The Holiday Season, Being In 12 Step (ACA) & Recovery, Don Carlos and Family Drama

I went to see the opera on Thursday 11/17/22. I saw Don Carlos at Lyric Opera in Chicago. Lyric Opera has a small sign on the side of their building on Madison Street that use to send a message about what’s going on at the opera house. Sometimes it has a cheeky message on it. I should’ve snapped a photo of the sign, but I didn’t notice it until I was driving out of the city. The sign said something like, “And you thought your family had a lot of drama in it. DON CARLOS. Playing from 11/9/22 – 11/25/22.” That’s not the exact wording, but it was pretty close.

A family with a lot of drama in it. This was certainly the case for the family in the opera I saw. 

What about other families?

My family has a lot of drama in it. My family of origin = my parents and my paternal grandmother. Also, my in-laws. Drama. Chaos. Sickness. Insanity. Yikes!

Family can make the Holidays a living hell for some people. I’ve been there. I see you if you also have a really hard time around the Holidays. 

The time that spans right before Thanksgiving and the day Christmas have been some of the hardest, most depressing times of my life.

My family of origin abandoned me at Thanksgiving when I first started dating my now husband. My in-laws abandoned me in that I was usually not welcome or didn’t feel welcome in their home. If your family doesn’t accept you for who you are as a person at their table or invites you because they feel they have to invite you, then that’s abandonment in my eyes.

So, with the experience of two families abandoning me at the same time and having it start happening this time of year has made for some very depressing holidays going forward because of what happened to me and the association I make with the events that have unfolded over the holidays since the initial trauma took place.

The Holidays continued to be filled with what I can only call family drama. Maybe not in the same way as the family in Don Carlos. We aren’t tortured kings, queens, princes or friends caught in some pretty impossible love triangles, but there’s still drama there.

Drama so bad that it’s easier to NOT be around these two families because the drama is always there. The only way around the drama for me was to pull back, realize it’s torture for me to be around them and choose my own inner peace over the insanity, chaos, drama and sickness that happens every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It wasn’t until I pulled back and stopped trying to fit into these two families that have never accepted me that I finally found some peace with this time of year-the Holidays. 

I didn’t always feel this way. The Holidays used to be my favorite time of year until I graduated from college and moved home. That’s when the holidays stopped being fun, and they started having trauma associated with them.

The trauma will always be there for me around the Holidays. I’m learning to move on. The first truly Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas I had was in November and December of 2020. Neither family was going o gather during COVID-19. Thank goodness. This was a relief. It was just me and my husband for those Holidays. We had a nice meal, enjoyed the Christmas season and there were no expectations from family or having to see family or guilt over not wanting to see family but feeling like I should because it’s the right thing to do. COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown shed a clarifying light over what I wanted in my life and what I didn’t want in my life.

Turns out being Minessententional about family was crucial in starting to help heal the post-traumatic stress I have around the holidays. Minimal, essential and intentional.

Minimal-me, my husband and our dogs.

Essential-me, my husband and our dogs.

Intentional-me, my husband and our dogs

They all align into what works for me as I heal from the trauma inflicted by two dramatic, chaotic, insane families. 

Realizing how much chaos both families projected was key to healing. I didn’t realize quite how much trauma both families had inflicted and projected onto me until I sat down in 12 step this summer in Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA) and started digging through my past to figure out how I felt and how my body and mind were reacting as a result of what had happened to me. It wasn’t just the Holidays. The Holidays was where the trauma began on both sides, but it kept going on and on and on for years. Hence, how I wound up in 12 step seeking emotional sobriety for why I felt so awful all of the time.

Now I see it like this: no wonder I felt so bad around the holidays and every other time in my life. I was never quite in alignment in my life in the majority of areas in it. I was a people pleaser. I didn’t know I mattered. 

I had to put the breaks on and chose myself over others. I had to break the chains of perfectionism, criticism, control, black-and-white/all-or-nothing thinking. ACA 12 step saved me. Recovery helped save me.

Realizing that I was an Adult Child of a Dysfunctional Family married to an Adult Child an Alcoholic saved me. Only in 12 step could I get some perspective, look at the stories of the past that started at the Holidays and really see what had happened to me.

No wonder I hated the Holidays.

The Holidays are marketed to us as this time of year when we should feel happy and want to be with our families. No wonder we feel guilty for not wanting to be around our families when TV commercials and religion and other entities market to us the message that we SHOULD be with our families. The very families that cause us to feel awful on the inside.

If you feel guilty for not wanting to be around your family who makes you feel awful, here’s my advice: pull away and don’t see them. You just might feel a LOT better. Go against the grain. 

What I’m NOT saying here is be alone. There’s nothing wrong with being alone any time of the year. You can still take that marketing message about being with family. The word “family” doesn’t have to be in-laws or family of origin. It can mean being with friends. Friends are family in my book. Be where you feel the most comfortable and you might find you start to enjoy the holidays instead of being around family that makes you feel chaotic and insane because tradition and branding and life makes us feel that we have to keep doing the same thing every year: be with our “family” = family of origin or in-laws.

