A Dear Sugar Letter

Dear Sugar*,

It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually, it IS you, you tantalizing tempter. You crave-inducing killer. You are always delicious and occasionally truly divine. You are simultaneously ubiquitous and stealthy. You have always been there for me, yet were never what I actually needed. And that is exactly why I need to take a break.

You have been part of my life since I can remember, and some of my fondest memories are forever intertwined with you. Pan di Stelle gelato in Sorrento while on vacation with my husband. Cadbury chocolate straight from the factory in Uxbridge while on a field trip with my MBA class. Chelsea buns in Cambridge. Scones with clotted cream in London. The world’s best homemade ice cream and fresh waffle cones a stone’s throw from my in-laws’ home in Massachusetts. The jar of Nutella I would buy every week at Shaws after mommy-and-me class, my infant daughter snoozing away in her stroller as we walked home to our apartment in Boston’s South End. My son’s ninja-themed, Oreo-buttercreamed birthday cake, which he sliced (while supervised) with a samurai sword when he had just turned four.

Sugar, I will always love you. But right now I gotta say bye.

See, you taste so good but you hurt so bad. You send me soaring but are never there to catch me when I fall. You never fail to delight my senses, but neither do you fail to bloat my belly. You make me feel like a million bucks, then leave me feeling less than. A moment of ecstasy, then you’re gone – and I’m inevitably bombarded by an onslaught of dehydration, fatigue, and guilt.

Oh the guilt! How have I lived with it all these years? I’ll tell you how. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t believe I deserved to feel any better. I kept coming back again and again in the myriad moments where I felt weak and out of control and powerless and fat and stressed and tired.

I know better now. And you can thank your friend the wine witch for my newly enlightened state. I’ve traded guilt for grace. I know your secrets. I know how the mere promise of you releases dopamine in my brain, making me feel pleasure before you’ve even passed my lips. I know that you will always leave me wanting more. I will never be satisfied as long as I seek satisfaction from the likes of you.

So I need to look elsewhere for awhile. I need to remind us both who wears the leggings in this relationship. Yes, I will most certainly fall into the embrace of your natural counterparts. But frozen mango has more to offer than your empty promises (and calories).

I will also be looking beyond food. I will write. I will track. I will be present. I will move. I will hydrate. I will strive to become an amateur urge-surfer. And I will progress from there.

Sugar, you will always be part of my life. I can’t imagine celebrating my one year alcohol-free on July 4 without you. But it’s goodbye for now. Because I’m worth it.

With love, will, and grace,

Jen

*Added and artificial, not natural. I’m not that much of a masochist.

Oh Damn I’m Ditching Sugar Too

So that little voice of mine decided to pipe up again. You know, the one who told me to take a year off booze? Yeah. Her. She seems pretty darn determined that it would be a good idea for me to drop added sugar and artificial sweeteners for the next two weeks.

Thanks A LOT, conscious mind. Or gut. Or whoever I decide you actually are once I figure it out.

Damn. So I guess I’m off sugar starting tomorrow. Two weeks. That will take me to my July monthly Lifetime weigh-in, and then two days later it will be Day 365. And I want to feel pretty great on that day. So. Here we are.

As reliant as I am on sugar, and as scary as this should seem, I feel similar to how I felt when I took my booze breaks. Which is to say, I am relieved. I am relieved that I am putting a firm rule into place. There is comfort in being able to draw a line that I know I won’t cross, rule-follower that I am. I’m also a bit nervous though. During the next two weeks we have my dad and stepmom visiting, and I will also be PMSing. Two great excuses to go off the rails. I’m nervous about not being able to turn to a pint of ice cream, or light ice cream, or froyo, for comfort.

Why ditch sugar? Why now? It’s not just because I want to feel strong and svelte on July 4. My craving-conquering skills need honing. I am more of an aprés-surf girl than an urge-surfer – by which I mean I’d rather sit on my butt and indulge and deal with the consequences later than actually do the hard thing and ride out the sugar crave-wave.

