On Grief and Flannel Sheets

Two months since I’ve been here. In that time, I became a kickboxing instructor. My son started kindergarten. I celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary. Summer faded into Fall. I lost one of the most influential people in my life. Today was his funeral.

Today I was fortunate enough to be able to mourn the great loss of my dear friend and mentor. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt fortunate to attend a funeral before but that is how I feel today, in these moments of exhausted, head-spinning reflection as I walk my dog around my neighborhood and await the arrival of the school bus and with it my two children, who will be the recipients of extra-big hugs today.

I thought I had cried all my tears. I thought I knew the marvel of a man this man was. But the service today – heartbreaking and beautiful and so utterly fitting as it was – opened me to a greater depth of both grief and gratitude.

I am feeling layer upon layer of feeling. I am enveloped. It is the emotional equivalent of those icy days last Thanksgiving, our first extended stay at our crumbling farmhouse, with a dodgy old furnace inside and subzero temperatures outside and windows frosted over in a Disney-esque geometry of sparkling snowflakes. During those mornings I would wake feeling toasty warm, impossibly warm, in my cotton cocoon, while the air in our bedroom was cold and the air outside was below and beyond freezing.

So enveloped am I today in my feelings, coping with the loss and the celebration of the life of this great man.

Today, it is gratitude that is closest to my skin. Gratitude: my flannel pajamas covering me from head to toe, worn soft from many, many sleeps. I am so grateful to have known this man, to have worked beside this man, to have witnessed his brilliance and his humor and his drive and his heart. I am so grateful to know his family, and for him and his family to have become so close to me and mine.

On top of my gratitude there is determination: the sturdy flannel sheets of my cocoon. I feel sturdy in my determination to do what I can to help continue his legacy and to help his vision inch ever closer to reality. But I am also determined to live the lessons that he embodied. I will stay true to myself. I will do work that fills my cup. I will put my family first. I will not compromise my values and I will act with integrity in all areas of my life.

Ah, grief: the itchy wool blanket that may not feel good to the touch but nevertheless is an imperative layer to seal in the warmth. Grief: the inescapable heartbreak, the desperate disbelief, the sadness I feel deep into my bones. This is important too. It’s the underside of love – the side that reveals itself when love is lost. I am very, very sad. It weighs on me, it punches me in the gut. But it’s necessary. When I feel pummeled by my grief I remind myself that it’s because I loved this man and was loved by this man and that makes the grieving damn well worth it.

Love is love is love is the big ol’ duvet that covers my grief and makes my cocoon complete. Love is the thick, final layer protecting me from the bite of the bitter cold, from the icy chill of fear of cancer of death of all that is unknown and inevitable and out of our control.

Gratitude, determination, grief, love: my emotional cocoon in which I will continue to process my feelings, nurture myself, and grow into a changed-for-the-better person for having known and loved and lost a very special and now sacred person.

This is where I live now, in an ever-shifting cocoon of layered emotions, continually evolving. I feel all the feelings instead of hiding beneath my flimsy old alcohol blanket. That blanket never kept me warm, at least not for long. And it never protected me from the cold unknown. Beneath my alcohol blanket I shivered with anxiety, with fear, with shame.

What a gift it is, to grieve without the splintered crutch of alcohol.

What a gift it is, to love without the restrictive harness of alcohol.

What a gift it is, to feel it all, unencumbered, unlimited, authentic, honest, and free.

449 days and counting.

 

Ripping Up a Perfectionist Foundation

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Yesterday my husband and I tiled two backsplashes in our house: one in the kitchen and the other in our kids’ bathroom. I am an archaeology nerd who has always loved mosaics and ceramics, so I have always wanted to learn how to tile. My husband, perhaps motivated by pipe dreams of restoring our farmhouse by ourselves, is a handy guy who was willing and able to teach me. I mixed thin set, learned how to use the giant rectangular trowel (much different from the nimble triangular one I wielded during my archaeological fieldwork days), laid the tile, and used spacers to make it even and level.

