My Alcohol Experiment: Day 5

Day 5 of The Alcohol Experiment: deconstructing the relaxation myth.

I think if I hadn’t already read This Naked Mind, today’s lesson would have blown my mind. Having grown up watching my parents drink to relax on a nightly basis, I boozed at countless Margarita Mondays and happy hours in my 20s and spent the last six years fully subscribed to the notion that “mommy needs her mommy juice” to survive the witching hour. I have spent my life surrounded by the prevalent, inescapable message that alcohol eases stress and anxiety and so of course my subconscious believed it. Annie Grace tells us not to blame ourselves for this. Thanks, Annie!

True relaxation means having no worries, and is achieved by addressing the source – not numbing it with alcohol. In fact, the conflict in our brains between loving drinking and hating being hungover CAUSES stress instead of relieving it.

This makes such sense, yet I was oblivious to it until I read Annie’s book during Dry January. Once I read this section of her book, about half-way through January, I realized that my ever-present anxiety had basically disappeared. What a gift. What freedom.

Today, I finally got the energy boost I’ve been waiting for. I woke up before my son (he usually serves as our alarm), feeling clear-headed and ready to start the day – despite the fact that yesterday was absolutely non-stop and exhausting.

Tonight, I looked at the bottle of bourbon that my dad bought yesterday – and it’s nearly half empty. I also can’t help but see that his eyes look red and bleary. And at lunch today I noticed that one of his hands was shaking, ever so slightly.

Having my dad and stepmom here while doing this work has been objectively fascinating, personally challenging, and maybe a little sad. Because I am witnessing first-hand the effects that Annie Grace describes. The dependence. The physical impact. When I was young I remember my dad drinking a beer or two. Tonight, he drank a quarter bottle of bourbon and almost an entire bottle of red wine. I thought being alcohol-free around my parents would be difficult because I would want to drink to relieve the stress. It turns out it’s difficult because I see how far down this rabbit hole my dad has fallen. I now have an acute understanding of the process his mind and body have been through and the deficit at which he is operating on a daily basis.

I am trying to just observe and accept, not judge or pity. But it’s a tough line to walk.

Onto Day 6, wherein I will throw a ninja party for 20 4-year-olds and most definitely not earn a blue dot because if mama can’t drink, you know there’s gonna be a big-ass piece of cake!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 4

Day 4 of #TheAlcoholExperiment: cravings and how to deal with them.

Considering the main metaphor here is that your craving (which comes from your subconscious) is the child and you (and your conscious) are the parent, this one certainly resonates!

The two words that immediately came to mind when asked to describe my cravings are strong and stubborn. What other descriptors would you use?

And how do your cravings make you feel? Mine make me feel weak. Powerless. Unsure of myself. Desperate.

… in fact, very similar to when my kids ask for something, like a toy, for no reason, and whine about it, and whine some more. And I try to talk them out of it and tell them all the reasons why I will not buy them a toy, but they continue to fight me on it until I find myself pulling into the Target parking lot and telling them they can pick ONE thing from the dollar section at the front. And do I ever leave Target with just one thing? Does anybody?! No. If I submit to buying them a toy, I rarely stick to buying them just one. I’ll buy them a few small things. But even the small things add up, don’t they? What benefit do my kids actually get from these cheap tchotchkes? Not much. And who ends up dealing with the consequences, eventually having to clean these forgotten items out from the bottom of the toy bin? Me.

So yeah, as I said, the whole child-parent thing resonates.

If I submit to a craving and pour myself a glass of wine, I’ll rarely stick to just one. And even the small pours add up, don’t they? What benefit do I get? Not much. And who ends up dealing with the consequences, waking puffy-faced, guilt-laden and dehydrated from a crappy night of sleep? Me.

I have been a parent for six years now. And even though my kids still break me on occasion, I consider myself to be a pretty strong and fair and happy mom. It took me awhile, but I found my balance, my confidence, my peace. I have learned to not take their whining or tantrums personally (even if I’m not always successful at it). Ultimately, my kids know who’s boss.

So cravings, watch out. I’m onto you. No means no. And I’m the boss.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 3

Day 3 of The Alcohol Experiment: going to the root to do the work and dealing with discomfort.

So much material here! Is every day like this?!

Here are my answers to two of the questions from today:

What temptations have you had so far?

Excerpts from my internal monologue: It’s ANOTHER snow day, and I’m cooped up in the house all day with the kids. I want to drink to have “me time” and to chillax. This has been SUCH a challenging winter, I want to drink to ease the stress of it. I have wine in my house, I might as well drink it to get rid of it. I DESERVE a drink. I spend my day doing things for others, especially my kids, and I want to do something for myself. Tonight, my husband and I are going out for a date night and to toast the last night of our son’s threenagerhood. I want to toast with alcohol! I want to celebrate! How do I celebrate without alcohol?!

