One. Thousand. Days.

1,000 days alcohol-free. 1,000 days free of the shame that was invisible to everyone around me yet kept me limited, fearful, and small.

My gray-area drinking limited my brain power and my potential. I spent so much time thinking about drinking – when can I start? How much can I have? What if I have just one more glass?
And then – why did I drink so much? Why can I never just have one? What is wrong with me?
And then – when can I start? All over again.

Alcohol kept me as its fearful prisoner, even as the key to my chains was in my pocket all along. I was afraid to break the bond because, without booze – how would I de-stress? How would I take a moment for me? How would I socialize? How would I enjoy a date night or survive a family get together? How would I feel like the funniest/prettiest/best version of myself?

Wine mom life was a small life. Almost every day was bookended by guilt-ridden grogginess and a guilt-ridden buzz. Alcohol kept my self-confidence small, my creativity quashed, my energy low, my patience thin.

1,000 days after my last drink, here’s what I can say: I am learning to take up space, unapologetically, just as I am. I am learning to cope with discomfort by being uncomfortable instead of numbing myself with booze or food or doom scrolling.

Cutting alcohol out of my life did not solve all of my problems but it solved one big one: alcohol. The clarity and capability that are sobriety’s wingwomen make all of life‘s other problems, puzzles, and pickles easier to solve – or at least navigate.

That’s what I’m doing now. I am a navigator. I choose to go through, not skirt around or spin in circles or sink.

1,000 days is a number that once seemed preposterous. Not just unachievable, but undesirable. The day I took my last drink, I didn’t believe it would be my last, or that I would ever want it to be. But I also knew that I was tired of feeling limited, and fearful, and small.

I am still working toward limitless, and fearless, and big. But the work is so worth it, and so is the journey.

Truce.

Not starving, still strong.

Around this time last year, as news about COVID-19 was starting to spread and tensions were starting to rise, I noticed that my weight was creeping up. With the mounting stress of the soon-t0-be-named pandemic, I should not have been surprised. Cortisol, the stress hormone, loves to puff me up. But instead of giving credit where it was due, I blamed my inability to control my eating. Once my weight surpassed my WW Lifetime weigh-in window, meaning if I stayed at that weight I would have to pay for my WW membership at my next monthly weigh-in, I decided to seek the help of a nutritionist. The woman I chose to work with had transformed the body of one of my kickboxing clients. In a matter of weeks this woman had gone from having a thin mom bod to a lean, strong physique that I confess I completely envied.

So I made an appointment to meet with the nutritionist at the beginning of March and ponied up $300 for one month of supervision. I remember going to meet her at a personal training gym, feeling so deeply ashamed as I told her how I could not stop eating sugar and crappy food, and feeling utterly humiliated as I undressed down to a tight gray tank top for the “before” picture. In the photo she snapped with her phone, my eyes were closed and my mouth was stretched into a hesitant grimace that I had meant to be a confident grin. She took the picture before I could rally a smile and suck in my gut, and did not offer to retake it.

Perhaps that should have been my first sign that she was not the right fit for me, that she would allow my “before” picture to be so completely unflattering. But I didn’t ask her to re-take it, either. In that moment I handed her control of my body for the next four weeks.

I knew her nutrition program was strict. I knew it would strip my diet of all the junk. But I did not know just how aggressively she would also strip my diet of calories. I followed her program to a T, because she was a certified professional, because I had seen the results in my kickboxing acquaintance, and because I had forked over $300. The hanger was real and I hated it, but the few times I did question her method or try to communicate how hungry I was, she would immediately dismiss my feedback.

In addition to the restricted eating, under her orders I ramped up my exercise so that I was working out for 90 minutes each morning. “Strength training doesn’t count unless it’s at least 30 minutes. Same goes for cardio,” she said. So I ran, cycled, and lifted my ass off (literally) and then refueled with three egg whites and half a cup of oatmeal made with water and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I was not allowed to eat again for the next five hours until lunch, which was lettuce, three grape tomatoes, 1/3 of a cucumber, a tablespoon of olive oil, a sprinkle of vinegar, and a few precious ounces of protein.

I remember on my son’s birthday, about half-way through the program, when she told me I could not have any cake. I started to cry as I lit the candles. Tears streamed down my face as my husband, daughter, and I sang “Happy Birthday” to my newly minted six-year-old son. At my husband’s compassionate encouragement, I ended up eating a slice of cake. It was freaking delicious. It also reawakened what I interpreted at the time to be my inner sugar demon (and what I know now to be the “binge” part of a binge/starve cycle). Over the next couple of days I voraciously snuck several more slices and could not hide it, as my daily weigh-ins plateaued. The shame was overwhelming. I felt shame for bingeing, for not being able to control myself with the birthday cake. I felt shame when I looked at the number on the scale. I was stuck in a lose-lose situation. Either I starved myself and lost weight; or I gave my body the calories it craved, gained weight, and faced the judgment of the nutritionist.

How I yearned for the approval of this woman who didn’t even care enough about me to use spell check on my weekly menus (“1/2 cup oatmeal cook n water add cinnoman with 3 egg white omelete” – I had to fight with autocorrect to type that!). On the days I emailed her my weight loss, she replied with a smiley face. On the days I emailed her with the same weight or a gain, she didn’t. I based my worth on those numbers.

