Reflecting on What I AM Grateful For With My Family Of Origin and My In-Laws, A Bit About 12 Step Programs With ZERO Substance Abuse Present, and Gratitude at Thanksgiving and Beyond

I have a fraught relationship with by my family of origin (my mom, dad and paternal grandmother) and my in-laws (brother-in-law, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, deceased father-in-law and deceased step-father-in-law.)

Yesterday, I watched Rich Roll’s podcast interview with Whitney Cummings on YouTube.

Here’s a link to the video if you want to watch it on YouTube:

Rich Roll’s Podcast episode on YouTube with Whitney Cummings

While I learned many new resources and ideas from the video, one stuck out with Thanksgiving being tomorrow and that is how can I be grateful for what my parents gave me as a child? In my anger at them for how they treated me, I often overlook the gifts they did give me. So both of my parents are massive workaholics, and the question Whitney Cummings presents is what gifts and opportunities did your parents give you or did you learn or glean from their faults, in their case it was workaholism. 

(A super long side note for reference that should probably be it’s on blog post:

Whitney Cummings talks 12 step programs like ACA, CODA, Al-Anon in more detail than any other guest I’ve ever heard of on the Rich Roll Podcast do. Rich Roll is open about his use of substance abuse and talks about 12 step through the lens of a substance abuser. This interview with Whitney Cummings was the first time I’d ever heard him interview someone who talked about growing up in a family without substance abuse present. I loved this because I’d always assumed 12 step wasn’t for me because my parents didn’t abuse substances and neither do I. I remember the first time I’d ever found or heard about ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) and thought it only applied to my husband because he is literally an Adult Child of (two) Alcoholics. For me, the “dysfunctional family” portion of the message of ACA gets buried. I had to really dig to find out that you can identify as an ACA without alcoholism or drug abuse. That was key for me entering 12 step and recovery: hearing that you can be involved in a 12 step program without the use of drugs or alcohol present in your life or your family of origin’s life. I feel the branding and messaging for ACA programs are weak and extremely hard to find for those of us who don’t abuse substances and who didn’t grow up with the families who used drugs and alcohol. Learning that the outcome of an adult child is the same whether drugs or alcohol were present or not present was crucial to me finding ACA. I feel like I would’ve found ACA at a much earlier age than 40 if there was more of an emphasis on the portion of their message that focuses on NO drugs or alcohol being present. There are still ISMS, like workaholism for instance. You’d have to be living under a rock to not have ever heard of 12 step for alcoholism. But 12 step for someone who zero substance abuse issues? I’d never heard of that before, and it makes me want to sing the praises (and downfalls) of programs like ACA from the rooftops because I think it could help a lot of people, and the best part is that IT’S FREE. All of these points are addressed in the podcast episode in the YouTube link above.)

Back to the actual blog post:

So, workaholism was present in my family. Zero substance abuse, but workaholism was my parent’s ISM. The question is how can I be grateful for the lessons I learned and traits I do have from my parent’s weaknesses. Instead of being angry at my family of origin, how can I be grateful for the good that did come out of bad? What are the good things that make me who I am today that came from my parents working all of the time? 

Gratitude quashes anger because it forces you to find the good in a bad situation. I’m not going to even visit the toxic positivity quotient of the gratitude equation in this blog post, but I do acknowledge that toxic positivity combined with gratitude can be negative. I should clarify here that I mean practicing gratitude daily. I don’t mean practicing gratitude solely on Thanksgiving day. I think gratitude on Thanksgiving day is wonderful, but I don’t believe it’s enough. 

In ACA, it’s SO easy to be angry at your family of origin. But, what good did you get from the bad from your family of origin? I’d say if you can figure this out, take the lesson and apply it to other areas of your life where you see nothing but anger. For me, that’d be my in-laws. Ironically, I couldn’t find much to be grateful for with my in-laws. It could be because I’ve let go of a lot of the anger at my parents, but I haven’t had as easy of a time letting go of my anger at my in-laws because it’s more recent and present in my mind than my family of origin.

