Winging It

The thought of ditching alcohol used to scare me. A lot. I didn’t know how I could celebrate, commiserate, travel, or watch TV without it. How could I relax? How could I rev up? How could I go to a restaurant and enjoy dinner? Or lunch, or – gasp! – brunch?!

But perhaps most terrifying was the prospect of parenting without wine (or tequila) (or whatever was in the fridge). Alcohol was the key to surviving motherhood. There couldn’t be “mommy juice” without “mom.” How could I ever be the mom I wanted to be if I couldn’t drink to treat myself and unwind at the end of the day?

You all know the punchline: I never knew the mom I wanted to be until I stopped drinking. I never knew how much I could enjoy my kids; or, when enjoyment went out the window, how effectively I could work through conflict with them. In ditching alcohol, I have gained energy, patience, compassion, and clarity. I am a better mom, wife, and human without booze. And I can type that without hesitating now, because it’s my truth y’all.

Making the scary choice to go alcohol-free has indeed opened me up and given me wings. I am forever grateful that I somehow had the guts to listen to the voice inside when she finally stood up and said, “Enough.” I still don’t know where I will be at the end of this year, if I will be ready to commit to forever or just to day 365. But I’m not afraid anymore. A teensy bit anxious on occasion, yes, but I’ll take that over the profound fear that glued a wine glass to my hand for so many years.

Am I where I want to be? Heck no. I am still very much a work in progress, and I’m still scared. What scares me now, if not booze? Freaking sugar, that’s what! As the wine witch has receded to a mere wisp in my conscience, the sugar monster has absorbed her power and begun to attempt a coup. My reliance on sugar has grown since ditching booze, and it’s starting to spiral out of control. I am managing to maintain my weight but the “to drink or not to drink” quandary that bombarded my brain on a daily basis is starting to be replaced by “to sweet or not to sweet” – and the answer, too often lately, has been GIVE ME ALL THE SWEETS.

I am reaching my limit. I can feel it. I can hear my inner voice warming up her vocal chords as she prepares to declare a war on sugar.

There are many parallels between my issues with booze and sugar, but there are also key differences. I can’t simply apply all my alcohol-free tools to sugar. Sugar is a more complicated issue, more prevalent in #momlife and society as a whole, and more deeply ingrained in our family life than alcohol ever was. The path forward is a lot less clear.

So I’m reading. I’m learning about the history of sugar, its role in society, and its impact on the body. I’m starting to ponder going sugar-free for 10 days or possibly doing the Whole30 at some point. I feel like I need a clean break from sugar but before I commit I need to have more knowledge, and a strategic food plan in place.

THIS IS VERY SCARY FOR ME. Have I mentioned that? Sweets have brought me comfort since I can remember. But I have also struggled with being overweight since I can remember. So. Here we are.

Mama needs a second set of wings.

The Family Line Leader Gets Pricked

I went to the allergist yesterday afternoon. This is a first for me and something I have been meaning to do for years. Every spring and fall I am plagued by seasonal allergies, and I also had a scary allergic reaction when I was stung by a yellow jacket four times last August.

Although I felt like hypochondriac for rocking up to an allergist when I am currently experiencing no symptoms, the prick test showed pretty quickly that this was a much more important appointment than I thought it would be. It turns out my seasonal allergies are severe (4 on a scale of 0-4). I also require venom testing because the doctor thinks my reaction to the bee was indeed systemic and not just local. Yikes!

Prick test: before…
… and after. Yikes!

It has been a challenge for me to prioritize my health – especially since becoming a mom. With all these other humans and dogs to take care of, it’s easy for me to put myself at the end of the line. When I was drinking, the end of the line was where I wanted to be because going to a doctor meant having to fess up about how much I drank (and of course I always lied). I never wanted to have to answer that dreaded question and so I did the bare minimum in terms of my routine medical care. For me, that meant I never dealt with my varicose veins or my allergies.

This is all changing now that I have ditched the booze and learned the importance of putting on my own oxygen mask first. My varicose veins are gone and the discomfort – both physical and emotional – has disappeared with them. Within a couple of months my allergies will be fully diagnosed and under better control. Allergy season will no longer be a torturous crapshoot of medicinal bombardment in the hope of finding some relief. I will no longer have to hide my sheer terror of bees from my kids because I will have a better understanding of my reaction and what to do in case of a sting. Both my varicose veins and my allergies had been bothering me for years. And I never did anything about them until now. I don’t think this is a coincidence, do you?

I still sometimes slip back into my old myself-last mindset. Even as recently as February, I was so focused on my kids and husband coming down with the flu that I didn’t give any thought to my own bronchitis until we all went to urgent care and the doctor put me on three different medications. That was my reminder to reclaim my spot as family line leader.

