Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Monday, May 8, 2017
This article is Part 4 of a series on codependency, written for the Sisters in Law Blog. Here are links to parts one, two, and three.
Remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 where Harry tries to grab the sword of Gryffindor out of the frozen pool in the Forest of Dean? Where right before he grabbed the handle of the sword the horcrux hanging around his neck (the thing he intended to destroy) attempted to strangle him?
(Source: Harry Potter Wiki)
I can identify.
I decided to leave my university teaching position. Long story short, I have had my fill of adjunct teaching. I wanted to commit more time to teaching little kids and trying to figure out who the hell I am, I was taking steps to unearth the person I buried decades ago for the sake of pleasing and placating.
Handing in that resignation letter, I felt strong. I was saying "no" in more ways than one but most of all, "No, I do not have to teach college just because I have a doctorate."
It snuck up on me, the depression. The number one identifiable symptom was the way I sounded playing the trumpet. Codependency-related shame-based performance anxiety is completely unmanageable when I experience depression. My upper abdomen becomes a cemented wall and I don't have the abdominal relaxation necessary for a singing effort (ease) or compression. That was my horcrux, the codependency, dying hard. The timing couldn't have been worse, I had three performances in a row all surrounding Easter weekend (there was nothing I could do but survive those gigs). It turned out I played fine for the most part, it just felt terrible. I'm glad someone enjoyed it. The director from my Easter gig hired us again a year in advance.
"You're an Idiot"
This shame tape played over and over those several days. I had examined this phrase before but it was time to give it new perspective. I did what I always do with shame, I locate the source, I reality check the message, and seek empathy by sharing my story with someone I trust.* The source? My father. It was what he would say whenever I didn't do something exactly as he instructed. Even if he didn't say it, he made me feel that way many times. My mom had her own version of this line too: "If you don't _________ then I'm not going to help you when _________. She always liked to throw some religion into the manipulative mix as well. This was how my parents always pulled me back into pleasing and placating, back to hustling to be a daughter who isn't an embarrassment. Anytime I toed in the line of autonomy, this shame tape brought me back.
It was a failsafe, just in case I ever attemped be my own person. It worked back then, I was already conditioned for self-blame thanks to multitype maltreatment and negative reinforcement. No wonder I have never processed this particular shame tape. It only plays on the edge of freedom and I can't remember the last time I tried to break free.
So, that depression was from my struggle with that codependency related shame. I started to feel freedom but also, a tiny part of me wanted to hang onto selling the perception that I am a college level authority on the subject. Am I a capable college teacher? Yes, but I acknowledge that my teaching ability is sickened in the same way my performance ability is.
I called a handful of friends to let them know I was struggling. They were amazing, responding right away, texting, calling, some of them forcing me to hang out, eat brunch, get a mani/pedi. One of them made plans to visit me from out of town. They all listened patiently as I laid out the latest self-awareness outline. I don't think it's an accident that the depression set in right as I was too busy to attend support group meetings for a few weeks. I started attending again. I made sure I was committing to self-care.
My trumpet playing remained difficult throughout those several weeks until I made a very important decision.
I have recently understood my trumpet playing as the torch bearer of my codependency. It makes so much sense. The trumpet took over for my parents, as the conduit through which I received love (unfortunately, conditional love: validation, fleeting and scarce). I was 11 years old and all of a sudden I received praise regularly. All I had to do was practice and BAM: chair advancement, solos in the band literature, all-region/area/state auditions, medals, awards and scholarships galore. All of the ways in which I was inadequate in my family and in the Indian community didn't matter anymore because in band, I belonged. I worked so hard and I was rewarded. I decided to major in it.
All of the hustling, 3-4 hours of daily practice, worked until something didn't go my way, in my junior year in college. That was when I learned that my beloved trumpet playing could betray me. I didn't know it at the time, I thought I wasn't good enough, but the truth was, I hit a wall built by deep seated fear, cultivated by a childhood of multi type maltreatment:
"If you don't _____________, you will be denied love and belonging."
I responded to hitting this wall with what others may have described as ambition...only I wasn't ambitious, I was obsessed. More aptly put, I was jonesing for validation. The 3-4 hours became 4-6 hours, I slept four hours a night, if I wasn't practicing I was listening to recordings, doing anything and everything to avoid failure. The crazy thing was, I was praised for being such a hard working student.
Addictive levels of validation seeking, codependency, connected to classical trumpet playing. Accepting this truth was so heartbreaking. No wonder trumpet playing while in depression was so hard for me. The depression said, "Do nothing." The codependency said, "Do everything you possibly can or you will not survive." The anxiety was an unshakable lockdown.
Was it time to quit? For good? Throwing away decades of study and performance?