I based my worth on a smiling emoji.

COVID lockdowns began around my son’s mid-March birthday. I was so tempted to abandon the program, because the thought of starving myself and exercising for an hour and a half each day during this pandemic panic was almost too much to bear. But the nutritionist wouldn’t let me stop. She pressured me to press on, and I let her. I stuck with it for two more torturous weeks, and by the end of the four weeks I was the lowest weight I had been in almost 20 years. I felt svelte and proud and fucking starving but thrilled with the way I looked. I took some “after” pictures and emailed them to her (since meeting in-person was no longer an option). She FaceTimed me to discuss my body weight and measurements. I was ready for hearty congratulations, and while she said she was happy with my efforts, I still had “around six pounds” to lose.

I smiled and nodded and thanked her. Then I hung up the phone and said, “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING BITCH” (not my usual lexicon) and promptly went downstairs to open the jar of Nutella I had bought for the occasion.

The four-week program concluded at the end of March, right when my period was due. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t get my period again until the end of April. My body had been so starved that my period stopped. I was so starved that after I lay in bed to read to my kids at night, standing up again made me feel so dizzy I had to hold on to the bed frame to catch my balance.

Once I was off the hook of the nutritionist’s dreaded meal plans, I promptly started bingeing to a degree that I have never binged in my life. Granola by the bag. Nutella by the jar. Ice cream by the pint. I gained back all 17 pounds that I had lost, and piled another ten on top of that. Pandemic pandemonium, of course, added to the stress and my need for comfort food. I have never felt so utterly powerless over food. Once I started eating, some other force took hold within my body, shoveling in as much food as I could and stopping only when I started to feel sick and sometimes not even then.

Looking back, it’s now easy for me to see that this program of extreme body transformation was not the right fit for me. The pandemic, of course, only made it worse. I should have stood up to the nutritionist. I should have told her I needed more calories. I should have told her that I almost passed out on a near-nightly basis. I should have stopped working with her and let her keep the damn $300 because you can’t put a price tag on personal wellness and mental health.

Instead I blamed myself. “I am struggling to stick with this program because I can’t control myself around food.” “I am a sugar addict and I don’t deserve more food than this.” “If I hadn’t been eating so much before this, decreasing my caloric intake would not feel like such a shock.” “I feel like I’m going to pass out because I’m weak.” If I didn’t lose weight from one day to the next, I had failed. If I added an extra ounce of chicken to my dinner, I was cheating. The cycle of negativity was all-encompassing.

It has taken me almost a year to write about this. Because it has taken me almost a year to learn the lessons and make peace with my experience. I have not lost any of the weight I regained. But I have also gained perspective, and I am ready to move forward into 2021 a changed person. I am not just a different size than I was this time last year. I have a different, evolved outlook on my relationship with food and with diet culture.

My goal now is simple:

Truce.

I’m so tired of being at war with my body and with food.

Enough. Enough, now.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I am damn lucky to be alive, and healthy, with a body that is strong and functional. This body has kept me safe for 40 years. This body deserves to be honored. This body deserves to be respected. Revered. Every day, at every size.

Slowly but surely I am teaching myself to eat what I want when I want it. I am trying to think about how the food I desire will make me feel, and adjust accordingly. Some days, it’s: “If I eat that Nutella, it will taste delicious but then it will give me gas and make me feel lethargic, so I’m going to have some chocolate almond butter instead.” Other days, it’s: “If I eat that Nutella, it will taste delicious but then it will give me gas and make me feel lethargic, but I really want it so I’m going to have it.” Either way, no judgement. That is the goal.

My closet now contains comfortable clothes in several sizes so that I can always find something that feels good to wear.

When negative self-talk creeps up, I try to quash it like I’m the world’s greatest whack-a-mole champion.

Most importantly, I recognize that this is a marathon. I have been reduced to tears while on the phone with a friend, confessing to her that I am terrified I will go through this process of making peace with my body and with food… and end up being a bigger size than I used to be, than I want to be. But I also know that if I do this work, if I forge these new neural pathways in my brain, I will be content at any size because I will no longer base my self-worth on my size.

My worth is not my size. Say it with me now. My worth. Is not. My size.

I will never post another “before and after” photo collage. Because “after” does not exist. My body, every body, is constantly shifting. There is no “after” for me anymore. There is just “during.” Right now, this is me, during a pandemic, committed to ditching diet culture in my life and my brain, learning to listen to my body and enjoy food. Learning to nurture instead of restrict. During, and then during, and then during.

900 Days Alcohol-Free

900 days.

This is a big number. This is a number that would have seemed completely unattainable to me back in my #winemom days. But here I am. 900 days makes me proud. 900 days feels exactly where I’m meant to be.

900 days of alcohol freedom is the greatest gift I have ever given myself. And, as the cliché goes, it just keeps giving. The more days of sobriety I accrue, the better equipped I am to recognize its many layers of gifts.

Sobriety is like the nesting doll I received as a gift when I was a child, and I have spent these 900 days opening one doll after another.

