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