My Alcohol Experiment: Day 11

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Day 11 of The Alcohol Experiment: a big thank you to our bodies and brains.

I consider myself a grateful person. From little things to, you know, being alive and all, I try to exist in a place of gratitude. Which is why Day 11 of The Alcohol Experiment was such an eye-opener for me. While I often find myself thinking how lucky I am to be alive, rarely do I applaud the body and brain that has played a major role in keeping me that way for 37 years. In fact, I’ve often done the opposite. So today’s exercise of writing a thank you letter to my body was incredibly powerful for me. Never one to shy away from the cheese factor, I went for it on this one and I feel like my perspective is forever changed. And for that, I am grateful down to my bones.

Here is my letter:

Dear Body,

I know I have given you a hard time over the years, and spent a lot of time treating you poorly and putting you down. I wanted to take this moment to apologize, and to say thank you. After all I’ve done to you – two broken bones; two marathons; two pregnancies; one c-section; and the constant, decades-long assault of junk food and alcohol – your resilience is miraculous. Thank you for being there for me unconditionally, in good health and in bad, in fitness and in sloth.

I know I have spent too much time over the years criticizing you and wishing you were different. In my teenage years, I wished for clear skin and bigger boobs. Now, I never take my clear skin for granted, and after having two kids I very much appreciate having a small-size chest! I have felt embarrassed by stretch marks and varicose veins. But I know these things aren’t the end of the world and anyone who would judge me for them is not worth my time. Perhaps more than anything, I have wished to be thin. I have wished to be thin as I inhaled simple carbs and Swedish Fish. I have wished to be thin as I polished off glass after glass of wine. So many years of wishing for something that was never going to be a reality because of the way I was treating you.

For some of that time, I didn’t know any better. I grew up clueless about nutrition because no one ever taught me. I grew up watching all the adults in my life enjoying alcohol. I grew up trying to please everybody and needing a way to relieve the stress and feel good – and that was through food, and then through booze and food.

Fortunately for us both, I have had it. Believe me, I am as tired of putting you down as you are of being put down. We are in this together, for life. I promise to stop the negative self-talk (it may take awhile but I will get there!). I promise to continue this journey of digging deep to get to the root of my alcohol and junk food cravings and repair the lifelong damage that has caused my dependence on them. I promise to stay committed to exercise. I promise to keep learning, to stay present, to stay in a place of gratitude.

This journey will not be perfect. I will take some steps back, some steps sideways. But I finally appreciate you now more than I ever have, and I know I am not going to lose that. Because it feels too good to love you.

So, onward. As partners, not adversaries. It feels a lot better that way, doesn’t it?

Love,

Jen

And here is my body’s much more concise response:

Dear Jen,

Kindness suits you. Stick with it girl. I got your back (and every other part of you).

Love,

Your bod

I would love to hear from others who did this exercise. This was a total game-changer for me. Anyone else?

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 10

Day 10 of The Alcohol Experiment: a cultural shift and deconstructing the happiness myth.

Today’s entry made me feel both hopeful and introspective. Just as I have felt alone in my dependence on “mommy juice,” I have also felt alone in wanting to ditch it. Despite everything I’ve read I still sometimes feel like all of the people around me – especially my peers, moms of young kids in my community – seem to have a perfectly “healthy” relationship with alcohol. I find myself lamenting that I can’t be a happy, “normal” drinker like everyone else. I’m either off the sauce or guzzling a bottle in one sitting.

Annie’s Day 10 essay gives me so much hope, not only for me and anyone who is considering the possibility of a life beyond (or at least a lot less dependent on) alcohol, but also for my kids and future generations. Apparently the cool kids these days aren’t drinking. Let’s hope this trend continues!

In the meantime… does drinking make you happy? I have sure thought so in the past. But Annie Grace systematically breaks down this myth and I’m looking forward to my subconscious kissing this belief goodbye.

Because, HELLO, alcohol is a depressant! It LITERALLY DOES NOT make you happy. In fact, consuming alcohol ultimately makes you feel worse than you felt before you started drinking. Yes, you get a 30-60 minute boost during that first drink, and shorter but similar boosts for each successive drink you consume. But then what? For those few hours spent drinking, you can expect several times as many hours spent feeling like total crapola.

