A Tale of Two Boots

The silver lining of today’s relentless rain: it gives me an excuse to wear my new (old) favorite Hunter wellies.

My husband ordered these boots for me several years ago. Well, not these particular boots. Well, they could be the ones he ordered me. But probably not.

You see, these boots are limited edition, and they came out after I had my daughter in 2012. I saw a celebrity wearing them in a magazine and my wonderful husband (who shares in my Anglophilia) searched high and low to snag me a pair in my size.

Except they didn’t fit. I felt embarrassed and defeated as I tried to yank them over my postpartum calves, to no avail. I took them to a cobbler who tried to stretch them out, to no avail. I held onto them because I loved them. But I never believed they would actually fit.

So there they sat, in my closet, a daily reminder that I was overweight and out of shape and would never be thin enough to effortlessly slide my svelte calves into Hunter boots. As if I needed one more thing about which to feel guilty in those early days of motherhood.

A few years after I first received the boots, I decided to make some changes. No, this is not when I joined Weight Watchers or decided to stop drinking. Instead I decided to accept myself just as I was. No, not acceptance. Resignation. I had had two kids after all. So I resigned myself to being bigger. I had my wedding rings sized up. I found a neighbor who is an eBay ninja and I purged my closet of these boots and other items that had been glaring at me for years, taunting me, decimating my self-confidence. I used the money I made from eBay sales to buy boxy, loose clothing in a size that made me feel shame every time I shopped.

This state of resignation lasted for a couple more years. And then I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired of feeling fat and gross and I knew I needed to try, at least, to lose weight. I had no faith in my ability to succeed with weight loss, much less being able to maintain it. But I was desperate to feel better. My mom and I joined Weight Watchers in March 2017, I lost 23 pounds in 10 weeks, and I haven’t looked back.

Except for these boots. I have looked back many times at these boots. I don’t have many regrets in life, but damned if I didn’t regret selling my Limited Edition Hunter Vintage Union Jack wellies. (Plus, my husband was not thrilled either, considering they had been very hard for him to find in the first place. His rightful annoyance was the whipped cream atop my guilt-and-shame sundae.)

I Google-stalked these boots in the hope that they would be re-released. But they weren’t. So I bought myself a pair of royal blue boots at the Hunter outlet. As elated as I was to fit into them, and as cute as they are, they still did not fill the void.

So I set up an alert on eBay. And the boots popped up a few times at outrageous prices. (Have I mentioned they are limited edition?) And then, the other day, this pair appeared. At a price around about what I made off the pair I sold. With butterflies in my stomach, I opened the listing. And after firmly dismissing a moment’s hesitation – “Do I really deserve these? After all I was the dum-dum who sold my original pair…” – I clicked “Buy now.”

And now here they are. Back in my life. But rather than searing me with shame from the inside of my closet, they are keeping my feet dry and making me feel a little fabulous as I do my usual mom-chauffeur routine.

Clearly this is about more than just the boots (but seriously how cute are they?!). It’s about believing in myself and my ability to be my best. Believing that I deserve the best. Believing that if I put good energy into the universe, the universe will respond in kind.

I’m choosing to receive these boots as both a gift and a message.

A gift to myself for putting in the work that has not only given me slimmer (and stronger) calves but improved my overall well-being in myriad ways.

And a message from the universe:

“You are forgiven for not believing in yourself. And I trust you won’t make that mistake again.”

Schmoozing Without Boozing

Eureka! A fitted jacket still looks nice at the end of a night out when you haven’t consumed a margarita and bottle of wine!

On Saturday night my husband and I attended an annual party with our circle of preschool parent friends.

Long story short:

I stayed sober, enjoyed authentic conversation, and even felt (relatively) comfortable and (mostly) confident. Booze-less schmoozing with peers: achievement unlocked!

Short story long:

I don’t know if it was the cooler weather or what, but the party was not as boozy as I remembered it being last year. The alcohol was certainly plentiful. My hostess friend has exquisite taste in everything, from fashion to interior design to tequila, so the bar was stocked with an all-star line-up that included Whispering Angel and Casamigos. But the overall vibe was surprisingly mellow.

