Sober Holiday Strategy: What If You Had To?

As Thanksgiving comes waddling at us, I have to say I am very much looking forward to another booze-free holiday season. I also realize that two years ago, the thought of enduring the stress of the holidays without booze would have filled me with gut-churning anxiety (please note that holidays are a lot less stressful without booze in the first place, but I digress). For those of you who are pondering an alcohol-free holiday season, or have committed to staying dry but are dreading it, here’s a thought: what if you had to?

What if you had to be sober? What if you were on antibiotics or pregnant or had some other medical or religious or spiritual or physical reason that took booze off your holiday table?

If there were a hard and fast rule, more than a well-intentioned whim or sheer willpower, that kept you from imbibing, would that make you approach the holidays differently? Instead of seeing not drinking as the mother of all bummers, would you perhaps instead be open to this new sober holiday experience, and maybe even be interested in seeing how you could make the most of it?

I first encountered this “what if you had to” mindset on my Peloton bike during a ride with the incredible Christine D’Ercole. On the bike, these words help me push myself beyond what I believe I can do. What if I were really cycling up a hill, and my kid was at the top, and I had to make it up to her as fast as I could? I would effing haul ass.

These five words are versatile and applicable beyond the bike that goes nowhere. For a rule follower like me, these words hold a lot of power, too. Yes, you have to surrender to your imagination. (For those of y’all who aren’t down with that, I have another mindset you may find helpful – stay tuned for an upcoming post.) But once you do, you can explore the feeling you create. Try it on, see how it feels.

See how it feels to imagine that you cannot consume alcohol over the holidays for some steadfast, set-in-stone reason. You don’t have to decide whether or not to drink, or how much to drink. Drinking is not an option, so there is no decision to be made. No draining of your well of willpower. No brainpower spent debating with the wine witch. That might feel pretty good, right?

Spoiler alert: it does. It really, really does.

Holding My Words

So I noticed a few days ago that my Instagram topped one thousand followers (and I might have taken a screenshot at 1,001 and sent it to a couple of friends because OMG). I knew I had to play it cool on the ‘gram in case I lost followers and dipped back down into triple digits. But this was an exciting moment for me and over the next few days as my following grew beyond 1K to a number where I felt comfortable acknowledging it, I pondered how to do just that.

Should I buy metallic 1 and K mylar balloons, throw on some makeup, and get a blowout for a photo shoot? That’s not really my style. But what is my style? And what does this number mean to me anyway?

I thought about this a lot. And here’s what I’ve concluded: hitting this milestone means that my journey resonates.

It means the sober movement is gaining momentum, and that gray area drinking is becoming something people are less hesitant to acknowledge.

It means that getting my ass in the arena and being vulnerable is worth it.

It means I was never alone in my struggle with drinking, I am not alone now in my struggle with sugar, and I will never be alone in my quest for deeper self-love.

My journey is now being followed by over one thousand people. So what’s the most meaningful thing I can do? Keep going. Continue to share. Continue to believe in my AF-self and the power of vulnerability and connection.

In that spirit, I went to Staples. I went to Staples and I printed out the entire contents of my blog and every single word that I wrote during my one year alcohol-free. I had been copying and pasting and formatting for weeks, in spare moments here and there. When I hit 1,000 followers, I decided to pick up the pace and get it done.

Abandoning my flash drive at Staples felt like leaving my infant with a new babysitter for the first time. Completely nerve-wracking. Especially since one of my files was titled “BIG ASS OYAF.” (Oops – didn’t realize the Staples guy was going to be doing the printing.)

I returned an hour later to pick up 462 pages. Over 215,000 words. Words that are mine. Words that capture two of the most transformative years of my life.

As much as I say that I want to write a book, that I am going to write a book, on a day-to-day basis I am filled with self-doubt. Is what I have to say really important enough? Can I really write well enough? Am I really trying to help people or am I just being self-serving?

Today, as I held my pages in my hands, I realized that those questions are irrelevant at best, destructive at worst. Because I’ve already done it. Yes, I need an outline and I need to fill in a bunch of blanks and I need to write more about my background, etc. But so much of my book is already done. Now that I can hold these pages in my hands it is easier to believe in myself.

And I am holding these pages because of you. So thank you for reading. Thank you for following and commenting and believing and supporting. You are helping me believe in myself, and I hope I’m doing the same for you.

