I’m Onto You, Sugar

Sugar is a constant. Its lack of perfection as a food is total. On any scale of nutrients, it would rate less than zero.
-William Dufty, Sugar Blues

Keeping this quote handy as I cope with the strongest sugar cravings that have hit me so far this month. Instead of “treating” myself with a dive off the wagon that would only make me feel worse, I have instead spent time figuring out why I feel triggered and putting my sugar-free tools to work.

Triggers
Yesterday was my husband’s last day at a job that made him miserable. It was also the Friday of a long weekend. And I taught one of my best kickboxing classes yet. All reasons to celebrate, and we – individually and as a family – equate celebrating with consuming some form of sugar.

Tools
Self-awareness: I know I am a rule follower. Right now, refined and added sugar are not allowed so I know I won’t break this deal outright (more on this in a sec).
Education: I am keeping my sugar books close at hand and referring to them as needed.
Hydration: A gallon of water a day. Every day.
Healthy foods: I am making sure my pantry is stocked with them.
Writing: Writing these thoughts out always helps!
Accountability: Posting about this keeps me honest and motivated to do better.

All of this being said, last night after our kids’ jiujitsu class, my husband and I took them to dinner at Five Guys. With but shreds of willpower left, I ordered a burger and I ate it all – including the bun. I had a feeling the bun had sugar in it. All white bread does. But I ate it anyway because I chose to play dumb instead of Googling the ingredients. (And I admit, the burger was freaking delicious.) (Oh and also the fries.)

Considering that a meal like this used to include a pint of ice cream and/or a bottle of wine, I acknowledge that this is progress and I am not guilting myself about it. But what happened next threw me for a loop.

When we got home, I had to pack for our trip to NH because we planned to leave early this morning. Not only did I feel totally overwhelmed at the idea of packing, but looking around my house I felt frustrated by all of the piles and clutter. My frustration quickly swelled into anger that felt almost uncontrollable.

A total mood swing! Doable tasks felt impossible. Clutter that hadn’t bothered me all week made me irate. Before I completely blew up, I paused. “This is not like me. I can’t remember the last time I felt like this. What is different tonight? What could have caused this?”

Then it hit me: THE BUN. The damn delicious bun! I took out my phone and Googled and sure enough, sugar is the third ingredient. The damn bun was first refined sugar I had consumed in 10 days (after another snafu while eating out when dried cranberries snuck into my salad).

Now, I grant that this entire meal contributed to my malaise. But I didn’t just feel bloated and low energy, as I usually do after a junk food meal. My entire mood shifted. It was stark and bizarre. And I am choosing to believe that my body was sending me a message: just as with alcohol, my life is a whole lot better without refined sugar. Message received, loud and clear!

We are up at our farmhouse now. The first thing I did upon arrival was get my favorite chicken chili in the crock pot, some butternut squash in the oven, and a kale salad in my body. It is always a challenge to eat clean up here, but after last night’s ordeal I am determined to do it. The meal prep and planning is a bit of a downer when I just want to be in relaxation mode, but worth it. I know I will feel so proud if I can make it through the weekend without refined sugar or other crap. I’ll report back in a couple days to keep myself accountable!

Damn bun. Sugar is evil. I get it, I get it.

Follow Your Passion – Wait, No – Your Curiosity

Yesterday while walking my dogs I listened to a podcast featuring Elizabeth Gilbert, who spoke about how not everyone has one thing that they are meant to do in life, or one single path to follow. Some of us are hummingbirds, flitting from flower to flower as we fill up on one interest and pursue the next. “Follow your curiosity,” she said, and an invisible, subconscious weight lifted from my shoulders as my dogs sniffed and peed their way along the sidewalk.

Because this is how I’ve always operated: curiously. I have always followed my curiosity – academically, personally, professionally. I have wanted to do and be so many things throughout my life, and I’ve felt guilt about that over the years because shouldn’t I have become one big thing by now? An archaeologist or a CEO or an author or something?

Perhaps instead I’m meant to continually become. At some point over the last 18 months, I became a non-drinker. I did this by following my curiosity. I wanted to see how I felt after completing Dry January, and then The Alcohol Experiment, and then taking a full year off drinking. What would it feel like to not indulge an alcohol craving? What if I could regain the reins of my life from the wine witch? Could I ever get to a point where I didn’t want to drink?

These were some of my questions. And I could only answer them by following my path, one day – and sometimes one hour – at a time.

Now that I am alcohol-free I want to write about it. Really write. Like, write a whole book. But am I really capable of this? I haven’t dedicated my life to being a writer. I don’t know if I would ever want to write a second book, or even a magazine article. But this one book project has taken hold of my heart and won’t let go. It’s the flower to which I keep flitting back. I remain curious about my ability to do the writing and navigate the publishing world. So as long as this curiosity has hold of me, I am going to pursue it. One day – one hour, one sentence – at a time.

In this wonderfully mindset-shifting podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert said that following your curiosity may in fact lead you to your passion. Wouldn’t that be grand? But if not, if I am not meant to be a published author, I can and will always be a writer. And I know that the experience of trying to write a book about my journey to alcohol freedom will, at the very least, lead me to the next delectable flower, and the next.