I was 100% resolute in my decision to not drink of course, but I still felt a pang for that Casamigos: FOMOOT (fear of missing out on tequila). I stepped up to the bar and ordered a club soda with lime for myself and a gin and tonic for my husband (his only drink of the night). And that was that. Once I had a drink in my hand, I got over my momentary FOMOOT. Boozy thoughts fizzled fast, evaporating from my brain for the rest of the night.

It was a lovely party. Dinner was a little higher in SmartPoints than I would have liked but I’ve made up for that. My husband and I caught up with some good friends and we even spent some of the time NOT talking about our kids!

I fielded a couple of comments about not drinking, but it really was just not a thing. Just as I’d hoped. I didn’t feel judged or outcast. My choice was taken in stride, as it should be.

Everyone who was drinking seemed to be in control. Which is a good thing of course. But I definitely felt like a bit of a loser for needing to take a prolonged (maybe forever) booze break, when everyone around me was handling their rosé and margaritas just fine. As I teetered on the edge of a pity party, I reminded myself of the following:

1) You never know what is really going on behind the closed doors of someone else’s mind. A relationship that may seem perfectly functional on the outside may be painful on the inside. Or not –

2) Either way, it doesn’t matter. And I can’t spend precious time and brain power creating stories about other people’s drinking. The only story that should matter to me is mine.

3) I am not weaker than my friends because I took a break from booze. I chose to do something healthy for myself and, if anything, I should feel stronger – not weaker – for making that choice.

We left the party when we got tired, around 9:15. Again, the “L”-word popped into my head. “What, we can’t even stay out past 10 now that I’m not drinking anymore?! We are such losers!” But when I said goodbye to my hostess friend, I apologized for the fact that we were leaving so early and she said, “Are you kidding me? That’s why the party started at 6!”

We are all parents of young kids. So we are all tired. I am sober and therefore acutely aware of my fatigue; whereas I used to attempt to power through it by pounding glass after glass of wine to keep the dopamine and sugar flowing and keep me awake. And for what? To have sloppy conversations I can’t remember the next day? To waste another 20 or so SmartPoints? To feel “cool” because I can stay out late? Did that ever actually feel cool? The crappy night of sleep and next morning’s hangover certainly never did.

On Sunday morning, I woke clear-headed. I took my dog for a long walk and did a Peloton ride, scoring one of my highest outputs of the week. Then I took my kids to their swim lessons and made it through the day with consistent energy and zero regrets.

I shudder to think of where I would have been physically and mentally if I had been nursing a crushing hangover.

It’s just not worth it. Not to me, not anymore.

Wedding Day Gazing

Today is my ninth wedding anniversary. I have a feeling that if I took my dress out of its box, it would still fit – #thankyouweightwatchers. Maybe I’ll actually try it on for our big 10th next year!

Unlike in previous years, today I am looking back at my wedding day through an alcohol-free lens. And it’s an interesting view.

I’m happy to say I didn’t get tanked at my wedding. The day and night are a blur in my memory, but not because of booze – just because it was the most momentous day of my life up to that point and even though I tried to absorb every moment deep into my bones it went by in a beautiful, picture-perfect flash.

I didn’t get tanked at my wedding, but alcohol played a role. We had champagne for the toasts, of course. After an embarrassing brush with a drunken relative I made a break for the bar, only to be disappointed that the bartender served me the Chardonnay we had on hand for my stepmom instead of the Sauvignon Blanc I’d ordered.

But besides that, I didn’t drink. I remember this was a very purposeful strategy. I didn’t drink because I wanted to remember everything. I thought it would be hard to stay away from wine on my wedding night, but it wasn’t. First of all because I was SO EFFING THIRSTY the whole time, so all I wanted was water. But I didn’t want to drink too much water, because I didn’t want to have to pee in my dress. Oh, and secondly? Because I was having the time of my life and I didn’t want alcohol to mess with my bridal vibe.

I told myself not to drink too much, and I was too busy having the time of my life to break this rule that I had broken so many times before, and have broken so many times since.

I wish I had realized it then: that I don’t need alcohol to have a great time. That, in fact, alcohol often makes a good time bad and a bad time worse.

I wish I had applied the lesson I learned on my wedding night to my life once it went back to my newlywed normal. Alas, the lesson was lost in all the momentousness.

