The Peanut Butter Cups Experiment

Awareness plants the seed of change.

I found this sentence in my Notes app today. Can’t remember where I heard this. Peloton? WW? A wise friend? Instagram? Or did I come up with it myself? Anyway, it’s an appropriate statement for day 308.

I consciously fed the sugar monster today. Seduced by a carton of peanut butter cups while grocery shopping on an empty stomach (mistake numero uno, that!), I decided to make a little experiment of indulging my recent sugar cravings. I paid for my groceries and returned to my car. As I popped open the plastic container (delayed gratification has never been my thing), I felt the giddiness of dopamine release. It takes eight minutes to drive from Whole Foods to my house. I decided I would eat four peanut butter cups on my drive home – that way I would still have a chance to be within my points today, as I had a zero-point lunch and low-point dinner lined up.

Do you think I was able to stick to just four? I probably could have, if I had chosen to exercise discipline. But I chose not to today, for a variety of reasons. As soon as I finished one peanut butter cup I reached for the next. I tried to eat them slowly, but I still managed to have about ten(ish?!) by the time I pulled into my driveway.

As I ate them, I focused on enjoying them and did my best to be present and brush aside the guilt that was hovering, threatening to crush my sugar buzz. I thought about Annie Grace’s video of herself consuming an entire bottle of wine, and how she used that footage to motivate herself to stop drinking – and how much it motivated me back when I was doing TAE over a year ago. I mentally zoomed out and looked at myself, again trying not to judge, just observing myself indulging a strong sugar craving. I noted how the first peanut butter cup tasted (amaaaazing), versus the fifth (yummy with a twinge of gross), versus the fifteenth (because yes, I kept eating them throughout the day).

The verdict? The peaut butter cups were delicious. I’m proud of myself for not beating myself up for eating them. But my belly is so bloated right now I look pregnant. And I miss my frozen mango! I really do!

Awareness plants the seed of change. I think my sugar habits – ingrained more deeply than my wine dependence, because sugar came into my life long before booze – may actually be evolving. Because those peanut butter cups, as yummy as they were, did not taste so much better than frozen mango that I am willing to sacrifice feeling strong and svelte. I have felt so good the last couple of days. I have been eating well, exercising, and hydrating. Today’s sugar binge has made me feel completely bloated, tired, and dehydrated.

This is definitely reminiscent of when I went back to drinking after taking a one of my initial booze breaks. I knew how good I felt without wine, so going back to drinking was not as pleasurable. I no longer had the tolerance – for the alcohol itself, but also for the way it made me feel (yuck).

Today’s conscious peanut butter cup binge is a reminder of how good I feel when I do NOT cater to the sugar monster. I did still enjoy the chocolate – but less than I would have in the past. I choose to see progress here, not weakness. Yes, I succumbed to the peanut butter cups. Yes, I ate too many of them. But I did it all with awareness and without judgement. And I learned from this experience.

I don’t think I will ever fully give up sweets. But I would like to be able to eat them in moderation and have the sugar monster be a less dominant presence in my brain. I don’t think moderation is possible for me with alcohol – and with each day that passes I become less interested in drinking again at all. But sugar, for me, is different. For now. We’ll see.

Life Lessons from My Kids, Part 3: You are Enough

My seven-year-old daughter competed in her first martial arts competition today. She came in fourth and was the top girl in her division. Her school hosted the competition, and students from four other schools attended. She went up against kids who were bigger, smaller, scrappier, weaker, more experienced, and less experienced. What a life lesson it was for us both.

She had had her eye on the prize: all week long the competition trophies – for first, second, and third place – were displayed on a table in the reception area at her MMA school. My daughter talked breezily about how she would win, and I did my best to manage her expectations by reminding her that she would be going up against kids from other schools and there was no way to know what her competitors would be like. At the same time, I admired her confidence and wanted to nurture it. She is 1000% more confident than I was at her age, and I hope she stays that way.

You never want your kid to face a single smidgeon of adversity, yet you know they must. These are the character-building moments that thicken their skin and push them out of their comfort zone, ultimately boosting self-esteem.

And yet, my heart sank today when I realized she would place fourth and not earn a trophy. I expected her to be upset, maybe even cry. She had trained so hard, and performed better in her matches today than I have ever seen her perform in class. But it wasn’t enough. I held my breath as they awarded the three trophies, and then gave medals to each of the other competitors. I craned my neck to glimpse the expression on my daughter’s face as the medal was placed around her neck.