And total crapola is a far cry from the ten most positive emotions which together create the feeling of happiness:

Joy

Gratitude

Serenity

Interest

Hope

Pride

Amusement

Inspiration

Awe

Love

I love this list. I wrote it on a notecard and have it sitting here at my computer. I am going to keep it in the Notes app in my phone. I might write it out again and tape it to the inside of my medicine cabinet or in my closet. Or both.

Because one look at this list and I realize how much I value ALL of these things above drinking wine. And I now also understand that alcohol cannot give me any of these things. That, in fact, alcohol takes these things away.

Annie concludes with, “True happiness, for me, means being comfortable, peaceful, confident, proud of myself, at peace in the world. It means not having any more internal fighting. It means being physically healthy and mentally balanced.”

I certainly couldn’t have said it better. On to Day 11!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 9

Day 9 of The Alcohol Experiment: how to combat those pesky sugar cravings.

Let me just remove my hand from the bag of leftover M&Ms from my son’s birthday party to do some typing.

As with many of these daily entries, it’s like Annie Grace has a direct link to my brain. Sugar cravings have been a HUGE issue for me since Dry January. I have always had a sweet tooth but once I cut out the booze that little sweet tooth grew into a behemoth. Over the past couple of months, as I’ve felt increasingly in control of my alcohol cravings, I have felt increasingly powerless against my sugar cravings – and, as a result, consumed epic amounts of crap.

Fortunately for us, Annie Grace gives us a variety of ways to help us deal with the sugar monster. She also reminds us to go easy on ourselves and if we need to pop a few gummy bears to get us through, that’s ok. (Yes, we are on WW, but think of all the points we are saving by not drinking! Eat the gummy bears if you need to!) The list is pretty self-explanatory, but it does help to know that these simple things really do make a difference as we try to navigate life off the alcohol-induced sugar roller coaster.

So here’s how to keep sugar cravings at bay:

Exercise! This boosts serotonin and is a genuine stress-reducer, unlike alcohol which numbs, then exacerbates, stress and anxiety.

Eat fruit! It’s got natural sugar and will help keep you full.

Drink water! I have found hydrating during the winter to be very challenging, but when I am properly hydrated it makes such a difference.

Eat several small meals and focus on protein! When broken down, protein produces a variety of amino acids including GABA, which helps you feel good (and is mimicked by alcohol). Eating throughout the day helps stabilize blood sugar so no roller coaster spikes and drops for you!

Eat fermented foods and drinks! And/or supplement with probiotics. Happy gut, happy life.

So, what is your plan for coping with sugar cravings?

Here’s mine:

Tracking! What a great weapon we have in the sugar battle! I have also stocked my freezer with Enlightened ice cream and I eat fruit with wild abandon. I am going to focus on making sure my snacks include protein; try to eat something fermented every day (kimchi is my choice, even though it revolts my hubby and kids); and hydrate hydrate hydrate. Oh, and sleep sleep sleep! (A mom can dream…)

For Annie Grace, ditching alcohol “was like the big domino that knocked over all the other little life changes I wanted to make.” This is happening to all of us, whether we realize it or not. Whether we give up alcohol permanently or not. We are all learning so much during this experiment and making changes both conscious and subconscious.

So pop those gummy bears if you need to, and trust the process.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 8

Day 8 of The Alcohol Experiment: be nice to yo’self!

This was a good reminder for me. I had a great weigh-in this morning but since then have plagued myself with negativity today. After five days of unwanted house guests (who happen to be my dad and stepmom) who have been heavily drinking, I am feeling weak, weary, super frustrated, and just drained. I followed Annie Grace’s daily journal exercise today and I can’t tell if it’s making me feel better or worse. So my apologies for being a bit of a Debbie Downer this evening.

But let’s get to today’s lesson: the power of self talk.

I’m just going to quote Annie Grace here because it’s like she’s speaking out of my brain. “If you’ve ever tried to make a change in your life or start a new habit, you know how easily negative thinking and self-talk can defeat your best intentions. You can start the day strong and full of optimism. But as the day wears on, the voice inside your head can get louder and more insistent until it’s just easier to give in.”

How many of my days have started with, “I am NOT drinking today” and ended with several glasses of wine? Too many to count. And I suspect I’m not alone!

Annie encourages us to become aware of that voice in our head that breaks us down as the day wears on. She tells us we are stronger than that voice. And she tells us how we can conquer it: as my dad would say (see, I did learn some good things from him!), “Kill ‘em with kindness.”