How do you feel when you look at the above statements?

I feel weak. I feel gross. I feel like alcohol has control of me. I feel uncreative and lame. If I give in, I feel good for the first drink and then spend the rest of the night trying to catch that same buzz – and I now know I never will.

… so why do I continue to put myself in that position of weakness?

According to Annie Grace’s doctor friend, I am walking in a trench that is over my head, formed from years of giving into alcohol cravings and dug by the neural pathways created in the emotional side of my brain.

But there is a way out! It takes effort and presence but we can break down the walls of the trench, climb out and forge a new path. Each day abounds with negative thoughts that can turn into false beliefs. The more we can deal with these thoughts in the moment, the less stable our mental trench becomes.

Annie Grace talks about going to the root to do the work. Instead of just relying on willpower, which will eventually run out and lead to self-sabotage, we have the capacity to understand what is truly happening and to tackle it head on. How empowering is that! I personally feel that if I can tackle my alcohol issues in this way, I’ll be able to apply the same methods to my issues with junk food cravings. A girl can dream!

I thought today’s lesson was a wonderful reminder that as we forge ahead, whether it’s with The Alcohol Experiment or with Weight Watchers in general, or anything you are currently tackling in your life, we should aim to do so in a state of grace and kindness. Let’s all be as kind to ourselves as we are to our friends and we can make incredible progress.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information, click here.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 2

Day 2 of The Alcohol Experiment: the drinking cycle [spoiler alert: it’s fundamentally same for all of us and it’s not our fault!] and SLEEEEEEEP.

This is one of the main reasons why I decided to go back to being alcohol-free. Our house is full of two young kids, one senior dog, and a puppy – and sometimes it’s like they are in cahoots to ensure that mama does not get a full night of sleep. One night it’s the kindergartener waking me at 2am, the next night it’s the puppy. Granted it’s not as bad as the newborn baby days, but an uninterrupted night’s sleep is still not a sure thing and may never be again.

Since I already have a house full of little beings conspiring against me, why would I want to conspire against myself? I realized during Dry January how great a sober, like-a-rock night of sleep truly is, and I ecstatically enjoyed the benefits of it. I couldn’t believe how much natural energy I had.

The last four weeks have been so crazy I am just pooped. I am desperate for energy, and I know that sleep is the key.

So, thank you Annie Grace for bringing home this point with a super helpful explanation of just how profoundly drinking affects sleep. Added bonus that the guy doing the explaining has an adorable British accent.

ANY amount of alcohol affects sleep. Right now I am so desperate to gain energy back that is a risk I am happy to avoid!

Will I ever feel really well rested ever again? Does any parent feel well rested? Ha!

 

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information, click here.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 1

Whoa! I didn’t realize I would have homework every day of The Alcohol Experiment!

But that’s ok. I’m actually very intrigued by this process. Having written a daily Connect post during Dry January, I’m excited to let Annie Grace help guide my thought process this time around. I read her book This Naked Mind during Dry January, so the material she covers here is familiar to me, and I’m looking forward to taking my exploration to the next level with this interactive “experiment.”

“Excited.” “Looking forward.” These are good signs, right? I remember how nervous, sad, and scared I was to start Dry January. Now I am voluntarily embarking on another month without booze and I am excited for it. I am excited to give this gift to myself. THAT is progress, even if the last six weeks of attempted moderation have not been my best, I HAVE made progress. Phew.

So. Day 1 homework. Write two lists: why you drink, and why you are choosing to do The Alcohol Experiment. Behold how they conflict! Eureka!

Here are my lists:

Why I Drink

  • Drinking makes me feel giddy and happy and relaxed (at first).
  • Wine helps me cope with my kids are the end of the day, giving me an energy boost and helping me relax during the witching hour.
  • Drinking is something I can do for ME, not for my kids or anyone else. It’s ME TIME.
  • I drink to relieve stress.
  • Drinking helps me unwind.
  • Drinking helps me feel more confident and outgoing.
  • Alcohol makes me funnier.
  • I like the taste of some wines and mixed drinks.

What’s My Why (i.e. why am I doing The Alcohol Experiment)

  • I will not reach my weight loss goal if I continue to drink the way I am drinking.
  • I will not exercise as often if I continue my drinking habits.
  • I want to be thinner and more fit.
  • I want to have more energy.
  • I want to be more patient with my kids, especially in the evenings.
  • I don’t want to wake up feeling puffy, dehydrated and disgusting.
  • I want to start the day feeling AHEAD, not BEHIND.
  • I want my sin to look more clear.
  • I want to get rid of my “wine belly.”
  • I want to be able to be socially confident WITHOUT relying on alcohol.
  • I want to be free.