A New Leaf
It was time to quit something. It was time to quit using the trumpet to be enough, but how was I going to rewire?
I decided in addition to leaving the university, I am going to stop padding my curriculum vitae. No longer will my performances be currency for my teaching and performing career. I had to figure out how I could get back to being the kid who couldn't wait to play, before I used the trumpet for validation.
I decided to call a mentor and schedule a lesson. I shared my current dilemma and the challenge at hand, to make the act of playing trumpet a tool for self expression and creativity. He helped me with creating a performance goal that shares no path with that of validation seeking. I have no idea what the trajectory of creativity is when it comes to playing the trumpet (with the exception of jazz, which was a haven from the hustle of classical playing) but I'm looking forward to discovering it.
I decided that I am not going to share my plans with everyone, I am drawing a boundary around who I share this with. The truth is, no one else has to know what I am doing with my creativity. It isn't *for* anyone else. I'm only sharing it with those with whom I have a history of trust. I will still play gigs, and perform wherever I am hired, whatever I say yes to. However, those gigs will never be currency for my sense of love and belonging. I'm already worthy of that. It seemed as though the minute I made these new plans, this bout of depression vanished.
Though music making was only one area with which I sought validation (others include appearance, friendships/relationships, grades/academic accomplishments-there's more work to do), I feel as though I have truly acquired some power with this new acceptance, new boundary, and new plan of action.
Today was my last day as a brass faculty university adjunct. I could sense the dying breath of my teaching ego. The ego that doesn't want my students or colleagues to see me be ordinary. Funny how being ordinary would be the bravest thing of all.
Take that, horcrux.
*Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
Sent from my iPhone
Monday, March 6, 2017
This article is part 3 of a series on codependency, guest written for the Sisters in Law Blog.
Part 1 may be found here: https://sistersinlawblog.com/2016/12/16/independent-codependence/
Part 2 may be found here: https://sistersinlawblog.com/2017/01/03/love-beyond-baseline/?platform=hootsuite
I went out for a walk with my dog, Lucky. The early January (in Texas) weather was cool, there was a slight breeze, and the sun was out warming my face. Everything was quiet except for the sound of Lucky's claws tippy tapping on the cement as we walked forward. He was so happy to be out. A tree in a neighboring yard caught my eye. I noticed the varying shades of green, and how each leaf changed color when the wind blew. I sighed, my mind was silent save for one thought:
"God, this is excruciating."
It had been two weeks since I realized I was struggling with codependency. I read every relevant article I could find, especially those by Leon Seltzer from Psychology Today. I made immediate life changes, I pumped up levels of self-care and self-love.
I am so proud to say that I discovered an effect of genuine love for the first time. It was weird and it was different from than anything I've ever felt before. I had let my dogs outside, they began to act like they had never been let outside before, running and wrestling. They made me laugh so hard. Out of nowhere I felt this strange feeling, like a piece of my heart was outside running around, wrestling with the other piece of my heart. I thought, "I love them so much." Was I feeling real love for my dogs? I knew this was from a combination of reading the research and changing my actions and attitudes, I was taking care of myself, and I was taking good care of the pups.
The love thing happened again when I visited my brother and his family during New Year's. I was sitting in front of my (then) seven-month-old nephew in one of those bouncy baby seats. He would bounce in that thing all day given the choice. At one point he looked at me and smiled a big toothless smile. I felt that strange feeling again. Like a piece of my heart is in that little chair, bouncing up-and-down. I could have cried.
The next morning I was woken up by my four-year-old nephew, "It's morning time Auntie Miranda." He hopped up on the bed and began to debrief the activities of his Hot Wheels toy cars that morning, how fast they were going, which car hit what car, what colors they were. I sighed and thought, "I love this kid so much. I could listen to him talk all day." I felt a strong commitment to regularly be present in my nephews' lives that day.
I sat at the dinner table to chat with my sister-in-law.
ME: Do you ever look at your kids and feel like crying? Like they're little pieces of your heart walking and crawling around?
So, that's love. I am feeling genuine love for the first time at the age of 36. I'm happy to finally know the feeling that accompanies the choice that love is. However, this was love directed toward innocent beings. My dogs and my nephews are so easy to love. Is this possible with adults, family and friends? I know the answer is yes but I don't know that for myself.
The excruciatingly mindful walk that I mentioned earlier with my dog? That was just a few days later. I had to figure out what that was all about. For once, I wasn't numbing. For once, no maladaptive daydreaming. For once, I was not imagining ways to control or manipulate anything in the future, rehearsing scenarios/possible conversations, or numbing with highlights/thoughts from the past. This is something people strive to have and there I was thinking "Ugh, this is what it's like to have a clear mind?"