Become aware of your negative self-talk. Inundate yourself with gratitude and strive to see the positive in everything you can. Talk to yourself the way you would want others to talk to you. And you WILL rewire your brain. By thinking about how it feels to believe that negative inner voice, your subconscious will learn to let go of those beliefs because they cause you pain.

I hope she’s right. I need her to be right.

In our journals today Annie asked us to answer three questions to start changing our self talk. Here are some excerpts from mine:

What are you thinking now?

I feel anxious and exhausted. I will never get to my goal weight. I like food and alcohol too much to be able to get down into the 130s.

What are the beliefs underlying these thoughts?

I believe that I will not be able to effectively address the true issues underlying my desire to eat junk food and drink alcohol. I believe that I am incapable of making lasting changes.

How do these beliefs make you feel?

I feel totally weak. I feel frustrated and angry with myself. I feel like a failure. I know that junk food and alcohol are bad for me and I know that they will only make me feel good for a moment, and then will make me feel much worse than I felt before ingesting them.

Yikes. I didn’t realize how negative my self talk can be until I typed this out today. I am really going to make a concerted effort in the coming days and weeks to recognize my negative self talk as the poorly-written fiction that it is. And I hope I can start to retrain my brain.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 7

Day 7 of The Alcohol Experiment: alcohol and your senses.

Ack! I wish I had read this entry this morning instead of tonight, because I feel like I could have spent my day today really appreciating my senses and how finely tuned they are without alcohol and I could have written something really great. Sorry folks! I’ll do my best!

The lesson today discusses how alcohol numbs all five of our senses by slowing down neurotransmitters, which move information between our body and our brain. When we drink, we numb ourselves to everything, including pleasure, happiness, and the ability to create wonderful memories. There are many (many, many) blurry nights in my past and that makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed. But also proud of myself for doing this experiment now, ensuring that I will have many (many, many) clear nights and wonderful memories ahead of me.

As Annie says, “Your senses are what make you feel alive. Treat them with respect.”

I would love to hear from those of you who have spent time, whether it’s today or some other day recently, focusing on your senses sans booze. What have you noticed? What have you especially appreciated?

Almost every morning, I am woken by my 4-year-old son (and his stuffed dog lovey) climbing into bed with me. He is warm and his jammies are soft and he is a snuggle master. He’ll often start talking or singing quietly (or not quietly), his face pressed up against my face. I usually have my eyes closed, clinging to the last moments of precious sleep before the day begins. I can hear his sweet voice and how he still pronounces his L’s like W’s. I can feel his increasingly strong and solid limbs and what’s left of his baby belly. I can smell his morning breath, which is a little stinky but still sweet to me. These first moments of my day are so precious, it pains me to think of how many of them were thrown away with hangovers. One day he will stop coming into our room to snuggle. And that will break my heart. So until then, I will drink in these moments and relish the exquisite sounds and snuggles and smells. And I will try to remember to appreciate how darn lucky I am to be able to do just that.

The video today focuses on the relationship between alcohol and depression, another very informative piece of this puzzle that I highly recommend viewing. “Alcohol is only giving back what it has taken away” – a good takeaway for us all, I think!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com. If you would like to be tagged in my posts please let me know in comments!]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 6

Day 6 of The Alcohol Experiment: start spreading the news. Or not. Do what works for you!

This is an interesting and timely topic for me today, as I have been contending with the social double-whammy of St. Patrick’s Day and throwing a birthday party for my 4-year-old son (triple whammy if you count my dad and stepmom being here and my dad starting to drink at 11am, two hours before the birthday party even started).

Annie Grace makes the point that telling friends that you are not drinking is a lot more complex than it may seem, because, in her view, society does not acknowledge that alcohol is addictive. And that is how we justify the fact that so many of us drink so much.

So, in cutting back or cutting out alcohol, you are setting yourself apart from your friends and that can be uncomfortable and nerve-wracking. Ultimately, I think the message in today’s lesson is the more comfortable and confident you are with your choice, the less of a big deal it will be.

I definitely identified with Annie’s evolution in how she has dealt with ditching booze. She went from being preachy to self-deprecating to, finally, just authentically positive. I have a hard time not preaching to friends and family about all I have learned about alcohol and its effects on the body. This knowledge has felt like such a life-changing gift, it’s something I am very eager to share with others. But I have to remind myself how deeply personal an issue drinking truly is. The last thing I would ever want to do is accidentally shame a friend.