At the outset of my AF journey I enjoyed the immediate, surface-level benefits: clear skin, bright eyes, less puff. Then I started to uncover some deeper joys: decreased anxiety, increased energy, more patience with my kids, more presence in my life. And now, 900 days in, I am getting to know my true self, ponder my life’s purpose, and pursue my goals with vulnerability, authenticity, and confidence.

I once thought alcohol made me more myself. I thought it brought me out of my shell, helping me emerge more confident, flirtier, funnier. Now I know it made me silly, short-tempered, and shallow.

In 900 days I have cracked open a lot of dolls, each revealing the next nestled deeper inside, each more complex, intricate, and awe-inspiring than the last. Each doll stands on her own, but when nestled together they create the complete gift that is my sobriety.

Have I made it to the center yet? To the last, smallest, solid doll? I don’t think so. But I’m trying not to focus on her, or on what happens when I get there. Instead I’m trying to stay right here, to stay with the gifts I’ve acquired thus far. To cherish each of them as I wait for the next to be revealed.

Taking Aim at Diet Culture

It took a pandemic and my 40th birthday but it has finally clicked: I am done with diet culture.

If only it were that easy. If I could just flip a switch, and POOF! All my hang-ups about food and my body disappeared.

It’s not that easy, but I am capable. And I am committed. Because if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that life is too damn short and I am tired of beating myself up about eating, overeating, bingeing, not tracking points, going over points, feeling out of control, feeling powerless, making “bad” choices, falling off the wagon, eating too many carbs, eating too much sugar, eating too much fat, eating too much dairy, eating too much Halloween candy, eating too much Thanksgiving pie, eating too much Christmas candy, eating too much Easter candy, eating too much ice cream, not eating enough veg, not eating enough fruit, not eating “clean” enough… need I go on? Because I could.

Back when I was beating myself up about my drinking (and my eating, but at the time my drinking was the worse vice), reading Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind changed my life because it empowered me to change my brain. I started, little by little, rewiring my noggin. Forging new pathways instead of the well-worn trails that connected wine to stress relief, reward, pleasure, confidence, and so much more. Once I stopped drinking, I started bingeing on sugar and feared I had a new “addiction.” I tried cutting sugar out of my diet only to binge on it as soon as I let it back in. I read several books about sugar and how badly it impacts the human body, hoping the knowledge would make me want to stop eating it. But while one can forgo alcohol, one cannot, alas, forgo food. And sugar lurks everywhere, even in fruit and other “healthy” things. So cutting out sugar the way I cut out alcohol was never going to be the answer. Plus, I love cake.

Junk food has been my number one enemy since I stopped drinking, and I never found a way to crack the (pea)nut (M&M).

It turns out I was looking in the wrong direction. I was looking at junk food as my foe. Now I realize that the real villain, ranked right up there with the wine witch on my shit list, is diet culture.

Diet culture, you are going down.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate my time spent on Weight Watchers (now WW). Losing weight in 2017 helped build confidence at a time when I was flailing in the trenches of motherhood. My time on WW also crystalized my gray area drinking, and I’m not sure I ever would have had the courage to take those early breaks from alcohol without the WW social network, Connect, and in particular the #sobersisters group – a bunch of beautiful strangers who supported me with empathy and without judgment.

As one of my most amazing IRL friends messaged me the other night, “It’s ok to acknowledge that a tool that was once helpful isn’t anymore. You can be grateful for the huge role it played in your life and also decide it is no longer helping.” That, in a cracked nutshell, is how I now feel about WW. Time to cut the cord.

So I did. The other night, I wrote the following farewell message on Connect:

My dear #sobersisters, I am not ready to do what I am about to do. I will never be ready, yet I know it is the necessary next step for me in my journey. I am going to cancel my WW Lifetime membership.

I have been thinking about this for a long time, but never acted on it because, I thought, WW helped me so much with my goals. I hesitated to sever ties with my tracker. How else would I stay accountable? How else would I stay thin?

But then: 2020. One of the few gifts of this pandemic has been the paring down of life, and the mental decluttering. This time has forced me to reflect on all that was on my metaphorical plate. And that plate, I realized, was divided like a toddler’s into three areas: what fills me up, what poisons me, and what fuels me. As I move forward into my 40s, for the duration of this pandemic, and into the future that awaits us on the other side, I am trying my best to clear my plate of all but what truly fuels me; or, to stick with the metaphor, to move from a toddler’s divided plate to a grown-up plate.

Being a kickboxing instructor filled me up. I spent hours curating playlists, planning classes, and teaching. I enjoyed it, I was superfit, but I never felt in my gut that I was meant to be in the fitness industry. Kickboxing, as fun as it was, filled up my days and weeks until I had little room for real fuel.

Drinking poisoned me. Thanks to the incredible support of the #sobersisters, I took a month and then a couple of months and then a year off booze – and I have not looked back for 883 days. Being here on Connect helped me believe that alcohol freedom was possible, and I am forever indebted to each and every one of you who left me an encouraging comment and supported me along my path.

Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that diet culture is also poisoning me. Try as I might (and I have!), I cannot progress toward attuned eating and radical self-acceptance as long as I am a WW member. I need a clean break from WW and my tracker, and I am honestly heartbroken that in severing these ties I will also be saying goodbye to Connect.

Simply put, my goals have shifted. Instead of aiming to be a certain weight, I am aiming to accept my body at any size. Instead of counting points or cutting down on sugar or carbs, I am learning to listen to my body and give it what it wants.

Since joining WW in 2017, I lost weight (which I regained) and gained sobriety (which I have not lost). Connect has meant the world to me, and to this day I marvel that a group of strangers took the time to read my writing and offer words of comfort, empathy, and support. Connect is the most special place and my life will not be the same without it, without all of you.

Before I started writing this farewell message, I went onto Instagram to write to my friend Nancy, whom I met on Connect. I told her how scared and sad I was to cancel my WW membership and sever my ties with Connect, but that I know it’s the right thing for me right now. I sent the message and returned to my feed, which refreshed to show a post with this quotation:

“No one warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.” -Té V. Smith

Ain’t that the truth!

Thank you, my virtual friends, my #sobersisters, for making this chapter of my life one that I will never forget. Wishing you a safe and healthy end to this crazy year, and a brighter 2021 for us all.

I clicked “Post” and the next morning I canceled my WW Lifetime membership. And damn, if it didn’t feel like a giant weight had been lifted. Pun intended.

So, whereto from here? I have two guiding lights in this process. The first is a book called The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, by Judith Matz, LCSW and Ellen Frankel, LCSW. I’ll be writing a lot more about this book in the coming weeks (let’s face it: months, considering my kids have been in and out of quarantine and writing time is short these days).

My other guiding light, really more of a super badass secret weapon, is an eight-week program called “‘Tis the Season to Ditch Diet Culture,” hosted on the “Run, Selfie, Repeat” podcast by Kelly Roberts and Kayla Reynolds, MS. These ladies have rocked my world. The program includes a bunch of journal prompts, so I’ll be tackling those soon.

After years of feeling powerless against my sweet tooth and emotional eating, I finally feel like I am focused on the right foe: diet culture. I am geared up and ready for battle. This blog has chronicled my journey to alcohol freedom, as well as my struggle with food and body image. I finally feel hopeful that these virtual pages will soon be filled with my journey of diet culture survivorship and the creation of lasting appreciation for and peace with my body. Let’s go.

5 Reasons Why I’m Not Going to Drink on Election Night (and You May Want to Stay Off the Sauce, Too)

As election night approaches, tensions are running higher than third wave COVID infection rates and social media feeds are inundated with jokes and memes about drinking to survive all the drama. “I won’t hear anything on November 4th because, either way, I’ll be hungover,” proclaimed Stephen Colbert in his Late Show monologue on October 26. “Election Night Drinking Game: Drink. Then keep drinking,” suggests a meme on Instagram. 

How else can we be expected to endure the night (week?) (MONTH?!) that will be a climactic moment in the dumpster fire of 2020 other than with a bottomless wine glass in hand? Why would we want to? Election night is either a celebration or a pity party, depending on the outcome and how we voted. Either way, we drink, right? 

This November 3, I won’t be heading to my wine fridge – and I challenge you to think about going alcohol-free as well. Here are five reasons why I won’t be drinking on election night:

  1. Alcohol increases anxiety.

During my drinking days, I fully subscribed to the notion that alcohol is the ultimate stress-reliever. I drank to soothe my anxiety. I waited all day to pour my first glass of sauvignon blanc, and relished the feeling of warmth and calm that washed over me as I took my first few crisp sips. But even at the peak of my drinking I could admit that the more I drank, the farther out of reach that initial zen feeling became. As Annie Grace puts it in her book The Alcohol Experiment, “[A]s the alcohol is metabolized, we actually feel more stress than we did when we started. Alcohol leaving the body makes us feel worse. So what do we do? Have another! 

“It’s ironic that we drink to relax, because drinking actually adds stress to our lives.” Further, numbing ourselves to the source of our stress and anxiety – such as a high stakes presidential election during a pandemic – does not make the stressor go away; it will just make us feel worse when we get around to dealing with it. Facing the outcome of the election with a clear head in the moment is a proactive way to deal directly with the source of anxiety and ultimately better for our mental health.

  1. Alcohol numbs the bad stuff – but also the good stuff.

At the risk of jinxing things, imagine for a moment that the election goes the way you want it to go. Visualize the numbers coming in for your candidate, the electoral map turning the color you long to see. Imagine the victory speech, the balloon drop, the pure elation and sweet relief washing over you. 

Of course, it could go the other way. And instead of elation and relief, you could be inundated with fear, dread, and disgust. You may want to don your alcohol armor to protect you from the risk of the night going awry (or, almost as bad, the night being too close to call). But if you numb out with alcohol to not feel these bad feelings, you won’t be able to feel the good feelings either. Alcohol does not allow your brain to discriminate between the happy feelings you want to experience and the crappy feelings you don’t. After the year we’ve had, I am ready for some good vibes, and I am willing to risk feeling horrible if that same risk will allow me to feel elation and hope for the future.

