One. Thousand. Days.

1,000 days alcohol-free. 1,000 days free of the shame that was invisible to everyone around me yet kept me limited, fearful, and small.

My gray-area drinking limited my brain power and my potential. I spent so much time thinking about drinking – when can I start? How much can I have? What if I have just one more glass?
And then – why did I drink so much? Why can I never just have one? What is wrong with me?
And then – when can I start? All over again.

Alcohol kept me as its fearful prisoner, even as the key to my chains was in my pocket all along. I was afraid to break the bond because, without booze – how would I de-stress? How would I take a moment for me? How would I socialize? How would I enjoy a date night or survive a family get together? How would I feel like the funniest/prettiest/best version of myself?

Wine mom life was a small life. Almost every day was bookended by guilt-ridden grogginess and a guilt-ridden buzz. Alcohol kept my self-confidence small, my creativity quashed, my energy low, my patience thin.

1,000 days after my last drink, here’s what I can say: I am learning to take up space, unapologetically, just as I am. I am learning to cope with discomfort by being uncomfortable instead of numbing myself with booze or food or doom scrolling.

Cutting alcohol out of my life did not solve all of my problems but it solved one big one: alcohol. The clarity and capability that are sobriety’s wingwomen make all of life‘s other problems, puzzles, and pickles easier to solve – or at least navigate.

That’s what I’m doing now. I am a navigator. I choose to go through, not skirt around or spin in circles or sink.

1,000 days is a number that once seemed preposterous. Not just unachievable, but undesirable. The day I took my last drink, I didn’t believe it would be my last, or that I would ever want it to be. But I also knew that I was tired of feeling limited, and fearful, and small.

I am still working toward limitless, and fearless, and big. But the work is so worth it, and so is the journey.

900 Days Alcohol-Free

900 days.

This is a big number. This is a number that would have seemed completely unattainable to me back in my #winemom days. But here I am. 900 days makes me proud. 900 days feels exactly where I’m meant to be.

900 days of alcohol freedom is the greatest gift I have ever given myself. And, as the cliché goes, it just keeps giving. The more days of sobriety I accrue, the better equipped I am to recognize its many layers of gifts.

Sobriety is like the nesting doll I received as a gift when I was a child, and I have spent these 900 days opening one doll after another.

At the outset of my AF journey I enjoyed the immediate, surface-level benefits: clear skin, bright eyes, less puff. Then I started to uncover some deeper joys: decreased anxiety, increased energy, more patience with my kids, more presence in my life. And now, 900 days in, I am getting to know my true self, ponder my life’s purpose, and pursue my goals with vulnerability, authenticity, and confidence.

I once thought alcohol made me more myself. I thought it brought me out of my shell, helping me emerge more confident, flirtier, funnier. Now I know it made me silly, short-tempered, and shallow.

In 900 days I have cracked open a lot of dolls, each revealing the next nestled deeper inside, each more complex, intricate, and awe-inspiring than the last. Each doll stands on her own, but when nestled together they create the complete gift that is my sobriety.

Have I made it to the center yet? To the last, smallest, solid doll? I don’t think so. But I’m trying not to focus on her, or on what happens when I get there. Instead I’m trying to stay right here, to stay with the gifts I’ve acquired thus far. To cherish each of them as I wait for the next to be revealed.

40 Years and 847 Days

I was born on my mom’s 30th birthday, October 19, 1980. So she and I not only share a birthday, but we share all our decade milestones. A little over week ago, the dumpster fire that is 2020 witnessed our 40th and 70th birthday – a milestone we had planned to celebrate in London, watching the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in Olympic Stadium. But of course due to the pandemic, the trip was cancelled and the birthday plans of two diehard Cub fans were up in the air until the last minute.

Instead of flying to London (insert first world problem sigh here), we drove into NYC the weekend before our birthday and treated ourselves to visits to our favorite shops (Zabar’s, Strand Books, Fishs Eddy, Paragon Sports, abc Carpet & Home). For lunch, we ate my favorite sushi (Tenzan – if you don’t know, now you know) in my illegally-parked swagger wagon, its hazard lights flashing and windows down for air flow since we had to take our masks off to eat because this is apparently the world we live in now. But anyway. The sush was delish.