Today’s video is a “3D belief deconstruction” (basically a PowerPoint) on the concept of drinking alcohol for the taste, which is a popular reason why people drink. I certainly grew up seeing all the adults in my life seeming to enjoy alcohol. My first drink was a rum and Coke, heavy on the Coke to cover up the taste of rum. I remember not particularly liking it, but feeling like I should. I definitely did not like wine or beer when I first started drinking. So yes, I agree that alcohol is quite literally an acquired taste.

But do I like it? I still believe on some level that I do. I love margaritas. I like the taste of wine, some grapes more than others. I love pumpkin beer. Or do I?

Do I? Hmm.

 

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information, click here.]

March Madness and Moving Day

Four weeks of craziness and I feel like my bones are made of cement. It is time for a change. My points reset tomorrow and so will my brain. Back to tracking, back to being alcohol-free, back to kickboxing and my beloved Peloton. Back on track or bust!

I am trying not to be too hard on myself, to accept the reality of these last four weeks, to accept that some of it has been in my control and some out of my control, to learn from it, and to MOVE THE F ON. Seeing as I am currently too tired to move much at all, I am taking some time now to collect and reflect. Keep what is important, ditch what is not.

Tomorrow is (mental) moving day.

I will keep the lessons that will serve me well as I move forward. Having alcohol as an option is too much of a willpower- and energy-suck right now, so it needs to not be an option for me for awhile. Again. Did I fail at moderation? No. But neither did I thrive. When we were in London, I drank a glass of wine with dinner the first few nights, and by the end of the week I was up to two glasses and felt like I could not let a night of vacation pass without it. Last Tuesday, when our power finally came back on, we returned to our 43-degree house and I immediately opened a bottle of Sauv B that had naturally chilled in a kitchen cabinet and drank the whole damn thing.

I am not panicking. I have more faith in myself than that. But I also know that I need all the energy and mental clarity and willpower I can get right now and removing alcohol from the zillions of choices I expend energy making on a daily basis will help a lot with that. So, it goes. Again. And I’m a lot less sad about it this time.

I will keep the fond memories of our wonderful London trip and travel adventures at Great Wolf Lodge and in NYC during our four-day power outage. Bringing our kids to London for the first time; walking them past our old house; seeing the thrill on their faces as they walked into Hamley’s, boarded their first double-decker bus, and ascended in the London Eye are memories my husband and I will cherish for the rest of our lives.

I will keep – but try not to torture myself with – the memory of how I feel right now. Drained. Bloated. Disappointed. Gross. Exhausted to my core. Some of this is due to stressful circumstances that were out of my control. We had no power for four days, five counting our 12-hour bonus (ha) outage yesterday. International travel is awesome but tiring. The jet lag/strep throat/head cold combo was a hat trick of heinousness that took about two weeks for me and my kids to overcome.

But I am also partly responsible for how I feel right now. I have burdened my body with booze and junk food. I have allowed my cravings to win out. I have stayed up too late. I have reopened my book of excuses and used them liberally to justify my actions in the moment.

This ends tomorrow. And a new chapter of this journey begins. I am starting Annie Grace’s 30-day Alcohol Experiment and I’m going to start reading The Food Therapist which I hope will help with my out-of-control cravings.

This is going to be a big week. My son is turning four, my dad and stepmom arrive to stay for five days (which is about three days too long), and we have my son’s birthday party on St. Patrick’s Day. (Oh, and I’ll be PMSing. Apologies if that’s TMI.)

The 2017 me would never have the guts to go alcohol-free starting on a week like the one I have ahead of me. The 2018 me is admittedly a bit daunted, but mostly excited by the thought of how damn proud I am going to feel a week from today.

Damn. Proud. I can do this.

Barf. Literally.

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I drank a bottle of wine last night.

WTF?!

After all the progress I’ve made?! WHY would I do that to myself?! I promised myself I would never drink a bottle of wine in one night again. I committed to not drinking wine at home for the month of March. And yet I did! I drank an entire bottle of wine at home last night. UGH!!!

… This is not actually my inner monologue. For once, I am not beating myself up about drinking too much. Instead of surrendering to my usual guilt spiral, and perhaps because I have not been drunk since December, I am reflecting on my behavior in a much more objective – and less damning, and less damaging – way.

