My Alcohol Experiment: 100 Days of a Changed Life

It has been 100 days since I started The Alcohol Experiment. One. Hundred. Days!

I feel slightly strange marking this milestone, given that I have not gone completely sans booze. Over the last 100 days, I went sober for the first 74. Since then I have had four drinks total on three separate occasions. I have been alcohol-free for 97 out of 100 days.

On the three occasions I did drink, I was completely in control and acting within my non-negotiables. I decided before going out (because I have not had any booze at home since the start of TAE) how much I would drink, and made sure I pre-tracked the booze. So while I have not been 100% alcohol-free for the last 100 days, I have been 100% in control of my drinking.

And that feels pretty awesome.

I can’t help but wonder if I would be feeling more accomplished if I had gone completely alcohol-free for all 100 days. While that would have been an incredible achievement, I am content to not be contending with the anxiety around when or if I would have a drink again. I feel no guilt about the fact that I am celebrating an alcohol-free milestone that has included four drinks. Because that has been part of the process for me. This is my path, it’s what feels genuine to me, and as long as I maintain that authenticity it’s all good.

What am I taking with me as I move beyond these 100 days? From all the content Annie Grace graciously bequeaths us in TAE, what have been the most useful tools for me?

Non-Negotiables my non-negotiables that I initially set on Day 29 are becoming more and more deeply etched in my brain. I take this list very seriously. The structure provided by my non-negotiables is the main reason why I am cautiously optimistic that moderation will be possible for me.

The Power of Positive Thinking and Self-Talk – I didn’t realize how negative my self-talk was until I examined it through the lens of TAE. Allowing myself grace, making a conscious effort to nix negative, critical thoughts and instead treat myself with the same level of kindness with which I treat people I love has been such a gift – to myself, but also to those around me. My kids will now grow up with a mom who cherishes herself, her body, and her life. And I hope they will never struggle with negativity and self-criticism the way I did.

Gratitude for My Body – see above, and also that letter I wrote to my body on Day 11? Life-changing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am now at the best level of fitness with the healthiest body I have had since my wedding. My bod and I are BFFs now and it shows.

The Critical Role of Connection – Connecting with my husband and kids. Connecting with mom friends and old friends. Connecting with my mom. Connecting virtually with amazing #sobersisters on Connect. Connecting with myself. All of these connections are more authentic, nourishing and rewarding when experienced with a clear head and heart.

Chemical Knowledge – Alongside all of this self-examination and -improvement of the last 100 days is a keen understanding of the chemical effects of alcohol on the body. Being acutely aware of the whole process, from craving to consumption to digestion and detoxification, has definitely helped me conquer my cravings. And on the three occasions I chose to drink during the last 100 days, my awareness of what was happening in my brain and body helped me stay in control. Is drinking less enjoyable because of the knowledge I now possess? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Nope!

As I cross the 100-day threshold, what is my plan from here? To keep after it! To keep doing what I’m doing with regard to alcohol. To keep reading, listening to podcasts, seeking support from my #sobersisters. To keep writing this blog. To keep learning and sharing. And to stay positive and kind and grateful, always.

Me at Sixty (Days Alcohol-Free)

Today has felt like a normal day. A bit better than average, perhaps, what with my Peloton PR this morning, beautiful weather, and kids who ate their veggies without starting World War III. 

And then I remember that today is Day 60. I have not had a sip of alcohol in sixty days. I absorb that. I do a silly little mental dance that is a celebration of both the milestone and the normalcy. 

I am not at the end of a marathon. I am at the beginning of a new era in my life. An era of self-kindness, self-love, self-care. An era of energy, creativity, curiosity, gratitude. An era of joy and contentment. A time when not every moment will be happy, and no moment will be perfect, but every moment will be beautiful in its clarity.

More concretely though – because back in my drinking days I never could have imagined what it would feel like to go for 60 days without booze: 

How do I feel, having gone for 60 days without booze?

I feel lighter, both physically and mentally. I am still about the same weight that I have been, plus or minus 5lbs, for the past year. But I am less puffy and bloated. Mentally, I feel like a weight has been lifted as my willpower has not been drained on a daily basis with the to-drink-or-not-to-drink quandary. 

