************************************Denial covers the pain of the past * A blanket over the world * Lift a corner * Don't be afraid * Your life awaits you*************************************

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What is the Purpose of Ritual and Ceremony?

Why do we need rituals?

One ritual most of us are familiar with is a wedding. Is there any detectable change in a person one day before and one day after they are married? No doctor could detect a difference. Even so, if you have been married you will probably agree that the change was instant and profound.

The difference is one of perception. A partition is built between “before” and “after.” Once one passes through the gate there is no going back. No matter what happens from that time on, the partition will be there forever.

Sure, marriages end, but even that is signaled by another ritual – a new partition is built. People who have been married don’t forget they were once married. In their minds, time is separated into before the marriage and during the marriage and after the end of the marriage.

A ritual is the gateway. It is what lets us know we are in transition. We walk across the stage to get the diploma, kneel down to present an engagement ring, say “I do,” hold our children’s hands as they step into their first day of school, and tearfully watch the coffin close… and once it’s done, once we move through that gate, we are always going to exist in a new world – one in which we have a degree or a commitment, or have let go of the baby we held or the presence of someone we love – and the world will never be the same again.

Maybe this is obvious to some people. To me it was not. I have spent a good chunk of the last week trying to understand why I felt so drawn to the idea of a having a ceremony to commemorate a rather vague but important transition in my life. Now, I understand what it is I need. I need to walk through a gateway that separates my entire life, up to this point and the rest of my life.

On the other side of that partition is a life free of the old wounds from my father. To completely let go of all of it – all the pain and anger and sadness attached to those old wounds – I need to etch that profound moment in the timeline of my life.

Establishing exactly what the ritual is about and why it is important are two of the biggest pieces of planning the upcoming ceremony. I have more work to do, but I’m getting closer to being ready.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Makes Me Worthwhile?

I frequent a site called “Inner Bonding”. It is put together by psychologists who have developed their own approach to healing. I get updates in my email about new articles and workshops. I haven’t attended any workshops, but have found some of the articles to be very helpful and insightful.

My inbox contained such an email, this morning. The subject line of today’s post was, “Healing Emotional Dependency”.

I love it when someone breaks something down for me. This part of the article did just that:

There are two major decisions you need to make to heal from emotional dependency:
1. You need to decide to learn how to take full 100% responsibility for your own feelings - your happiness and pain, your inner sense of safety, and your sense of worth.
2. You need to decide to define your worth - not by what others think of you or by your looks or by how much money you have, but by how well you love and what you contribute.
(Click here to read the entire article.)

So, first I have to take responsibility for my own feelings. That is a phrase I have heard before. I think it is a lot more complicated than it looks in that one sentence description. Before I could begin to take responsibility for my feelings, I had to:

1. Admit I had feelings. (CoDA would say, “Not deny them.”)
2. Learn to identify what these were (CoDA would say, “Not alter them.”)
3. Stop judging my feelings (feelings are not good or bad, they are just feelings.)
I think I have actually gone through steps one and two, here, but step three is still elusive.

Secondly, I have to reevaluate what makes me worthwhile. Talk about complicated! This is almost too much to get my head around. I want to believe that the ten pounds I’ve gained do not make me a bad person, but when I get dressed in the morning I have a hard time not thinking about how people will see me. I want to believe that I am just as valuable as my husband, who makes a great deal of money (that still never seems to be enough) even though I made only about $250 writing last year. I would like to believe that my life is as meaningful now as it was when I was a young mother with the responsibilities of little ones who needed me to take care of and guide them, but that role has defined me for decades.

Articles like this make me think about what is important, and I believe that is important in itself. I have to keep reminding myself that I am a work in progress. One way I am trying to define myself as “worthy” is through my belief that trying hard, working with true integrity towards bettering myself in ways that seem right, is significant – perhaps essential – in being “worthy”. The trying is all I can do right now, so I’m going with that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

DID and the Fifth Step

My sponsor doesn't really understand what DID is. I have explained it to her, to some degree, but I don't know if I want to give her the "Sybil" or "Three Faces of Eve" connection. That is so far from reality that even though it is something people can relate to, it is highly distasteful to me to be associated with those fabrications. I would rather she see me as me and not as a reflection of a character from a movie or book.