  1. Mocktails are a treat without the trick.

When I first stopped drinking, fearing FOMO, I steered clear of any zero-alcohol wines, beers, or spirits. What’s the point, I wondered, of drinking some calorie-laden concoction without the benefit of the buzz? But as the alcohol-free (AF) days added up, I missed the buzz less and less because I missed the after-effects of drinking not at all. I did, however, miss having something more special than seltzer in my glass to commemorate a special occasion. So I have started exploring the world of AF spirits and mocktails. Seedlip is a current favorite. And if I’m in the mood to toast the outcome of election night you better believe I’ll be sipping a Seedlip Grove and ginger ale. Mocktails are a great way to embrace a celebratory vibe without enduring a hangover the next morning.

  1. Alcohol ruins sleep. 

I wish I could count on one hand the number of nights I woke at 3am, having sweat through my pajamas, my mouth dry and sour, my heart racing, and my shame visceral. Alas, during my drinking days those nights were all too common. Improved sleep is one of the immediate benefits of not drinking, and the impact of solid sleep is profound. 

Many of us will probably not sleep well on election night, whether drunk or sober, Democrat or Republican or Independent. The evening promises to be charged with emotion no matter how it goes. So since it’s going to be a short, and likely fitful, night of sleep, I don’t want booze ruining my few precious hours to snooze.

  1. There is no parental low quite like hiding a hangover from the kids.

Right up there with sour, sweat-soaked 3am wakings among the things I don’t miss about drinking: hiding hangovers from my kids. “Mama’s tummy is just a little upset.” “Mama has a headache.” More like: “Mama feels like absolute crap and wants to hide in my closet until this shame storm passes, but instead I have to look you in the eye and pretend my malaise is not the result of my dysfunctional relationship with an addictive toxin.”

On November 4, many of us will wake up exhausted, and – if the night provides any sort of conclusion – about half of us will wake up depressed while the other half will wake up ecstatic. However I feel that morning, I will not have anything to hide. I will be able to talk to my kids about election night because I will remember election night. I want to be ready to discuss the election with my kids honestly and openly, no matter its outcome.

I vote for a booze-free election night. Of course, it’s easy for me to say all this with over two alcohol-free years under my belt. But there was a time when I could not imagine celebrating  – or commiserating – without booze. Nary a momentous occasion went by without alcohol. And that is why I have almost no memory of the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, even though I am a diehard fan who watched Game 7 live in my living room. That is why most New Year’s Eves are forever a blur in my brain.

I decided to take a year-long break from drinking because I was tired of hangovers, fuzzy memories, guilt, and shame. My 365th day has long since passed, as has any desire to go back to the bottle. Showing up fully present in life is not always easy (especially this year), but it’s always worth it.

This will hopefully be the only presidential election during a pandemic we will witness in our lifetimes. It is also, in my opinion, a make-or-break moment for American democracy. I simply don’t want to miss it. Even if it feels terrible (EEK) to go through it, I want to go through it – not circumvent the discomfort with a booze buzz. I want to remember the tension, the anxiety, and, I hope, the excitement and relief. However this election pans out, I want to emerge as a more resilient and compassionate human for having witnessed it.

40 Years and 847 Days

I was born on my mom’s 30th birthday, October 19, 1980. So she and I not only share a birthday, but we share all our decade milestones. A little over week ago, the dumpster fire that is 2020 witnessed our 40th and 70th birthday – a milestone we had planned to celebrate in London, watching the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in Olympic Stadium. But of course due to the pandemic, the trip was cancelled and the birthday plans of two diehard Cub fans were up in the air until the last minute.

Instead of flying to London (insert first world problem sigh here), we drove into NYC the weekend before our birthday and treated ourselves to visits to our favorite shops (Zabar’s, Strand Books, Fishs Eddy, Paragon Sports, abc Carpet & Home). For lunch, we ate my favorite sushi (Tenzan – if you don’t know, now you know) in my illegally-parked swagger wagon, its hazard lights flashing and windows down for air flow since we had to take our masks off to eat because this is apparently the world we live in now. But anyway. The sush was delish.

I returned home Sunday afternoon, ready to get back into mom mode while trying to manage my last-hours-of-my-30s anxiety/excitement. My close friend and neighbor had texted to ask if we could go for a walk. My husband decided to take the kids and dogs out as well, so we all walked together to the corner where my neighbor was waiting for me in her car. She ordered me to hop in, and proceeded to whisk me away to another friend’s house for an outdoor surprise party-à-trois. Balloons, pompoms, a Happy Birthday banner, gifts, food, cupcakes, a bottle of Töst, 40 cans of seltzer, me, two of my best friends in the world, and no kids: the perfect way for me to end my 30s.

On the big day itself, I reunited with my mom for more shopping, an outdoor family dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, and a delicious three-tier red velvet cake baked by my husband. The Birthday, as we call it in our family, was a good one. A good multi-day celebration. A good reimagining of what a milestone birthday can be in a pandemic. A good use of our proximity to NYC. Good quality time with family and friends. Good food, great cake. And no booze.