Here’s my list I came up with this morning while I was reflecting on what I was grateful for from my family of origin (these are in no specific order of priority or preference):

  1. My parents working all of the time taught me how to be alone and on my own, which is something I value deeply. It’s given me the ability to be able to explore my life on my own without the need to wait for someone else to be around to go with me. I don’t miss out on experiences simply because I have no one to go with.
  2. My parents were always in non-traditional jobs that they did have. I think that’s why I never fit into a traditional 9-5 office job or felt comfortable there. Now I know why-because my parents didn’t model that for me.
  3. My parents always had a side hustle going no matter what their full time gig. This taught me to nurture other interests and not put all of my eggs into one basket. This lesson kept me curious.
  4. My love of going to see plays comes from both my mother. While my parents worked hard, they did find time to play with their hard-earned money. From my mother I often got the opportunity to go with her when she went to see the symphony or see the ballet in Chicago. My love of culture and art appreciation comes from her.
  5. I learned that it’s ok to go to a cultural experience alone and not wait for your partner to go with you just because the other partner is working or has no interest in going. This is kind of a duplicate of the first point and kind of separate.
  6. I owe my creativity and imagination to my parents working all of the time. I wouldn’t have learned how to come up with creative stuff to do had they not left me alone for 12 hours a day during the summertime.
  7. I owe my mental fortitude and mental toughness in endurance sports, or the ability to sit through long operas, to my workaholic parents because I learned how to get through long periods of time alone while they were at work both in the summer and after school. 

Interestingly, this is only part of the list. There’s a LOT more and also a LOT more that I’m grateful for beyond the workaholism. My parents had other flaws like making me feel like I was never good enough, as an example, and I’m grateful for the lessons and traits I see in myself as positives that I learned from their other flaws and imperfections. Some of the things that made me so angry at them are also things I’m grateful for because of what came as a result of the negative events. Gratitude helps you overcome anger. It’s helped me a lot.

I did attempt to try this same exercise towards my in-laws. My in-laws never accepted me for being me. I’ve always been the same super shy, quiet, introverted awkward girl who doesn’t drink excessively or enjoy partying at bars or socializing with large groups of people. I couldn’t be more different from my in-laws. I learned through ACA that, when trying to assimilate into another family of ACAs that opposition can be magnified and rejected. That experience happened to me. If anything, what I found in trying to apply the gratitude lesson to my in-laws, it made me more grateful for aspects of my childhood and more grateful for what I did get from my parents, despite my anger over how badly I perceived that they treated me. 

My list for my in-laws looks like this (again in no order of preference or importance):

  1. I’m grateful I did live with my mother-in-law and step-father-in-law because I learned what it was like to be poor and live in your own filth and squalor. My parent’s house was clean as a whistle. It was maybe too perfect.
  2. I’m grateful to my mother-in-law and step-father-in-law for giving me the option to come and live with them. My parents were very black-and-white thinkers, and they gave me the option to come and live with them when my parents rejected me. I needed a place to go, and I’ll always be grateful to them for that even though I don’t love the outcome of the results and what happened after I moved in with them.
  3. I’m grateful that my in-laws were hoarders because it truly taught me to be grateful for my parents Minimalism before Minimalism was a semi-popular movement.
  4. I’m grateful I for my husband’s siblings because I got the chance to experience what it was like to have siblings as well. This made me very grateful that I grew up as an only child.
  5. I’m grateful I got to experience the chaos and drama of a family that did grow up with two alcoholics because I can see that the outcome is the same whether or not drugs or alcohol abuse is present.
  6. I’m grateful I got to experience a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner through my in-laws with the Ritz cracker casserole, dried out turkey, canned cranberry jelly thing that comes out of a can, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy. This made me grateful that my parents never made that food, but I did get to experience a “normal” Thanksgiving through my in-laws.

I guess when I look at my in-laws and compare them to my parents, it makes me really grateful for my parents. I never fit in with my in-laws. My parents were more like me: quiet, thoughtful and very introverted. My in-laws are NOTHING like my parents. They are the exact opposite. What I love about my parents accepting for me was something I could never understand with my in-laws in that it was never ok to be me. This has always been present in my life, in that, I feel like I’m different than other people because I didn’t grow up in a “normal” world, and it makes it harder to find friends and people to click with. Being an only child isn’t normal because most people, even today, have siblings. So, I got exposure to what’s considered “normal” and I saw that I didn’t fit the “normal” mode, and I’m extremely grateful for that because it taught me not to conform which contributed greatly to my creativity. What I’m grateful for with my in-laws is that they rejected me and taught me I didn’t fit in and that it wasn’t ok to be myself. That made me fight for myself and know that I needed to be me because trying to conform has never served me.