When she turned to face us, she was not crying. She was perhaps a bit sheepish, but far from devastated. I took a deep breath as she walked over to us. We gave hugs and immediately started heaping well-deserved praise upon her. “Fourth place! Out of all these kids! And the top girl! You worked so hard and we are so proud of you!”

“YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH,”I wanted to tell her. But I think she already knows. She was a little bummed that she missed out on a trophy, and she complained a bit (rightfully so in my definitely unbiased opinion) about some of the judging. But overall, she is happy with her performance today. She wanted to win, but she enjoyed competing for the sake of competing. The challenge and fun of the competition were enough.

My daughter – whether by nature or nurture, whether because of her youth or her wisdom – knows that she is enough. She challenges herself for the fun of it. She does her best, and is proud of her hard work.

I wish it were so simple for me. But at least I have the best role model right here under my roof and in my heart.

A Candy-Free Easter

It’s hard to get psyched up for Easter now that I’m educating myself about sugar and also trying to lose weight this week –

As soon as that sentence flew out of my fingertips: lightbulb!

Hold up. Easter shouldn’t be about chocolate, should it? Just like Christmas shouldn’t be about wine, or a birthday shouldn’t be about cake (and/or wine).

[A note on religion: we are not particularly religious. My husband and I are still grappling with how to introduce and teach religion to our kids. So I’m writing on the topic of Easter acknowledging that it is a religious holiday that we do not celebrate in a religious way.]

So, taking religion out of it, what is left, besides chocolate? Family. Fun. And a little bit of magic, as my kids still believe in the Easter Bunny and delight in hunting for eggs around the yard (much more than I delight in waking at 5:30am to hide them).

Now, what is more important, family or chocolate? Easy question. So why am I so bummed to be on an Easter candy boycott tomorrow? I should be focused on having a lovely morning with my sweet clan, not on denying myself sweets.

It’s those pesky neural pathways! Just as I had always linked enjoying holidays with imbibing alcohol, so too have I always linked enjoying holidays with indulging in treats. And there is certainly nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence! But when removing the indulgence from the picture actually causes me to don my cranky pants, that is a problem.

I am on the sugar struggle bus. It is difficult for me to imagine enjoying Easter – or any other holiday – without treats. Tomorrow will be my first candy-free Easter ever. I know that if I were at my goal weight, tomorrow would be a cheat day. But I’m not. I’m 3lbs over my goal, with a Lifetime weigh-in looming. I could still choose to have a cheat day, but I know I would feel super guilty. So I’m going to take this opportunity to consider the possibility of enjoying Easter without chocolate.

This is not quite as scary as my alcohol-free birthday or Christmas. But it’s not easy to anticipate, either. I don’t want to feel tortured. I don’t want to miss chocolate. But I probably will.

And guess what? That is ok. This is a process. An experiment. All I can do is stay true to my commitment and see how it feels.

The boycott is on. Happy Easter to all who celebrate, however you celebrate!

Winging It

The thought of ditching alcohol used to scare me. A lot. I didn’t know how I could celebrate, commiserate, travel, or watch TV without it. How could I relax? How could I rev up? How could I go to a restaurant and enjoy dinner? Or lunch, or – gasp! – brunch?!

But perhaps most terrifying was the prospect of parenting without wine (or tequila) (or whatever was in the fridge). Alcohol was the key to surviving motherhood. There couldn’t be “mommy juice” without “mom.” How could I ever be the mom I wanted to be if I couldn’t drink to treat myself and unwind at the end of the day?

You all know the punchline: I never knew the mom I wanted to be until I stopped drinking. I never knew how much I could enjoy my kids; or, when enjoyment went out the window, how effectively I could work through conflict with them. In ditching alcohol, I have gained energy, patience, compassion, and clarity. I am a better mom, wife, and human without booze. And I can type that without hesitating now, because it’s my truth y’all.

Making the scary choice to go alcohol-free has indeed opened me up and given me wings. I am forever grateful that I somehow had the guts to listen to the voice inside when she finally stood up and said, “Enough.” I still don’t know where I will be at the end of this year, if I will be ready to commit to forever or just to day 365. But I’m not afraid anymore. A teensy bit anxious on occasion, yes, but I’ll take that over the profound fear that glued a wine glass to my hand for so many years.