I feel stronger, both physically and mentally. Physically, I am stronger because I have been very dedicated to my spinning and kickboxing workouts. It’s a lot easier to exercise when I’m not feeling like crap! Go figure. But I am also mentally stronger. I have been building brainpower, breaking down my former beliefs about booze, and forging new neural pathways. I have been educating myself, and reinforcing this new knowledge by writing and applying these new tools in my everyday life.  

I feel more energized – and beyond that, I have more endurance – both physically and mentally. I marvel at how I am able to get through the day with a constant stream of energy. I no longer feel broken by the time I’m putting my kids to bed. I honestly didn’t know life could be like this! Mentally, I have regained the creative energy that I thought I’d lost due to #momlife (spoiler alert: it was actually due to #winelife). My brain is hungry, y’all. Hungry to learn and do and try and be.

I feel less anxious. That’s not to say I don’t still feel anxious sometimes, but my formerly crippling anxiety is now minimal and manageable.

I feel healthier on every level of my being. From my non-existent seasonal allergies and my clear skin to my clear head and my clear conscience. With all of that comes a new level of kindness and grace that I now give myself on a daily basis. The positive self-talk is actually happening now. I’m even buying more organic foods and health and beauty products. Which may seem like a silly thing, except it means that I now see myself as a worthwhile investment.

I now see myself as a worthwhile investment. 

I needed to type that again. Because it’s true. And it’s wonderful.

Alcohol’s role in my life has diminished from a controlling, willpower-draining force to a wisp of its former self, a mere passing thought that is (usually, though not always) easily dismissed. 

And oh, have I filled this void. There have been times where I’ve filled it with sugar and salt and carbs. But mostly I’ve filled it with good-for-me-goodness: positive self-talk; healthy foods; exercise; an authentic conversation with a friend or family member; reading and writing; play and snuggles with my kids. 

Needless to say, I don’t miss drinking much.

Am I going to stay alcohol-free? No. I am going to have a pomegranate margarita when I go out to lunch for Mother’s Day with my mom this weekend. Do I hope it’s not as good as I remember? Yes. Either way, will it derail me? No.

Because I have come too far to tumble back down to where I was. I am still on a journey. I am not committing to “forever.” I am committing to my non-negotiables, hoping that these lines in the sand will continue to guide me to my best life. I am committing to more reading and writing and learning. I am committing to loving myself and loving my life every day as much as I do today – if not more. And that is enough, for now.

Date Night Whack-a-Monologue

Last night, my husband and I went out on a date to a fundraiser and then to dinner. And it was the first time in awhile that I actually craved alcohol. But it was also the first time that I could hear a very strong little voice in my head – my newly wired subconscious perhaps? – that kept me in check.

Me: I want a glass of wine.

Also me: You’re just bored.

Me: But it’s hot and humid and wine would be so refreshing.

Also me: This fundraiser is a little slow and boring so you want to drink.

Me: And it’s an open bar.

Also me: Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to drink it. Also, you have to drive. Also, you don’t have enough SmartPoints. Also, you are not at Day 60 yet. So this is not happening.

It was like mental whack-a-mole. A new inner whack-a-monologue. And I sort of got a kick out of it.

At the restaurant, I again felt a pretty strong temptation to drink.

Me: This cocktail list looks ahhh-mazing.

Also me: Are we really doing this again?

Me: Why can’t I just be a person who has one cocktail or one glass of wine on a date night with my husband?

Also me: Do you really want to try to be that person? Because you know now that it’s more complicated than that.

Me: But –

Also me: How would a drink add to this night in a positive way? You are already having a really nice time!

Me: True. But –

Also me: No.

Me: But –

Also me: This is NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Non-negotiable. That hyphenated, alliterative word has become a life-changer for me. And I hope when my stubborn little whack-a-mole voice needs to pipe up again, the dropping of the non-negotiabomb will be swift and easy and effective.

Last night’s inner monologue carried on a bit too long. I did not like feeling that level of temptation. But I was honest with myself. I worked through it, and I vanquished my craving completely. And I am really proud of that.

Now that I have completed the 30 days of The Alcohol Experiment, I am still digesting everything I have learned. I think it will take a long time for me to sort back through the information, to settle into this new (and still developing) mindset, and to see which tools will be most handy for me.

Obviously right now my non-negotiables are front and center in my brain. And I’ll need them. I leave tomorrow for my high school reunion, where I am going to not drink and attempt to stay within my daily and weekly SmartPoints. I say “attempt” with regard to my points. But there will be no “attempt” at being alcohol-free. It simply will be. I’m hoping it will be easier than I’m anticipating (after all, I’ll be traveling alone and driving – two of my non-negotiables) but either way –

It simply will be.