I figured once I moved to my new place everything would feel better, no need to dissect this, just be happy to have attained focus. Moving was the best thing I had ever chosen to do. I was elated once moved out and nested. This was home.
My life had improved significantly after the move but things got tricky a few weeks in. At first, self care was easy, my schedule had been amazing (open, free evenings to relax!), and I was scheduling time with my friends who I really cared about spending time with. I don't know how I kept up with so many acquaintances before but I totally understand that now as a codependency thing (put out more feelers for higher chances of receiving validation).
A smidge of stress returned in mid January. I started a podcast with two friends about growing up as a first generation American child of Indian immigrant parents (The Jilted Indian Podcast with long time friend Anju and SIL writer Puja), a passion project. While trying to record podcasts, ton of atrocious things were happening in our country, and I found myself in a protest every other week. Last but not least, I was to present a clinic on musicians' performance anxiety at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention in February. That was the real butt kicker.
I rewrote the speech for that clinic 7-8 times and I didn't land on the final version until the day before. The reason why it took so long was because I wanted to understand codependency as much as I could before my clinic. Learning about this being a source of performance anxiety kind of threw my initial plans for the clinic into the trash. I went on a Google Scholar bender and read several books and articles in the span of the two weeks preceding.
The maladaptive daydreams returned. Sometimes I would go shopping when unnecessary (spending addiction), I stress ate like I was going to win an award for it, at the bar was stocked and depleting. I couldn't clear my mind and I felt messed up. I tried to schedule an appointment with my therapist but I had a rehearsal for a solo performance that prevented me from having any free time for that.
My therapist called the return of the maladaptive daydreams and the other numbing devices "a bump" in the road, saying it was natural to have this happen when making major life changes.
Why? It seemed that I was doing all of the right things to move past this codependency shit. Why was this still a problem? Well, there was pain to numb.
"Having become nothing less than addicted to pleasing others—and people pleasing really is kind of relationship addiction—for them to "abstain" from such habitual approval-striving requires a great deal of patience, restraint, fortitude, and discipline...there will be a strong deep seated resistance to changing it. And this opposition will hold regardless of how much, consciously, the individual truly desires to change it."
-Dr. Leon Seltzer
Addiction? This is an addiction? I have an addiction?
I didn't accept this. I couldn't. Back to the books. I was going to book read, research, and strategize my way out of this...
“The way they think and behave brings them relief and they are not about to give that up. These kinds of thoughts require a large amount of denial of the truth and of reality. Because of 'euphoric recall,' they easily remember the good times and forget the bad times. This is called “nicotine nostalgia” for smokers or “cool happenings” for codependents and serves as an additional stimulus to continue.”*
"Compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one's conscious wishes. “Approval seeking by association with 'the right people' at any cost to oneself is a common compulsive behavior for codependents. One becomes a hanger-on because the reward and relief is considered such a driving force.”*
“The body can become physically dependent on mood-altering chemicals. This is well-known as addiction to chemicals or chemical dependency. But the body can also become physically dependent on certain behaviors. So compulsions to use substances and/or behavior become the armament of the codependent.”*
"Shame doesn’t initiate codependency; it results from having the disease of codependency.”*
"Compulsive behavior is often so subconscious that we hardly realize we are indulging in it. Like so many other aspects of our lives, we are unaware of the here and now for extended periods of time. We cannot refrain or modify a compulsive behavior if we are unaware of it.”*
“When you feel pulled in more than one direction trying to meet the needs of several people, your fear of disapproval (the flipside of the need for approval) can freeze you up, leaving you in a quandary: Whom should you please? How should you choose? What if you end up pleasing no one?”**
“As a veteran people-pleaser, despite your persistent efforts to make everyone else happy, you will rarely if ever feel satisfied with the job you are doing. You continually expand the circle of others whose needs you try to meet. The pressure this produces and the inevitable drain on your energy create profound feelings of guilt and inadequacy that you will attempt to repress by trying harder to please even more.”**
“In fact it is the avoidance of disapproval—more than the attainment of approval—that moves people-pleasing behaviors from compulsive habits to bona fide addiction.”**
“you are addicted to the praise and absence of criticism or rejection that you receive for some but not all of your people-pleasing efforts. For this reason, you find yourself compelled to please more and more people, acquiescing to more and more requests and needs in order to increase the frequency of your rewards.”**
“The need for approval stems from childhood when parents doled out the praise you learned to crave as well as the criticism, disapproval, and rejection you learned to avoid through the development of People-Pleasing Habits.”**
"Approval indicates that, at least for the time being, the child is safe from abandonment.