Do I blame myself for this? No way. Am I grateful to be able to see it all so clearly now? You betcha.

And that is the beauty of this year. I will experience all of these special days – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – without alcohol. And if this day is any indication, important insights await me at every milestone. Little gifts of clarity around every corner of the calendar.

Day 77. My longest AF streak ever, not counting my pregnancies. Yay. Onward.

Alcohol-Free Football Season Game Plan

Football season is upon us. I am giddy thinking about everything Fall. This has always been my favorite season. I love that the crisp weather necessitates jeans and a hoodie sweatshirt. I love taking our kids to the pumpkin patch and apple-picking. Having grown up going to college football games and coming from a family of diehard fans, I love watching NFL games on Sundays. And I love all the treats of the season, of course: fresh apple cider donuts, pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice muffins, pumpkin beer –

Oh wait. There won’t be any of that this year.

Right. Alcohol-free Fall. Lazy sober Sundays watching football. Hmm. This will be… different.

In years past, pumpkin beer was a seasonal staple. Before I joined WeightWatchers in 2017, a typical Sunday evening spent watching the game would include a couple of pumpkin beers and half a large pizza, and then half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and maybe some wine. I would go to bed feeling buzzed and looking like I was well into a second trimester of pregnancy, my belly bloated to its max. I would wake Monday morning feeling gross, guilt-ridden, and paralyzed at the thought of having to start a new week.

Those days are behind me now. Half a large pizza is now one or two slices on the Sundays I choose to indulge. I always have a huge pile of veggies or a big salad along with it. And Enlightened ice cream occupies Ben & Jerry’s former freezer drawer. I feel good that I’ve reformed my eating habits. And I do not miss that pizza-and-beer-belly.

But I’m a little nervous about facing my first-ever alcohol-free football season. I felt momentarily sorry for myself walking past the pumpkin beer at the grocery store yesterday. So I decided, much like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, I’ve got to get my head in the game. Time to strategize how I’m going to not just survive – but enjoy! – football season without booze. No pity parties allowed at this sober tailgate, people.

Here is my game plan:

1. Exercise – I have been doing #Peloton rides on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Gotta keep this up because it puts me in a healthy mindset to start the day, and it’s easier to stick to good habits when I’ve worked out.

2. Hydration is everything! And now that it’s getting cooler I will start drinking tea again. Water, tea, seltzer, and the occasional Propel when I want something sweet make for a deep and diverse beverage line-up.

3. 1-SmartPoint hot dogs and 3-SmartPoint chicken brats – I discovered these at the grocery store and the brats in particular are delish! A great substitute for the fattier stuff. I’ll add sauerkraut for the probiotic benefits, and to help to offset the small batch artisanal tortilla chips I refuse to give up.

4. Fruit and veg – Load up on ‘em! Always.

5. Most importantly: remember why I really love football season – I don’t love it (just) because it’s an excuse to eat small batch artisanal tortilla chips. I love it because football is entertaining and provides plentiful opportunities for family snuggles and relaxation. We love teaching our kids about the game and our favorite players. Watching a game together on a Sunday afternoon is a welcome pause in the action of the school year and busy extracurricular schedule. Football time is family time, and that is why I really love it. I never loved it for the booze. I just had football and booze intertwined in my subconscious. Let the re-wiring commence!

So, as much as I am feeling a slight pang of longing for pumpkin beer, I am feeling a deeper pang of excitement at the thought of experiencing our family football bonding – and everything else I love about Fall – with complete clarity and presence.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

Bringing Family to the Foreground

Yesterday was my daughter’s first day of first grade, exactly one year after her first day of kindergarten. So of course I couldn’t help myself and in a moment of mommy nostalgia I found and scrolled through the photos from her milestone first day last year.

There were posed photos outside the front door, then getting on the bus. Photos of my sweet son waiting in the rain for her to get home that afternoon. And then photos of the little celebration we had for her when she arrived. There are pictures of my happy kids, the little cake we ate, and decorations we made.

I had almost forgotten about the wine glass pictures. And a sinking feeling hit my stomach when I saw them.

Featured prominently on the kitchen counter in the foreground is my wine glass, filled generously with sauvignon blanc. This would have been at about 3:45 PM, but hey, we were celebrating. Of course I had to have wine. In the background are my kids, sitting at the counter happily eating their cake.