So I have tried the self-deprecating approach as well. Especially this time around, because I feel like a lot of people are perfectly accepting of Dry January, or a post-holiday detox. But this time, I have voluntarily chosen to go alcohol-free for 30 days starting randomly in the middle of March. A time period that includes St. Patrick’s Day, a girls’ weekend, a school gala, and other events in which alcohol would normally play a prominent role for me. These 30 days are tougher for me to explain to people. So I have gone the self-deprecating route: “I know, what is wrong with me?!” “What was I thinking?!” “I know I’m crazy, but…”

Like Annie, I feel inauthentic when I make statements like that. Because I feel RIGHT making this choice, I know exactly what I’m thinking, and I actually feel quite sane and even proud for doing this right now, with all of these opportunities to experience fun events sober instead of drunk!

So I am trying to get myself to a confident, positive place pronto. I believe that if I own this choice, proudly but not pompously, I can address any questions directly and efficiently and we can move past it. And if pressed, I can honestly and authentically say that I have just been so exhausted lately that I figured I need all the help I can get, and cutting out booze gives me a good boost of energy. Which is the simple truth. No biggie!

So far, my friends have been totally supportive and seem to get it. I do sometimes wonder if they think I have a problem, or if they think I think I have a problem – but when I start to go down that road, I try to u-turn as quickly as I can. Because I have good friends, and even if they don’t fully understand my choice or feel a bit awkward around me right now, I know that they will support me as best they can.

I am going to end here for tonight, because I have eaten WAY too much cake and other junk today (another epic sugar and salt snack attack and I feel disgusting – but that’s an issue for another day). My son’s birthday party was such a blast, both my kids truly had the time of their lives, but it’s not even 9pm on St. Patrick’s Day and I am busted. So worth it though! And I’d rather be busted and bloated than wasted! At least I’ve got that going for me.

But I did just want to mention – if anyone reading these posts is feeling anxious about or hung up on the term “alcoholic,” I highly recommend the bonus video included in the material from Day 6 (or the equivalent section of This Naked Mind). Annie Grace has a VERY strong stance on this topic that I found enlightening and liberating.

Hoping everyone is having a wonderful and fun St. Patrick’s Day!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 5

Day 5 of The Alcohol Experiment: deconstructing the relaxation myth.

I think if I hadn’t already read This Naked Mind, today’s lesson would have blown my mind. Having grown up watching my parents drink to relax on a nightly basis, I boozed at countless Margarita Mondays and happy hours in my 20s and spent the last six years fully subscribed to the notion that “mommy needs her mommy juice” to survive the witching hour. I have spent my life surrounded by the prevalent, inescapable message that alcohol eases stress and anxiety and so of course my subconscious believed it. Annie Grace tells us not to blame ourselves for this. Thanks, Annie!

True relaxation means having no worries, and is achieved by addressing the source – not numbing it with alcohol. In fact, the conflict in our brains between loving drinking and hating being hungover CAUSES stress instead of relieving it.

This makes such sense, yet I was oblivious to it until I read Annie’s book during Dry January. Once I read this section of her book, about half-way through January, I realized that my ever-present anxiety had basically disappeared. What a gift. What freedom.

Today, I finally got the energy boost I’ve been waiting for. I woke up before my son (he usually serves as our alarm), feeling clear-headed and ready to start the day – despite the fact that yesterday was absolutely non-stop and exhausting.

Tonight, I looked at the bottle of bourbon that my dad bought yesterday – and it’s nearly half empty. I also can’t help but see that his eyes look red and bleary. And at lunch today I noticed that one of his hands was shaking, ever so slightly.

Having my dad and stepmom here while doing this work has been objectively fascinating, personally challenging, and maybe a little sad. Because I am witnessing first-hand the effects that Annie Grace describes. The dependence. The physical impact. When I was young I remember my dad drinking a beer or two. Tonight, he drank a quarter bottle of bourbon and almost an entire bottle of red wine. I thought being alcohol-free around my parents would be difficult because I would want to drink to relieve the stress. It turns out it’s difficult because I see how far down this rabbit hole my dad has fallen. I now have an acute understanding of the process his mind and body have been through and the deficit at which he is operating on a daily basis.

I am trying to just observe and accept, not judge or pity. But it’s a tough line to walk.

Onto Day 6, wherein I will throw a ninja party for 20 4-year-olds and most definitely not earn a blue dot because if mama can’t drink, you know there’s gonna be a big-ass piece of cake!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]