My one year alcohol-free will be over in 17 days. I have no desire to drink again (WOOHOO!), but I know that my subconscious will be piqued when my steadfast no booze rule is no longer in place. Yes, I could go for a second consecutive AF year. But I also want to see where I am once the ban is lifted, to see if I can successfully and contentedly navigate life as a non-drinker without formally declaring a booze break.

So I figure, if I can go two weeks without added sugar and artificial sweeteners, I will feel pretty darn empowered. My alcohol cravings have basically vanished, but my sugar cravings have never been stronger. If I can spend these next two weeks surfing strong sweet cravings, starving the sugar monster, and practicing healthy coping strategies, I know I will feel better about popping my safe, snug OYAF bubble.

Two weeks. I can do this. Feel free to join me – there’s strength in numbers!

Boxing Over Boozing

I went back to my MMA gym today for my 3rd kickboxing class of the week, and I’ll be back again tomorrow – a new record for myself! I have never done more than three kickboxing classes in a week. But this week’s schedule (or lack thereof) has allowed me to get over there a bunch, and I’m loving it.

To think, I almost never tried kickboxing because of a hangover.

My kids had been doing karate at this gym for several months when the manager approached me one afternoon and said I should try the adult class. This was October 2017, and I was stuck in what I did not realize was the nadir of my #winemom drinking days. I admitted to him that I had always wanted to try kickboxing, but used my Peloton as an excuse. “I don’t know if I can justify spending any more money on fitness,” I said.

“Well, here’s a coupon for one week of free classes. Let me know when you want to come in,” he replied, ignoring my lame excuse as any good salesperson would.

The coupon was set to expire on November 1. I procrastinated all of October. Also, FYI, the night before November 1 is Halloween. And I couldn’t accompany my kids trick-or-treating without my Tervis full of wine, obviously. So November 1 rolled around, and my coupon expired because of my Halloween hangover.

I showed up to the gym a couple days later to take my kids to their class. The manager asked me where I had been and why I didn’t start my trial week yet. I made some joke about drinking too much on Halloween, shame singeing my insides as I said it.

“So when did you say you’re going to start?” He asked.

“Umm… next week?”

“Ok. I’ll extend your offer for one more week.”

I can’t remember if I drank the night before my first class. If I did, I’m sure I used Herculean willpower to limit myself to one or two glasses of wine so that I could be in good enough shape to make it through. I don’t remember exactly what drills we did, or how many people were in the class with me. I do remember my hamstrings seizing up as they attempted to squat for the first time in months (years?). I remember hating how out of shape I felt. And I remember how much I freaking loved kicking and punching the crap out of that red heavy bag, despite having no clue what I was doing.

My passion for kickboxing ignited that day, in that very first class, and it continues to grow.

It was not long after I started kickboxing regularly that I realized my new passion for martial arts was in direct conflict with my passion for sauvignon blanc. If I drank the night before a class, it was a slog and I felt disgusting. If I didn’t drink, it was a blast and I felt powerful.

I have no doubt that my passion for kickboxing helped nudge me toward my commitment to Dry January that December. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dry January was the start of my alcohol-free journey that has led me here, to Day 345 of 365 (and beyond). I’m not sure I would be where I am if that gym manager hadn’t encouraged me. And even if he only did it to make a buck, I am still grateful to him for scratching out 11/1 and writing a new expiry date on that coupon.

11 Months Down, One Month to Go

11 months down, one month to go. This year has gone so fast, and yet I also feel light years away from where I was when I made my first OYAF post last July 5.

Today I celebrated with self-care:
6am Book Club for One – my favorite way to start the day
Kickboxing class – grueling and gratifying
Venom allergy shots – I like to tell my kids I’ll have superpowers at the end of this protocol
Annual eye doctor appointment – done
Date night with my husband – yay

I took good care of myself today, plain and simple. I did not reward myself with food (which is a huge win for me) yet I do not feel deprived. I feel full in my stomach and my heart.