This is fairly remarkable for me, as I am a frequent passenger on the guilt train. One of the reasons I so desperately signed up for Dry January is that I was in a heinous cycle of waking every morning if not fully hungover, at least puffy, groggy and stale; committing to not drinking that day; then feeling frayed by the time the witching hour rolled around and pouring myself a glass of wine anyway, which would inevitably become three or four glasses (if not more) by the time I went to bed in a haze; and start all over again the next morning. I knew I needed a clean break from this cycle and that is what I achieved.

I conquered Dry January and felt on top of the world. Yet I was not ready to say goodbye to wine forever. So over the last five weeks I have been attempting moderation: drinking when I am out at night or on vacation, and not drinking at home.

The freedom I felt during Dry January has evaporated. To drink or not to drink is now a choice again. And making this choice takes energy. Willpower. And willpower is a finite resource.

So last night, when our power finally came back on after four long days, I was out of willpower. I wanted tortilla chips and wine and I didn’t even try to fight these unhealthy urges – despite simultaneously composing yesterday’s post about how empowering my first year on Weight Watchers had been.

I copped to the chips and chocolate in yesterday’s post, but I left out the wine. Why did I do that? I’ll be totally honest: I didn’t want my Connect friends to think less of me. Because opening that bottle made ME think a little less of me.

And at the same time, I was curious to revisit my old ways. So I allowed myself to surrender to old habits, slugging back the Sauvignon Blanc while feeding my kids dinner, and finishing the bottle a couple of hours later. My husband and I had a delightfully normal night of eating dinner on the couch while watching “Fixer Upper.” I didn’t get sloppy. But I didn’t necessarily enjoy my buzz either.

We went to bed. And a few hours later, half-asleep, I made my way to the bathroom and I threw up.

I FREAKING THREW UP.

I threw up from drinking an amount of wine which, by the time I reached the end of 2017, was what I’d imbibe on any given evening. Yikes.

I woke up feeling predictably gross this morning, and perversely grateful that I got sick overnight because at least I was able to purge some of the junk from my system. I have felt nasty and eaten tons of crap all day as my family and I weather cabin fever during yet another snow storm.

But you know what? Ain’t got time or energy to beat myself up. Instead, I am choosing to reflect and learn from my experience. And here’s what I learned:

Dry January helped my body reset its tolerance for alcohol and break from habitual drinking. And it made me feel like a million bucks. Drinking in front of my kids makes me feel like a loser. And consuming an entire bottle of wine now makes me sick. Good to know!

I really, really wish I hadn’t wanted to open that bottle last night. The last four days of not being able to stay in our house, coming on the heels of three routine-less weeks of travel, snow days, and illnesses, were the whipped cream and cherry on top of a big ol’ cortisol sundae. I was vibrating with stress by the time the power came back on last night. And the only thing I could think of to help me chillax was wine.

These were exceptional circumstances, and I’m disappointed that I resorted to old habits. Throwing up last night and feeling like crap today have been effective reminders of why I broke those habits in the first place. All I can hope is to continue this process of self-reflection, to continue to evolve, with grace and without judgement. Perhaps next time I’ll be strong enough to not open that bottle.

Who’s Got the Power? My First Year on Weight Watchers

Today is my one-year Weight Watchers anniversary.

Am I at my goal weight? No.

I am at my original goal weight, and that is ok. Because this past year has been about so much more than that.

My original goal weight has become my new “I feel puffy and need to get back on track” weight. That’s where I am today. And after three weeks of craziness (international travel with two young kids, a family case of strep throat, then head colds, and currently on day five of a power outage), I am ok with that.

I am more than ok. Because I have something that I didn’t have a year ago, when I set out on this journey. I have faith in myself. I believe in myself. I know exactly what I am doing and I know that I will get back to where I want to be.

Right now I am stress-eating. We have been out of our house for four days and out of our routine for three weeks. While I have managed to spend some of that time on the wagon, I’ve also allowed myself to give into my go-to cravings: tortilla chips, Nutella, and chocolate. I wish I were stronger. I wish I didn’t resort to junk food as a “reward” in times of stress. Because, of course, putting this crapola into my body is not a reward. It’s a burden. A moment of pleasure that instantly weighs me down mentally and physically. And that weight lasts a lot longer than the fleeting pleasure.

But I do it anyway. And I accept that. For now.

Because I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve run two marathons in my life. This is my third.

When I joined WW a year ago, I was desperate. My eating and drinking were out of control. I was squeezing into my clothes. I had little energy and patience. Working out felt like a hopeless chore. I needed some structure and someone else’s rules to follow because I wasn’t sticking to my own.