My inner perfectionist, whom I am at present attempting to disempower, did not enjoy this process. It’s hard for me to learn something new if I’m not good at it right away (which is most new things). I much prefer to show a gifted talent for every hobby, skill, or sport I attempt. And then there’s the fact that, of course, the tiles never fit the designated area perfectly, and so once you get to the ends of rows, the tiles need to be cut. My husband is very good at this. And yet of course these end pieces did not look as perfect as whole tiles, which gave me an anxious zing.

At first I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy the tiling more. But when I thought about why, I realize this is not a bad thing. It’s starting to click for me – 383 days into my alcohol-free life – that one of the reasons I drank was to alleviate the pressure I put on myself to be perfect. I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. The only child of parents who divorced when I was four, I grew up not wanting to ruffle any feathers or let anybody down. I followed rules. I invested my energy into areas where I could naturally excel. Anything that was too hard at first was not pursued. And once something got too hard, I gave up in pursuit of the next thing.

Wine o’clock was my escape hatch. As those crisp, cold sips of sauvignon blanc washed over my tongue and down my throat, I felt the weight of striving for perfection lift from my hunched shoulders. I felt free. Easy breezy. Everything’s fine, whatever, I’m fine, it’s all good. But the pressure never actually dissipated. It faded from the foreground as my wine buzz set in, only to return tenfold when my wine buzz wore off. So I drank more. Fade out. Fade in, feel worse. Repeat.

Now I know that there is no quick escape from perfectionism. It is so deeply ingrained into my being that the only way to deal with it is to deal with it. To do the work. To get my butt in the arena and do hard things – some of which I will do well, some of which I will not do well, none of which I will do perfectly.

Because perfect does not exist. And I believe, now, finally, that I deserve better than to hold myself to a non-existent standard. I don’t need to hold myself to any standard. Because I am already enough, and I will always be enough.

Some days this is easier to believe than others. Recently I have been stuck in a slog of self-doubt. But that needs to change, and it needs to change now. A big week just got bigger and I need to be ready to take it on. This week is going to put a big ol’ crack in my perfectionist foundation. This week will not be perfect. It will be great.

Standing in a Summer Shame Shower

I am eating frozen yogurt for lunch, topped with chocolate syrup, which I don’t even like that much, and chocolate chips, because the syrup was not enough chocolate.

It’s a “less than” day around here. I knew it might be, and it is. I tried to start the day strong. I woke at 6am to read, which is my current favorite way to start the day. I knew that starting the day on my own terms – instead of being woken up by my children, whose sweet snuggles inevitably turn into WWIII in our bed if I let them go too long – would give me the best chance to rally after a lovely but exhausting and dehydrating day yesterday.

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. He had the day to himself to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies, and I took the kids to the Bronx Zoo. I was in the supermom and superwife zone, able to wrap presents at lightning speed, clean the house and tape up some birthday décor with ease, and still have energy left to spend five hours with my children in 90-degree summer heat at the zoo – where there was a severe lack of water fountains and I refused to pay $4 for one bottle of Dasani. The three of us had drained our stainless steel water bottles within the first couple hours of our arrival, so we all ended up totally dehydrated, the empty bottles clanking uselessly in my mom bag.

The dehydration, along with junk food for lunch, sapped any remaining stamina and willpower I had left. So by the time I drove us back through the Bronx, up the Taconic Parkway into Westchester County and home at last, instead of drinking water and eating a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit, I dove headfirst into the jar of peanut butter. But what’s peanut butter without chocolate? So I scrounged in my pantry until I found the remnants of a bag of chocolate chips from an old baking foray. I undid the rubber band and dumped the rest of the bag into a bowl. I topped my spoonful of peanut butter with as many chocolate chips as would stick. Slurp, chew, suck the spoon clean because that would be my last spoonful I swear. Repeat. My now-refilled stainless steel water bottle sat on the kitchen counter beside me, undrunk.