500 Days of Alcohol Freedom and Just a Little Pee in My Pants

Today, at 500 days alcohol-free, I jumped a few extra feet out of my comfort zone and taught Saturday morning heavy bag kickboxing. I teach every Thursday and Friday morning, but Saturday is a different level of intensity. On Thursdays and Fridays, I usually teach between four and ten people. Saturday is a packed room, 16 or more, with attendees often needing to double up on a heavy bag. Thursday and Friday mornings witness the stay-at-home moms (like me), the college students and nannies, and others who are liberated from the 9-5 grind. Saturday brings the workhorses, the veterans – many of whom are more experienced than I. They come expecting their hardest workout of the week. I usually take this class on Saturday and the instructor always kicks my ass. Today, she is at the beach and left it up to me to provide the ass-kicking.

On Thursdays and Fridays, the gym is quiet except for the action in the big red and gray room we use for the heavy bag class. Not so on Saturday, when the gym is packed. Kids’ classes are running in the other room and the students’ parents (some of whom are my friends) are milling around. My boss – the owner of the joint – flits between teaching the kids and schmoozing the parents and observing the heavy bag class.

I am used to a quiet gym and a small, dedicated group of sweat-loving ladies. Today the gym was busy. My crowded class was full of intense athletes. And my peers, boss, and kids peered through the big glass windows to watch me teach. Oh, and my husband was on a bag in the front row.

No pressure.

Did I also mention that before class started I managed to both spill my tea and pee my pants?

***

A few days ago, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to teach this class. My annual bout of bronchitis struck last Sunday. And it’s been the pits, as always. But I decided to take myself to Urgent Care right away to get some prescriptive relief for my overtaxed airways. Albuterol + Prednisone + Paul Rudd’s new Netflix series got me through the worst of it on Sunday and Monday. The drugs kicked in and I turned enough of a corner to teach my classes on Thursday and Friday. Even though I went hoarse on Thursday and was still coughing, teaching brought me out of my bronchial funk and back into the land of the living.

I put on my own oxygen mask first this week. Rest, hydration, and a little steroid assistance… oh, and grace. Accepting the situation for what it is, avoiding a pity party pitfall, taking the care I can and letting go of what is out of my control. Not fussing (too much) about lost workouts or extra calories. That is how I navigated my bronchial drama – and I’m better off for it.

In my previous battles with bronchitis, I would obsess about what I could not control, and be annoyed at my inability to control these uncontrollable aspects of illness. I used to feel forlorn guilt about missing workouts due to being sick, and shame myself for comfort-eating my way through a virus. The shame, of course, just made me eat more.

I know now that wine was at the root of all of this. Because my dependence on wine had me living in a near-constant mindset of guilt and shame. That was how I coped with hard things: I always found a way to guilt myself through it. I relieved the guilt by drinking to escape it. Until the shame inevitably set in.

I am so grateful to be off that misery-go-round.

I am so grateful to have traded guilt for grace.

I am so grateful to be back in action.

And so I was today. My heart was pounding as I pulled my swagger wagon into the parking lot of my MMA gym. I grabbed my stainless steel tumbler and took a slug of my Throat Comfort tea, failing to notice that the mug had been leaking for the duration of my commute. The lukewarm tea dribbled down my puffy jacket and right onto the crotch of my new black leggings with rose gold metallic flecks. “Bless the makers of this miracle fabric that doesn’t show sweat, or apparently tea,” I thought to myself as I grabbed my backpack to head inside. Dodged that bullet!

I was the first to arrive at the gym after the manager who opens up. With my stomach butterflies multiplying by the minute, I tried my best to play it cool and stuck to my normal routine. I took my boots off and entered the big red and gray room. My bare feet padded across the black mat to the far corner, where I dropped my backpack, plugged in my old iPhone to get my music going, plugged in and set my digital clock, and taped my class plan to the cabinet that houses the sound system. I padded back to the entrance, put my boots back on, and hustled to the bathroom.

I’d had lots of tea. I’ve also had two children. And I’ve also had bronchitis. What I thought would be a small, dry cough turned into an unexpectedly deep, productive, phlegmy cough, and the next thing I knew I felt a dreaded warm gush and dashed into the nearest bathroom stall.

I really don’t pee my pants that much. But I sure did today – with about 12 minutes to go until my class began. Luckily, in my limited experience of pants-peeing I can say that the gush always feels worse (by which I mean more plentiful) than it is. I sent up another offer of gratitude to the athleisure gods who made this miracle fabric that betrayed neither my tea nor my pee. I flushed the toilet and washed my hands. Took a quick glance in the mirror – no mascara schmears, at least I had that going for me – and headed back into the gym.

My class was a whirlwind of nerves, combos, and sweat. Imperfection abounded. My Spotify playlist jumped into shuffle mode and I had to change iPhones, causing a two-second eon of – gasp! – no music in the speakers. I botched demonstrating a couple of combos, forgetting where I was and what punch or kick came next. And my cough – which has been fairly dry and sporadic for the duration of this virus, decided to amp up its phlegm production during the 45 minutes I was on the mic. Try doing a jab-cross-hook-cross-switch-left-kick while attempting to choke down a stubborn loogie. Not as easy as it sounds, my friends.

