our body feels, we lose our sense of who we are and what is important to us: values and beliefs become more difficult to discern. We start looking towards other for answers to questions that our body could tell us if we only listened. On the other hand, beliefs can become more rigid if the body is not allowed to express or experience its inevitable changes. And, if we do not know what we feel when we are in a safe and neutral environment, how can we know what we feel when things change or are not so safe?

Last weekend I went to visit an aging relative. The trip was long and quite enjoyable but, as I sat on the train, I began to notice that my thigh muscles were tense. It was strange. I seemingly felt calm and relaxed but here were my legs telling me something different. So, I just noticed them and, in doing so, felt them slowly release while I experienced a deep breath, almost a sigh. Hmmm, guess I was tense. I had unconsciously gone into an old, but habitual mode of protection. One that had served me well in the past, when visiting family, but had no use in my current journey. The trip in itself had triggered me and my body instinctively reacted without my conscious knowledge.

By checking in with my body I came into a deeper sense of what I was actually feeling. With this knowledge I was able to reassure myself that things were different, I had no need to be tense; that I was safe. Calmer, more relaxed — my emotional well-being taken care of — I continued on my journey in comfort.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Cupboard Gourmet

I have a friend who is a cupboard gourmet. I’ve suspected it for some time —she is a single mom, after all — so when she happened to come by on a day I had been invited to a potluck I thought, hmmm, time to check it out. Not being a cook in anyone’s imagination, I was veering towards the standard when she knocked on my door: store bought hummus and crackers. I held back at first, not wanting to look like a vulture in for the kill, but just before leaving I somewhat benignly asked if she had any ideas for a meal. She looked at me with gamine eyes and then commanded me to open my cupboards. I gave a weak and somewhat whiny protest —there’s nothing there. She blithely pushed me aside. Within two minutes she had rambled off the seemingly bland and innocuous ingredients that lined my cupboard and fridge shelves and composed them into a theoretical meal. And, what a meal it was: my quinoa salad was delicious. Who’d have known I could cook?

I was thinking about this when I was writing my last blog about The Interconnectedness of Self-Worth. Until we realize our innate worth, it is only too easy to look in the cupboard of our soul and find it empty. We disregard the seemingly insignificant parts of our self, the parts that make us so unique and interesting, and say, huh, nothing there, better go to the store and get something to make us look or feel better. Or worse, we look inside and, seeing nothing, proceed to self denigrate on the basis of this faulty self perception.

The bottom line is that recovery from codependence is about being creative. There is something in everyone’s cupboard. These “somethings” can appear as faulty or bad the same way as a jar full of dried quinoa can suggest bland and not good enough to bring to a potluck. But looked at from another perspective and the seeds become the basis for an extraordinary salad. Coming back to me, take my desire for external attention — an undesirable something that lies in my inner cupboard. I could discard it as unworthy but why would I? This desire to be seen has been with me a long time, ever since childhood. Back then, I found care and attention was lacking so I became creative in getting it back. It developed within me a talent for teaching, writing and entertaining. Sure, I can sometimes act impulsively or be obnoxious but, for the most part, this skill of looking for and finding attention has served me well.

My cupboard is, and never was, bare. It just needs a gourmet, ever so often, to see its inner delights.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Interconnectness of Self-Worth

I have, as noted before, a tendency towards depression. It is not so bad a tendency, at least, that is, once I learned how to manage it better and it is not without its benefits. When the darkness lifts there are moments of pure bliss: colours are brighter, sounds clearer, and feelings just that more poignant. These moments come more often now and while they don’t negate the shadows they do help me get through any extended visits.

Some time ago I was in the midst of a rather dark episode and my perception of self worth was markedly low. The usual methods of coping were not working so I decided instead to walk with my thoughts to their shadowy destination. I was going on an extended bus and train ride and, as such, felt I could indulge my melancholy but not feel trapped with the heaviness if I simultaneously viewed the moving scenery outside my window. With this in mind, I started from the top, or bottom as it were, and began rationalizing the erroneous belief: I am unworthy.

I looked outside and asked, if I am unworthy, what of those people I see on the street? Have they worth and, if so, what is it? I continued with my questioning. What if one of those people were to die, what would be the result? Would someone miss them and if so, is that the basis of their worth? Is our worth based solely on the feelings or needs of another? I cringed at this thought, wanting to deny its possibility but strove onward. When we die, we may be sorely missed but what of those who have no family or friends? Because they are not missed does that mean they have no worth? And, coming back to myself, while another may miss me and find me worthy, my own internal yard stick may still find me lacking. With that, I was brought back full circle, what makes me worthy?