Am I where I want to be? Heck no. I am still very much a work in progress, and I’m still scared. What scares me now, if not booze? Freaking sugar, that’s what! As the wine witch has receded to a mere wisp in my conscience, the sugar monster has absorbed her power and begun to attempt a coup. My reliance on sugar has grown since ditching booze, and it’s starting to spiral out of control. I am managing to maintain my weight but the “to drink or not to drink” quandary that bombarded my brain on a daily basis is starting to be replaced by “to sweet or not to sweet” – and the answer, too often lately, has been GIVE ME ALL THE SWEETS.

I am reaching my limit. I can feel it. I can hear my inner voice warming up her vocal chords as she prepares to declare a war on sugar.

There are many parallels between my issues with booze and sugar, but there are also key differences. I can’t simply apply all my alcohol-free tools to sugar. Sugar is a more complicated issue, more prevalent in #momlife and society as a whole, and more deeply ingrained in our family life than alcohol ever was. The path forward is a lot less clear.

So I’m reading. I’m learning about the history of sugar, its role in society, and its impact on the body. I’m starting to ponder going sugar-free for 10 days or possibly doing the Whole30 at some point. I feel like I need a clean break from sugar but before I commit I need to have more knowledge, and a strategic food plan in place.

THIS IS VERY SCARY FOR ME. Have I mentioned that? Sweets have brought me comfort since I can remember. But I have also struggled with being overweight since I can remember. So. Here we are.

Mama needs a second set of wings.

The Family Line Leader Gets Pricked

I went to the allergist yesterday afternoon. This is a first for me and something I have been meaning to do for years. Every spring and fall I am plagued by seasonal allergies, and I also had a scary allergic reaction when I was stung by a yellow jacket four times last August.

Although I felt like hypochondriac for rocking up to an allergist when I am currently experiencing no symptoms, the prick test showed pretty quickly that this was a much more important appointment than I thought it would be. It turns out my seasonal allergies are severe (4 on a scale of 0-4). I also require venom testing because the doctor thinks my reaction to the bee was indeed systemic and not just local. Yikes!

Prick test: before…
… and after. Yikes!

It has been a challenge for me to prioritize my health – especially since becoming a mom. With all these other humans and dogs to take care of, it’s easy for me to put myself at the end of the line. When I was drinking, the end of the line was where I wanted to be because going to a doctor meant having to fess up about how much I drank (and of course I always lied). I never wanted to have to answer that dreaded question and so I did the bare minimum in terms of my routine medical care. For me, that meant I never dealt with my varicose veins or my allergies.

This is all changing now that I have ditched the booze and learned the importance of putting on my own oxygen mask first. My varicose veins are gone and the discomfort – both physical and emotional – has disappeared with them. Within a couple of months my allergies will be fully diagnosed and under better control. Allergy season will no longer be a torturous crapshoot of medicinal bombardment in the hope of finding some relief. I will no longer have to hide my sheer terror of bees from my kids because I will have a better understanding of my reaction and what to do in case of a sting. Both my varicose veins and my allergies had been bothering me for years. And I never did anything about them until now. I don’t think this is a coincidence, do you?

I still sometimes slip back into my old myself-last mindset. Even as recently as February, I was so focused on my kids and husband coming down with the flu that I didn’t give any thought to my own bronchitis until we all went to urgent care and the doctor put me on three different medications. That was my reminder to reclaim my spot as family line leader.

If I don’t take the best possible care of myself, how can I take the best possible care of my family? Not to mention I now look forward to being asked, “Do you drink alcohol?” Nope! Gold star for me! The virtuous cycle of proactive healthcare is a gift that keeps on giving to me and allows me to keep on giving to others.

Filling My Metaphorical (not red Solo) Cup

Wacky Wednesday around here. And in the craziness of this day another benefit of being alcohol-free rang loud and clear: I can pivot like a boss.

… as opposed to pivoting like a stressed out, anxious, frazzled frump.

After I dropped my son at school, I was looking forward to meeting a friend for manicures when she called me and said that she had slipped and fallen on the sidewalk and needed to go to urgent care. I pivoted instantly from “mom who mani’s” into “superfriendmom” – picking up her son, and then my son, and hosting a play date for them while my friend got the medical care she needed. The boys had the best afternoon ever, and my friend didn’t have to worry about her son. Save for a sprained ankle and some unkempt fingernails, it was a winning afternoon.