This will be a very minessententional Thanksgiving. It’ll be me, my husband and our three dogs. That’s it. My parents hurt me deeply, and the first major rejection from them came at Thanksgiving when they threw me out of their house. I can be grateful for my parents from a distance. The same is true for my in-laws. I can’t stand to be around my in-laws to this day. I can be grateful for the lessons I learned from them, but that doesn’t mean I can stand to be in the same room with them.

What’s changed in all of this is me and my perception of how I felt about what had happened to me. I changed this summer. Neither my family of origin nor my in-laws have gone through 12 step work. So, while Thanksgiving itself hasn’t changed, how I feel and see Thanksgiving, in part through gratitude and in part through 12 step, is different this year than last year. And that is something I will always be grateful for. 

I may be angry that I didn’t find a 12 step program like ACA sooner because I do believe it would’ve served me very well early on, I know that I can’t carry around that anger. My gratitude that I do have for finding the program at 40 quashes the anger I have about not finding it sooner. My gratitude outweighs that anger.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know this time of year, the Holidays, can be difficult for anyone. Reach out at sarathlete@hotmail.com if you need help, are struggling, or you want someone to connect with. 

Sarathlete

Sugar, Chocolate, Emotional Eating, Addiction, Intermittent Fasting, Regular Fasting and How I See Food Now

I was addicted to sugar. I think many people are, and they may not even realize it.

I’m no longer addicted to sugar. It no longer has control over me.

I thought, at one time, I was addicted to chocolate.

This summer, starting in July 2022, I started fasting, like no food.

I started small – a 36 hour fast. I had water, and a cup of coffee with a little bit of cream in the morning.

The second fast I did was 61 hours. Same thing – a cup of coffee with cream in the morning and only water the rest of the time.

When I wasn’t on a full fast, I practiced intermittent fasting in combination with a keto-like diet. I did the 20 hour fasting window with a four hour feeding window. I started with one meal a day (OMAD). Eventually, I went up to two meals a day (2MAD) with a less strict 20:4 fasting:feeding window. Now, I do 18:6 with 18 hours fasted with a 6 hour feeding window. This seems to work the best for me as I continue the intermittent fasting practice.

Keto-like = I tried going full keto and keeping the focus on lower-carb fruits and veggies with a focus on eating more fat for satiety and sticking protein on the back burner. I say keto-like because I never tested myself to see if I was in ketosis. I have zero proof that I ever reached ketosis. Keto-like means I tried to incorporate that style of eating into my life by following the principles of the diet. I ate quality meats and fish (no, I’m not vegan anymore if you’ve read older posts), quality fats like olive oil and nuts, focused more on low-carb veggies and greens, cut out processed sugar as much as I could, and stopped eating refined foods. So, I call this keto-like combined with intermittent fasting. 

I thought I wouldn’t be able to fast because I was an emotional eater. I thought I needed food to get me through stressful times.

At one time, I would’ve even said I was addicted to chocolate.

Now, I can say that’s not true.

If you’re ever curious about whether you’re craving sugar or chocolate, try this test: go to a grocery store and check the organic or “(appearance of) healthy food” section where they sell the specialty items like vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, organic foods, and look for a no sugar and no sugar substitute added chocolate bar. Look at the ingredient list on the bar to make sure there’s no sugar (corn syrup, cane sugar, plain sugar, maple syrup, etc.) or sugar substitutes added (like Stevia or Erythritol). You’re looking for one ingredient on the label like Cacao, or cocoa powder, and that’s it. Spend the $5.00 on the pure chocolate bar. It’s a great investment for the lesson you will likely learn here: the difference between chocolate and sugar. Taste the bar. You will see whether or not you are a true chocolate lover or if you love the sugar that’s in the chocolate. For maximum impact, treat it like your dessert after your meal. Oh, will you be in for a surprise!