And isn’t that just exactly it. Wine was always in the foreground. Of my brain, of my life. And everything else – my kids, my husband, my self – was in the background. Out of focus.

What do I feel when I force myself to look at these pictures? Pity. Embarrassment. Regret. Anger, maybe? Disappointment, for sure.

I feel so distant from the person who thought that they were funny. I know that’s a good thing, but it feels… weird.

And then I remember: choose curiosity over judgment. I try not to judge others and I need to apply the same principle to my wine mom self. Because I honestly didn’t know any better. I knew that wine wasn’t good for me but I had no idea how bad it actually was. I honestly thought that wine helped more than it hurt. That it made me feel happier and more relaxed. The puffiness and grogginess were just the price to pay for those fleeting moments of fabulousness. And I thought I deserved them both: the fabulousness and the misery that inevitably followed.

When I realize now, after 176 cumulative days of booze breaks since the start of Dry January, is that the fabulousness – authentic, not faux – I was seeking only exists beyond the bottle. I also know now that I don’t deserve misery to be the flip-side of flying high, and I never did.

So let me return to the photo, this time reminding myself to be curious and empathetic instead of judgmental and upset. What do I see?

I see happy smiling faces in the background. In the composition of the photo I see a glimmer of creativity, when I know that the woman who took this picture thought her creative side was dead. I see a mama behind the camera who loves her kids a whole lot, and who wanted to make her daughter’s first day of elementary school special.

Instead of being ashamed of the mom who thought wine made a good photo op on her daughter’s first day of kindergarten, I choose to be grateful. Grateful for how far I have come. Grateful that I had the guts to do the work to get my family and myself back in focus. Grateful that wine will never be in the foreground – of my photos, my brain, or my life – again.

Stronger than Summer

A picture of my dog Fred this evening, as we are all feeling like crap (including Fred). My kids are still sick and so my daughter won’t be able to attend the first day of school tomorrow. And my daughter loves – truly, madly, deeply LOVES – school. When we told her we have to keep her home, she elicited heart-wrenching sobs and clung to me as if her life depended on it. My shirt is still wet from her tears.

This is far from the end of the world. But it is a huge bummer. We are doing everything we can to make her understand why she has to stay home, that it’s for her benefit but also to protect her friends from catching the virus she has. I promised her a trip to Target tomorrow to get the light-up Batman sneakers that she wants. There will be toys. There will be ice cream. There will be whatever it takes to keep both my kids happy enough to make it through another sick day.

Not the end of the world, but a crappy way to end a strange summer. This afternoon it poured rain despite the blue sky and sunshine. The clouds eventually rolled over our house, followed by more sun. And no rainbow. And that epitomized it for me. Summer 2018, you have been weird and wonderful. Painful and joyous. Hot and soggy, crisp and clear. Mostly hot and soggy, though, let’s be real.

But you did not get the best of me. I am stronger than I was in June. Despite our wackadoodle summer schedule I have stayed dedicated to my workouts and, for the last 61 days, ditching booze. I am two weigh-ins away from achieving Lifetime status at Weight Watchers. I have defined some personal goals and started to put the pieces in place to achieve them. Despite the seemingly endless rain, the unexpected grief, and having to slather sunscreen on two squirmy kids for the last three months, I am stronger. Exhausted and gutted for my daughter at the moment, I grant you, but stronger.

And my family is stronger, too. Because we navigated our first loss of a loved one together. Because our kids conquered their fears of the pool and learned to love swimming. Because we traveled together and it almost felt like a real vacation. Because we are all feeling our daughter’s pain tonight and we are taking it on together.

I am grateful to have this perspective. As much as I am ready to tell this summer to F off, I also recognize the good stuff. If I were still drinking, my perspective would be skewed toward the negative. I would not have my now trusty gratitude to reinforce me when the tough stuff starts to dig in with its gnarly claws.

I am gutted for my daughter. I called my mom and cried. I talked to my husband and cried some more. I am just so, so sad for her. I didn’t cry in front of her though. I just let her cry all over me for as long as she needed.

