Keep Moving Forward, Always with Love

I wear two bracelets on my right wrist. One is a silver arrow. The other is a gold-plated heart that has faded to bronze after months of sweat and showers. Each was given to me by a best friend: two women who have had indelible impacts on my life.

I have been looking at these bracelets a lot the last few days, whenever my brain zones out from what I’m doing and wanders back to Sunday, and a helicopter crash, and the deaths of one very famous person and his daughter and seven other people. It is a true tragedy, unfathomable, heartbreaking. Of course, events like this happen all over the world every day but this one struck me, shocked me, rocked me, as I know it did many others.

My only connection to Kobe Bryant is that we are about the same age, my high school is down the road from his, and I once played on the same basketball court where he played. He was already famous in high school, so I knew it was special that I got to play a game there against girls who were his classmates. I even scored all the points for my JV team that day: four. Yeah, we got creamed. But I’ll never forget it.

I didn’t know Kobe Bryant. I hesitate to call him a hero because his legacy is a complicated one. But my heart breaks for his family, and for all the families of those who were on board. A tragedy is a tragedy and especially now that I’m a mom, these things hit me hard.

These bracelets that I wear remind me to do two simple things: keep moving forward, always with love. Life has felt a lot more precious these last few days. I have hugged my family a little tighter and breathed a little deeper. My usually dormant anxiety has been at a low simmer. I breathe through that, too.

But mostly I am just trying to keep moving forward, always with love.

Ripping Up a Perfectionist Foundation

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Yesterday my husband and I tiled two backsplashes in our house: one in the kitchen and the other in our kids’ bathroom. I am an archaeology nerd who has always loved mosaics and ceramics, so I have always wanted to learn how to tile. My husband, perhaps motivated by pipe dreams of restoring our farmhouse by ourselves, is a handy guy who was willing and able to teach me. I mixed thin set, learned how to use the giant rectangular trowel (much different from the nimble triangular one I wielded during my archaeological fieldwork days), laid the tile, and used spacers to make it even and level.

My inner perfectionist, whom I am at present attempting to disempower, did not enjoy this process. It’s hard for me to learn something new if I’m not good at it right away (which is most new things). I much prefer to show a gifted talent for every hobby, skill, or sport I attempt. And then there’s the fact that, of course, the tiles never fit the designated area perfectly, and so once you get to the ends of rows, the tiles need to be cut. My husband is very good at this. And yet of course these end pieces did not look as perfect as whole tiles, which gave me an anxious zing.

At first I was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy the tiling more. But when I thought about why, I realize this is not a bad thing. It’s starting to click for me – 383 days into my alcohol-free life – that one of the reasons I drank was to alleviate the pressure I put on myself to be perfect. I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. The only child of parents who divorced when I was four, I grew up not wanting to ruffle any feathers or let anybody down. I followed rules. I invested my energy into areas where I could naturally excel. Anything that was too hard at first was not pursued. And once something got too hard, I gave up in pursuit of the next thing.

Wine o’clock was my escape hatch. As those crisp, cold sips of sauvignon blanc washed over my tongue and down my throat, I felt the weight of striving for perfection lift from my hunched shoulders. I felt free. Easy breezy. Everything’s fine, whatever, I’m fine, it’s all good. But the pressure never actually dissipated. It faded from the foreground as my wine buzz set in, only to return tenfold when my wine buzz wore off. So I drank more. Fade out. Fade in, feel worse. Repeat.

Now I know that there is no quick escape from perfectionism. It is so deeply ingrained into my being that the only way to deal with it is to deal with it. To do the work. To get my butt in the arena and do hard things – some of which I will do well, some of which I will not do well, none of which I will do perfectly.

Because perfect does not exist. And I believe, now, finally, that I deserve better than to hold myself to a non-existent standard. I don’t need to hold myself to any standard. Because I am already enough, and I will always be enough.

Some days this is easier to believe than others. Recently I have been stuck in a slog of self-doubt. But that needs to change, and it needs to change now. A big week just got bigger and I need to be ready to take it on. This week is going to put a big ol’ crack in my perfectionist foundation. This week will not be perfect. It will be great.

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.

Quiet Liberation from an Unwanted Libation

I was planning to go out with some lovely mom friends tonight. One of them was going to host at her house, but then she decided that we should all just meet out at a bar instead.

I was going to go, I swear. I can totally go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and hang with wine-drinking mom friends and have fun. Totally.

But then last week happened – a pre-Christmas visit from my dad and stepmom, which was fun but busy and there was more alcohol poured in my house in four days than there has been in the last four months.

And then this week happened – on Monday, my son had his tonsils and adenoids out. A routine procedure for the expert ENT surgeon, a scary and anxiety-producing morning for us. Then my poor hubby worked past midnight the last two nights. So I basically haven’t seen him since I was sobbing into his sweater as he held our 60-pound four-year-old who was thrashing and writhing and screaming his way out of anesthesia on Monday morning.

