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

Opera and Endurance Sports: Training for Your Mind and Body

I am heading to Chicago today to see a really long opera called Don Carlos by Verdi.

Let’s define an endurance sport as a marathon today and call a finishing time 4 hours. For me, that’d be super fast! The only marathon I’ve ever done was Chicago Marathon in 2011 which took me 6 hours and 58 minutes to finish. The time limit on Chicago Marathon is 6 hours and 30 minutes. I didn’t get a book time, got a DNF and barely got a finisher’s medal. They were breaking everything down when I got to the finish line. Such a bummer in some ways. But there’s the fact that I made it to the finish line and I finished that marathon for ME. No matter what any results say, I know I finished that marathon.

Opera is like an endurance sport for the mind. 

In my opinion, opera is excellent mental training for an endurance sports.

Don Carlos is a 5 act opera with a 30 minute intermission. The total run time will be 3 hours and 50 minutes. Let’s round up and call it 4 hours. That doesn’t include going to a pre-opera talk, or the hour drive up or back in Chicago traffic.

The longest opera I’ve ever seen was 5 hours. I almost fell asleep at one point, but I made it through.

There are supertitles titles in opera if you see them live at an opera house like Lyric Opera. Supertitles are used for live performances. If you see an opera through the MetHD in a movie theater, then you have subtitles to view. Supertitles, used for live performances, and subtitles, used for recordings, project what’s being sung in a foreign language int eh opera into the native language of the audience. The version of Don Carlos I’m seeing today is sung in French, and the supertitles for the live performance will be shown in English.

Four hours of listening to a story sung in a foreign language and looking up and down between a projector to see what’s being sung to know what’s going on on-stage requires a lot of focus. Plus there are many stimuli to pay attention to beyond the story. There’s what’s going on with the music, the singing, the acting, sometimes dancing and trying to make sense of all of it put together. Plus, if it’s something I haven’t experienced before, there’s the novelty of all of it and trying to get through it the first time with knowing nothing about it.

I can train myself in advance for what I’m going to see so I know the storyline before I see it. I could listen to the opera before I go. I can attend the pre-opera talk so I have an idea of what to listen for in the music, know a little bit about the composer and learn a little bit about the storyline. If I really wanted to, I could even listen to a pre-recorded version on Apple Music.

Opera is similar to the mental and physical training you have to put in to be able to cross the marathon line. Let’s say neither are requirements in our life. Opera is a luxury and not compulsory. Let’s say the same for marathon. It’s recreational and not our job. Both could be, but let’s say they are just for fun and not necessary components in our lives. 

Just like you’d train for a marathon over many months to prepare your body for it, especially if it’s your first rodeo is a lot like attending an opera. There is mental focus required in both to get you through the event. There’s a physical component more so in a marathon, but it’s there in opera sometimes just to keep you sitting up and not falling asleep because not all opera experiences are the same (some will put you to sleep). There’s the dreaded lines for the bathroom in either scenario. There’s a 30 minute intermission at Lyric Opera for a reason (i.e. it’s an old building and not exactly optimized for long lines of people who use the bathroom at the same time) just like there are porta-potties along the marathon routes for a reason( four hours and beyond is a long time to wait before needing to use the bathroom.)

If you’re looking for some mental training for your next endurance event plus a chance to flex your mind, broaden your cultural horizons, and have a treat for the senses, I recommend you try out going to an opera. You might find that the skills you’ve cultivated as an endurance athlete might help you get through the long event if you’ve participated in endurance events in the past where you had to sit with yourself for long periods of time and focus on getting yourself across the finish line. If you’re training for your first event, I recommend you give opera a try because it’ll teach you a valuable lesson that endurance is a sport of the body and the mind to cross the finish line. 

At some point, 4 hours in an opera will feel easy. Just like being on an endurance course for 6 hours will feel easy. You have to stick at it. Neither opera nor endurance sports are easy at first, but the more you do either the easier it gets. 

My husband and I are going to hear Handel’s Messiah. My husband is not an opera goer. He said that the Messiah was long. I asked him how long it was because I didn’t know. He told me it was 2 hours and 20 minutes. I said to him, “Oh, that’s nothing.” I should’ve clarified what I said by adding, “Oh, that’s nothing for me, but I understand that will be a lot for you.” 

In sports terms, a 10k feels like “nothing” when you’ve gone a marathon distance or longer. In cultural terms, 2 hours and 20 minutes of run time for any kind of event is “nothing” when you’ve sat through much longer events that require much more focus.