If I don’t take the best possible care of myself, how can I take the best possible care of my family? Not to mention I now look forward to being asked, “Do you drink alcohol?” Nope! Gold star for me! The virtuous cycle of proactive healthcare is a gift that keeps on giving to me and allows me to keep on giving to others.

Filling My Metaphorical (not red Solo) Cup

Wacky Wednesday around here. And in the craziness of this day another benefit of being alcohol-free rang loud and clear: I can pivot like a boss.

… as opposed to pivoting like a stressed out, anxious, frazzled frump.

After I dropped my son at school, I was looking forward to meeting a friend for manicures when she called me and said that she had slipped and fallen on the sidewalk and needed to go to urgent care. I pivoted instantly from “mom who mani’s” into “superfriendmom” – picking up her son, and then my son, and hosting a play date for them while my friend got the medical care she needed. The boys had the best afternoon ever, and my friend didn’t have to worry about her son. Save for a sprained ankle and some unkempt fingernails, it was a winning afternoon.

I have always considered myself a good friend. I am an only child, and I’ve spent my life funneling all the energy I couldn’t expend on siblings into my friendships. Over the last two decades, many of my friendships have involved – if not revolved around – wine. Removing wine from my relationships has been interesting in so many ways, all of which I am still identifying and processing. One of these ways, I realized today, is my enhanced ability to pivot: to switch gears quickly and smoothly in order to offer my friends the kind of support they need at any given moment.

In an instant, my afternoon changed from a fun and indulgent catch-up session with a close friend to taking full responsibility for her child. I had a clear head to be able to identify and offer appropriate help. I had the energy and wherewithal to wrap my brain around hosting a spontaneous play date for two rambunctious little boys. To Do’s were pushed aside without anxiety, to be tackled tomorrow. The whole situation was smooth and stress-free (at least for me, if not for my poor friend!).

During my Peloton ride the other day, my instructor Ally Love talked about how friendship is all about filling each other’s (metaphorical, not red Solo) cups. And how, if we all spent more time filling each other’s cups, the world would be a better place as all our cups would overflow with love and kindness. (I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist as I recall from the blur of sweat, lactic acid, and endorphins.)

Today, I filled my friend’s cup. But helping her also filled my own.

Eight Months Alcohol-Free

Eight months. Two hundred and forty-four days. Two-thirds of a year. Any way you slice it, I am at a point in this journey that, for all of my adult life, I never thought would be possible – or desirable.

I thought alcohol was a treat. Now I know it is poison.

I thought alcohol was a rite of passage. Now I know it is a master manipulator.

I thought alcohol was a balm. Now I know it is a grenade.

I thought alcohol was a privilege. Now I know it is a sham.

I thought alcohol was a critical component of a good time. Now I know what a genuinely good time feels like.

I thought alcohol made me better/sexier/funnier/[insert comparative here]. Now I know that being alcohol-free makes me best/sexiest/funniest/[insert superlative here].

Now I know. I know the facts (though there is still more to learn). And I know the feelings (though they are not always warm and fuzzy). Now I know that AF life will never be perfect, but it will always be best.

Now I know. And yet.

And yet I don’t feel comfortable proclaiming myself a “teetotaler.” I feel pretty darn sure that I will drink alcohol again at some point in my life, though that thought makes my gut simmer with anxiety. I feel proud and confident as a non-drinker, and yet.

My relationship with alcohol hangs by a thread these days. What is this last remaining tie between us? It’s the possibility of finding myself in a situation where I still believe alcohol would enhance, rather than detract from, the experience. I can only think of a few instances, but they linger in the hypothetical ether and I can’t – and won’t – ignore them. A fancy steak dinner at a beautiful restaurant in Manhattan: wouldn’t a few sips of a sommelier-recommended red bring out the flavor of my $50 filet? An old, picturesque restaurant in Porto, Portugal (where my husband has ancestral ties): surely it would be rude to not partake in the port, and surely the port would be the best I’ve ever tried? A stunning setting, a scrumptious meal, and my sweet take-it-or-leave-it-drinker husband, holding my hand across a crisp white tablecloth. This is alcohol’s last stand.

I don’t miss drinking. The odd pang strikes every now and then, but is swiftly quashed and dismissed. I can’t recall a single moment in the last eight months where alcohol would have had any positive impact on me. On the contrary, I can recall myriad moments, special occasions, and holidays that were all, without exception, more enjoyable because I was not drinking.

I don’t know what the future holds. As of this moment, there are no fancy steakhouse date nights or fabulous European jaunts on our calendar. I continue to remain steadfast in my commitment to reaching one year alcohol-free and have no desire to start drinking again in July.

But what if I have a glass of wine paired with a spectacular meal when we celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary in September? Does that take me back to Day Zero? Does that strip my title of non-drinker? Does that mean all this time was wasted?