When I did my fifth step, I wrote out twenty pages of resentments. As we went over it, at a certain point she said,
You were the only one who stood up to your father. You were the one who would not agree with him when everyone else did. You saw through him. He didn't like that. He needed to feel powerful and your ability to see reality as it was and fight for that was threatening to him.
He tried to break you for your entire childhood - tried to make you conform to what he wanted you to be.
But he didn't break you.
You won!
What a profound moment! Awesome! She sees how much he deserves this anger...
but... wait. I'm supposed to let it go. Isn't that the whole point?

A little later, she answered that question. "Hanging on to this is giving him power."
And then, "What is keeping you from letting it go?"

The most interesting thing happened when she asked this. I knew the answer! It came to me in a moment of clarity like I rarely experience. I felt many parts of me coming together inside, as if in conference, and then the most adult part of me and many of the child parts acted out a kind of pantomime.

This is what I saw:

I am about four years old. I am holding an experience in my hands. It is more than a memory; it is the entire experience - the things that happened and all of my physical and emotional reactions. Every nuance of the experience is there.

I close one small hand around the experience, not allowing any of it to escape. In the other hand I am holding an open zip-lock bag. I put the experience in the bag and quickly close it up. A refrigerator comes into focus behind me. I turn around and place the baggy in the freezer and shut the door. Then I turn back to look at the adult me with a sense of purpose on my small face.

Now, I am the adult. The four-year-old opens the freezer, takes the plastic bag out, and hands it to me.

The adult is now holding the plastic bag. The four year old steps back, waiting.
This scenario is duplicated - not repeated because it is happening simultaneously - again and again. There is a two-year-old, a seven-year-old, an eight-year-old, a nine-year-old, at least two twelve-year-olds and others as well. They are all reaching into the freezer and they are each giving me - the adult - a plastic bag containing something significant.

And that's why I haven't wanted to let them go.

These old experiences, wrapped in plastic, are gifts! They have been held safe and complete all this time, waiting for the moment when these little ones can hand them to an adult who knows what to do with them. They are like sacred offerings.... Here, I've had this all this time. Take it. Fix it. Make us whole.

Now, my sponsor is looking at me. She's waiting for me to respond, but I've been lost in my own head. I hit the "rewind button" in my mind, and remember what she asked.
What is it that is keeping you from letting this go?
I try to explain it to her, but how can I really? I tell her about the baggies and the freezer and the way these felt like gifts. She furrows her brow and says, "I never had a dissociative disorder and I'm not a therapist. I don't really understand it. That is something you have to work out with your counselor."
I tell her I am working on it.
She nods, and then sits back, thinking. After a few moments, she says that in her own life, when she used her "experience strength and hope" to help others, it helped to heal the old wounds.

Inside, the children who e held these experiences safe all this time seem to step forward again.

Yes! Do you hear that? These are gifts! They are sacred offerings given to you! You can't just throw them away. They have power. They have strength. Use them!

I had a rare moment of clarity at that point. I felt entirely sure that this was the answer. Somehow, the things that happened to me were important, there was a reason, there was some purpose to all of it and opening those bags was giving me power. That's why I couldn't simply throw them away. I need them.

For what?
I'm not exactly clear on that yet.
However, it felt like a spiritual opening came with that revelation. That is a post for another day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

For Valentines Day Weekend

A boy was walking on a vast, blustery beach, picking up shells and rocks and examining the driftwood that had washed ashore. His eyes were pointed at the ground so he didn't see the kite until he nearly stepped on it.

He stopped. The kite was broken and dirty. It looked as if it had been tossed about the beach for a long time.

He decided to pick it up and see if it was worth salvaging.

Despite the mistreatment the kite seemed to have had, he thought he could repair it and make it fly again. He took it home and glued the wooden slats that made up its frame. He wiped clean the plastic diamond that made up its body. He strengthened the long tail and fixed it so it hung straight. With a new spool of string, the kite looked almost as good as new.

Back to the beach he ran. He held the string and let it out, a little at a time. The kite faltered. It flailed back and forth in wild gusts and nearly crashed to the ground, again and again.

He held the kite up as high as he could reach and sped down the beach. As he ran, he let the string out little by little. Finally the kite took off! It flew right beside him, its tail fluttering in the wind.

