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

How To Know When It’s Time To Stop Fighting and When You’re NOT Addicted Anymore, And A Little Bit About Unconditional Love

This is such a simple answer. Not an easy answer by any means. But simple.

I recognized today that I didn’t want to fight anymore. 

For what, exactly? 

My marriage.

It’s over. It’s no longer worth the pain, chaos, sickness, stress and insanity it causes me in my life. 

A similar question gets asked of either addicts or people who work in addiction treatment and recovery. How do you know when you’re not addicted anymore?

The answer is simple: when the substance has no control over you anymore. That substance could be drugs or alcohol, or sugar or foods or the “substance” could be replacement behaviors like exercising too much, emotional eating, anorexia and other eating disorders. You know as the addict when the “substance” no longer has control of or over you. Because you just don’t need or want it anymore.

Same thing with fighting with someone and knowing when the fight is over. You don’t want to fight anymore.

My husband and I had another fight last night. This one was over money.

I dread fights with my husband. I resent how much I have had to change and how he has been able to stay the same. However, now I’m starting to see that I have changed and that he is staying the same. I also know he doesn’t have to change. It’s his choice to stay the way he is. 

What I want and who I am has changed. What I know to be true about the world, like wrote in yesterday’s post is true: I matter. I have a choice. I can choose to stop fighting. I don’t want to keep fighting anymore. I’m done. 

I describe my life as a tale of two suitcases. There’s the life with my family of origin that includes my mother, father and my paternal grandmother. There is four years of college where I was so happy. Then there’s another 18 years of more misery. Two suitcases that represent time: 36 years of time where I was unhappy with a brief blip of four years, a vacation or break if you will where I was extremely happy. Now I know I get more than four years of happiness, but back then, I didn’t know that. 

For a long time I thought life was happening to me, that I didn’t matter and that I had no choice in the matter. I was taught early on that I was stuck with the decisions I made in life. Now, I know that’s not true. I can reverse any decision. I’ve worked so hard to reverse many bad decisions I’ve made in my life. I know I can reverse this one too. It won’t be easy, but the decision is a simple one to make. It’s yes or no. It’s stay married and miserable or divorce, get space and there’s happiness on the other side of that.

Today I spent 8.5 hours writing in my journal. That’s 29 pages of writing for me. I finally realized that I was done fighting. I don’t want to fight anymore. I had the same thing happen to me with my relationship with my parents, food, emotional eating, eating at night, my relationship with my in-laws and on and on: I just didn’t want to keep going that direction and those people or things no longer had any control or power over me anymore. I was done. 

Yesterday was a really tough day. I had to take my oldest dog, Monster, to the vet. She has the beginnings of cataracts. Her patellas are loose. She has stage 1 of a heart murmur. Basically, it’s the beginning of the end. I love this dog so much. She is twelve years old and has been with me through so much tragedy and loss. It was hard to hear her diagnosis. When I got home I was irritated from the vet visit, and I just started crying. I started to realize that I loved this dog so much, my Monster. 

This year we had to re-home one of our dogs because she risked the safety of our family pack. It was really hard to take her back to the shelter we’d adopted her from as a puppy. It had to be done. There was no pretty option.

My mother let me go and rejected me back in 2004, then again in 2011, then again for the final time 2020. She even came to eventually accept my marriage and then she rejected both of us. 

I found out my grandmother had to be moved into an assisted living facility in August of 2021 and I found out from her friend in April of 2022. I went to visit her. My grandmother lost her memory, and she had no idea who I was and didn’t remember me. She didn’t know me.

I’ve cried and been sad over re-homing my dog, losing my mother and my grandmother. However, none of these events was singularly as hard as learning the state of my oldest dog and that she would be sick and is aging and will leave us eventually. Not Monster. It was one of the hardest things for me to accept. 

Today, I started to realize why I lost my cookies over Monster, but no other dog or family member or this marriage has had the same impact on me and my emotions.

I love Monster and my other two dogs as well. They love me back. They love me unconditionally. They accept me for who I am, flaws, purple hair, introversion, all of it. I don’t have to explain myself to any of my dogs. They love me and trust me. There’s no fighting among them with one another or with myself or my husband (that’s why we had to give the one dog back to the shelter-detrimental fighting that put us and the rest of our pack, a/k/a family, at risk). 

I cried so hard about Monster last night because I realized how much I loved her and how much she accepted me and loved me back for just me being me.

People are complicated. That’s what my husband said as I was crying and petting Monster. I told him I couldn’t understand why I didn’t struggle when we had to give Bonnie back to the shelter, when my grandmother was mentally gone and when I finally accepted that my mother had abandoned us for the final time and I was just done with her chaos. I was sad about those things, but I didn’t have the same reaction to those events as I did with my 12 year old dog. 