I returned home Sunday afternoon, ready to get back into mom mode while trying to manage my last-hours-of-my-30s anxiety/excitement. My close friend and neighbor had texted to ask if we could go for a walk. My husband decided to take the kids and dogs out as well, so we all walked together to the corner where my neighbor was waiting for me in her car. She ordered me to hop in, and proceeded to whisk me away to another friend’s house for an outdoor surprise party-à-trois. Balloons, pompoms, a Happy Birthday banner, gifts, food, cupcakes, a bottle of Töst, 40 cans of seltzer, me, two of my best friends in the world, and no kids: the perfect way for me to end my 30s.

On the big day itself, I reunited with my mom for more shopping, an outdoor family dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, and a delicious three-tier red velvet cake baked by my husband. The Birthday, as we call it in our family, was a good one. A good multi-day celebration. A good reimagining of what a milestone birthday can be in a pandemic. A good use of our proximity to NYC. Good quality time with family and friends. Good food, great cake. And no booze.

I don’t think I even thought about drinking. Which, still, 847 days into my alcohol-free existence, amazes me. Because a few years ago, I could not conceive of enjoying a birthday, especially a milestone birthday, without wine, champagne, and tequila. The idea that I would happily, contentedly, turn 40 without a drop of alcohol would have been simply ludicrous to me if it had crossed my mind. Which it never did, because, like many events of 2020, a booze-free birthday was too far-fetched for me to even imagine. 

Yet here I am: 40 years into my life’s journey, 847 days into my alcohol-free journey, and more grateful every day to be exactly where I am. 

I still have a lot of inner work to do. This pandemic has sapped much of my creative energy, hence my absence from here. While I haven’t been blogging, I have been continuing to write – in my journal, mostly. I needed to take some time to record this insane year, to write myself out of anxiety and back into grace. I have also been reading a lot, and doom scrolling too much. I am still working diligently to rewire my brain out of its diet culture settings and into a more harmonious and attuned relationship with food. I have been taking time to breathe, move my body, and snuggle my family. Some days I barely manage to stay present, much less accomplish much else. Pandemic fatigue is real. But we have no choice but to carry on.

I hope to carry myself into my 40s with strength, self-compassion, and as much grace as I can muster. Entering this new decade as a non-drinker feels empowering, and I’m going with it.

700 Days of Alcohol Freedom (On Day 80 of Quarantine)

It has been 700 days since I was a person who drinks alcohol, by which I mean a person who was internally tortured on a daily basis by an ever-increasing reliance on and ever-increasing consumption of alcohol.

I almost chose to let this milestone pass by without calling attention to it. I almost kept it to myself. Almost took it for granted. Because there is so much terrible stuff happening in the world right now. Because I too often do take my sobriety for granted these days. Because I cried a lot this afternoon and I’ve gained a lot of weight during quarantine and I didn’t want to look as exhausted and fat and broken as I feel in my Day 700 selfie. Because I am overwhelmed by how much the world has changed since I started my alcohol-free life and I feel unequipped to capture all I am feeling in words.

I haven’t written much lately. I feel like I’ve lost my voice in the avalanche of overwhelm and chaos and grief and unknown. But I am writing now, and I am going to write every day for the next 100 days. Even if it’s just a few sentences in my journal. I hope this will help me find some steady footing during these strange, sad, scary, socially distanced days.

Because right now, on Day 700, I feel more tempted to drink than I have felt in the last 23 months. Writing has always been a comforting outlet for me, and I need that right now. So I am going to make writing time for myself.

Someday, we will look back and these months we are living through right now will be a blur. We still have a long road ahead, though. So, for now, it is my hope that by Day 800, I feel more calm, more content, more at peace, more positive. Because that is the energy that I want to be putting into this gutted, burning world right now. I need to find it so I can give 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.

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.

On Grief and Flannel Sheets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

449 days and counting.