This would have been bad enough. But for his birthday celebration my husband and I had decided that we would go out for ice cream after dinner. Our fridge is on the fritz (which is also contributing to my stress level, as I can only buy the bare minimum of groceries and I’m paranoid the food we do have is not cold enough so we are all going to ingest some sort of heinous bacteria and end up with severe food poisoning) so the kids and I did not bake a birthday cake for him this year as we usually do. Ice cream had been on the agenda for days leading up to his birthday – yet that did not stop me from making myself almost sick with pb&c. Or eating the ice cream two hours later.

So after too little water and too much sugar yesterday, I knew I would need hydration and grace to rally today. I did my 6am reading, dropped the kids at camp, and made it almost on time through the demolition derby course that is summer construction traffic to my kickboxing class. In a shocking turn of events, I felt like crap through most of the class. Heavy, slow, and uncoordinated. Surprise surprise. Glimmers of confidence were quashed by a glance in the mirror at my bloated belly, as I whiffed knees and threw wayward jabs.

After class I had to navigate additional construction traffic to make it to the grocery store. I am hosting dinner tonight for a dear friend from California who is popping into town for work travel with a mentee. My inner perfectionist is pouring on the pressure to make a beautiful, tasty, healthy meal with a fridge that isn’t cooling things properly. Oh, and I have to clean the house. And exhaust the dogs so they will be chill and not jump all over our guests. And strike the perfect balance between letting my kids rest after camp while I prep dinner and not letting them get so bored that they go insane upon my friend’s arrival.

I am standing in a summer shower of insecurity with intermittent downpours of shame. I can’t stick to healthy habits. My virtuous cycle is eroding back to vicious. I will never be able to conquer sugar, and sugar is now holding me back from my best self the way alcohol used to. I will never be as good at kickboxing as I want to be, never achieve a higher level of fitness because I can’t stick to healthy habits for long enough. I’m not going to feel svelte and energized when I leave on my big trip in 10 days. I can’t, I won’t, I’m not.

There are larger issues rearing their fugly heads here, too (as their usually are). This is not really about a chocolate peanut butter binge or the pressure of making a delicious dinner. I have felt adrift and scared since my One Year Alcohol-Free ended on July 4. I no longer have the composition of a daily social media post anchoring my schedule and giving me purpose. Now that my year is over I have nothing to do but walk the walk. No more anticipating, just doing. Sticking to being alcohol-free is the easy part. Sitting down to start working on my book is the hard part. I am still not quite sure what I want to say or how I’m going to say it. I am still figuring out my voice, in my writing, both on this blog and on social media, and in real life.

And beyond my writing is the rest of my life. Parenting as a non-drinker. Pursuing my interest in teaching kickboxing. Putting more time and effort into my volunteer commitments, which I admittedly half-assed during my OYAF because I prioritized my OYAF. No regrets, but half-assing things is not my style. It hasn’t felt good and it’s time to boss up.

I write because it helps me step away from the peanut butter jar and process what is really going on. I share my writing because it helps me believe that I am not alone in my fears and insecurities. When I put my writing out there, I think about you (whoever you are, thank you for being here) reading it, and I think about what you would say to me. “You are not alone. You’ve got this. Give yourself grace. You are making amazing changes in your life. You are stronger than you think.” And then I feel better.

I hit “Publish” and I close my laptop. I put on my shoes, grab my car keys, and step back out into the sun to enjoy this beautiful day.

Social Media Invincibility, Real Life Vulnerability

My One Year Alcohol-Free is over. I am still taking it all in (and going strong – 371 days and counting!). The simple fact that I did not drink alcohol for one full year is still settling itself contentedly into my brain. At the same time, I am emerging into the world as a non-drinker. My legs are a bit wobbly but I can feel that they are strong. I’m ready to stand, to walk, to run into this new life I’ve created for myself. What I’m finding, though, is that toggling between social media and real life is raising my vulnerability to a simmer.