But damn, I looked great in my rose gold-flecked leggings. My kicks felt purposeful and strong. My voice was clear (when I wasn’t coughing) and I felt saucy and inspired as I motivated my crew to get through the killer workout I had written just for them.

My perfectly imperfect Saturday kickboxing class was the perfect way to spend my 500th day of alcohol freedom. The red and gray room was my arena today. And I was in it. Tea, pee, phlegm, and all. Leading this class wasn’t easy. It was far from perfect. But it was good. It was enough. I am enough.

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. – Brené Brown

I own these 500 days with pride. I hold each of them – the best ones and the worst ones and each and every one in between – in love and light today, honoring every stage of this incredible journey.

Bright eyes. Open mind. Happy heart. Fresh underwear. This is me at 500 days alcohol-free.

Regaining – and Maintaining – Perspective

I posted this to Instagram last week, on Halloween Eve:

In truth this has been an unexpectedly intense week and I am struggling with balance and self-doubt. There is so much to look forward to – my Halloween kickboxing class tomorrow, trick-or-treating with my kids tomorrow night, and my First Friday theme class on Friday. I know I will rally but right now I am just feeling low energy and blah. 

But I’m feeling these things. I’m not denying them or numbing myself to them or running away. I am sitting with the discomfort and while it doesn’t feel good, I know that I am doing myself a solid by just hanging out in this meh. 

I know booze won’t help me. I really want some chocolate but I know that won’t help me either. So I’m going to take a break from my work and walk my dog before I have to go pick up my kids. And that, for me, is progress.

After I posted it, I went downstairs and ate an RX Bar (at least it wasn’t Nutella). I got my dog on his leash and out the door. I started to walk through my meh. And then I remembered this:

I had been out five of the previous six nights. So not only was I short on sleep, but over the course of those nights, I navigated the following situations without booze:

  • Christmas shopping
  • Dinner out with my husband and my mom
  • Going to see two Broadway shows plus dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant – the one with the famous frozen pomegranate margaritas
  • Volunteer meeting
  • A mom’s night out at – wait for it – a wine bar

Each of these evenings (except the volunteer meeting) would have been fueled by booze two years ago and remembered as a blur the next day. Yet I happily navigated all of them without hesitation and without a single drop of vino or tequila. In my former wine mom life, a series of evenings like these would have meant consuming the equivalent of several bottles of wine plus numerous cocktails. I may be exhausted. I may be hitting the Halloween candy a little (a lot) too hard. But taking a moment to regain perspective while walking my dog was a turning point that helped me emerge from the meh.

Perspective comes and goes and I sometimes frustrate myself in this constant state of losing and regaining it. “At least it’s not booze.” “This too shall pass.” “One container of pumpkin pie hummus is not the end of the world.” “You still look and feel better than you ever looked or felt when you were drinking.”

These sentiments help, but they only go so far, especially when a virtuous cycle is teetering on the brink of a descent into the vicious. And this is where I’ve been since that last Instagram post. I had a lovely, mind-clearing, perspective-regaining dog walk, and the next day was Halloween and trick-or-treating in the rain. Then my kids had a half-day of school. Then daylight savings wreaked its biannual havoc. Then my kids had another half-day of school. Then they had a full day off. And by the end of the day yesterday not only had I polished off that container of pumpkin pie hummus, I dove head-first into the Halloween candy and even raided my kids’ freezer stash of mini ice cream cones.

WTF?!

I underestimated how challenging this time of year can be. If I had just flipped back to this post I wrote last November, I could have been more prepared. I wouldn’t have bought the hummus. Or the chocolate spread (I didn’t mention that, did I? Yeah, I polished that off too.). I could have better steeled myself for No-School November and the one-two punch of Halloween and Daylight Savings.

But, I think in part due to the crazy week I had in the lead-up to Halloween, I went in unprepared. And I ate all the sugar and did none of the hydrating and just generally dropped the ball on self-care.

Today is a new day. My kids are back at school. And I have a plan to yank myself out of this vicious cycle and back into the virtuous:

  • Drink a gallon of water today
  • Do a 60-minute Peloton bootcamp
  • Make tea immediately after lunch to combat sugar cravings
  • If I’m still craving sugar, take 15 minutes to read about how bad sugar is for me (via Sugar Blues, a book that was recommended to me)

Hydration, exercise, and education. These are my weapons against the sugar monster. Because perspective can only get me so far in the battle for my best life. Onward! 490 days and counting!

On Grief and Flannel Sheets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

449 days and counting.

 

Ripping Up a Perfectionist Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing in a Summer Shame Shower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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