 

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 30

Day 30 of The Alcohol Experiment: appreciating this present and pondering the future.  

Day 30 on April 30 and Day 50 alcohol-free for me. Seems like a good time to finish up this Experiment!

[But wait! Spoiler alert: Annie offers five bonus days of content! Woohoo!]

Nevertheless, let’s raise a glass of passionfruit seltzer and take a moment to absorb the awesomeness that TAE has been. What a gift. What a gift of health and awareness I have given myself. What a gift for all of us on Connect to have shown each other such support, compassion, and grace. These last 50 days have been illuminating, challenging, and inspiring beyond words or measure. 

But the journey is not over yet! 

It’s Day 30. And now we really need to think seriously about where we go from here. Annie gives a few ideas to those of us who want to keep this momentum going but are not 100% comfortable with “forever.” Of these, I definitely plan to invest in my non-negotiables. Keep ‘em handy and stick to ‘em. And if I don’t, I’ll deploy the “lengthening strategy” and take a longer booze break than my last. I have definitely noticed a difference between the 30 days I did in January and the 50 (of 60) I’ve achieved as of today. Alcohol is becoming even less of a thing that holds any importance in my life. If I cross a non-negotiable line, I’ll do 90 days. With no guilt or shame, but with gratitude and grace. And on we go.

Annie asked us to take a final selfie today. You can find mine, along with my selfie from Day 1, on my Instagram: @maintaining_mama. I’d say there is a bit of a difference!

She also asked us to write one more letter – this one to our future selves. Yikes! I’m going to have so much more gray hair in ten years! But putting that aside…

Dear 2028 Me,

First and foremost, I hope that this letter finds you and your family healthy and happy. I hope your marriage (19 years now!!) has continued to thrive on its strong foundation of love, trust, and communication. I hope the kids are torturing you less in their teens than they did as toddlers, but I won’t be surprised if that’s not the case! Just remember that they are still the greatest human beings to ever grace this planet, and they can probably wipe their own butts now. So that’s good.

Now let’s talk about you. And me. Let’s talk about us. 

You may recall that the years of having babies who grew into toddlers who grew into kids were HARD. There were times where I disappeared completely into a run-ragged mom with little sense or value of self. I found comfort and solace in wine, among other things. The other things (husband, friends, exercise, Nutella) were good for me – ok, except maybe the Nutella. The wine, not so much, as it turns out.

So I have spent the beginning of 2018 laying the groundwork for a better, brighter, healthier, happier future. And I hope by now you have long been thriving in the new normal I have worked so hard to create. As cliche as it may sound, I hope you are living your best life – whatever that may mean to you. A lot happens in ten years! Ten years ago – heck, even two years ago! – I never would have imagined I’d be obsessed with a snazzy spin bike, or that our whole family would be turning into a bunch of ninjas with our MMA training. I never would have imagined that Weight Watchers and Connect would become so ingrained in the fabric of this wonderful existence I am weaving for myself. I remember my creative self feeling shut down, and now that sassy gal feels reawakened and limitless. And I never would have guessed that removing alcohol from my life would be the key to it all. 

Not that I know what “it all” means. And that’s ok. I don’t know exactly where I’m headed. I don’t know what I will do professionally once both kids are in school full time. I don’t know how far I will go with writing. Or even kickboxing. But right now I am existing in a state of contentment, hope, confidence, gratitude, empowerment, and love that I have never experienced in my life. And it feels amazing.

I hope you look back on 2018 as a turning point. The time when your life went from good to extraordinary. The time when you went from happy to content, from distracted to present, from hazy to crystal clear. The time when alcohol dwindled from near-daily dependence to insignificance and the rest of your awesome life opened up to you.

I’m sure the last decade has not been all rainbows and narwhals. But I hope that you have learned from your setbacks and used them as stepping stones. Because that’s what they are.

You are beautiful. You are an amazing mom and wife and citizen of the world. 47 is the new 37. Keep after it! The world is a better place because you have been a part of it for 47 years.

I love you.

Love,

Me in 2018

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 29

Day 29 of The Alcohol Experiment: pondering your happiest, most fulfilled life [spoiler alert: it probably does not include a lot of alcohol].