I don’t think I even thought about drinking. Which, still, 847 days into my alcohol-free existence, amazes me. Because a few years ago, I could not conceive of enjoying a birthday, especially a milestone birthday, without wine, champagne, and tequila. The idea that I would happily, contentedly, turn 40 without a drop of alcohol would have been simply ludicrous to me if it had crossed my mind. Which it never did, because, like many events of 2020, a booze-free birthday was too far-fetched for me to even imagine. 

Yet here I am: 40 years into my life’s journey, 847 days into my alcohol-free journey, and more grateful every day to be exactly where I am. 

I still have a lot of inner work to do. This pandemic has sapped much of my creative energy, hence my absence from here. While I haven’t been blogging, I have been continuing to write – in my journal, mostly. I needed to take some time to record this insane year, to write myself out of anxiety and back into grace. I have also been reading a lot, and doom scrolling too much. I am still working diligently to rewire my brain out of its diet culture settings and into a more harmonious and attuned relationship with food. I have been taking time to breathe, move my body, and snuggle my family. Some days I barely manage to stay present, much less accomplish much else. Pandemic fatigue is real. But we have no choice but to carry on.

I hope to carry myself into my 40s with strength, self-compassion, and as much grace as I can muster. Entering this new decade as a non-drinker feels empowering, and I’m going with it.

Two Years No Booze

So here we are. Our first 4th of July in quarantine, and my second Independence Day from booze. On this day last year, I was radiant. Thin, fit, glowing. I had a fresh manicure. I felt like a million bucks. But this is not 2019. I can’t expect myself to glow while the world is sick and burning.

But this is also not 2017. If I were still drinking during this pandemic, I would be paralyzed by skyrocketing anxiety and bottomless shame. I would be risking my health (and my family’s health) and increasing my exposure to COVID by making trips to the liquor store. I would be prioritizing alcohol – an addictive poison – right up there with food as a necessity for quarantine survival.

This is 2020. I am not where I used to be, but I am also not where I used to be.

Today I give myself grace. I remind myself to be proud of where I am in the midst of all this chaos. I have not fallen from grace, I have risen up on its wings to take care of myself and my family during this unprecedented time.
When I start to compare myself with where I was a year ago, I remind myself to adjust my units of measure. Right now, life cannot be measured in kid-free hours, because there are none. It cannot be measured in kickboxing classes, because there are none. Right now, life is measured in quarantine days, alcohol-free days, miles run, yoga classes streamed. It’s measured in book pages read and journal pages written, as I attempt to stay connected to myself and record what life is like in this bizarre time that I can only hope, someday, will be a blur.

My life is not perfect and all my problems are not solved. I haven’t lost any weight. The pink cloud of early sobriety has dissolved and the magic of my first sober year has worn off. My anxiety is present again (thanks COVID). ⁣⁣
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And also:⁣⁣
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I strive to embrace imperfection. Perfect is a mirage that sets us up to fail. Imperfect is grace, humor, and life’s exquisite realness.⁣⁣
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I feel capable. Of accomplishing pretty much anything. A mountain of dirty dishes in the sink used to be enough to defeat me. Now I’m staying sober through a global pandemic.⁣⁣
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My quarantine weight gain is bumming me out a bit, but at least it’s not compounded by the shame I would feel if I were puffed up and hungover from boozing my way through all of this corona-craziness.⁣⁣
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My anxiety is present, yes, but it’s a shadow of the monster it was when I was a #winemom. ⁣⁣
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I show up, every day, just as I am. I’m learning to love this person. I’m even letting her gray hair grow out because I give so many fewer Fs. Which gives me so much more time and energy to invest in pursuits worthier than giving Fs. ⁣⁣
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And on a related note:⁣⁣
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I used to be uncomfortable with the word “sober” because I thought using it would imply that I had a Serious Drinking Problem and I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. Now I use the term because it’s:⁣⁣
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A) True⁣⁣
B) Concise⁣⁣
C) Not up to me what people choose to believe about me and my journey. ⁣⁣
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Beneath my quarantine puff and exhaustion, a quiet power is growing. Power that comes from freedom that comes from ditching my dependence on an addictive, toxic substance that never did me any good at all. ⁣⁣
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At two years AF, I may be in quarantine, but I am free. I may not be glowing, but I am grateful – more grateful for my freedom from alcohol than I have ever been. I am learning to lean into the power of my exquisitely imperfect, true self. ⁣

A White Suburban Housewife Takes Action

The world is infected and anxious and grieving and angry and burning. So much is wrong right now, it’s hard to know where to begin to try to help move any of the myriad needles that are so far askew.

I am a 39-year-old, white, stay-at-home mom who lives in a middle-upper class suburb of New York City. I am largely ignorant of systemic racism and I want to change that. I am tired of feeling shame around my ignorance and guilt around my inaction. I have chosen to look the other way, to scroll past too many headlines too many times. I want to do better, I want to be better, I want to be braver. 

I want to be part of the change, not just reap the benefits of a more just and peaceful country and world. I want to work for what so obviously and urgently must happen.

I am not going to do this perfectly. But I am going to do my best to educate myself and my children, to engage in difficult conversations when they arise, to add my voice to movements and my name to petitions, to donate money to organizations on the front lines of this fight against racial injustice.

