How To Know When It’s Time For Change: Spotting Your Breaking Point

I would’ve paid someone an obscene amount of money to fix things for me. Even better, I would’ve paid anyone to tell me what was wrong with my life as to why I felt so miserable in my life that I wanted to die because I could only see a future with my life the way it was and no improvement. I couldn’t see a way out of my life and that made me want to NOT keep going. Suicide ideation you could call it. What got to be so bad that I wanted to be out of my life? This was my breaking point. 

What happened to me was the first key. In late Fall of 2019 and early Winter of 2020, right before lockdown, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Emma Lively. I did the retirement version of the program which was perfect for my old soul. With the wisdom and guidance of the authors of this program, I wrote my memoir. Over the span of 12 weeks, I examined my life 3 years, or so, at a time. I was 39 years old when I did this, so the math worked out well. The goal for senior citizens is to do about 10 years a week, but I wanted to do the program so I had to make the math work for me.

I spent hours writing my memoir. In writing my memoir, I got a chance to examine my past from my perspective. Later on, I would identify this memoir as figuring out What Happened To Me (check out the book for Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah).

In writing my memoir, I started to examine the years of my life. I was able to see that I’d been truly happy for four years of my life in college. I started to see what had happened with my parents and my paternal grandmother. I started to see and write down what was going on with my marriage. I started to see what happened with my in-laws. For the first time ever, I was able to write down and identify what happened and why I felt the way I did. I often would say to myself, “No wonder you feel this way, Sara. No wonder you want to die. You’ve had 4 years of happiness out of 39 years of our life.

The first step to healing was writing down my story and admitting what had happened to me. The next step was admitting that I didn’t like what had happened to me, which was me admitting how I felt about what had happened to me in my past. This is what came for the next two years. 

What happened between 2020 and 2022 was the Coronavirus and the pandemic. It was a chance to take a pause in all of the distractions and really focus on myself and what was coming up for me. I wanted to push down the feelings of grief over what had happened to me. No one really wants to admit that they were sexually assaulted many times over the years, that their parents projected that they didn’t want them around and made them feel like an inconvenience, or admit to their own mistakes that they’d made as a result of what was going on. For me, an example of that was seeing that I worked out a lot my anxiety at the gym and spent a lot of time working out to numb the pain of the past.

In 2021, I left my corporate job because I couldn’t take being treated like a piece of underpaid garbage anymore. This was a huge step for me on the road to entering 12 step and recovery. 

How I felt about what happened to me started to catch up with me. I couldn’t keep pushing down the feelings anymore. I started feeling worse and worse after I left my job because, ironically, I felt amazing without being treated like garbage at a job that paid me barely anything, undervalued me and didn’t appreciate me. I started to see how I was treated at my corporate job and compared it to my life where I also felt the same way. Turns out, for me, my job was reflecting a mirror back to me of other areas of my life where I’d been treated similarly: my marriage, my family of origin and my in-laws. Just like I wasn’t happy at work, I could also see the dysfunction that was these other relationships in my life. 

I reached a breaking point with my corporate job and I couldn’t handle the stress, low pay and being undervalued anymore. The criticism, black and white thinking, perfectionism, people pleasing, and control was too much. By leaving my job and seeing how much better I felt without it in my life, light started to show on other areas of my life and how similar they were to the job I’d had. Like, how could I let anyone treat me this way? The way I felt about my job was the same way I felt about my marriage, my in-laws, my parents and my paternal grandmother. 

Noticing that the only period of time I was really happy was when none of these relationships was present in my life, and that was 4 years in college. It was the time that I identified in my memoir that was the last time I was happy. That time was me on my own and being happy and comfortable, for the first time, being me.

When I did my memoir, I uncovered how awkward I felt in childhood around my parents. This unease was present in grade school and high school in that I didn’t fit in. This happened when I moved back home after college, started dating my now husband and moved in with my now in-laws. I didn’t fit in. But college? I was regulated, satisfied and happy. I fit in. There was no dysfunction present.

In recognizing where I was happy, I was able to see the moments where I wasn’t happy in my memoir. Then I was able to see why I wasn’t happy and then how I felt about that. 

I entered ACA/12 step and recovery after a period of time where I was working very hard for little financial gain and no real support at home. 