I am still figuring out the answers to all of those questions but the last. If and when I take my first sip of alcohol sometime in the future, beyond the comforting confines of my One Year Alcohol-Free, I will do it mindfully and confidently. Secure in my power over alcohol. Power that I gain with each passing day of this year. This year is a gift that will always be mine. This year will keep giving for the rest of my life. That much I know.

 

 

A Grenade, Not a Balm

The day started delightfully enough. Eight hours of sleep, and then my son woke at 7 and I snuggled him back to sleep for an hour. Alas, by 2pm I was hiding in the pantry eating Bark Thins that I could only half-taste because my congestion has worsened again. Ugh.

What sent me into my pantry was a big wave of life malaise that unexpectedly engulfed me this morning. My kickboxing class was cancelled, and my allergies blew up as I ran errands in lieu of working out. As I was driving around town, I was consumed by an overwhelming, sinking brain fog: I don’t want to be home, I don’t want to live in New York, I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t even know where to start getting back on top of things. It was intense and uncharacteristic and scary.

Here’s what I did: I finished my errands, came home to relieve my babysitter, and let my kids watch TV so I could do a Peloton ride. I was hoping for an endorphin boost but the ride didn’t do it for me. So I resorted to chocolate.

But here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t use this as an excuse to start drinking early. I refuse to dive into a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to distract myself from the discomfort of feeling these disturbing and depressed feelings. Yes, I fed my foggy melancholy with chocolate. But for me that is a much better choice than booze.

I finished the bag of Bark Thins while my kids played remarkably nicely. And then I started to get myself together a bit. I made an appointment with my PCP and also with an allergist. I got through a bunch of emails and updated our family calendar. I drank some water and took my vitamins. And I started to feel a bit better. My allergies also calmed down after spending a few hours inside.

The day improved from there. I made things easier for myself by taking kids out to dinner so I didn’t have to cook. I’m planning to go to bed with a book as soon as I post this. This day is definitely ending on more solid footing than I found myself this morning.

As unnerving as it was, I’m proud of myself for staying present with my sad state. I didn’t deny it, didn’t try to run from it. Bark Thins notwithstanding, I allowed my mood to just be, and I took the steps I could take to help it pass.

For years, I turned to wine in times like this. And that is how I lost myself. I thought wine was the solution to melancholy and anxiety. I thought wine was a balm to soothe my stress-induced cracks. To fill my life’s fissures until they healed.

But instead of putting me back together, wine broke me apart. Wine was a grenade, not a balm. Alcohol broke me into so many fragments it got too hard to piece myself back together every morning. So I stopped trying. And started living as an incomplete version of myself.

I could not operate at my full potential because I was not full. Pieces of me were cracked, broken, misplaced. Some pieces of the puzzle that was me were jammed into the wrong spot, warping the overall image and making it impossible to complete.

No one really saw this, I don’t think. But I knew it. Wine shattered me. I’d pick up enough pieces to get through the day, only to be reshattered again that night.

I have spent the last thirteen months painstakingly – but joyously – gathering and repairing and rediscovering the whole picture of me. It’s hard work, but besides carrying my two babies it’s the most important work I’ve ever done.

Today, the picture I see is someone who has color back in her cheeks but is nonetheless run down, anxious about my upcoming leg procedure, and tired of not feeling my best. I let my fatigue, anxiety, and frustration get the better of me for awhile. But I trust in my ability to come back from all this and I know I’m finding more of my pieces along the way.

A Three-Part Conversation About Alcohol with My Seven-Year-Old Daughter

Part I: The other day in the car

My daughter and son were singing made-up songs (one of their favorite pastimes). My daughter said, “Listen to this one!” She proceeded to sing two lines of a silly song, and the final word of the rhyming couplet was “beer.” I stopped her and asked why she was singing about beer. She answered that she was repeating a song she had heard at school.

“Beer is a grown-up drink and it’s not appropriate for kids to sing or joke about it,” I said.

“Why?”

“Well, because beer is not something kids can have. And if a grown-up drinks too much of it, he or she can get sick.”

We left it at that, my daughter and son jumping back into their silly songs; and me reeling, trying to replay the conversation and figure out if I needed to say anything else, wondering who was singing about beer at school, and, admittedly, judging the kid and his or her parents.

Part II: Bedtime, Super Bowl Sunday

Perhaps spurred on by seeing beer commercials during the Super Bowl, my daughter asked, “Mommy, what’s alcohol?”

“Alcohol is a drink for grown-ups. Beer and wine are types of alcohol.”

“Oh right. And if you drink too much of it you get sick, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then why would a grown-up drink it?”

“Well, some grown-ups like the taste of it. And if you drink a small amount, you don’t get sick.”

“Do you drink alcohol?”