I tried this very experiment while I was changing my lifestyle while looking to find emotional sobriety from being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Family. While I was changing my life, I decided to include changing my eating and exercise patterns too.

I discovered what addiction truly was: something that altered my behavior. I also learned what I wasn’t addicted to – things that didn’t alter my behavior or have some kind of control over me.

I learned that I’m no longer addicted to something when it no longer has control or power over me, my actions and/or behaviors.

Emotional eating, I thought, controlled me for years. I thought chocolate was my comfort food of choice.

When I started fasting, I removed the need to eat completely. No more decision fatigue. When I removed the choice of to eat or not to eat, I discovered how great it was to not have to stress about food: eating it, not eating it, the clutter or mess and cleanup after the event, the shame I had over eating the foods I knew were bad for me but I ate anyways. It was all removed. It was as close to Minimalism as I can ever get: not having the thing at all AND not having it control me.

The joy of food, where I got my high from emotional eating, was in the sugar. The sweetness of food I experienced was mostly in the form refined sugars. Sugar was where my “high” came from. That temporary hit I got from eating sugary foods when I was feeling stressed.

Eating the chocolate bar with zero sugar or sugar substitutes taught me that I didn’t love chocolate like I thought I did. I loved the sugar in the chocolate. But pure chocolate itself? Yikes!!

Pure chocolate, like cacao, taste like dirt. 

Even the touted health food, dark chocolate, has sugar in it to make it taste NOT like dirt.

Just to make sure it wasn’t just me, I asked my husband, who doesn’t identify as a chocolate lover but does enjoy it on occasion (and he also was NOT on this keto/fasting journey with me), to try a piece of this pure chocolate bar and tell me what he thought.

He thought it tasted like dirt too.

Fasting for a few days two weeks in a row showed me that removing food from my life took away the addiction to emotional eating because it showed me how I looked at food: as a lens to heal me and make me feel better in the moment.

When I did go back to eating, I ate when I was hungry, not because I needed a sugary hit because of stress. I started with one meal a day and practiced intermittent fasting for the rest of the time. Now I’m up to eating two meals a day. I don’t crave food for soothing my emotions anymore. I don’t crave sugar the way I once did. Food even tastes differently now because I’ve removed refined sugar my palette.  I do have sugar, but it’s in the form of low carb fruits and veggies. What’s really funny is that I rarely eat chocolate when I do eat sugar. If I do decide to eat a little chocolate, it’s because I like the way the chocolate and sugar taste together.

I can’t say I’m addicted to chocolate anymore. I don’t think I ever was addicted to chocolate. I will say I was addicted to the sugar in the chocolate.

Removing food helped me with my emotional eating. But I had to eat at some point, so when I let food back in, I made sure it was the best food. By doing this experiment, I was able to see the power food had over me at one time to make me feel better. And when I took it away, the need for it was gone. I could survive for quite a while without food. Not forever, but for a while. 

I took the experiment even further with another addiction: sugar and chocolate. 

I’d say a true chocolate lover could devour that bar of chocolate I purchased. I ate one square and my husband ate one square. No interest. We both could see that chocolate tasted like dirt without and sugar or sugar substitute. 

If you are struggling with your diet or emotional eating, I highly recommend you try fasting or intermittent fasting. It’s not sexy. It’s free to try it. Wow, did it make a huge impact and difference in my life, and I hope it does yours as well. If you are wondering if you’re addicted to chocolate or sugar, try a pure chocolate or cacao bar and tell me what your findings are. Email me at sarathlete@hotmail.com and let me know.

Sarathlete

Wanting a Not-So-Normal Life Wrong In a Sea of Normal

Sometimes I feel like I got a reset in my life. Other times I feel like I deserve a break because I was so traumatized and worked so hard for so little in my life. Occasionally I feel enraged over the past and what happened to me and how my life has turned out so far. More often than not, I feel happy, grateful for my life and like I’ve been reborn…or like a got a second chance…a reset.

It often feels too good to be true. My new life. My life in recovery. 