After I posted on July 4, I celebrated Independence Day (both the national one and my own) with my clan and our extended family in New Hampshire. I took a couple of days to read and respond to the comments that were left on my Connect and Instagram posts, both of which had trended for a hot second. Thousands of strangers (and a handful of IRL friends) took the time to read my words and hundreds wrote messages of support and celebration. I was just chuffed. Weeeee! I did this amazing thing and all these people are so excited for me!!!

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When we got back to New York on Sunday, I went to the grocery store and ran into two friends, each of whom congratulated me on reaching my one-year milestone. These congratulations felt different from what I’d received online. I may have blushed. I stifled the urge to downplay my achievement or dismiss their compliments, instead blurting out “Thank you so much!” Inside, I was not doing the happy dance brought about by strangers’ praise on social media. Inside, I was flailing, trying to hold onto my pride and confidence as these face-to-face interactions kicked up a gnarly dust cloud of insecurity.

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Yesterday, the social media maven from my kickboxing gym messaged me on Instagram to ask if she could repost my photos from days 364 and 365. I replied, without hesitation, “Yes of course!! I’m proud of it! Thank you for asking!!” Once again I felt the chuffed butterflies in my stomach. I was being recognized and celebrated for accomplishing an awesome goal. Good for me!

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When I arrived at my kickboxing class today, my first class since before the 4th of July, my instructor came over to give me a hug. “I’m not much of a social media person,” she said, “so I had no idea what you were doing. But I saw your post on our Instagram. Huge congrats to you, girl! That is amazing!” A few minutes later, after our warm-up, one of my classmates also complimented me, having seen the Instagram post as well. Fluster, flail. “Thank you so much!” was again my canned reply. Before I could stop myself, I added something like, “You know, my son is getting on the school bus in September and so I just felt like I wanted to achieve something big, something for me, before both my kids are in school full-time.”

I’m not sure what babble came out of my mouth. What I really wanted to say – to her, and to my instructor, and to my two friends I saw in the grocery store, and to my extended family with whom we spent the 4th of July – is “I SWEAR I’M NOT AN ALCOHOLIC! I DID NOT HAVE A SERIOUS DRINKING PROBLEM WITH A CAPITAL ‘P’! I WAS JUST A WINE MOM! NO BIGGIE! NOTHING TO SEE HERE!”

Except: it is a biggie. And I do want people to see me and know about my accomplishment. It’s just easier to put myself out there in front of strangers instead of family and friends. It’s easier to throw a selfie and some deep thoughts into the void of social media, where I can ignore or delete comments that I don’t like and bask in the glow of the ones I do, than it is to explain to a table full of my family members why I decided to embark on a year without booze and how I benefitted from it. No matter how proud I feel, talking about my journey in real life to friends and family is still hard. Alcohol is a fickle fiend that ingratiates itself with everyone differently. Alcohol is a loaded topic, and I feel a lot less in control and a lot more vulnerable when I talk about it in real time to real people.

Quick! Somebody call Brené Brown! I need to feel good about being so damn vulnerable!

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
-Brené Brown

Phew. Ok. That’s better.

People, whether online or IRL, are going to think what they are going to think. I cannot control what others will infer from or project onto me. All I can do is own my truth and share it.

I have chosen to share my story because it keeps me accountable and because I want to help others. I never want another mom to feel as broken and shame-swamped as I did. If reading my words gives one person the nudge he or she needs to commit to making a positive change, that is well worth putting myself out there – both online and in real life.

Day 365: Independence Day

525,600 minutes
525,600 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
– Jonathan Larson

I am one year alcohol-free. My life is forever changed. My body is forever changed. My brain is forever changed.

I am no longer beholden to a shame-swollen habit that once felt inescapable. This year has been an incredible journey –

From gray to technicolor
From isolation to connection
From guilt to grace
From self-loathing to self-love
From vicious cycle to virtuous cycle
From powerless to empowered.