This time of year can feel like hell for many people. You’re not the only one who feels like sh*t around the Holidays. You don’t have to keep feeling like sh*t around the Holidays. If it’s not working, try changing it up. Go against the grain of what society says we should to do, and do the opposite. Be with people who really make you feel good about yourself, especially around the holidays. Ignore the feeling of what you should be doing, and dump the guilt over not doing what everyone else does. Be your own boss and do what works best for YOU! Your mental and physical health is not worth sacrificing for a bunch of people who make you feel bad and branding over where you should be spending your time and who you should spend it with.

NO.

You do what you have to do to feel good for you. YOU MATTER!

Feel free to reach out if you struggle around the holidays. Tell me your story, and I’ll see if I can help you. Reach out at sarathlete@hotmail.com and let’s start a conversation, get to know each other and see if we can connect. I’d love to hear from you.

Sarathlete

PTSD, ACA, and the Stories Behind What’s Hiding in Your Purse/Wallet

One thing I found interesting this summer as I went through the 12 steps in Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families (ACA) was looking at weird behavioral patterns in my every day life and digging deep to explore the why behind the why of the why of why I behave in certain ways and what’s the deep story behind it. 

I’m a grown woman. I carry a purse. Not uncommon.

In ACA, a lot of our behaviors that we can’t often explain often have an origin story attached to them that we don’t think about because they become habits that we do as part of our every day lives and don’t really think about why we do what we do.

In July, as I worked through the 12 steps, I came across the PTSD step and had to take a look at and note odd behaviors that I have that I’d never been able to explain before. 

One place I started looking at was the extra stuff I carry with me in my purse. If you’re trying to apply this to your life, you could look at your wallet or the stuff you carry in your pockets or the stuff in backseat of your car.

A purse overflowing with excess tuff.
Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

So, let’s take a look at my purse and see what I found in July and August 2022 when I did this step.

Warning: I’m going to be talking about periods and tampons, so if that bothers you, please move on.

I found that I carry an excessive amount of tampons in my purse. I’d known this about myself, but I couldn’t ever figure out what the why was behind this need for excessive tampon carrying. Another thing that’s related is that I find tampons in old purses, old gym bags, in the glovebox in my car, in pockets of winter coats, in the backseat of my car. 

Why?

The behavior I needed to figure out was why do I hoard tampons in the weirdest places. What was my story behind that? I started thinking back to the past and searching for a story that caused this odd-to-me behavior.

Let’s just say-for someone who identifies as somewhere between a Minimalist and Essentialist, I couldn’t directly explain what happened to me and why I was behaving in this way in this one area of my life.

This hoarding, like most hoarding, came from a trauma that happened in my past. It’s linked to a traumatic story from my past. Traumatic to me. 

Here’s the story:

My parents never talked about sex with me growing up. They left that subject up to the Catholic school they sent me to for 12 years instead. So, anything related to sex was also off limits, like things that happen when your body changes. I remember when I got my first period, my mother pointed me to the tampon box and told me the directions were inside if I needed help. I was 11 years old. Following any kind of printed directions, even in adulthood, is not my strong suit. Since I had to figure this out all by myself and had no idea or clue what was going on, I didn’t put the tampon in correctly, and later that day, I had bled through. I had no additional tampons with me. I was sitting in the bathroom bleeding and ashamed. I told my teacher that I was sick and I needed to go home because I didn’t want to risk more bleeding and the humiliation that I knew was coming if I didn’t get out of school. Again, I was 11 years old. That’s a young age to have no guidance and no one to help you.

That one incident led to a lifetime of tampon hoarding in my purse, car, pockets. It’s a deeper fear of being abandoned and running out of supplies and bleeding through and the fear of the humiliation that would ensue.

It was hard to look back and realize how other people’s actions, or inactions in this case, led to some of my behaviors today.

My parents didn’t ever want to talk about their feelings or any subjects they perceived as shameful, like sex or puberty. That lack of communication and the fears they had around tough-to-talk-about topics led to projection of those subjects onto their daughter. 

I can really see here how alcoholism or dysfunctional families is truly a family disease. 

One behavior, tampon hoarding, stems from a traumatic-to-me story of an 11 year old being abandoned by her parents in a time of need because my parents didn’t want to talk to me about any of it. They left that up to a Catholic school that also didn’t want to talk about the same subjects.

I’m grateful I noticed this behavior and also that I was able to look back into my past, figure out what had happened to me so I could explain the behavior behind my tampon hoarding and try and do something about it.

By recognizing the behavior and the why behind it, I can now move forward and be aware of it and also do something about it. I’m working on it in degrees. If I find a tampon in an old purse, or glovebox in my car, I remove it and place it back in the closet where I keep my other tampons. 

Awareness is key to identifying what happened to you and why you are behaving the way you are. These odd ways that control you that you can’t explain are worth addressing and thinking about because you have a chance to think on it, address it and not give it power over you anymore.

Now I carry the tampons with me that I need when I have my period. I don’t carry an excessive amount with me all month long. I trust that I have enough. I don’t have to let my fear control me anymore. I’ve been able to slowly overcome my tampon hoarding and that aligns with my beliefs about hoarding things I don’t need for just-in-case moments. I don’t believe in storing stuff for just-in-case moments. I simply don’t want to live that way in all areas of my life. Recognizing the odd behavior that didn’t align with my beliefs helped me get back into balance and back into alignment with my beliefs. It make my purse a lot lighter too!

Sarathlete