Disapproval, on the other hand, becomes downright dangerous. If these parents disapprove, they disavow the child’s worthiness and security. While approval signals love and safety, even a hint of disapproval threatens abandonment, danger, and fear.”**
"As adults, they are finely tuned to the slightest hints of disapproval from others. The emotional baggage of their childhood still makes grown-up approval addicts respond to criticism [or the possibility of it] with intense anxiety.”**
Every quote was a sucker punch. In addition to these two books I glazed over plus the several books and articles I read previously (including Brene Brown and Julia Cameron), and I was unhappy to find that my eyes glazed over whole portions of text where trauma and codependency were mentioned. No strategies offered, only the suggestion for seeing a mental health professional and attending a support group. I went back to the Seltzer articles and realized my eyes passed over the word "addiction" without my processing it, because I really thought that wasn't my problem.
Was this an addiction? Am I an addict? Is it true that I'm not going to be able to book read my way out of this? Was I now a part of this club of people who need special help?
It was hard to admit...yes.
Painfully, yes. I have finally realized I can't do this on my own. I can't research and write my way out of this. I needed other people, other people like me.
An inability to find pleasure in regular things is normal in early recovery; the medical term for this is “anhedionia.” It passes as our intensity-addicted brains rewire themselves into clean and sober living.”***
This. This is why that walk was excruciating. I began to look into this term more specifically and fell into a neuroscience rabbit hole.**** In poor summary, I was experiencing the absence of chemicals that I usually get a rush of in pursuit of validation or conditional love seeking. It made sense that anytime I was taking really good care of myself, I would never get a "rush" out of anything I do, probably due to the healthy detachment that self care provides.
It was time to surrender. I needed help. My anxiety, a pathological fear of disapproval ran rough shod, cultivated by multi-type maltreatment and conditional love seeking in developmental years. Once my parents set my conditional love seeking in stone, classical trumpet playing took over, an instrument and idiom with which I received vaildation more frequently, hence my unyielding dedication. Hence my unhinging upon my first disaster and my hustle to make up for any potential disaster that followed [read:survival]. Holy cow, everything made so much sense.
I began to draw boundaries. I decided to stop dating and I disabled my online profile, and right in the middle of talking to a really cute programmer nerd. Sigh. I was pretty sure he wouldn't understand my current dilemma, so I disappeared. I began to admit to a few close friends that I thought I had an addiction and that I was going to find a support group. All of them were so kind to me and receptive of the information. A few of them, I discovered, had been in 12 step groups themselves or they had family members in one. They gave me amazing advice. My therapist was supportive as well. It took me a while to find a home base, hard to do as an agnostic, but I found one specifically for codependents, called CODA.
I attended several meetings and listened to others share. There were people with a very levels of problems. I thought it might be a place where everyone shoves their god concept down my throat but that wasn't the case, at least not with my particular group. It was basically sharing for an hour. Empathy for an hour, because everyone in that room feels what you feel. It made sense why this works why people come back again and again.
I share in every meeting, not hard for me (case in point, this article). At times someone will say something relevant and meaningful to me and then other times someone will say something completely unrelated to what we are all there for. I get so annoyed and feel like it is a waste of time to listen to this person. Sometimes I want to leave immediately after sharing. This is hilarious, because by not wanting to listen I was entertaining controlling and codependent behavior, and in a CODA meeting. How meta...or appropriate. I have a long road ahead of me.
After only one month of attending meetings, I can tell things have changed. I have attained more of a healthy detachment with the goals I make for myself, a healthy detachment with my students and their progress, and a healthy detachment in my friendships and family relationships. I'm more self-compassionate than ever. New technique has presented itself to me in both trumpet playing and singing (though I am conscious to not exploit these things in a codependent way, hard to do). I sat with one of my best friends at brunch last weekend and felt the same love for him (as my friend) that I did for my nephews and my dogs. I can do this. This love thing is possible. There is more recovery ahead but this little bit of progress gives me tremendous hope.
It is worth it. No. Wait...I am worth it. I deserve a life of love and healthy detachment. I'm going to keep going to meetings, seeing my therapist, and reading every book and article under the sun about this. I'll do whatever I need to do to continue to achieve interdependence, until I can experience unconditional love between myself and my family and friends, until I can truly be courageous in everything I do.
*Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse and Joseph Cruse, M.D., Understanding Codependency: The Science Behind It and How to Break the Cycle
**Harriet Braiker, PhD, The Disease to Please: Curing the People Pleasing Syndrome
***Joe C. Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life
****keywords (if you would like to jump in the rabbit hole with me): anhedonia, pre frontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine. [have fun!]
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way
Friday, February 10, 2017
When you perform, your worthiness of love and belonging is NOT ever to be on the table. There are no prerequisites for worthiness. All you have to do is show up, be authentic. That’s it. Show up often, embrace the uncomfortable beauty of imperfection. Work toward your goal. That’s it, plain and simple, however…