Monster is happy and still with me. I’m so grateful for that. I’m grateful for her and the love that I do get from my pets. Most times I struggle with fitting in with people and get picked at and rejected, and it’s hard to take. My dogs, though? They love me unconditionally, and I need that in my life. I’m tired of fighting for all of it. The fight is over. I don’t have to fight this hard for the love of my animals. Why should I keep trying with a person who legally vowed to love me and causes me so much misery and pain?

I believe there are people out there like me and for me to meet who will love me unconditionally and accept me for me. I met some of them in college. That’s how I know there are others out there. Humans, at that. Not just dogs. Thank goodness for the gentle giants and peaceful, unconditional love that comes from my dogs when sometimes I feel like I have no one else who loves me or understands me or does accept me for me.

Sarathlete

You Can Go Straight, Left or Right. Which Way Will You Go? Only You Get To Decide.

That’s right. You get to decide which way you go in life.

The best part? It doesn’t have to take your 41 years to (finally) get to this realization in your life. And if it did take you that long, or longer, then no worries. It’s happening now!

What’s the deep meaning behind the statement “only you get to decide”? The big WHY is knowing that YOU MATTER.

This is a lesson I’ve been struggling to accept this summer. It’s a message I’ve been listening to for years. Here’s a link to a YouTube video with the speech I’ve been listening to since 2019. It’s Iyanla Vanzant doing her speech entitled “You Matter” appearing on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday show.

Iyanla Vanzant’s speech on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday entitled, “You Matter”

I (truly) needed this message drilled deep into me: THAT I MATTER!

I’ve listened to this episode so many times now that I have started integrating the philosophy that I MATTER into my knowing and being daily. I remind myself in my daily morning pages and evening journal reflections. Sometimes, the message shows up in my art journal entries.

I MATTER. 

YOU MATTER.

It’s in all caps because I wish I could scream it from the rooftops. But I’m afraid of heights, so that won’t happen.

This is a message I resonate deeply with because I needed to hear it during my life, and it was a lesson I never had embedded in my brain until I first heard this speech. Hearing it changed my life.

The people in my life were “crazy as hell”. My father, my mother, and my grandmother growing up were all crazy. My in-laws and my husband-“crazy as hell”. I walked through my life not knowing that I mattered. From that stemmed me not feeling in control of my life or knowing that I could make my own decisions.

I lived my life for other people and “did what they wanted me to do to keep them safe.”

That’s not a way to live. “NOPE.”

I needed to learn “to stand in my no and for my yes.” I needed to learn “to draw my line in the sand and not back up on my line.” I needed to learn “to stand in my no and stand for my yes. YESSSSS!”

So, here’s my art journal entry for today.

While it may sound crazy to you that my family of origin and the family I married into never supported me and treated me like a piece of crap that they could kick around and attack, then you’d be wrong. But maybe you’ve had a similar experience.

Maybe you’ve felt so low that life wasn’t worth living because you couldn’t believe that life could look another way. In other words, “You didn’t know that you mattered.”

“What I want you to know today is that you matter. Even your mistakes matter. And your difficulties matter. It’s all in the way that you look at them.”

That’s where my art journal entry comes into play and intertwines with Iyanla Vanzant’s speech, “You Matter” intersect.

I wrote in my morning pages this morning that I hadn’t been living my life for me. I wasn’t making my own decisions. I was people pleasing and allowing other people to make decisions for me because “for a very long time I didn’t know that I mattered.” 

So, my photo of my art journal page reads, “You can go straight, left or right. Only you get to decide.” “You Matter”. And, “YES, GIRL!” In the center of the three diverging paths it says, “Which way will you go? Did you know you matter? Only you know. You decide for you.”

Before you can make decisions for yourself, you need to recognize that you could be living your life for someone else and not yourself and you also need to realize that you matter. This is key to getting UNSTUCK in your life. It’s the key to making your own decisions in your life. It’s the key to self-love, self-respect, self-dignity and self-worth. 

This is a lesson I learned in ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families) as well. It’s not quite broadcast the same way, but the basis of the message is there in ACA just like it is in Iyanla’s stories she tells which are both funny, relatable to me and also sad when I stop and consider them. I’ve been that woman-the woman at the store with no bra on or high-water sweat pants. I walked around not thinking or believing that I mattered. 41 years of walking around like that. It took me so long to realize that I mattered to myself. That’s a darn-long-time to be walking around being told that you don’t matter. No wonder it was such a hard lesson for me to learn. It’s also why I have to keep reminding myself daily and “moment by moment” that I matter. 

Going forward, I get to make my own decisions for my life FOR MYSELF. Not my mother, my grandmother, my father, my husband or my in-laws. NO!

I decide for me because I know I matter, and I know I’m in the driver’s seat of my life. It wasn’t until I knew I mattered that I could see that I wasn’t living my life for me. I was living my life “for other people and doing what they needed me to do to keep them safe.” 

“YOU MATTER.”

Have a great day!

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.