“Actually, right now I am not drinking alcohol. I used to drink wine, but I decided I didn’t like how it made me feel. So I stopped. I am not drinking alcohol for a whole year to see how healthy and good I can feel without it.”

“Are you ever going to drink alcohol again?”

Before I could stop these cowardly words, out they came:

“I don’t know. I might. But it would only be for special occasions, like if Daddy and I go out for a nice dinner or maybe at Christmas-”

Pause here. As these words came out of my mouth, they felt like a betrayal. To my daughter and to myself. After all, I was just telling her I don’t like how alcohol makes me feel, and then there I was telling her that I was going to go back to drinking it. And I used Christmas as an example! UGH. This past Christmas was so much more wonderful without wine. And yet there I was, admitting to my daughter that because it is a “special occasion” that that meant I would choose to drink. In that moment I enforced a subconscious neural pathway in her mind that grown-ups need to drink alcohol to celebrate and enjoy holidays. F.

I could see the confusion on her face. “But why would you drink it if it makes you feel sick?” She rightfully asked.

“Well, in small amounts it doesn’t make you feel sick.” UGH WHY ARE YOU MAKING EXCUSES FOR POISON AND REINFORCING PRO-ALCOHOL MESSAGING WITH YOUR OWN CHILD?! STOP!

“Does Daddy drink alcohol?”

“Yes, he drinks something called hard cider which is like apple cider but with alcohol in it. He likes the way it tastes so that is why he drinks it. He drinks maybe one or two every month, which is not a lot at all.”

“Well I am never going to drink alcohol.”

“I think that is a great choice and a strong choice and I’m very proud of you.” [And kicking myself for how I just handled this critical exchange.]

Part III: The next evening, while out for a walk with dogs and scooters

“Take my hand, Mama,” she said.

As we held hands and walked with her scooter I said, “I wanted to talk to you about something. Yesterday, when you asked me if I would start drinking alcohol again and I told you I might drink at Christmas, it bothered me that I said that. Because last Christmas was, like, the funnest ever, and I didn’t have any wine then, so why would I want to have any on any other Christmas? That would be silly! I don’t want you to think that when you’re a grown-up you have to have alcohol to enjoy a holiday or any other special day.”

“I know. That’s why I’m never going to drink alcohol. I hope that your friends make good choices like you, Mama.”

* * *

In my daughter’s mind, it’s simple: if alcohol can make you feel sick, why on Earth would you ever drink it?

It was that simple for all of us, once. And I’m starting to believe that it can be that simple again. If that is the neural pathway I choose to traverse, back and forth, over and over, it will become smooth as a silk carpet. I believe I can get there. And I hope when I do my daughter is still there, standing tall and strong in the glow of her simple yet profound wisdom.

From Plateau to Progress

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My Monday kickboxing class is different from Wednesday and Friday. The latter days are super fast paced, calorie-torching, muscle-scorching. My Monday instructor focuses more on technique, which makes for a great balance. His combos are also more dynamic and technically difficult, so even though the pace is slower I always end up sore after his class.

Even though I had a crappy night of sleep thanks to my Frenchie who was up throughout the night, and a hectic morning due to my mutt who had an early vet appointment (if it’s not the kids, it’s the dogs!), I made it to class today. I felt fresher than anticipated, and as the class progressed I felt strong and agile.

I felt strong. I am strong. I can do real push-ups now, with proper form and all. I can throw a Superman punch and I can kick someone in the head (you know, if I ever needed to). I am learning more, and feeling more natural doing these moves and combos, each week.

Each week I see progress. I am continually building physical and mental strength. I am becoming more confident as I progress not just in fitness, but in other areas of my life too. Parenting. Marriage-ing. Writing. Cooking. Volunteering. Connecting.

When I was drinking, I was not progressing. I was plateauing. Yes, life went on around me and I went with it. My babies grew into kids. We moved houses. I exercised with sporadic dedication. I took on various volunteer gigs. I did things.

I did things, yes. I had a wonderful life and I felt happy and lucky and all that. But I was only going to get so far with booze by my side. And the plateau that had held me for so many years was starting to crumble.

No one around me saw it. Or at least no one ever said anything. But I saw it in the mirror every morning. And I felt it, from my toes to my heart to my brain, every hour of every day.

At first, that plateau had felt like a slinky, sexy dance floor. But years later, it felt like a dance floor at dawn – sticky and suffocating. Still, I stayed. Because I didn’t know where else to go. I didn’t know what lay beyond the confines of this dance floor that was once shiny and exciting but now disgusted me.

One hangover too many, and the edges of that dance floor began to crumble into quicksand. I jumped. Before I could be swallowed. I jumped with no confidence of my ability to escape the quicksand, but I knew I had to try.

From soft rock bottom to rock solid ground. No more dance floors for me (at least not metaphorical ones). No more plateaus, only progress.