If I were drinking, I would be drinking tonight, because Labor Day Weekend – the excuse of a holiday weekend always trumping the appropriateness of having a drink under whatever other circumstances happen to be present. My devastated daughter would not have been enough to keep me from pouring my wine. In fact her sadness would have been part of my justification.

If I were drinking tonight, I would have shut the door on gratitude. Shut the door on empathy. Thrown open the door to pity, which I would have split between my daughter and myself. I would have been thinking about my next glass of wine as I held my sobbing daughter in my arms. I would have had more to drink. And tomorrow morning would have started with a hangover and shame and guilt.

Instead, tonight was full of love and empathy. And tomorrow will start bright and clear. My daughter will still be sad. We will all still be tired, and my kids will likely still be in the throes of this nasty virus, but we will get through it together.

Because we are stronger than one strange summer.

Putting My Name On It

Both of my kids woke this morning with 102-degree fevers. Two days before school starts. I had been planning to do my favorite Peloton ride of the week, Ally Love’s Feel Good Ride at 8:30, but I missed it because we were at Urgent Care swabbing for strep and checking goopy ears and little lungs.

I almost skipped it. Almost descended fully into mom-martyr mode – which, now that I think on it for a moment, is basically a pity party for one and helps none. As Martyr Mom, I use the excuse of my kids being sick to throw on some sweats, throw open my pantry door and ingest any comfort food I can get my Purelled hands on. Because surely junk food will help me get my kids through their viral slog-du-jour. [SPOILER ALERT: junk food is not the answer to helping sick kids. Nor is booze. Keeping myself healthy and energized is the best thing I can do for my kids when they’re sick. Not rocket science. But not always gut instinct either.]

By mid-day my kids were calmly vegging in front of “Cake Wars” and so – Martyr Mom be damned – I seized the moment and hopped on my bike to do the Feel Good Ride on demand. And am I ever glad I did.

Ally never fails to inspire me. And I’m not saying that to be a goody-goody. There is something about sweating my (figurative) balls off and pedaling my legs until they burn that readies my mind and my heart to receive inspiration and wisdom. And Ally provides these in spades, especially on her Feel Good Rides. Today, she talked about being real. Not worrying about the leaderboard. Not hiding behind your username. Just being real.

So I’ll be real: Ally, I confess I was tapping away on my phone during your ride today. But I wasn’t texting or Instagramming. I was writing the notes that have formed this post.

Because I did stop hiding behind a username today. I put my last name on my @maintaining_mama Instagram account. (Once on a roll, I also got myself a domain name and created a Facebook page for this blog. Follow me! Share me!) I am no longer anonymous. I am fully out there as “a former wine mom” who has committed to one year without wine. What a way to toast Day 60!

I made these changes before the ride, but I didn’t realize the importance of my actions until Ally’s words crystallized it for me. With sweat dripping down my face and my butt begging to be plopped back down into the saddle it hit me like a full turn to the right: “my desire to help outweighs my fear of being known.”

That’s what I hastily typed into my phone. Let me expand upon that a bit now that I’ve caught my breath.

I have apparently arrived at the point in this journey where my desire to support and inspire others who may be in a situation similar to mine – that is, questioning their possibly dysfunctional relationship with alcohol – is stronger than my fear of going public with my own struggles. Am I still afraid of being judged? Yes. Am I going to shout “I USED TO BE SCARY DEPENDENT ON WINE, Y’ALL!” from the rooftops? No. (Mine’s too steeply pitched anyway.) But I want to help more than I want to hide.

What has spurred me into action? So much that I can and cannot put into words. The recent study published in the Lancet medical journal stating that “the safest level of drinking is none” – and the myriad strong reactions to it, both celebrating and poo-pooing the findings. The incredible women I’ve discovered on Instagram who are fierce and fearless and eloquent in their sobriety. The books and podcasts and blogs (see my resources page).

And time. It’s September now. I have been on this journey for nine months, drinking for some of it but mostly not. Today is day 60 of my year-long commitment. And I am simply ready to kick this existence up a notch.

But mostly, I really, really want to help other moms who are feeling shame or feeling like alcohol has the reins. Women who feel powerless to just say no to a witching hour craving. Because we all deserve better and we are all capable of better. And I’m no longer afraid to say so and put my name to my words.