This year of my life cannot be measured in hangovers or wine bottles or shame spirals. How do I measure this year? I measure in strength, in connection, and, yes, in love.

What comes next? I have spent this year recording, reflecting, and receiving. Now it’s time to take action. I’m going to start working on my book. I am ready to assume the title of writer/sober supermom.

Yeah, I think AF life is my jam. So I’m sticking with it. Life is just too darn awesome without booze and I am simply not interested in drinking anymore. It is simple now, not drinking – but starting this journey was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Difficult evolved into easy evolved into simple. I wasn’t sure it would be possible for me, but here I am.

I’ve got pride to spare today, and I offer some to you. Wherever you are in your journey – whether you have decades of sobriety under your belt or are sober curious or anywhere in between – please know that by reading my posts, and commenting with your feedback and support, you have had a direct and profound impact on me. You have helped me believe in myself. You have taught me the power of vulnerability and connection.

I still can’t quite believe I’m here. I used to envision Day 365 as the act of tying a big red bow around a box containing the gift that this year has been. But now that I’m here, on Independence Day (a delightful double connotation for me!), I realize that this year is not the kind of gift that can be contained in a box tied with a bow. Because I am not the kind of person who settles for boxed life anymore.

Alcohol kept me contained. Isolated. Alcohol kept my life small, my movement limited, my vision dark. Alcohol fed my shame and self-doubt as it starved me of confidence and self-worth.

This year blew the lid off my life.

Today is Independence Day, and I am truly free.

I Survived Two Weeks Without Sugar

Two weeks with no added sugar and no artificial sugar (except for one accidental sip of my husband’s sweetened cold brew coffee): done. And it was pretty darn doable!

I have my Lifetime weigh-in tomorrow and will report in then on how these two weeks affected my weight. More important, of course, is how these two weeks affected my brain and body. Here are some takeaways from two sugar-free weeks:

Increased awareness
Sugar. Is. Everywhere. As I prepared for these two weeks, I went through my snack bin in my pantry and ended up banishing the entire thing to the top shelf. Gone were the obvious – the Smart Sweets and dark chocolate – but other items unexpectedly contained sugar as well. Bye, roasted broad bean snacks. My precious SkinnyPop microwave popcorn and PB2, how could you?! All that remained from my snack stash, alas, was seaweed.

Looking at labels at the grocery store was also a revelation. Sugar pervades packaged food and condiments more than I ever would have thought. But I have made some heartening discoveries as well. Some Larabars and Epic bars have no added sugar and have been helpful in a pinch. Brands like Primal Kitchen offer a wide variety of dressings and condiments to help me fend off FOMO. I have replaced PB2 with real almond butter and crappy low-point bread with sprouted grain. I feel more satisfied with and appreciative of the higher-point options than the low-point stuff.

Decreased cravings
This has been such a pleasant surprise. Unlike my alcohol cravings, which lingered for months after I started my OYAF, my junk sugar cravings disappeared fast unless faced with extreme temptation (like yesterday when my now second-favorite kid waved my favorite bakery cookie in my face). Stepping out of the vicious cycle of sugar craving-consumption-crash-repeat has been positively liberating.

Increased energy
Whole foods + healthy fats – sugar = steady energy. This is simple and life-changing and a welcome escape from the constant spikes and dips in my energy when my diet was sugar-laden.

Decreased puffiness
No more sugar hangovers, no more sugar bloat. I am still working on this one, as the changes in my diet have confused my bod a bit. But I trust the process and have definitely de-puffed.

Fat is my friend
Nuts! Avocado! Oil! I used to hesitate to spend points on these things because I was trying to save up for dessert. Now I believe that healthy fats are a very worthwhile investment.

Food has flavor
Being unable to drown my salads in low-point dressings (all my go-to’s contain some form of added sugar) has given me a renewed appreciation for being able to taste my ingredients. The char on a nicely grilled chicken breast. Smooth, creamy avocado. Feisty red pepper. For the last two weeks I have used Whole30-approved dressings, which seem to compliment rather than cover the taste of the food.