I had to put myself first and tell myself that I mattered. I had to pull back from the work I was doing. Overworking and overworking out two of my addictions. I numb my pain and anxiety with exercise to the extreme. I LOVE to workout. It’s where I get high. It could be any kind of movement like dance, lifting weights, running.

And in 2021, I injured my back from working out too much. Or, so I thought at the time.

My truth is that the back injury was a huge reflection for me being miserable in my life and needing to change in order to feel better.

It was a time to say no. I injured my back while I was still working full-time at my corporate job. I was miserable. I tried to take out my anxieties with lifting super heavy weights at the gym. I believe between the stress of working out, the misery and depression I was in from my marriage and work, the stress I felt from the pandemic, and on and on, my body decided to send me a message, “Time to stop girl. Here’s a huge dose of pain in the form of shooting pain up your right leg until you fix this.” 

A huge sign from my body: STOP SARA. STOP IT.

So, the signs were there, but I didn’t stop and pull back until this back injury and pain was so present in my life that I couldn’t ignore things anymore. 

A sign from the universe? Maybe. A sign from my body? YES!

I’m grateful for what this injury has taught me. My body said, “I’m  not happy anymore, and you can’t take your anxiety out on me without a huge dose of pain.”

So, I had to stop and get better. It wasn’t easy.

That physical pain was another breaking point. It was the breaking point that caused me to do something about it. Because I wanted to get rid of this pain.

In healing the physical pain, I had to heal my entire body.

Everything changed for me. I did a major, radical overhaul of my life.

I entered 12 step, ACA, went to a recovery center, sought recovery coaching, attended programs at the recovery center, started exercising in small doses and moving again, stopped trying to prove myself to my husband, talked to my husband about what was going on for me. I had to STOP being passive aggressive and communicate my thoughts and feelings. I had to admit aloud how I felt and know what had happened to me in order to make changes in my life. 

Now, it’s nearly five months later after finding ACA, starting to work my way though the 12 steps and entering recovery. It feels like an eternity has gone by, but I also know that five months is a very short amount of time in the large span of a life lived so far on this planet. 

I’m will always be working on my recovery. Thank goodness I’m working on myself and getting myself to an amazing place. I am starting to heal. 

It’s touch and go. Things are finally looking up. I don’t feel like I want to die anymore. That’s HUGE for me! I want to live! I wonder why I couldn’t see a way out back then, but I see a way out and forward now. My back is much better, and I’m increasing my load. The shooting pain down my right leg is at bay. It’s not healed, but at bay and tolerable. It’s been a year since my last steroid shot. A year! Yes girl!

The pain from the injury hasn’t healed completely. It’s a work in progress, just like me. Recovery is a work in progress. Something I do daily so I don’t go back to the dark place I was in. Every day is work so that I never have to make big work pushes I dread a day in my life. It’s maintenance now. Maintenance is work. For a time, 12 step and recovery was my work. Now it’s more maintenance. In starting to write again and post on this blog, I’ve been bringing myself back into balance with work. This is now the work. It’s all the work because it’s all related! Love it! I matter. I know I matter. I value me. I’ll NEVER go back to a 9-5, W-2 job that treated me the way I was treated for so many years. Very much like, I can’t let my family of origin or my husband or in-laws treat me the way they treated me.

The Thanksgiving holiday was a huge reminder of the things I’d let go that no longer served me and that no longer had any control over me because I didn’t want them to: food, emotional eating, inviting family to dinner that made me miserable over a sense of obligation I felt I had. I did the things I did want to do: I posted a blog post on Thanksgiving day, I enjoyed my day with my husband and dogs, I didn’t emotionally eat or eat like garbage. My new ways of being and being happy in the world are sticking. Old ways are gone and new ways of being are sticking. 

Yes girl!

Before I could even start to heal my life, I had to figure out what happened to me. I did my memoir. Then I needed more convincing through a huge injury to see that I was truly hurting emotionally and physically. I felt bad in my mind and body for a reason. I started looking for ways to heal myself because I felt so bad. I also noticed what was out of balance in my life and sought solutions to bring me back into balance. I finally found the solutions that worked for getting back to the girl in college, but a better version of her. Happiness is a work in progress, and I’m living every day. 

As they say in ACA/12 step, “The program works if you work it.” So true. But before you can find the program, you gotta see where you’re hurting and spot the hurt so you can do the work to heal.

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