Is it bad that I feel guilty for having my own business and that I can work less and enjoy my life more now as a result? I’d say yes, it is bad that I feel guilty; however, no one should feel bad for wanting to work less, wanting more out of life and wanting to enjoy life. Oftentimes on podcasts I listen to or YouTube channels I watch, I hear business owners who in similar positions to mine apologize for enjoying their work and their life. Who wants to feel guilty for having fun in their life? No one. Yet, it happens. 

Why?

Because that’s what MOST people do. The majority of people do the normal thing. Doing normal things leads to normal results. Typical, right? For most people, TYPICAL is enough. For others, it’s restricting, restraining, induces a gag and choke reflex. I found myself in this typical life experience in August 2021: full time job working 32-40 hours a week at a job that caused me severe anxiety and stress, didn’t value me or my skills, grossly underpaid me and didn’t care about ME as a human being. I was another cog in a machine with no feelings working at large company with a steady salary, 4 weeks of vacation time, a steady paycheck and access to health benefits (that sucked). I was absolutely miserable. I left my 9-5 in August 2021. 

Some would say I had no plan. 

But I had to have had a plan otherwise I wouldn’t have left. That’s not me. Right? What if it was really me? Yikes!

I left my job without a plan? Oh, the wayward shame of it all.

Ok, I kind of had a plan, but mostly a deep knowing that if I stayed in this soul-sucking job, that I would waste away, in a sense, in the mundane and malaise of misery. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I am not a cog in a machine. I’m so much more than that. I’m a brilliant human being who wanted something else: something beyond what most normal people want: the chance to take risks and chances and try and fail and eventually succeed on my own terms doing what I wanted to do. I wanted to enjoy my life and 4 weeks of paid vacation, a steady paycheck (in the spring, summer and fall), paid holidays off just wasn’t enticing. It never really enticed me in the first place.

I went to college and my parents said, “Major in something that’ll make you a lot of money.” I wanted to dance. I wanted to be a professional ballroom dancer and teacher: not a profession that can make you a lot of money as a female professional dancer. If you add in the fact that my body was built so wrong for dancing, any kind of dance I’d ever tried like ballet, jazz, even ballroom, then the odds weren’t exactly stacked in my favor. So, I tried doing both for a long time. I tried having that corporate career that (NEVER) made me a lot of money, and teaching part time on the side. I learned a lot. I worked a LOT. I grew tired of it and quit.

Dance was my only interest for a long time. When I lost it, I had a corporate job. I was miserable and bored. That was the story of my life for 18 years out of college. In 2021, I started a plant shop. I started my own business. It didn’t succeed, but it didn’t really fail either. I got sales over that summer. I kept the shop open, and that was my plan when I left my corporate job in August 2021 that I couldn’t take anymore: run a plant shop. It was better than nothing. 

I made a promise to myself the day I quit: I’d never have an office job again because it doesn’t align with me. Mostly, at the time, I told myself I would never have an office job again. The alignment part of the story didn’t come until later, until this summer of 2022, when I worked myself into the ground for very little financial gain and landed myself in recovery.

Recovery from what? If I’ve never been addicted to substances, what could I possibly need recovery for? I needed recovery from what had been my life for 36 years of misery and 4 years of happiness. The 36 years was life in two suitcases: the first 18 years with my family of origin and the second 18 years with my husband and in-laws. I identify as an adult child of a dysfunctional family. It’s a real term. I’m married to an adult child of two alcoholics.  The results are the same: sobriety. Since I don’t have substance abuse in my past, I was seeking emotional sobriety, and oh, did I ever find it!

The only part of my life I ever felt happy and comfortable in was the four years I spent at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. My college years were anything but normal. I was an introverted young adult who loved ballroom dancing and the arts and culture. I didn’t enjoy partying or drinking. I enjoyed hanging out with people in the ballroom dance club and competition team. I loved practicing with my college dance partner on the weekends. I loved learning new things every day. I have the same traits today. I don’t dance now, but I love movement. I’ve grown up in many ways. In other ways, I’ve stayed similar to who I was in college: that quiet, introverted girl who had a lust for art, culture, movement and liked learning new things and enjoyed spending time on her own. I went to my first opera when I was 18 years old. I saw For The Love Of Three Oranges, and it didn’t deter me. It was a really bad opera to see as your first opera. It was long and boring, but I enjoyed the experience of it because it challenged me. I love a challenge.