Annie calls this lesson “Tough Love” but I actually found it to be incredibly helpful, practical and hopeful.

I have been guilting myself for not feeling ready to say I will never drink again. Lucky for me (and I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way!), Annie swoops in and encourages us to ditch the fear of forever. Instead of torturing ourselves with the question of “Do I have to stop drinking?” let’s instead ask ourselves, “How can I have the happiest, most peaceful, most fulfilled life?” 

Ah. Deep breath. Isn’t that a much more pleasant question to ponder? Because it focuses on the positive. It automatically makes me think of everything that has been so great about #TAE – the clarity, the energy, the contentment. I feel like I am on my way. I have been ascending my Hierarchy of Needs pyramid (see Day 22!) and I have the potential to make it to the tippy top: self-actualization. Self-fulfillment is within my reach now. I can feel it. 

All well and good, but this is veering into pretty floofy territory. Luckily Annie asks us to do something very concrete here: define our non-negotiables. As we move forward, we draw lines in the sand. And if we cross back over those lines we know we need to reassess and possibly take another break. That sounds doable.

I’ll be tweaking this list, but here’s what I have so far:

  • I will not be drunk in front of my children.
  • I will not drink when I am alone; or alone with my children during the witching hour or any hour.
  • I will not drink when I have to drive, or if I am traveling alone.
  • I will always put my children, my husband and my safety before alcohol.

When I first wrote this list, I wrote “never.” But I changed “never” to “not.” Something about “never” makes me feel uncomfortable and unconfident. One thing Annie said in her video which totally resonated with me is, “When we put definitive rules on ourselves, we rebel.” Oh hi, yup, that’s me. I do it with food, too. Self-sabotage. Ugh.

So instead of burdening myself with “never” I will take my non-negotiables to heart and believe in my ability to make good decisions. 

And how will I stick to these non-negotiables? I will write them down and have them at the ready. I will be more open and communicative with my husband and more honest with myself. I will try to remember the power of visualization, seeing myself sticking to my non-negotiable plan and having a blast. And if I get to a point where I need to take another break, I will not shame myself. I will recognize it for the gift that it is and I will take it, gratefully.

My first break, back during Dry January, was about 35 days. Right now I am on day 45 and I am going to go to day 60 (at least!). I am proud to commit to that and I know it will feel amazing to achieve it.

Annie says, “Promise yourself you will fight for your best and happiest life.”

I finally believe I deserve to make that promise.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 28

Day 28 of The Alcohol Experiment: the possibility of moderation and Annie’s Alcohol Experiment (by which I mean she actually shows us the video she made of herself imbibing an entire bottle of wine. WOWZA she is brave!).

To moderate or not to moderate? That is the question for some of us. 

When I first began to openly question my drinking and think about how I wanted to change my ways, moderation seemed like the holy grail. The perfect way to incorporate alcohol into a healthy, balanced lifestyle. 

It’s safe to say I see things a little differently now.

Even though she veers very close to contradicting herself, Annie tells us she believes moderation is possible via two distinct paths:

Path numero uno: your feet are firmly planted on the liberation side of the liberation-fixation scale and alcohol is a non-issue. You can truly take it or leave it. 

Yeah… that ain’t me. My husband is like this though, so I’ve observed this behavior with a mix of awe and envy for over a decade. Some nights he drinks one hard cider, some nights he doesn’t. When we go to dinner, he’ll usually order one cider or a glass of wine. I don’t think I have ever seen him consume more than two drinks. He just doesn’t want to. And he’s never been drunk. If I asked him to stop drinking today, while he may not understand the request since he has never struggled with alcohol, he would be able to do it easily. Me? Not so much. 

So let’s look at the second path to successful moderation: super duper Type A-style planning, organization and complete commitment to following set-in-stone rules. Plus constant, hawk-eyed, honest vigilance. All while acknowledging that alcohol will do everything in its power to thwart your efforts.

Hmm. If this is the only other option, then this must be the way forward for me. This could even be a good fit for my rule-following self!  

But here’s what will happen to me, and anyone else who follows this path. Alcohol will create a thirst for itself while literally making us thirsty. It will impair our brains’ ability to make decisions and stick to them. It will dull our senses so everything becomes less enjoyable and then present itself as a solution to that sad sitch. If we drink alcohol, we will crave alcohol, even if we aren’t actually enjoying the alcohol we’re drinking.