For a newbie in sport or culture, though? A 10k isn’t nothing it’s something. It’s hard. Same with cultural events-2 hours and 20 minutes is a lot to sit through when you’ve never heard a piece of music played for you with a chorus singing. 

Appreciate where you started. 

See how far you’ve come. Appreciate where beginners are at. 

Respect the event. 

Respect the distance and time.

Be humble. 

Remember you were a beginner too and things weren’t always easy for you. 

Know that things will get easier over time, and life won’t always be as hard as it is when you’re just beginning.

Realize if a marathon or a 4 hour opera is easy now, that maybe it’s time to do something new that challenges you like an ultra marathon or learning to play an instrument in the music you listen to in your favorite operas (this is what’s next for me in the culture department).

Always challenge yourself and try to do a little more than you did before otherwise you’ll get bored in your body and mind. Keep moving. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck. If you’re not challenging yourself, then you’re never going to grow as an athlete or as a person.

Sarathlete

Avoiding Running Again, Starting My New Training Plan Today, Accountability, and Building a Like-Minded Community of Athletes

I’m coming back from a pretty big-for-me injury. I injured my lower back in February 2021. The pain first started with swimming. Then it went away after a few weeks. I thought I’d just thrown my back out from too much stress. Then, in March 2021, I was doing a resistance band workout and my lower back went to the point of pain that I’d never felt before. 

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

In all my years of activity, I’ve never had an injury that took my breath away, caused me so much pain and incapacitated me for a year to where I was afraid to move because I was in so much pain.

I stopped moving for a year because I was so afraid of this pain. I did everything the medical professionals told me to do: physical therapy, get an x-ray, get 2 MRIs, get two steroid shots, stop moving, start moving again and lose weight.

I just couldn’t understand why my body betrayed me after being active for years and only ever suffering from three injuries and only one of those three injuries was extremely painful. 

Oddly, all three injuries were on the right side of my body. My first injury was the ball of my right foot mostly near my big toe. I was doing a Jive exercise and I slammed my foot into the ground at the suggestion of my coach, and boom – injury. It made it hard to walk and to teach for a while. The injury was around for about a year, but it healed and it was gone. Second major injury was on my right calf and lower leg. I injured it running. It went away after about 6 months. The current injury has lasted over a year, but I’ve seen the pain reduce since the last steroid shot in December 2021. The injury is still there. My body can feel it in my lower back. I’m never comfortable sitting. This injury is something I’ve learned that I must accept and live with. I hope it will heal, but no one has given me a good outlook on that. The last doctor I saw was in March 2022 who told me I’d need a spinal fusion. He said we’d have to work on pain management and trying to make me as comfortable as possible. He recommended I start exercising again and lose 20 pounds.

I was 5 feet tall and 198 pounds at that point. Hearing I might need a spinal fusion got me moving again. Slowly I’ve built fitness back up, and every day I go a little further than before and I surprise myself. I still have the discomfort of the pain and the fear of the pain coming back at the intensity it was at. That shooting pain down my right leg was too much, and my body remembers that pain.

To build myself back up, I started vlogging for one of my YouTube channels with a little vlogger kit and my phone at a local park. The terrain was soft, it got me outside, it got me talking and being creative while I was “exercising.” I put exercising in quotes because it didn’t feel like exercise. I started doing it in March and it lasted until it got too hot outside for me to want to keep doing it. Eighty degrees is too hot for me, and in NWI, that means I stopped vlogging outside around the end of June.

The next step to rebuilding my fitness was going for walks along the beach with my husband. Sand was a soft terrain for me but it helped build up my core and leg strength without impact on my joints. We also started going into the water in July when the weather got warm. I would aqua jog in Lake Michigan or we’d take a walk along the beach where the ambient temperature was generally cooler than it was in the park.

I found my way to twelve step in all of this towards the end of July 2022. I started going to my recovery center and participating in their programs in very early August 2022. They had an outdoor cycling program going on, and I decided I’d try it. I was terrified of the back pain and potential discomfort, not to mention I hadn’t been on my road bike in years.

Cycling turned out to be a blast. I missed two rides between when I started in August and the last ride of the year which was end-of-October 2022.

Cycling didn’t bother my back too much the same way aqua jogging and walking on soft surfaces in the park or beach walking didn’t bother it too much either. In fact, cycling seemed to help it.

I started doing yoga again as well on Apple Fitness + in August. I started to build myself a workout routine that was low impact and had cardio and core and some easy strength.