I sat and stared out the window with uncomfortable ambivalence while pedestrians, oblivious to my judgments, continued to make cameo appearances on this moving stage. I believe, well most of me, that is, believes that we have intrinsic value but there lies within me another part, however small, that has no such faith. Outside there were old and young; street people and professionals. I saw those who walked alone and wondered if they loved, or were loved, and I saw couples and questioned if their affection was real. There were soundless dialogues and dramatic gestures; people dodging traffic and buying hotdogs but mostly I saw a passivity of movement — a seemingly meaningless activity of going from one place to another with a marked absence of care for self or for the other. Without care, I thought, there is no worth.

Then the lines began blurring, everything seemed wrong or unreal; the actors two-stepping in a macabre dance, confusing my senses. I got off to transfer from the bus to the train and I wandered in a daze to the automated ticket kiosk. I pulled out my coins and a pocketful landed on the floor. It was suddenly too much; I felt like crying. I saw an agent approaching and with subtle horror realized it was the wrong person to be coming my way. In the past we had had a minor altercation over a slightly expired ticket and I found her to be patronizing and uncompromising. I sighed and bent down to retrieve my fare only to hear this folksy voice near my ear asking if I needed help while dexterous hands scooped up stray coins. Surely this wasn’t my nemesis talking. I felt dizzy with surreal apprehension. It was like I had stepped into another dimension and there was Mayberry’s Aunt Bee offering homespun goodness. I shook my head to clear the fog. She looked like the woman I had previously shared unkind words with but, then again, there was also something different about her. I stared a bit longer and my imagination grasped for the absurd declaring that it must be her sister, or twin. Yes, the good twin, not the evil one. The agent, unaware of my perusal, continued to offer a sincere countrified charm and surprisingly inoffensive positivity. My weakened defenses shattered and my eyes teared at her kindness. Nemesis or not, this woman was reaching out across the lines of our (my?) animosity and gifting me with kindness. I thanked her and wandered off to the train, once again alone, once again pondering my worth.

And then it hit me. My worth — anyone’s worth — cannot be measured on individual attainment, intimate relationships or some magical formula of beingness. It is based, instead, on our interrelatedness, the invisible connections that are the foundation for life. It is not so much that I am someone’s child or friend, mate or colleague but that I am connected to others, not necessarily by choice but solely because I exist. By virtue of just being, I am related to every other living thing, flora and fauna. I may not know the person walking towards me but in my noticing, we are both affected. I look at him or her and my glance is taken away from something else and in that move, I am changed as is the person I did, and did not look at. I breathe in what you just breathed out; I smile and your heart opens; I move this way and you respond in kind, or not. I die and become earth; the earth grows food and feeds those who live. I am but one strand in the web of life but that strand is continuous with the whole and, as such, is important.

Our worth is directly proportionate to our recognition of this invisible thread. If we recognize this, we acknowledge our infinite worth; if we don’t, our worth diminishes. Our self-worth is constant, it is only our perception or denial of our interconnectedness with all other beings that devalues us.

I am part of you as you are part of me. To negate my self-worth is to negate life in all its manifestations.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Upcoming Events - Spring 2011

Check out my event page to find dates and cost for the Creative Codependence Series starting February 26. Look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Recovery and Sustainability: Are We Worth It?

A friend of mine is taking a continuing ed class in sustainability and I get to look over her shoulders. One of the blogs brought to the student’s attention is Within that blog, I just read the article The Rise and Fall of Consumer Cultures by Erik Assadourian. In his introduction, Assadourian tells of a 2009 documentary called The Age of Stupid where an imagined post-apocalyptic commentator questions why humans walked such a destructive path. He asks if it was because “on some level we weren’t sure that we were worth saving?”

While I assume neither the documentary’s creator nor Assadourian would link their comments to codependence, I find it interesting that codependence is engendered from a feeling that we are not good enough — not worthy of value or even, perhaps, worth saving.

Assadourian goes on to say that
“[p]reventing the collapse of human civilization requires nothing less than a wholesale transformation of dominant cultural patterns. This transformation would reject consumerism — the cultural orientation that leads people to find meaning, contentment, and acceptance through what they consume—as taboo and establish in its place a new cultural framework centered on sustainability”.
From my perspective, then, if consumerism is about people attempting to find a sense of internal value through what they consume, then consumerism is yet another facet of codependence and, by virtue of that, codependence is at the root of non-sustainable living. Yet another reason to move into recovery.

I highly encourage you to read the article for yourself but here are some of the more fascinating (and scary) points:

• The Ecological Footprint Indicator, which compares humanity’s ecological impact with the amount of productive land and sea area available to supply key ecosystem services, shows that humanity now uses the resources and services of 1.3 Earths. In other words, people are using about a third more of Earth’s capacity than is available…

• … if everyone lived like Americans [read also Canadians], Earth could sustain only 1.4 billion people. At slightly lower consumption levels, though still high, the planet could support 2.1 billion people. But even at middle-income levels—the equivalent of what people in Jordan and Thailand earn on average today—Earth can sustain fewer people than are alive today. These numbers convey a reality that few want to confront: in today’s world of 6.8 billion, modern consumption patterns—even at relatively basic levels—are not sustainable.
• Air pollution, the average loss of 7 million hectares of forests per year, soil erosion, the annual production of over 100 million tons of hazardous waste, abusive labor practices driven by the desire to produce more and cheaper consumer goods, obesity, increasing time stress—the list could go on and on. All these problems are often treated separately, even as many of their roots trace back to current consumption patterns.