WW has opened a door to an existence that I didn’t believe was possible. I used to think my old weight was just the way my body was going to be after having two kids. I used to think it was fine to eat whatever I want because nothing would ever change. I used to think I would never be able to control my alcohol cravings. I felt disgusting. And, finally, fed up.

I didn’t know what else to do. So I joined WW. I stepped through that door. And while I have not yet arrived at my ultimate destination, I left the first 20lbs behind. Confidently over the threshold, I closed the door and flipped the deadbolt. I will never see those 20lbs again. The next five are hanging on for dear life, and the five after that still feel somewhat out of reach. But this is a journey. This is a marathon. I haven’t crossed the finish line, but I haven’t hit the wall either. I’m still going strong.

One year in. I wish I could have posted dramatic before and after photos, but I wasn’t up to it today. So I got a pedicure. I’d show it to you, but I forgot to shave my toes and my left big toenail is still growing back after a nasty incident with a pair of pointy-toe flats.

But under these Converse All-Stars, beneath my socks, my toenails are painted a fierce, sassy and confident shade of neon watermelon.

And under my stress-eating-induced bloat, beneath my sweatshirt and leggings, I am a fierce, sassy and confident person and mama and athlete and writer and warrior and wife.

I’ve been writing this post throughout the day. Between grocery trips and school runs and karate classes, amidst not knowing when or if our electricity would be restored before the next storm hits in a matter of hours.

And guess what? The power – finally! – came on.

We have power.

I have power.

THAT is what I have taken away from my first year on Weight Watchers. I. Have. Power.

And I take responsibility. For the good decisions and the bad. I alone have the power to learn from these decisions. And I am. I am learning so much about myself and I am becoming a better person and mom and wife every day.

Because every day leads me closer to the me I want to be. She has eluded me over the years. And at times I have almost lost her.

But not this time. Not ever again, I hope.

Because I have the power now.

Oh Hi. What am I Doing Here?

Hey there! I took this blog (and its lovely Insta-sistah, @maintaining_mama) public last night so I thought now would be a good time for a proper introduction.

Like so many other women on the cusp between Gen X and Gen Y, my name is Jen. I actually just Googled what generation I am and apparently those of us on the cusp are technically Xennials now? Not sure how I feel about that.

I’m a stay-at-home mom (or SAHM, as we hashtag it these days) burbin’ it up outside NYC. My kiddos are six and four and like every other parent, I believe that they are the greatest human beings to ever grace this planet. Also like every other parent (whether you admit it or not, you know it’s true) there are times that my children are maniacal devil spawn who break me down into a sobbing ball of rage. They’re the best though. Seriously.

I also have a husband and two dogs to round out my chock-full-o-love but chaotic existence. Oh, and I try my best to balance three volunteer gigs: colon cancer non-profit, local ambulance corps, and PTA (obv).

In other words, WTF am I thinking starting a blog?! Ain’t got time for that!

Oh but I must. This is what I’m learning. Writing makes me happy. Thinking thoughts – both big and small – about my diet, exercise, relationship with booze, and general existence as a 37-year-old-25-lbs-lighter mama on the cusp of having some semblance of a life again now that my kids are older – and taking the time to write some of these thoughts down, IS IMPORTANT. Maybe even vital.

I need this time right now. I need this outlet. It is going to make me happier, more fulfilled, a better mom and wife and person. (This is me trying to convince myself that taking this time for ME, to do something I enjoy, is OK. Mom guilt, begone!)

But enough about me. What are YOU doing here?

Seriously if anyone on the interwebs besides my mom has read this far, I am sending you a big ol’ hug. I honestly don’t know what this blog will become, if or how it will resonate with anyone else. But if you’re here, welcome. And thank you. And I really, really hope you find some comfort here. Maybe some inspiration, maybe a much-needed smile.

I promise to be real. I don’t have time to be anything else, y’all. I am far from Pinterest-perfect and I hope I stay that way. Because real life can be pretty darn exquisite, when you’re not scooping dog poop or covered in your kid’s puke. And some of the time, I am neither of those things.

Some of the time, I am strong. I am energized. I am motivated. I am eating clean. I am working out five times a week. I am balanced.

And some of the time, I’m raiding my pantry. I’m PMSing. I’m crying. I’m dropping F-bombs in front of my kids. I’m drinking too much wine. I’m in a dismal slump.

I hope that this blog will help me spend more time on the living-my-best-life side of the spectrum and less time on the tortilla-chip-and-sauvignon-blanc-binging side. And who knows. As this little project makes its way in the crazy congested blogosphere, maybe I won’t be the only one.