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.

Antsy, in Perspective

Today is antsy. I had a very strange and disturbing dream last night, perhaps induced by the cold medicine I took before bed. It was one of those terrible dreams that was so far-fetched yet so real, I had to wake myself out of it. I don’t remember enough of it to describe or attempt to interpret it. But it’s been tough for me to shake today, especially given my groggy state from a non-stop summer week plus fighting off a mild cold. TGIF.

So. Antsy.

I want to know where all of this is going to lead. The not drinking. The exercise. The writing. I want to know if I’m going to quit alcohol completely. I want to know how good I can get at kickboxing. I want to know if writing will be a beloved hobby or a beloved livelihood.

I know this sounds silly. I feel silly typing it out. But I also want to be open and honest about my malaise. Because not every day can be a high. Some days are lows. And many days are in-betweens.

The important thing is that I am living them all. I am feeling my way through them all. The good, the great, the bad, the hangry, the hormonal, the #blessed, the ugh. Without booze in my life I am experiencing all of this in living color, in real time.

So today is antsy. My thoughts are swirling around my Mucinex-clogged brain. “Should I put feta in my chopped salad? Am I crazy for not signing the kids up for any camps next week? Will I ever write a book? I need a voice. What is my voice? Who is my audience? What should we do for dinner tonight? Did I pack deodorant in the swimming bag? What do I even want to say in this book I want to write? When was the last time the dogs peed today?” Ad infinitum. Circling the brain drain.

I want to have a joyous journey but right now I just wish I knew where I was headed. And that – wherever it is – it’s amazing and fulfilling beyond anything I can fathom.

But AF life already is, isn’t it? Watching my daughter play dodge ball in her karate camp today while I kickboxed in an adjacent studio, that huge grin on her beautiful face. Watching my son, the youngest in his tennis camp, throw water balloons with the big kids and then gleefully line up to get the ice bucket dumped on his head.

These summer moments that would have gone unrecognized before. The ordinary that has turned extraordinary because I SEE IT. Joy and beauty and love burst forth from the everyday, every day.

As for the writing. I have committed to writing something every day of One Year Alcohol-Free. And I do. I post to Connect and Instagram every day. I feel in my gut I need to chronicle this journey, so I’m making the time to do it. I told my kids I need some time each day for “my writing.” Sounds so official! But why not try official on for size?

And it is helping people, my writing. I know this. Because it’s helping me. And it’s helping my kids and my husband, too, because it feeds my soul and makes me happy. And I’m a better mom and partner when my soul is full and I am happy. I think I am helping people on Connect and Instagram too. But at the very least, I am helping the four members of my family by doing this writing. And if that’s all my writing ever does, that is worth making the time.

So much was passing me by when my brain and body had to waste their energy thinking about and processing booze. So, so much.

I don’t know where I’m headed. And on days like today, when I’m low-energy and a little sick and groggy, that may bother me. But most of the time it doesn’t. Because I’m too busy delighting in the joy of the journey.

On Finding Grace

I am not having a particularly grace-filled day. So I am writing this post in the hopes of finding some.

This has been a day of ticking off boxes as resentment and frustration start to simmer.

Why am I frustrated?

I am frustrated with my husband’s fever that he can’t seem to shake. I miss his presence and partnership, especially during these routine-less summer days when life seems to be injected with extra insanity and we are stuck in this relentless weather cycle of blazing sun-soupy humidity-severe thunderstorm-drenching rain (seriously, Mother Nature, from one mama to another, give us a break already!).

I want to be able to do it all and I know that’s not possible but it’s still frustrating. I want to be able to do the exercise, the healthy eating, take great care of my kids and my husband and my dogs and still have energy to keep my kitchen counter clean and stay on top of, well, life.

I am also anxious about the fact that if – WHEN – I get to lifetime and maintain it, stuffing my face in stressful times like these really is no longer an option. I know that’s a good thing. But I have relied on food since I can remember and it’s a little scary having both food and booze – my two trusty coping mechanisms – off the table.

So what is left: I go for a walk. I exercise my dog and clear my head. I identify what’s really bothering me (e.g. I’m not mad at my husband, I’m mad at his fever). Instead of distracting myself with food or alcohol, I actually think my feelings through. Huh.

***

I wrote the first draft of this post dictating into the Notes app on my phone while out walking Fred. And guess what? By the time I got home I felt better about all of it. Because instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips or a bottle of wine at 2:30pm (because weekend), I actually dug through my pile of mental rubble until I got down to brain bedrock.

And what did I uncover? Fear. Not exactly a twist ending. Pretty predictable. As I navigate this year, with its ups and downs, I will likely often discover that the complex emotions that I used to smother with booze and junk food are grounded in fear.

I no longer accept a foundation of fear. Time to start chipping away.

I came home, put my lips to my husband’s forehead, and told his effing fever to skedaddle. My husband apologized for being sick and “abandoning you with those lunatics” and I said, “My love, I actually believe you would choose me and our lunatics over being bedridden and feverish for four days, so no need to apologize.”

Weight lifted. Frustration processed and dismissed. SmartPoints and sobriety intact. Face unstuffed.

Grace found.