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

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

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

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

What about other families?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minimal-me, my husband and our dogs.

Essential-me, my husband and our dogs.

Intentional-me, my husband and our dogs

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder I hated the Holidays.

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

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

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

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

NO.

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

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

Sarathlete

5 Items I’ve Brought Into My Life Recently As A Minimalist/Essentialist/Intentionalist: A Minessententionalist

A Minessententionalist is a hybrid word I made up for someone who identifies as a cross between a minimalist, essentialist and intentionalist. 

I even Googled the word I made up just for fun to see if it existed because Google must validate everything, right? Well, it kind of does.

Check out my four screen shots for Minessententionality, Minessententionalism, Minessententionalist  and Minessententional showing zero results in Google.

Where the lines draw out for me  when it comes to what I chose to bring into my life, is someplace between minimalism, essentialism and intentionalism. So, I get Minessententionalism. Hard to spell and say: Min-essen-tention-al-ism! But hey, the word Sarathlete is hard for other people to spell and say, too.

Minessententionalism: the minimal things I own or bring into my life with intention behind them which are essential to my me, life and my views.

What are some things (people, places, items, experiences) that are minessententionial to you?

Here’s my list of 5 items/experiences I’ve recently brought into my life, and how they are intentional, essential and minimal to me:

  1. Apple Watch Ultra:
  • How it is Intentional: Getting back on track for my fitness goals as a come back from an injury and rebuild my body. I want to be very intentional with my training. A watch that will last me on long runs that can track my sleep and get me where I need to go without having to be tethered to a phone is exactly what I need. 
  • How it is Essential: Movement is essential to me and an extremely important part of my life before, during and after recovery.
  • How it is Minimal:  One watch. Simple. No more distractions from my phone. One device that can do it all and not leave me dependent on a potentially distracting device. 
  1. Heated blanket: 
  • How it is Intentional: I needed a heating pad because my old one broke. I’m always cold. I found a heated throw and decided to try it as an alternative to a heating pad. Now I’m always warm when I’m under it, helps increase blood flow for my entire body which aids in muscle recovery for athletic performance, and it takes the place of having a heating pad. 
  • How it is Minimal: Solves two problems for me as one item.
  • How it is Essential: When it’s that time of the month, a heating pad is essential for pain management. The last heating pad that I had broke, and I needed to buy a new one for myself. 
  1. Steam mop with reusable steam mop heads:
  • How it is Intentional: I wanted a way to lessen my carbon footprint. I wanted to throw less stuff away. I want to do my part to saving the environment. Previously, I was using products that were one-time use and then throw them away for cleaning my floors.
  • How it is Minimal: Less waste is coming in and going out overall.
  • How it is Essential: To me, having a clean house essential to living. My house needs to be clean. When I say “my house”, I say it collectively and am referring my house as my body, mind and spirit. However, for the sake of this blog post, let’s roll with the physical house I live in. Clean floors are apart of having a clean house. Bonus: I get a deep clean with steam, without the nasty cleaning product smell that I had before. This change was a win for both the environment and a win for my health.
  1. Show tickets to see Don Carlos at Lyric Opera and A Christmas Carol at The Goodman:
  • How it is Intentional: I have something to look forward to doing. It feeds my mind and soul, shows me new things and I learn a lot.
  • How it is Minimal: I am gifting myself experiences and not stuff. Experiences keep me going. They feed my soul.
  • How it is Essential:  Live cultural experiences like dance, plays, musicals, operas, symphonies or even movies are essential to my mental health and well-being because they bring me to a place of peace and bring me so much joy. The joy of what is to come gives me something to look forward to, I find peace at the event and there’s peace and meaning and feeling after the event is over.
  1. YouTube fireplaces and other winter scenes to watch and listen to while I write
  • How it is Intentional: I want to create a space that I can write in that is cozy and makes me want to write for both my work and my life. I want to create Hygge in my home.
  • How it is Minimal: It’s on my TV. It’s ad free because I can’t stand YouTube ads. It takes up no space beyond the TV I have and internet connection I use.
  • How it is Essential: The fireplace creates a cozy space for me to write. Writing is part of my work and life. We all need a space.

Final Thoughts:

I thought it would be fun to exemplify some of the overlaps between the three components of Minesssententionalism. There’s a lot of overlap between the three categories of intentionalism, minimalism and essentialism.

And just for fun, we have a new word mashup along the way. You know, Straight No Chaser is coming to the area in December. That would align with Minessententionalism and me! Who doesn’t love A capella music and a good mashup?

Have a good minessententional day!

Sarathlete