• [The] $60-billion[bottled water] industry sold 241 billion liters of water in 2008, more than double the amount sold in 2000. Through its global advertising efforts, the industry has helped create the impression that bottled water is healthier, tastier, and more fashionable than publicly supplied water, even as studies have found some bottled water brands to be less safe than public tap water and to cost 240 to 10,000 times as much.
For information on how to calculate your personal ecological footprint go to and for a carbon footprint go to

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hairdresser's Anonymous

I went to the hair dresser last week. Actually, it was a hairdressing school I went to for I am not only notoriously cheap (haircut and wash for $12) but they do a great job… seriously. If you have the time — it can take a couple of hours — I highly recommend it. I’ve been going for several years now and while I never have the same hair dresser twice there seems to be a curious, and yes, codependent pattern that repeats itself each time I go.

The pattern begins with a nebulous fear that initially manifests itself as procrastination. Normally I am a timely, don’t-put-off-things kind of gal but when it comes to cutting my hair, the clock is my worst enemy. I hate getting it done. I think the longest I waited to trim the unruly mass resulted in my father asking me the infamous question: “what happened to your hair?” (Love the guy but jeez, you’d think after three wives he would be a little savvier about making hair comments). Anyhow, when I finally gain the courage to go under the knife, I mean scissors, I am already, needless to say, quite tense. I sit in the chair counteracting my panic by breathing in a deep, meditative way. My intrusive thoughts, however, don’t believe in meditation. They immediately run rampant upon looking in the fully lit and absurdly revealing mirror. They are going to ruin your hair, they whisper, you will walk out of here and be a laughing stock; it will be too short; it wont be short enough, you are doomed. They attack me like bed bugs on meth. I sit in fear and curse the knowledge that long hair on me makes Charlie Manson look cute in comparison and that I am not hip enough to wear hats nor old enough to wear scarves. (Or is that old enough to wear hats and hip enough to wear scarves?) Regardless, the hair must be cut and I fear the results. Of course, what my fear doesn’t know… uhhh that would be because I don’t take leadership over it, is that I have complete control over the process. My fear is the codependent part of myself that tends to bequeath authority to whoever yields the power, or in this case, the scissors.

With fear leading the way, I am never quite able to back up my initial confident statement of “three inches off, please”. Hairdressers are notoriously shy about cutting hair too short (oops, I thought you said crew cut) and so when you say three inches they usually start with half an inch. “How do you like that length?” they ask. Immediately, my confidence fades: Why are they asking that? They’ve only cut half an inch… do they know something I don’t? Should I not go for the full cut? I start to stutter, “uhhh, doesn’t quite look like three inches.” They look at me skeptically as if to ask, are you sure you want to look like a sheered spring lamb? I whisper back, “I mean, only if you think it will look okay.”

Then we have the hairdressing students. They are a fine lot, eager to please (the teachers, that is), eager to not make mistakes and eager show how good they are — a deadly combination from the victim/client’s perspective but, of course, one that will get them far along in the biz. I have had ones that think they know it all already and flit and flat when the instructor finds uneven strands and missed wisps; ones that think they don’t know anything and beg the instructor to take over; and one’s that belabour their work for so long that my neck becomes one long strand of steel encrusted nerves. My wanna-bee stylist today was of the begging sort. Despite being half finished her training, her confidence lagged and she would not let the instructor out of her grasp. I wanted to sit her down and say, take a chance, trust yourself, you’ll be okay but then sanity (thank god) shuts me up with a she doesn’t know what she is doing, let her call for help.

Then there is the codependence between the students and the teachers. Over my tenure as a client I have had numerous visits with different hair stylists but the teachers have stayed the same, that is, until this recent visit — a new staff member has joined. Lovely lady, dedicated and seemingly talented but with the increasingly ineptness of my hair dresser, “I don’t understaaaaaand”, develops a I’ll-take-care-of-you bond, securely joining herself at the student’s hip. At one point the senior instructor came over and admonished the newby, “let her learn by doing it herself,” he said. (I gasped). Thankfully, no one listened to him and we continued merrily along with hair dresser whining and teacher taking over. A fine codependence and one I truly appreciated.