At 11 months alcohol-free, with one month remaining in my year-long contract with myself, I also feel acutely aware. I am aware that I am accomplishing something important. I am aware that this year will be over before I know it. I am aware that I want to feel energized, strong, and svelte when day 365 dawns.

There is a bridge near me called the Tappan Zee, which spans the Hudson River at one of its widest points to connect Rockland and Westchester counties. The Tappan Zee Bridge used to be a nightmare, constantly congested with traffic. Over the past few years, a new bridge has been built beside the old one. The new bridge is clean and wide, with so many lanes that it’s now a pleasure to cross. It’s functioning better than the old one ever did.

The last time I crossed the new bridge, I noticed that some of the old Tappan Zee is still there, sitting on barges in the middle of the Hudson, awaiting deconstruction or demolition. While the breathtaking new bridge has been up and running for months now, the old bridge, it turns out, is still being dismantled.

New Drone Photos of Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
Tappan Zee Bridge, old and new. Photo credit: New York State Thruway Authority

That’s pretty much how I feel at 11 months alcohol-free. I have spent this year building my alcohol-free self. Here I stand: strong, sturdy, clean, open. But at the same time, my old subconscious pathways – the well-worn connections in my brain between alcohol and reward/comfort/courage/stress relief – are still there. While I have begun the long and intricate process of systematic dismantling, parts of the pathways remain. Work continues. But it’s peaceful work. No dynamite – just quiet, critical work.

There will still be occasional traffic and fender benders on the new Tappan Zee Bridge. A sound structure alone cannot guarantee stress-free travel. But the journey is going to be a heck of a lot smoother from now on.

Five Weeks To Go

Day 330. Five weeks to go. Holy smokes.

Just five more weeks until I emerge from my protective bubble of my one year alcohol-free. Five weeks until alcohol is technically an option again. Five weeks until “I’m taking a year off drinking” turns into…

I’m still not sure. And that is ok.

I am beginning, very gingerly, to take stock of this year and reflect on everything I have experienced with a completely clear head and heart – and without the crutch/perceived lubricant/numbing agent of alcohol. My preliminary conclusion is that a lot happens in a year. And I am down-into-my-bones grateful to have lived it all.

Because that’s what I have accomplished. I have lived this year. I may have buried my face in a bag of small batch artisanal tortilla chips more than a few times, but I have no lost nights. No fuzzy memories. No embarrassing drunken social media posts or text messages. I have been present. I have shown up. I have acheived a perfect attendance record for 330 days and counting.

I have felt exquisite pain and exquisite joy. I have felt legit stress and #firstworldproblem stress. I have been a supermom and I have had my share of #momfails. I own it all.

I still have work to do. And when this year is up, fittingly on Independence Day (I swear I didn’t plan that!), I will still have work to do. Life work. Self work. I now realize what a privilege it is to be able to do this work. I don’t plan on running away from it again.

Courage, compassion, and connection: these are what Brené Brown calls “The Gifts of Imperfection.” I am going to spend the next five weeks embracing my imperfection. And then after that I’m going to spend the rest of my life embracing my imperfection.

Where will alcohol fit into this?

Here’s the thing. I can’t think of a single instance where consuming alcohol would have improved upon any moment of these past 47 weeks. Yes, I have had fleeting pangs of longing, but they all just dissolved into nothing. Not a single pang took root and grew into regret. Not a one.

So right now, as of day 330, I am peering out from the safety of my OYAF bubble, proud of all that I have achieved but relieved to have five more weeks to boss up. Before I know it, this year will be done. The bubble will pop, and out I will step into a world where alcohol is back on the table.

I’m scared. Part of me is tempted to declare another year off. But I’m also curious. I’m curious to see how much strength I’ve gained. I’m curious to see if I have the guts to be a non-drinker in a big-drinking world. I have never been one to swim against the tide. But now I will choose to do just that.

Because I’m not going to go back to where I was. I love my AF self and my AF life too much. I’m all in.

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.