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

It Wasn’t All My Fault: The Lies We Are Told As Children, And What We Believe To Be True In Adulthood

I had one of those lightbulb-on moments at my recovery coaching session yesterday.

Here’s the conversation:

Sara: My husband said I put him in the middle of him and his family.

Recovery coach: No, you didn’t put him there. Your husband put himself there.

Sara: But my husband said I put him there.

Recovery coach: Your husband said that, but you didn’t actually put him in the middle of you and your in-laws. Your husband put himself in between you and his family.

Wow.

Lights flashing. Sirens going off. Fireworks exploding in my head.

Fireworks exploding.
Photo by Marc Schulte on Pexels.com

What???? I didn’t do what my husband said I did.

My recovery coach was right. Yet, the concept was one I really struggled to grasp because of what happened to me in my past.

I’m going to be on the lookout this week for blame that I have taken on as “being my fault” and try and determine if the event was my fault, or if I perceive it as being my fault. 

When you’re told your bad and that you’re not enough or not good enough by your family of origin, for me that’s my grandmother, mother and father, then you tend to take those beliefs with you into your adult life. I remember many times where both of my parents told me I wasn’t good enough or that I was a disappointment to them because I didn’t live up to their expectations. What a terrible thing to do to a developing mind. They did it to me because their parents did it to them. 

Alcoholism, with or without the substance, truly is a family disease. Alcoholism without substance abuse is called dysfunction in the ACA framework.

So, when my husband told me I put him in the middle of him and his siblings and parents, he believed that to be true. My coach had to drill this into me that it was not the truth. I didn’t do that. My husband put himself there. 

What else am I carrying around from my past that I believe to be true that actually wasn’t my fault in reality? I’m going to notice and figure it out! 

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

Scarcity Mindset, Movement, Addiction and Recovery

One of my greatest addictions is also a place where I find so much flow, and that place is movement. Movement by any name always smelled sweet to me, until it didn’t. Call it dance. Call it exercise. Call it cycling. Call it swimming. Call it watering plants. Call it weight lifting. Call it walking. Call it running. Call it yoga. Call it boxing. Call it ballroom dancing. Call it ballet. It doesn’t matter what you call it. I LOVE to move. 

Until I didn’t love to move.

I suffered from a painful lower back injury on the right side of my body in February 2021. I think I was the cause of my injury. I’m very sure that I caused my own injury because of my addiction to movement. The flow I get, the anxiety release, the dopamine hit, the mental clarity and calmness I get from moving is amazing. I haven’t suffered that many injuries in my movement history. I’ve always been very balanced in doing both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. I enjoy weight lifting, stretching and many forms of cardio. 

This injury caused me to have to ask for help in my plant business, The Rare Plant Haus. It was absolutely awful, both being in so much pain and having to ask for help. Yikes! 

The pain came in the form of shooting pains down the right side of my leg. No matter how much time I took off and rested from this injury, did physical therapy for it, got two steroid shots for it, nothing really helped truly heal the pain. Instead, a lot of little things helped relieve the pain, but my body still remembers the pain and it’s still there.

The pain was so bad that I stopped moving for a year. My husband watered all of my plants in my plant shop for a year. I didn’t move at all for a year. I was miserable because this was a place I found great flow, and also a place where I got relief for my anxiety and a place where I could work out my problems. For a year, movement was gone. The final time I saw a doctor was in March 2022. My PCP told me to get a second opinion for my condition, which has had many diagnoses from many different medical professionals over the last year, now closing in on two years. The final doctor I saw was a spine surgeon who told me that I would need a spinal fusion. He told me I needed to lose weight and move more. After a year of intentionally not moving, this doctor told me to move and lose weight. The surgeon said to lose 20 pounds of weight so that when he did the surgery, it would be easier for him.

I gained a LOT of weight over the last year. I was practicing regular emotional eating. I was addicted to any hit I could get from sugary foods. Another area exercise has always saved me was from having to watch my diet. I’d never had to worry about what I ate in the past because I was always able to work out enough and intensely enough to where weight gain due to diet wasn’t an issue for me. That is, until I couldn’t move anymore and the pain from moving became to great to continue and I stopped. Yikes!


So, the addiction I had to exercise and movement was removed for a year. I was miserable. I was tired of being in pain. Now, in March 2022, I had a doctor telling me I needed to move again. I didn’t want to go back to moving because it caused me so much pain.

What were the results? I landed myself in recovery and a 12 step program called Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families. I had to change my entire life in order to start healing from this injury that caused me so much pain.

You see, I was in great pain in many areas of my life. I was very out-of-balance in my approach to my entire life, not just the exercise component of my life. 

So, now we are at the end of  October 2022. What’s changed for me since March 2022?