By the time my hair is complete… we actually go two and a half inches in the back; three in the front, I am feeling slowly but surely the release of tension — its over; I survived. I am pleased, so pleased I tip the ever apologizing stylist — “I took so looooonnnnnng” — a handsome amount and whisk myself off to the washroom to covertly wash my back of errant hair particles and sprinkle water over my head to reinvent the naturally tousled look with carefully hooked fingers.

So, you might ask why I do this to myself. Why do I become anxious over a rather mundane event when I inevitable come out at least somewhat pleased? Why do I become timid in declaring my needs; tip to make the stylist feel good (terrific) about herself; and cower in the face of authority when I don’t do that (well, not always) in other aspects of my life? And, why am I not alone in this absurdity?

I like to think it is my way of taking care of the little guy. I mean, I have these codependent parts of myself that are losing their power: I don’t listen to them as much as I used to; I don’t cave in to their demands; they are no longer in control. Allowing these parts to go wild ever so often is my way of saying, hey, go have some fun but be back by dark. They let off a little steam, get to flex some muscle and no harm done… right? And it only costs me $12 plus a tip. Maybe I can even write it off as a charitable donation.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Upcoming Events - Spring 2011

Creative Codependence Series – Nanaimo, BC

Creative Codependence: Getting More Out of Life (Full day - February 2011)
Living Interdependently (Half day - March 2011)
Awakening to Boundaries: Taking Care of Self (Half day - April 2011)

I will also be teaching an expanded Awakening to Boundaries with horses and Equine Guided Development facilitator Carla Webb in Abbotsford in late spring.

Dates, cost and venues will be posted on January 14. If you would like one of these events taught in your area just drop me an email and we shall see what we can do.

For more information about these workshops go to the Creative Codependence Workshop page or drop me an email.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reclaiming Codependence

A few weeks ago I was at a gathering and someone asked me what I did for a living. A common enough question but one I’d rather avoid. Not because I don’t believe in what I do, or that I feel questions of the job related sort are inappropriate as in “I am a human being not a human doing”, it is more because of the reaction I usually get. Unless I am with a like minded crowd, “bodywork therapist” tends to get looks of woo-woo cynicism and my work with codependence engenders reactions from anger to disdain. I can handle the woo-woo cynics quite nicely — I ignore them — but the harsh reactions of the latter gets me tired and wishing I had told them I was an undertaker. It is not so much their comments that relate codependence to an outdated, misogynist, and useless concept that bothers me. Rather, it is the belligerent look that some offer, daring me to defend myself with, no doubt, inept platitudes.

But then again, that is the problem with pop psychology, which codependence, unfortunately, has found its home. It may just be a case of “familiarity breeds contempt” but I also know that codependence was initially misused by misogynists because of the narrow and circumscribed definitions used by well-meaning but, I feel, misguided therapists.

The term codependence was first defined over thirty years ago as a syndrome exhibited by families of alcoholics. Living with an alcoholic, so the literature said, created ripe conditions for an unmanageable life: codependents were thought to be “manipulative”, “controlling”, “anxious”, and “confused about their own identity”. Whoa! Talk about denigrating the victim. What the early literature didn’t talk about, however, was how trying to create sanity in an insane environment had by necessity the appearance of manipulation and control. The other thing that was not talked about was how the label was used, more often that not, on women. This could have been because the first Al-Anon group was formed by the wives of alcoholics (Beatty, 1992) but, anecdotally speaking, we have all heard stories that when a man takes charge, or tries to take charge in chaotic situations, he is called assertive and a strong leader, but when a woman does, she is labeled manipulative or controlling. In the late 70’s and early ‘80s, the label codependence fell right into a female stereotype of misogynist terms.

That, however, was then. As we now know, codependence is not synonymous with having an addicted family member. Instead, it has its roots in childhood where the act of getting one’s basic needs met, that is, one’s survival needs of love, value, and safety, could not be taken for granted and, therefore, demanded creative solutions. These solutions, when carried forth into adulthood, have the potential to become codependent behaviours. They are the “part” of our self that feels we must get our needs met the same way we did, or attempted to do, as children. That way usually involves looking outside of ourselves for fulfillment rather than finding an internal sense of safety and value.

Codependent behaviours can include, but not be limited to, being too dependent or, alternately, overly independent; being controlling or passive; having rigid boundaries or fuzzy ones; and being overly emotional or apathetic. We are all unique and, as such, have unique symptoms which may manifest in one part of our life but not in others. And, perhaps most importantly, codependence always needs a partner whether that be the spouse, best friend, pet, career or god: someone or something must be perceived as the wellspring to fulfilling the other’s needs. If the relationship is with another person, each participant feeds on the other. In simplistic terms the codependent partnership is like the game of Jenga. The structure works perfectly well with each partner building upon the expectations of the other until someone changes the rules or doesnt quite meet those expectations anymore and the structure collapses.

Finally, no one is 100% codependent but every one of us has at least one codependent behaviour in some aspect of our life. It is the human condition.