So, um, why are we doing this again?

Are we doing this at all?

Personally, I don’t know. Part of me feels disappointed that I am not ready to bite the bullet and commit to being alcohol-free forever and ever. But I also have to be honest with myself, and with all of you. I’m not ready for forever. I need to keep experimenting. I need to take this day by day, milestone by milestone.

I have my high school reunion coming up and I am not going to drink. I am excited at the prospect of not drinking, actually. Knowing I’ll be able to drive with total control. Knowing I will get a great night of sleep (by myself in a hotel room! Woohoo!) after our class party. Knowing I will remember all of it. And, frankly, curious to see how it feels to be sober among my high school friends.

The weekend after that, my mom and I are going to our favorite restaurant for Mother’s Day and I am planning to have a pomegranate margarita. This is a tradition with which I am not yet ready to break. But, again, I’m very curious. I want to see if I still enjoy it, and I am very much hoping it does not live up to the tasty memory. This is the only upcoming occasion I can think of where I have any desire to drink. 

Am I embarrassed to post this? To admit to you all that after weeks and weeks of study, writing, and committing to an AF lifestyle, that I am going to be drinking a margarita on May 12? HELL YES I AM SO EMBARRASSED. Please don’t think less of me! Please don’t worry for me! Please accept that this is where I am!

There is no right or wrong here, as Annie reminds us. And she encourages us to keep experimenting as we continue on our way. And then she shows us her own experiment: condensed video footage from the night she filmed herself drinking an entire bottle of wine. 

And wow. The footage is raw and sad and depressing and strange and uncomfortable to watch. To think that I used to do that to myself on a regular basis… ugh. Just ugh. To think that I used to long for that haze despite knowing I would feel heinous the next day… ugh. 

Nope. Let’s stay clear and energized and happy and confident and receptive to all the beauty that surrounds us, shall we?

We shall.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 27

Day 27 of The Alcohol Experiment: a no-holds-barred look at booze.

“Chemically, you’re fighting a losing battle. Maybe it’s actually a winning battle because your brain will do everything in its power to keep you from dying.”

– Annie Grace, The Alcohol Experiment Day 27

This is one of those essays where Annie layeth the smacketh down. No holding back, no holding hands. She lays bare what alcohol really is [spoiler alert: it’s ethanol, the only consumable type of alcohol, so toxic you’d barf it right up if you took even one tiny straight sip!], and what it really does to our bodies. She writes with a clarity that makes it easy to understand and impossible to unlearn. And that is a good thing.

Those of us who have read This Naked Mind and who have come this far or completed The Alcohol Experiment have read much of this information before. This is purposeful. The more we ingest the truth about alcohol, the less alcohol we will want to ingest.

Here’s the deal, yo:

The booze we drink is made of the same type of alcohol as the gasoline in our cars (or swagger wagon in my case). Ew.

Alcohol is a depressant, and forces our brains to release stimulants to maintain homeostasis, a downward-spiraling cycle in which we never achieve the same level of perceived pleasure that we get from the first few sips of our first drink.

The harder we try to get back to that original buzz, the higher we build up our tolerance. Tolerance is our brains’ preparatory defense against the onslaught of alcohol. We start to drink, and our brains unleash the stimulant dose that we have trained it to create through habitual drinking. It’s a preemptive counter-attack that negates the possibility of achieving that initial moment of chillaxation.

And finally, there’s acetaldehyde, which is as toxic as it sounds – more toxic than alcohol! – and is, believe it or not, what our bodies produce to DE-toxify from the alcohol we drink. Let’s have another moment here: the chemical that our bodies produce to detox from the alcohol we ingest is actually MORE toxic than the alcohol. That’s a LOT of toxicity circulating through our bodies.

And for what? For the lesson that we are teaching our children, that we rely on booze to cope with them? For the empty calories, the wasted SmartPoints, the booze-bloated belly? For the night sweats? The dry mouth? For the shame, self-loathing, and regret?

Nope. Not for me, thanks.

We know this now. We can’t un-know it. But this knowledge is not a bummer. This knowledge is power.

And a quick FYI: the video in this lesson is aimed at those for whom The Alcohol Experiment was not a magic bullet. If you are looking for more help, please watch this video and be proud of your continued proactive efforts!

[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.]