I have always considered myself a good friend. I am an only child, and I’ve spent my life funneling all the energy I couldn’t expend on siblings into my friendships. Over the last two decades, many of my friendships have involved – if not revolved around – wine. Removing wine from my relationships has been interesting in so many ways, all of which I am still identifying and processing. One of these ways, I realized today, is my enhanced ability to pivot: to switch gears quickly and smoothly in order to offer my friends the kind of support they need at any given moment.

In an instant, my afternoon changed from a fun and indulgent catch-up session with a close friend to taking full responsibility for her child. I had a clear head to be able to identify and offer appropriate help. I had the energy and wherewithal to wrap my brain around hosting a spontaneous play date for two rambunctious little boys. To Do’s were pushed aside without anxiety, to be tackled tomorrow. The whole situation was smooth and stress-free (at least for me, if not for my poor friend!).

During my Peloton ride the other day, my instructor Ally Love talked about how friendship is all about filling each other’s (metaphorical, not red Solo) cups. And how, if we all spent more time filling each other’s cups, the world would be a better place as all our cups would overflow with love and kindness. (I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist as I recall from the blur of sweat, lactic acid, and endorphins.)

Today, I filled my friend’s cup. But helping her also filled my own.

Eight Months Alcohol-Free

Eight months. Two hundred and forty-four days. Two-thirds of a year. Any way you slice it, I am at a point in this journey that, for all of my adult life, I never thought would be possible – or desirable.

I thought alcohol was a treat. Now I know it is poison.

I thought alcohol was a rite of passage. Now I know it is a master manipulator.

I thought alcohol was a balm. Now I know it is a grenade.

I thought alcohol was a privilege. Now I know it is a sham.

I thought alcohol was a critical component of a good time. Now I know what a genuinely good time feels like.

I thought alcohol made me better/sexier/funnier/[insert comparative here]. Now I know that being alcohol-free makes me best/sexiest/funniest/[insert superlative here].

Now I know. I know the facts (though there is still more to learn). And I know the feelings (though they are not always warm and fuzzy). Now I know that AF life will never be perfect, but it will always be best.

Now I know. And yet.

And yet I don’t feel comfortable proclaiming myself a “teetotaler.” I feel pretty darn sure that I will drink alcohol again at some point in my life, though that thought makes my gut simmer with anxiety. I feel proud and confident as a non-drinker, and yet.

My relationship with alcohol hangs by a thread these days. What is this last remaining tie between us? It’s the possibility of finding myself in a situation where I still believe alcohol would enhance, rather than detract from, the experience. I can only think of a few instances, but they linger in the hypothetical ether and I can’t – and won’t – ignore them. A fancy steak dinner at a beautiful restaurant in Manhattan: wouldn’t a few sips of a sommelier-recommended red bring out the flavor of my $50 filet? An old, picturesque restaurant in Porto, Portugal (where my husband has ancestral ties): surely it would be rude to not partake in the port, and surely the port would be the best I’ve ever tried? A stunning setting, a scrumptious meal, and my sweet take-it-or-leave-it-drinker husband, holding my hand across a crisp white tablecloth. This is alcohol’s last stand.

I don’t miss drinking. The odd pang strikes every now and then, but is swiftly quashed and dismissed. I can’t recall a single moment in the last eight months where alcohol would have had any positive impact on me. On the contrary, I can recall myriad moments, special occasions, and holidays that were all, without exception, more enjoyable because I was not drinking.

I don’t know what the future holds. As of this moment, there are no fancy steakhouse date nights or fabulous European jaunts on our calendar. I continue to remain steadfast in my commitment to reaching one year alcohol-free and have no desire to start drinking again in July.

But what if I have a glass of wine paired with a spectacular meal when we celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary in September? Does that take me back to Day Zero? Does that strip my title of non-drinker? Does that mean all this time was wasted?

I am still figuring out the answers to all of those questions but the last. If and when I take my first sip of alcohol sometime in the future, beyond the comforting confines of my One Year Alcohol-Free, I will do it mindfully and confidently. Secure in my power over alcohol. Power that I gain with each passing day of this year. This year is a gift that will always be mine. This year will keep giving for the rest of my life. That much I know.