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.