In September 2022, I did a duathlon. It was supposed to be run-bike-run, and I thought I couldn’t run at the time. I knew I could bike the distance of the race: 12 miles. I also knew I could walk the run portions of the race. The first leg of walking was 1.5 miles. The last leg of the walking was 3 miles. I knew I could do all three things, so I challenged myself and signed myself and my husband up for the duathlon. We did it! We crossed the finish line together. We were the last finishers. That didn’t matter to me. I’ve been the last place finisher at many, many, many races back when I participated in running races, triathlons, and cycling events. 

I was so excited to see myself progress and cross the finish line nearly pain free, that I used it as motivation and kept on going.

My recovery center has a gym with dumbbells, kettlebells, TRXs, boxing bag, barbell weights and some cardio machines like ellipticals, rowers, stationary bikes, and treadmills. 

The first workout I did was mix of boxing and TRX. I walked out after my first workout with very little pain. Workouts have increased in intensity and I have added resistance training to my workout with dumbbells. I even jump sometimes. 

Impact. Jumping. I had to stop doing anything like after I first injured my back.

Jumping got me thinking about running again. 

I asked myself if I could run again?

In October my husband and I started going for hikes and they have increased with distance and intensity.

This got me thinking even more and I asked myself if maybe I could run again, but do it it on the trails this time. Running is high impact, but it would be much softer to do on the trails.

Then I bought Apple Watch Ultra to challenge myself. If I bought this watch, could I train to do an ultra trail race, like a 50k?

I bet I could.

The watch came in and we’ve been getting used to one another.

This whole time, I’ve been avoiding running.

That fear of the old pain is still there.

This blog keeps me accountable. If I put out into the world that I’m doing X thing, then I tend to keep showing up and doing X thing.

So, I’m holding myself accountable today for trying to go outside and walk/run on a trail near my home. Want to join me virtually? I’m not sure exactly how virtual walk/run trail workouts work, but I do know that I can post my training plan on this blog, and people can follow me. I can share my workouts on here, and post my feelings and you can follow me here and on my social media platforms. 

So, here is the first part of my recovery center building program planning and also the details on holding myself accountable for eventually running.

I’m starting with a trail walk/run because I think that will be easier for me than just flat out trying to run the whole time. I’m starting easy and will work my way up. I may not be near a 50k trail distance right now, and my plan is to walk/run that distance, but I hope I blow myself away with my strength and resilience like I have this entire back pain journey that’s been going on since February 2021 and is nearing the two year mark. Yuck.

I may have to live with the pain my body feels. However, if you made it to the end of this post, you will have read my physical recovery story of my body and see i’ve built my body back over time with various methods and that I’m going strong.

You’ll also be reading this line right here: I’m scared of the pain. 

I’ve been saying for a week now that I’m going to do a trail walk/run race. My first goal race is a 5k walk/run. But I’ve yet to go out for the walk/run.

That changes today.

I’m going outside to do it.

Here’s a link to the training plan I’m going to follow if you’d like to do this with me: https://www.atlantatrails.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/5k-training-plan-beginners.pdf

If you’d like to post virtually about your experience, email me at sarathlete@hotmail.com and let me know you’re interested and I’ll create a space for other like minded people to join me.

Something else I’m very bad at is social media. It’s the social part of social media I don’t do so well with. But I’d love to build up a community of like-minded people who are interested in doing some group runs both in-person and virtually. If you live in Northwest Indiana, and you’re interested in guided trail walk/runs or hikes, email me and let me know. 

I’ll build the space once I have interest both in-person and virtually.

My workout today is going to be walk 5 minutes and walk run 30 seconds for 5 intervals on the trails over by Bailly Homestead/Chelburg Farms in Porter, Indiana. I’m really scared of the running. But I’m going to try it and see how it goes. I’m hoping the pain won’t come back and be as bad as I fear it was in the beginning when I first injured myself.

Sometimes I wonder if my body holds onto the intensity of the pain to keep me from re-injuring myself. I remember how much pain I was in, and the fear of that pain holds me back. Yet, when I exercise, I don’t feel any pain at all. No shooting pain. Sure I’m a little stiff in my lower back, but nothing like before. 

I’ll post tomorrow about how this goes. Worst case scenario is that I try running for 30 seconds, discover the pain, and I go back to my car and drive home. I can always stop and go home. I can always walk it if running is too much. I’ve got this, in some form. I have to get out and try though. I hope you’ll join me in person or virtually down the road!

Let’s build a recovery community of like-minded athletes!

Have a good run, walk, hike, bike ride, whatever you do. Get out there and move!

Sarathlete