After a while he didn't have to run. He slowed to a jog, and then to a walk and then stood still, holding fast to the string of the kite. For a long time the kite flew, right where it was. It was steady and pretty, flying there in the sunlight.

Suddenly, the winds began to shift. The kite darted left, then right, then wildly left and even more wildly right. Each time the kite whipped to one side or the other, it fell a little lower.

He ran on the beach, again, trying to get the kite to stay steadily in the air, but it kept dipping and swerving in a maddening way. It pulled hard against his hand. He wound the string around his palm and held on tight.

It was tiring, constantly keeping that tension between him and the kite. He looked at the spool of string and realized that if he let more out, the kite might fly better.

He thought about this for a long time. He liked keeping the kite low, where he could see it in the sun, but he could see that the kite was not going to fly well where it was.

Slowly, he let the string out.

The kite lifted. Higher and higher it soared until it was just a speck in the blue summer sky. Even though he could hardly see the kite anymore, he knew it was doing what it was meant to do.

He was a little sad that the kite was so far up in the air. It was soaring so high he could hardly see the colors, or make out anything other than its distant shape in the sky.

But still he held on because he knew that, even though the kite was soaring, if he let the string go it would come crashing down to the earth, more broken than ever.

To my husband:
Thank you for not letting go.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fourth and Fifth Step: Why Bother?

I have learned this: it is not what one does that is wrong, but what one becomes as a consequence of it.
--Oscar Wilde
I’ve been working on my fourth step for CoDA for over five months.

I really wanted to “work the steps.” I have seen others who have that sense of peace and a kind of integrity that I want. That’s what I’ve been aiming for since I started going to therapy three years ago and CoDA meetings over a year an a half ago.

It took me a long time to find a sponsor that felt right and was willing to work with me. Once I did, we went through the first three steps pretty quickly.

Then, my sponsor began to list all of the things she expected in a fourth and fifth step. My head just spun with the massive amount of work and hours of agonizing over the past that it would require. I thought about it for a week without doing anything, then I went into complete emotional collapse. It felt like this was both what I needed to do and more than I was capable of. Hopelessness, my familiar companion, took my hand again.
In an email to my therapist, I wrote:

It feels like I"ve been jumping hurdles for years. I don't know if they're getting higher or if I'm just too tired to jump.   
Slow down – yes, but stop? I was not doing anything with the fourth step.

Finally, weeks later, I started looking at it again. It occurred to me that if I broke it down, it might be more manageable. I talked to my sponsor about it and she agreed to do my fourth and fifth step in stages. I did a “Family of Origin” fourth and fifth step within a couple weeks of that conversation. It was helpful and my sponsor had some good insights, but really most of what we talked about then was stuff I had already gone over (and over and over) with with my therapist.

I wanted to be done with the fourth and fifth step at that point, but my sponsor started talking about the rest of the “complete and thorough” fourth step she envisioned. She came from “AA” and has sponsored many people in that program. I believed she saw I wasn't getting what I needed from it, yet.

Trusting her guidance, I started a traditional “AA” style fourth step. This version comes in several parts. There are three charts to fill in, with several columns in each. The first chart is “Resentments”, the second one is “Fears” and the third one is “Sexual Conduct”. In addition to those charts, I was supposed to make a list of “Assets” and tell her at least two secrets – two things I'd never told anyone.

That was about four months ago.

I was overwhelmed with the concept from the beginning, but I set out to do as she asked. I started working on the first part, the resentments, but I was not getting anywhere. I felt extremely overwhelmed. There were other things going on in my life – both in the present and new things from the past that were coming up in therapy.

My sponsor kept in contact with me, and continually asked me how I was progressing with the fourth step. I hedged a lot, not wanting to tell her I wasn't getting far. Finally, a few weeks ago, she got tired of waiting for me to tell her I was done. She gave me a choice of dates to do my fifth step.

Of course, I picked the one that put it off the longest.
That date was yesterday.

When I showed up at her house at eleven yesterday morning, I had twenty typed pages of stuff to go over. It looked like a lot, and it was. I'd been extremely thorough, but I had only made it through the “resentments” chart. I was really afraid she would be disappointed that I hadn't done the rest.