I started moving again. I started walking and filming videos in the park. Habit stacking: filming videos outside and movement attached to it meant that I didn’t notice the pain as much. I was in nature and that made me feel better. I started getting stronger. When I landed myself in 12 step in June 2022, I started to change how I lived my life. I did a complete 180 degree pivot on diet and movement. I was able to stop emotional eating and my attachment to sugar and how I saw food by seeing it as fuel. I started doing intermittent fasting and eating one meal a day. I started adding in other forms of exercise I used to enjoy beyond walking. I started doing yoga, then cycling, then weight lifting. I progressed to high intensity interval training. I was able to hike farther and further. I found myself working out less and eating less and I was gaining muscle, losing weight and my back pain started to lessen greatly. I changed other aspects of my life, as well. I started going to recovery coaching once a week. I worked my way through the ACA 12 steps. 

I had to make great changes in my life in order to get any sort of relief for my back pain.

I believe the mind and body are linked. I don’t think you can detach one from the other. It’s how I wound up with a painful injury in the first place, in that, I was out-of-whack in my life. I felt awful. I was acting awful. I wasn’t happy. Yet, I couldn’t identify why I was so unhappy.

And so, once you’re in recovery from any kind of addiction, for me that was seeking emotional sobriety, there’s always the fear of relapse. That’s where scarcity mindset comes into play. Fear of relapsing. Fear of going back to old ways of being. Fear of going back to my old life, old pain and wanting to avoid old emotions.

If it’s true that the only way out is through, then I had to deal with a lot of old stuff to move forward. 

Truth: you will relapse. Sometimes, I feel like I relapse daily. However, the time I spend in relapse is less.

I noticed this most recently with pain. I do NOT want to experience pain. No one does. Specifically, I want to avoid that pain I felt the first day and the days that followed of not being able to find any relief. Over time, I’ve been healing, but the pain is still there which tells me I’m still a little out of balance in my life. I’m no where near the level of pain I was at, but I still feel pain. 

My latest relapse came from overexercising. I thought I was in control and that I had my exercise addiction under control. The irony of this statement is not lost on me. One of the pillars that ACA is based around is to notice control, criticism, perfectionism, and all-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking. I struggle daily with these four pillars. In a sense, I relapse every day. 

Movement is so easy for me to talk about, so I’ll use it as the example. I noticed I was very irritable, crabby, sore, was having trouble sleeping, and I didn’t know why. Work outs were good. Diet was good. Things in my life and business were good. I was happy and things are going well for me. Still, I noticed the feeling. My husband noticed the irritability and crankiness as well and commented on it to me. He asked me why I was so irritable. I was overtrained. I knew the feeling because I’d experienced it many times before. I didn’t want to believe, at first, that I’d gotten out of balance with exercise. I thought that because I wasn’t working out for 3 hours  a day at maximum intensity and doing super hard workouts for so long that I meant that I wouldn’t overtrain. I thought I was in control. I thought I had my addiction under control, and that I was in a health place with it.

Part of recovery, for me, has meant going back to things that used to serve me well, but at the same time didn’t always serve me well, like exercise. I needed to face my fear of overworking out. Just when I thought I had the problem solved and my addiction was “cured”, it wasn’t. 

I did what no one wants to do: I pulled back for a week. I’m taking a week off with no exercise and rest to see how I feel. I’m listening to my body this time. I’ve changed. I respect myself and my body, and I know that I matter. I’m not a pound on the scale or my latest workout. I’m a person with feelings. I’m a human being, fallible for sure, and I needed a break. Anyone who finds flow in movement will tell you it’s the hardest thing to do: pull back and rest. To know I  am enough without exercise and that it doesn’t define me has been a hard lesson to learn for me, and, yet, it’s brought me the greatest sense of relief.

I’m always battling with scarcity mindset with myself internally and externally. I battle my self-worth daily with this question: Am I enough? The answer is always yes, 100% yes! However, knowing and believing I’m enough are extremely hard things for me to come to terms with. Why? Because of what happened to me in my past, how I was raised and what I believed to be true about myself based on the past. I learned from the people closest to me that I was NEVER enough. Now, I know that’s not true. But the scarcity mindset I have has been a great struggle for me, and it’s driven my for such a long time and has affected my relationship with everything in my life, including exercise.

It took going in to 12 step and recovery and so many other changes to heal my life, which is what has helped me heal my back. Reckoning with my self-esteem, self-value and self-worth. I have to constantly tell myself that I’m enough, to the point where sometimes it feels like it’s moment-to-moment. 

I’m getting better and healing every day. Sometimes, I need to take a break. I know I’m enough now. I didn’t know that for a very long time. It’s been a difficult behavior to change, and it’s kept me stuck for such a long time. 

The antidote for healing my back was healing my life. 

The antidote for curing scarcity mindset is knowing you are enough. Knowing that you matter. Knowing that you are valued. And living in alignment with that knowledge and applying it to every area of your life. 

YOU MATTER! I MATTER! There’s so much relief in knowing that I matter.