I want to be an effective ally. Here is where I’m going to start. 

What I’m reading:

Organizations I’m Supporting:

Actions I’m Taking:

In My Podcast Queue:

  • Unlocking Us: Brené with Ibram X. Kendi on How to Be an Antiracist
  • Pod Save the People
  • Parenting Forward: Five Pandemic Parenting Lessons with Cindy Wang Brandt
  • Ten Percent Happier: Parenting in a Pandemic and An Uncomfortable (But Meaningful) Conversation About Race
  • 1619 (NY Times podcast)

In My Netflix Queue:

  • 13th
  • 13th: A Conversation With Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay
  • Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea.

700 Days of Alcohol Freedom (On Day 80 of Quarantine)

It has been 700 days since I was a person who drinks alcohol, by which I mean a person who was internally tortured on a daily basis by an ever-increasing reliance on and ever-increasing consumption of alcohol.

I almost chose to let this milestone pass by without calling attention to it. I almost kept it to myself. Almost took it for granted. Because there is so much terrible stuff happening in the world right now. Because I too often do take my sobriety for granted these days. Because I cried a lot this afternoon and I’ve gained a lot of weight during quarantine and I didn’t want to look as exhausted and fat and broken as I feel in my Day 700 selfie. Because I am overwhelmed by how much the world has changed since I started my alcohol-free life and I feel unequipped to capture all I am feeling in words.

I haven’t written much lately. I feel like I’ve lost my voice in the avalanche of overwhelm and chaos and grief and unknown. But I am writing now, and I am going to write every day for the next 100 days. Even if it’s just a few sentences in my journal. I hope this will help me find some steady footing during these strange, sad, scary, socially distanced days.

Because right now, on Day 700, I feel more tempted to drink than I have felt in the last 23 months. Writing has always been a comforting outlet for me, and I need that right now. So I am going to make writing time for myself.

Someday, we will look back and these months we are living through right now will be a blur. We still have a long road ahead, though. So, for now, it is my hope that by Day 800, I feel more calm, more content, more at peace, more positive. Because that is the energy that I want to be putting into this gutted, burning world right now. I need to find it so I can give it.

On Untethering and Learning to Trust

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March 3 vs. March 29

Life has changed a bit since I was last here.

The novel coronavirus – barely a headline in January, as I set off on my no-sugar adventure – is now taking over the planet. My kids are out of school, my husband is (thankfully) working from home, I was (hopefully temporarily) laid off from my kickboxing instructor gig. We hightailed it out of our NY home – Westchester County being one of the OG coronaviral hotbeds in the US – and are hunkered down, self-quarantining, social distancing, and following the statewide stay-at-home order at our 241-year-old farmhouse in NH.

In other words, life has basically changed completely.

Life has been boiled down to family, health, and safety. I am trying to balance awareness and anxiety, routine and going with the flow, family time and me time, work and rest. I am trying to reconcile goals set in a pre-COVID-19 existence with our current COVID-19-dominated reality.

And here’s where I am at this moment:

In our creaky, drafty farmhouse kitchen, pre-dawn, sipping coffee. I have actually been up, tossing and turning, since 4:43am. Because today is the day that I set myself free from three months of self-imposed dietary restrictions. It feels oddly like Christmas. I feel thin and strong and really hungry and excited for the food that I’ll eat today. In these dark, quiet, solitary minutes, as the rest of my family sleeps, I am a child again, gazing in awe upon a bevy of colorful boxes while dreading the letdown that will inevitably occur once all the treats are unwrapped.

Here’s how I arrived at this Christmas-esque morning:

In January I cut added and artificial sugar from my diet. Acknowledging my sugar addiction was hard, but I was determined to tackle it as I tackled my dependence on wine – which I came to understand was a cover for my underlying sugar addiction all along.

It sucked, going without sugar for what feels like the longest month of the year, but it wasn’t torture. Because I found other ways to (over-)indulge: gluten-free pretzels, nut butter, bananas. By the end of the month I felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Mama (minus the marshmallows). So for the first two weeks of February I tried a low-FODMAP diet, plus no sugar. That helped a bit with the bloating and general malaise. On February 15 my husband and I enjoyed a planned “cheat day” that, for me, lasted two weeks. I fell deep into a spiral of sugar consumption that was actually pretty scary and left me feeling totally out of control, bloated to the max, and disgusted with myself.

So, in admitted desperation, I turned to a nutritionist recommended by a woman from my kickboxing gym who had recently undergone an incredible body transformation under the guidance of this perceived wonder woman. I met with her on March 2 and started the super-strict diet and exercise program she designed for me on March 3. The program was to last four weeks, ending tomorrow, March 30.

But today is Sunday and our favorite brunch spot is offering takeout. The world has gone to hell in a handbasket and I have been REALLY FUCKING HUNGRY FOR TWENTY-SEVEN DAYS AND SO TODAY IT ENDS.

Strike that.

TODAY IT BEGINS.