That was only part of my anxiety. Another part was just having to actually read my list out loud. A third part was knowing how defensive I felt and how much that was going to work against me. 

I'd become angrier and angrier as I filled out the resentments chart. It’s hard to list everything you have ever been angry about and not get pissed off, but that was just the beginning! 
  • The first column of the chart is labeled “person or institution” – Pretty easy, just write down who I've been angry at.
  • The second column is “the resentment” – Write everything I'm still angry about for each person or institution.
  • The third column is “what part of self is affected?” – Here it is multiple choice. Each resentment affects one or more of the following: Self-Esteem, Pride, Finance, Personal Relationships, Ambition, Security, or Sexual Ambitions. I just had to list which parts I felt were affected.
I got through the first three columns pretty well, even though it brought up a lot of my old anger. But the fourth column was a killer.
  • “What was my part in it?”
I searched for explanations of this concept from multiple sources. I talked to my therapist about it, I talked to my sponsor about it. I talked to other members of CoDA. I read about “my part in it” in two of Melody Beattie’s books, in the “big blue book” of Co-dependence Anonymous, in “the big book” of AA, and in other sources. I did a blog search for "fifth step" and scanned dozens of posts.

No matter how many ways I looked at it, it seemed like "What was my part in it?" meant "How I was to blame?"

Okay, I've spent the last three years in therapy trying to see how all of the events of my childhood were NOT my fault. Now I was supposed to say how it WAS?

I filled in the fourth column, but I was extremely defensive. My comments gradually got more and more defensive. Here are a few of them::
• I’m not seeing how this could be my fault.
• I couldn't do anything about it at the time.
• My only part was believing him, but I was a child.
• I had no part in it, then.
• I would probably do the same thing again, if this happened now and I had the same a choices available as I had then.
• As a child, I had no choice!
• This is HIS problem, not mine!
• I’m getting really angry as I read these and try to find my part.
• It’s getting to the point where I want to write FUCK YOU in these spaces.
Not very productive, right? And as I began to fill in the spaces with F. U.s, it became less productive all the time. Consequently, by the time I arrived at her house, I was a complete basket case.

What I didn't understand, no matter how many sources I checked, was that "My part in it" was not about what I did wrong IN THE PAST. It is about what I am doing RIGHT NOW that is still giving power to these old "resentments".

That is a big enough revelation right there to make all of the aggravation and work I did for this fourth step worth it.

If you are going through your fourth step, try to remember this:
1. This is YOUR fourth step. You are doing it for you.
2. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, right now.
3. Your sponsor is there to help you and guide you, not to force you or bully you. If you feel "bullied," talk to your sponsor about it. If you can't do that, get a new sponsor.
4. You asked for his/her help. Open your mind to receiving it.
5. No matter what abuse you suffered in the past, no matter how bad it's been, its what you are doing RIGHT NOW that will change your future.
Doing the fifth step with my sponsor was a positive and valuable experience. I have more to process than I can manage in less than a day, but I am going to continue to post about this as it becomes clear. The things I've gained are about a lot more than just "CoDA" or "working the steps." These are things many people could relate to, whether or not they are in a twelve-step program .

A lot of what I “saw” yesterday were not new revelations, more like new ways to look at things I already understood. However, there was at least one thing that struck me like that bolt of lightning one gets on occasion in therapy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chimera Survival

The defiant one
Jaw set and arms folded
Stares at her door
As the lock clicks open

The compliant one
Peace exuding from her eyes
Turns the knob
Of her identical door

Two steps beyond
Two newly opened doors
Strength and surrender
Now stand together

Will ever-sought stillness
And coveted control
Finally be found
As two become one?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Door in the Floor

This video is short and powerful. The person who shared it with me called it, "The door in the floor", which of course I had to look into. Doors have been an integral part of my healing recently. I swear I saw that title somewhere when I first went to see the video, as well, but now I can't find any word around it except "forgiveness". So, if you can clear that up for me, I would appreciate it!

I suppose there are a multitude of possible doors, and my goal is to open them all.

Co Creation

Co Creation
We create the life we live

Love your inner child...

...for she holds the key...

...to your personal power.
A lesson is woven into each day.
Together they make up the tapestries of our lives.