I was going to go out tonight. Really, I was. But what is more important to me right now is having some time with my husband and getting a good night’s sleep so I can continue to take the best possible care of our son.

Excuses, all of the above. I admit it.

Because while I CAN go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and have fun with my wine-drinking mom friends, it still takes a lot of energy to psych myself up for it. Energy that, right now, I ain’t got.

What energy I do have, right now, is best directed toward helping my son through his recuperation.

So I chose energy conservation and husband time tonight (he had to get on a work call at 9 but we squeezed in some good conversation before that). My mom friends were very understanding, of course.

I don’t feel any FOMO or any regret, not being out tonight. It’s just not the right time. And that’s ok.

What I do feel is a quiet liberation. I don’t have the wherewithal to fully process it right now. I won’t be shouting from any rooftops. But here’s what is true: I not only had no desire to go out to a bar tonight, I had no desire to drink AT ALL. Not there, not here. There was no wine witch whispering, “Just one glass, or maybe two, and you will feel so much happier and more relaxed.”

There was just me, examining the situation and making the best decision for me. A deceptively simple achievement, that. Because therein lies the freedom I once thought I’d lost forever.

From Gut Punch to Gut Hug

As I was walking my dog in the warm drizzle this afternoon, stinky and unshowered after my kickboxing class and in a time crunch with our family’s crazy Friday schedule, I happily welcomed back – for a fleeting moment – a feeling that I’m calling the gut hug.

A gut hug is like a gut punch, but good.

Like a gut punch, a gut hug can come out of nowhere, for no reason. It’s fleeting, but profound. It can fill you up. It can take your breath away.

A gut punch feels awful. It’s a moment of powerlessness. Perhaps panic. Perhaps grief. A gut hug, on the other hand, is a moment of joy. Contentment. Beauty. Awe.

When I was walked my dog this afternoon, it was pretty miserable outside. And I could actually smell myself, I was so ripe from sweating out the chocolate and tortilla chips in kickboxing class. Which is probably TMI – but this is just to say that it’s not like I was primed for joy.

Nevertheless, it hit me. Or, rather, the gut hug enveloped me in warmth and light and happiness. I thought about snuggling on the couch with my husband to watch a movie tonight. I thought about fresh flannel sheets on the my kids’ cozy new bunk bed that we’ll have in the farmhouse. I thought to myself, “GOD I LOVE MY LIFE. LIFE IS SO GOOD AND SO BEAUTIFUL I CAN HARDLY STAND IT.”

I felt so full, so deeply content. Thinking about sheets! Who am I?!

And then it passed and Fred and I continued on our way around the neighborhood.

Here’s the thing: when I was drinking, I never felt a gut hug that was not immediately followed by a gut punch of anxiety. And I’m not sure that something like flannel sheets could conjure a gut hug in those days, either. Because it was hard to see how life is, in fact, perfect in all its imperfections when I was too busy turning imperfections into catastrophes in my anxious, foggy brain.

Now that the fog has cleared I exist in a near-constant state of receptivity. Anxiety and negative self-talk still sidetrack me, as they have lately. But mostly it’s “Universe, what is in store for me today? Sunlight stunningly passing through fiery orange leaves, perhaps? A soul-filling morning snuggle with one or both of my kids? Whatever it is, I am open. BRING IT.”

I’ll take a gut hug over a gut punch any day.

When WW Stands for Woke Weenie

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I am a Libra. I hardly ever take a stand on anything because I avoid conflict like my son avoids broccoli. I dig peace and justice. I don’t like discord. Let’s all just hold hands and be BFFs, K?

I don’t know a lot about astrology, but I generally believe in the traits associated with signs. My personality certainly seems true to the Libra scales. What is also true is that I have hidden behind my zodiac sign, both consciously and subconsciously, since I learned what it was. I am a Libra who is also just kind of a weenie who doesn’t like putting herself out there and then being told that I am wrong or uninformed or anything negative, really. (Well, but I mean, who does.) (But still. I am a weenie and I admit it.)

Yesterday, I decided to try my hand at standing up for something. The cover of the new issue of WW Magazine, depicting hands toasting wine and the words, “Cheers! Here’s to Health, Joy & Connection,” bugged me. It bugged me enough that I decided to write about it.

So I did. I spent about an hour writing. One hour out of the two and a half that I have free most afternoons, while my son is at school. During this time, I also have to walk my dogs, make my lunch, and address any other of the myriad life tasks the day demands.

I posted the piece to Connect (the WW social media network), then to Instagram, then here to this blog. I felt proud of what I’d done and, I admit, I hoped my post would garner some attention. But then my post started to trend, and I started to get some negative comments. Pride turned to anxiety. Satisfaction turned to ickiness. Regret creeped uninvited into my mix of emotions and I fell into a bit of a tailspin.

“I’m proud of you.” This humble instant message was sent by my husband after he read my post on Instagram. And it meant everything.

He knows I’m a weenie. He knows how much it takes for me to dredge up enough courage to present my point of view on a potentially contentious topic. He also knows that I’m still finding my voice. And his kind and simple words helped me boil my stew of mixed emotions back down to that first ingredient: pride.