So, the lesson I learned this summer seeking emotional sobriety and relearning to live my life and what life looks like now in recovery is this: I get more than 4 years of happiness in my life. Nothing magical happened I turned 41. The past stayed the same: the two suitcases of family drama and chaos split equally in time with one suitcase per family and this 4 year gap where I was sublimely happy and on my own and living my OWN life. That’s right: living my life on my terms. I can’t say that I’ve really had that in the past 36 years. The 4 years I was in college, and this current year: my 41st year, I feel like I’m learning how to live life on my own terms. I’m living my life for me.

We all deserve more than 4 years of happiness. That’s not a lot of time to be happy, and 36 years of misery and feeling sad and depressed is way too long.

I’ve always known I wasn’t “normal” and that “normal” things just didn’t work for me the way they did and do for other people, normal people: the average Jane or Joe. I’m not bashing “normal”. I believe we need “normal” in society. But we also need dreamers and doers. We need creativity, culture, art and movement. We need passionate people who can dig deep, who are quirky, quiet and introverted and shy. We need people do don’t feel like they fit into their own life. 

I got so stuck trying to fit into the mold of normal.

Now? I don’t bother with normal because I know I’ll never fit there. What normal is for someone else, is torture for me because I’ve always known that I defy what is considered “normal”.

It’s easy, now, in recovery, to see why I never fit in. I have the experience of life and the great gift that is perspective on my life and the ability to synthesize what happened to me in addition to being able to know myself really well and to recognize (finally) that normal doesn’t work for me.

Life in recovery has taught me that I matter. That I am enough. It’s enough to work 10 hours a week, and that can be enough. Will it be enough forever? No, I’ll want to grow and move on. Working 10 hours or less a week is great for me. Would it be great for everyone? No, because we are all different. 

Like the book title by Dr. Gabor Mate states: The Myth of Normal. Once I embraced that piece of information that I wasn’t normal, my life started to make sense. I didn’t feel like I was going crazy for not wanting to work two jobs. I was tired of feeling guilty for wanting to enjoy my life, and for how I looked at and experienced life as it was happening to me.

Recovery saved my life. It kept me from wanting to die. Plants saved my life. Knowing that I’m prone to just wanting to be on the move and love being active saved my life. Having my own business and seeing that I work better for myself than I did for other people saved my life. I saved my own life when I found recovery.

Recovery means the world to me, and it’s something I’m very passionate about. I’m passionate about a great many things, and that’s alright. Some people will tell you to focus on one thing. I did that for a long time, and it landed me in a place where I was lost when it was gone. Now? I do many things. Not just one thing. Somethings about me have changed since college, and some are still the same.

I still love opera. I love to go to the ballet and plays in Chicago. Hearing a symphony played live calms me down. I don’t dance anymore, but I’m still here moving. I am a passionate life-long learner. I’m an amazing teacher and coach of dance, life, art, and movement. 

I know I’m not normal. I’ve tried so hard to find others like me, find my tribe, and they are hard to locate. The strivers and overachievers who love to move and love art, dance, opera, theatre, symphonic music who are passionate, life-long learners who love to do many things, reject what is normal and who like to go against the grain in life. These other people, people like me, are hard to find in the sea of normal. But we have a lot in common if we can find one another.

That’s my mission now: to find the other people like me. I want to build a community of strivers and overachievers who are also addicts and in recovery in their lives. We matter. We are passionate. We are unique. 

If you’re reading this and you identify as anything but normal, please reach out and let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. I’m passionate about movement, dance, fitness, health, diet, mental health, art, culture, music, endurance sports, recovering from physical injury, being an addict and recovering. I go deep with the things I know, and I’m willing to spend time learning about things I don’t know. Some of my other passions include YouTube anything, writing, inspirational and public speaking, photography, videography, and plants.

Recent passions that I am nurturing: learning a new language (Italian), ultra endurance sports, recovery for the ultra passionate and ultra endurance, not-so-normal human being (people just like me), finding friends, connecting with people again and building a community of like-minded beings.