I may be making this up, about being able to taste my food better, but I don’t think so – because I felt the same way when I first gave up wine. Going out for dinner without wine felt a little awkward, but truly tasting my meals was an immediate, huge plus. Samsies for sugar, I guess.

Phew! A lot learned in a short time!

Starting tomorrow I am going to loosen the reins a bit, but just like when I first stopped drinking, I can’t un-know what I know about sugar, and I can’t un-feel how great I have felt without it. I’m happy and proud of these two sugar-free weeks and I know they won’t be my last!

Looking Back on Day One from Day 360

It has been three hundred and sixty days since I last consumed alcohol (YAHOO!). Something about hitting this number spurred me to go back and read my post from Day One.

Here is what I wrote on July 5, 2018:

I woke this morning with a dry mouth and puffy face, the result of two margaritas and a few sips of wine: my last alco-hurrah before embarking on my 52-week experiment in sobriety. I had planned to drink one last glass of Sauvignon Blanc to say farewell to my drinking days. But by the time I got to it I already felt queasy from the margaritas and zillion tortilla chips (because ‘Merica) so I could only manage a few measly sips.

It was a good ending note, actually. I could have done without the nausea but it was reassuring (in an albeit unpleasant way). I had planned to have a few drinks, to celebrate Independence Day and my own impending independence from alcohol. But my body didn’t want ’em. There will be less to miss, I think, now that I know I’m no longer capable of “having a few drinks” the way I used to “have a few drinks…” every night.

I have had Sauvignon Blanc, my shining beacon of fabulosity, on a pedestal for the last several years. She has been my savior, my salve, my BFF. She has comforted me, chilled me out, lifted me up.

Except she’s a devil in disguise. A fraud broad. A knockoff handbag sold out of a trash bag on Broadway. At least that’s how she has been revealed to me. Everybody is different. But my body is onto her, even if my still-smitten brain wants to give her another chance. And another.

For the next 365 days, that won’t be an option. I’m locking the door to my mental trophy room and letting the key fall into the bottomless pit of my mom bag, to rest among the half-crayons, Hot Wheels, and used tissues.

Why am I doing this now?

My gut has announced that now is the time. I have a year before my son starts kindergarten. So, a year to figure my shit out so that I don’t feel completely gutted when he struts onto the school bus. That same September, in 2019, I’ll be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m still a couple of years away from turning 40, but I want to lay the groundwork now to feel amazing by then.

I am closer than I have ever been to my best body ever. And I have been doing Weight Watchers for long enough now to know that I can’t effectively address my eating issues (read: battle the sugar-and-salt monster) with the shadow of alcohol looming over me. Willpower is a finite resource, after all.

As the phase of early motherhood comes to an end for me, I need to be able to think clearly and creatively about where I’m heading. I know I can’t do that if I continue to be seduced by Sauv B. Those days are over. For now. Maybe forever. But definitely for now. And I have a feeling that if I ever chose to open that door again, I’ll find Sauv B’s pedestal has crumbled to dust.

***

Reading this tonight, on Day 360, I am simply overcome with gratitude and relief. I am grateful to my 37-year-old self for being so damn honest and brave. I am relieved that so much of what I hoped to get out of this year has indeed come to fruition.

Best body ever? Check.

Daring to battle the sugar monster and salt hag? Check.

Increased clarity and creativity? Yup.

Figuring out my sh*t? On it.

En route to feeling fabulous at 40? Fo sho.

And the pedestal on which I once held my beloved sauvignon blanc? It crumbled weeks ago, the dust blown away by the winds of change. The empty space it left in my “mental trophy room” has been filled with beaming new beacons:

Self-confidence. Self-worth. Self-love. Empathy. Energy. Clarity. Creativity. Connection. Grace. And so much more.

My mental trophy room’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.