This morning, with butterflies in my stomach, I went back and read all 140 of the comments my post received on Connect. Most were supportive of my viewpoint. But more importantly, many of the comments were thoughtful, well-articulated, and opened my eyes to other sides of the alcohol issue and other issues related to WW rebranding itself as a “wellness” company. As for the negative stuff, well, it still bothered me. I wish it didn’t. I’ll get there, I hope.

These last 24 hours have been enlightening for me, to say the least! Here are my top three takeaways from my adventure-atop-a-soapbox:

  1. Social media is… sigh. Wonderful and awful. The best and the worst. Tricky. Because you can just throw anything out there and there’s no telling how, or where, or for how long it will stick. Part of me wishes I had spent longer writing the piece, because there are some things I would have changed. But I was really hungry and had to pick up my kid from school. I did my best in the time I decided was appropriate to spend on it. But, yikes. Oops. Eh. Sigh.
  2. Some people don’t actually read what you write. They will read what they expect or want to read. I received several comments talking about how “offended” I was by the magazine cover when I never used that word in my post. (One person even put the word in quotes! Who was she quoting? We’ll never know!) I was disappointed, yes. Offended, no. These are not the same thing, y’all. Read the words, please.
  3. I now have a more woke view of WW – which, at the end of the day, is a company that needs to make its shareholders happy (read: rich). So they put glasses of wine (but they are moderate pours, people!) on their cover because wine sells more magazines than water. And who doesn’t aspire to a life lived in perfect moderation? Join WW and you’ll become a moderation maven! …after years and years of dedication and practice. Maybe.

Here’s the deal, yo. I stand behind what I wrote and I acknowledge that my piece could have been better. I also see that WW is a company with an inherent conflict between its new mission of wellness – not just weight loss – and its priority to make a profit. I firmly believe WW needs to do a better job reconciling this conflict. I hope the company chooses to make its boatloads of dough while retaining integrity. And I will not shy away from calling out the good folks at WW HQ if I feel they are not.

Consider me more woke. And maybe a little less of a weenie.

Tracation* Contemplation

*Tracation, noun: a period of time spent away from from home with small children and possibly family pets that is more restful than a trip but less restful than a vacation 

We are back from our week-long trip – not “vacation” because kids and dogs. One of my friends on Connect suggested the term “tracation” and I think that’s pretty accurate. Because it was not just a trip either. There were relaxing moments. I read one-and-a-half books and, like, four magazines! But traveling with two kids and two dogs is, on balance, more tiring than rejuvenating. So. Tracation.

But here’s what’s great: we stayed for a week in a small beach-y cottage off the beaten path in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and by the end of the week we all still liked each other! WIN!

Oh, and it was also my first alcohol-free tracation. Which is a big deal. I have to remind myself of that. I am now happily over 50 days into my 365-day alcohol-free journey. I still think about booze on a daily basis but usually it’s a thin, frail desire that flickers for a moment and fizzles out just as quickly. “Ooh, wine. Nope. Ok.” Just like that. Usually.

But not always. Day 50 was tough. Because we were tracationing in her neck of the woods, we went to visit my mother-in-law. The kids and I hung out with some fun cousins while my husband, his mom and his brother did some sad and surreal and strange gathering and tying of the loose-ends left in the wake of my father-in-law’s death last month.

[Death is weird, isn’t it? On one level, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Circle of life and all that. On another level it’s achingly sad, of course. And it’s also a logistical nightmare. Weird.]

It was a long day, Day 50. A not unwelcome, but strange, but necessary interruption of our regularly scheduled tracation. It was a bit stressful. We all ate too much ice cream in giant waffle cones, which helped until it made me feel worse (as always – a lesson I refuse to learn, apparently).

There was also an ever-so-slight but noticeable crispness in the air that was unmistakably the first hint of Fall. My favorite season. Hoodie sweatshirts, blue jeans, football, pumpkins, pumpkin spice, pumpkin beer, wine… oh wait. Nope. Not this year.

And all of that was just enough to make the craving for booze stick around. Tracation interruptus. Resurfaced grief. Sadness for my husband and his loss – it’s a loss for us all, of course, and size doesn’t matter, but it does, and his is the biggest and I’m very, very sad for him. The first inkling of Fall. The realization that part of my love for my favorite season is intertwined with my love for alcohol. Amped-up anxiety as a result of that realization.

Nothing earth-shattering, and I never felt in danger of actually imbibing and breaking my commitment to this booze-free year. It’s just never fun to feel yourself taking two steps back, especially after I’ve been leaping ahead lately.

To recap:

Our tracation was successful. Day 50 was hard. Death is weird. I achieved my first alcohol-free trip and I mostly didn’t miss booze at all.

And now, we are happy to be home. It’s almost Fall. And that will be alcohol-free too, as I continue to move forward through this year of self-love and self-discovery and everything else it will come to mean to me.