18 Months Alcohol-Free! Whoa.

A year and a half of alcohol freedom and here’s what that means to me: alcohol has no hold on me anymore, no place in my life anymore. There is no vacancy up in this joint. I am 100% occupied with the momentous and the mundane and everything in between, and I don’t want to miss a minute.

For two decades, I was writing a different life story. I was a binge-drinking college student, a work-hard-play-harder twentysomething, and then, in my last booze-fueled incarnation, a #winemom. An open bar, a witching hour, a holiday. A funeral, a date night, a girls night. I was enabled by any and every occasion and non-occasion. Resisting the urge to drink – say, on any given Sunday, or Tuesday, or whenever – took a Herculean amount of willpower. If I succeeded in denying myself my sauvignon blanc, I was left feeling depleted and resentful.

I was a gray area drinker. Jolene Park, who bravely brought this style of drinking out into the open, defines the gray area as “the space between the extremes of ‘rock bottom’ and every-now-and-again drinking: a gray area that many, many people find an impossible space to occupy.”

Many, many people? But I thought it was just me. And that’s why I kept my ever-increasing struggle to myself for so many years. I thought everyone else either had a Problem-with-a-capital-P or drank “normally.” I thought I was the only weak-ass dumdum for whom wine was not the glorious treat I had been led to believe it was.

550 days ago, I left the gray area behind for good. I have only looked back to see how far I’ve come, and to give myself a little jolt of pride whenever I need it. My alcohol freedom is there for me now in a way that alcohol never was. On a crappy day, I remind myself that I am in fact quite brave, and I can in fact get through tough stuff. On a wonderful day, I remind myself how amazing it is to be able to absorb every perfectly imperfect moment. I am numb to neither the crap nor the wonder. I am open and receptive to it all, and simply damn grateful to be right here.

December 29: My Vulnerableversary

December 29, 2017

I’ve become that stay-at-home mom who can’t get through the witching hour without a glass of wine (which inevitably leads to more) and that needs to change… My heart is pounding at the thought of posting this and appealing for help, but I need it.

December 29, 2018

I have defeated the wine witch. She may never completely disappear, I know. But she is vanquished. She will continue to try to tempt me but she will only continue to waste away.

I am still fighting other foes, and I am still a work in progress. But I have already slain my fiercest enemy. I have already won the war and claimed my prize: self-love.

December 29, 2019

December 29 has become a benchmark for me, so I could not let the day pass without reflection. On this day two years ago, while floundering at the nadir of my gray area drinking (my own personal gray-dir), I finally got up the guts to appeal for help. On this day last year, at almost exactly half-way through my One Year Alcohol-Free, I felt triumphant, focused, and energized with my eyes on the prize of reaching 365 days without booze.

And here we are again: December 29. I have not had a drink in 543 days. Alcohol freedom is now my reality. It is no longer an impossible-turned-possible goal. Any temptation to drink passes faster than a skunk smell on a highway as I continue to live on sober cruise control.

Sobriety is easy, but life is not. I feel mired in the real work. The work that I drank to avoid for so many years. Since vanquishing the wine witch, I have gotten to know myself again, and grown to respect and love myself again. I have also come to understand that there is deep work to be done in order to move forward with honesty into the next phase of my #AFlife: mid-motherhood and my fierce, give-fewer-effs 40s. Now that both of my kids are in elementary school, it is time to reclaim the hours of care and pieces of me that they rightfully hoarded as babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. It is time to decide if I really have the guts to write a book. It is time to face the reality that alcoholism exists in my family. It is time to conquer my emotional eating and reliance on sugar that I drowned out with alcohol for two decades.

Easy peasy! No problemo! Ha. Not so much.

I wish I felt last December 29th’s glow today, but I don’t. I am no less grateful for the incredible support I received from my #sobersisters on Connect, without whom this December 29 would not be my 544th day of alcohol freedom. I am no less in awe of the fact that in two short years I have completely changed my once inescapable and abusive relationship with wine. I once felt as if I were standing at the foot of a mountain, empty sauvignon blanc bottles littering the ground around my feet, unable to discern any hint of a path to even start my ascent. I somehow managed to find those first footholds and some strong branches to grasp, and I climbed. But now I can see that what I thought was the summit was just a plateau. The next stage of the climb had not been visible through my gray area fog.

One of the greatest gifts of alcohol freedom is clarity – and I can see clearly now, the fog is gone. I can see some big-ass obstacles in my way. I can see that I still have a steep climb ahead. And on this December 29, I am feeling a little wistful and a little out of my league. Can’t I just climb that first part again? It was so much fun (once I got the hang of it)! What if this next stage is too hard? What if I don’t have the discipline or the stamina or the ability?

What if I don’t make it?

I think it’s safe to say that I’m a little bit terrified.

I was terrified on this day two years ago, too. I may have a long way to go, but I am a long way from where I started. I have no choice but to believe in myself, because I have already proven that I can achieve the impossible-turned-possible.

It’s time to gear up.

 

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.