Today I set myself free. Today I accept that my life’s journey of emotional, mental, and physical wellness is a marathon, not a sprint. Today I recognize that my sobriety is a superpower that I created for myself and that I can apply to all areas of wellness. Today I challenge myself to believe in my capability.

Today I commit to learning to trust myself, no matter how many millions of baby steps it takes.

My four weeks-minus-one-day with the nutritionist were very, very hard. I have never been so hungry in my life. I have not pushed myself this much with exercise in over a decade. I did not enjoy the diet but I completely de-bloated, and I gained both strength and stamina. So, I accomplished the main goals I set for myself. I just wish it hadn’t been so miserable so much of the time. And attempting such a transformation over such a short time in the ever-engulfing shadow of COVID-19 elevated the level of difficulty from high to stupid-high.

So I AM DONE, Y’ALL. But no regrets. I made huge progress and I also learned some valuable lessons that I will carry with me. I have been exercising first thing in the morning, in a fasted state – which I had come to believe would make me feel nauseous and lightheaded but is actually just damn empowering and a badass way to start the day. I have added more strength training to my workouts which I can already tell is helping my body burn fat. I forgot how much I love lifting heavy weights. I feel leaner and stronger now, for sure.

I also learned that I was simply eating too much of too many things. I learned that I can – and, most of the time, should – operate on a diet of eggs, lean meat and fish, a little fruit and nut butter, sweet potato or brown rice, oatmeal, and lots and lots of veg. In other words, for the past four weeks-minus-one-day, I have basically been eating the way all the health food books and blogs and podcasts and Instagram accounts and wellness influencers and weight loss programs tell you to eat. And – SPOILER ALERT – it works.

I learned that I can live totally happily without beans and soy, mostly happily without dairy and white flour, somewhat happily without refined sugar, grudgingly without anything processed; and that life without avocado is bleak indeed. Now I have a better sense of what foods outside my healthy diet staples I will prioritize adding back in for special meals.

These weeks have at times made me feel resentful, cranky, and hangry to the max. But overall I also feel svelte, strong, and proud. I have overcome my lifelong fear of being hungry – and that was one of my main goals for seeking assistance from a nutritionist in the first place. Before this little nutritional adventure, if I felt the slightest twinge of what I perceived as hunger, I would grab one of the snacks that I always had on me – in my purse, in my car, in my pocket. What these weeks have taught me is that as long as I am filling my body with the right nutritious foods at the right time of day, my blood sugar will not plummet. I will not pass out or throw up. It is not comfortable to feel hungry, but neither is it the end of the world. I am learning to really listen to my body now, and not fear hunger anymore. Eureka!

That being said, I have basically been hungry for a month and it has sucked for a lot of the time. I’m done feeling deprived. I choose to feel FULL. To fill myself with all of the goodness that I can as my family navigates this unprecedented, bizarre, surreal time. In the quarantined days that continue to unfurl and wipe our family calendar clean before our eyes, I will fill my stomach with healthy food and delicious food and healthy, delicious food. I will fill my body with exercise-induced endorphins. I will fill my soul with snuggles and nature and books and writing and movies and TV. I will fill my brain with important, useful, and factual information and filter out the false or sensationalist crap. I will fill my heart with with my kids and my husband and my dogs as we, together, create this uniquely beautiful quarantined life.

Because it is beautiful, in many ways. And just because it’s beautiful does not mean that it’s not also a little scary and a lot strange. A persistent thought keeps popping into my head and it is this: “This time is such a gift.” This chance to slow down; to disconnect from life’s superfluous crap and reconnect to only what truly matters; to invest in emotional and physical health; to be present; to just be. Of course, our opportunity is another family’s tragedy and for that reason I feel like an asshole being so damn content. Then I remind myself that it’s ok to choose joy over fear. It’s ok to feel simultaneous gratitude and grief. This time IS a gift. It is a family-sized life raft keeping us afloat on a sea of uncertainty and fear.

So, for now, as we continue to float along these uncharted waters, I am done with dietary restrictions. I hereby untether myself from anything that does not belong in our family life raft. Starting now, there is no “on the wagon” or “off the wagon.” No good or bad eating, no blue dots or negative points (in WW lingo).

Instead, I am going to practice trusting myself. This will be hard work for me, because I have never trusted myself around food. But right now I have the gift of time. And now I know how great it feels to be fit and strong. I know that I can reap extra benefits of exercise on an empty stomach. I know that as long as I am filling my body with nutritious food, I will not feel debilitating hunger. I know that if my stomach emits a wee growl, it is not an emergency and I do not need to immediately grab for the nearest snack. I know the foods and portion sizes that my body needs to optimize its performance. I have a better sense of what foods help my body run smoothly and what foods give me trouble. I know how I feel if I indulge in too much junk. And I know I do not deserve to self-flagellate myself in shame if I do it anyway.

Today I set myself free from my super-strict nutrition program without setting a deadline to get “back on the wagon.” I am instead going to practice trusting myself. I am going to remember that my wellness journey is a marathon, not a sprint. I am going to use my sobriety superpower to stay present. If I slip or stumble, I will remind myself that I possess a superpower that makes the impossible possible.

I am capable. I am trustworthy. I am grateful. I am free.