My First Alcohol-Free Birthday

Pondering my late 30s and also the fact that we just decided to close on a crumbling farmhouse

I turned 38 almost a month ago. And yes, it was a particularly busy birthday on the heels of a particularly busy week, and I was contending with a particularly bad cold and allergy double-whammy. But I can always make time to write about something important. And my first alcohol-free birthday since I was a teenager (with the exception of my two birthdays-whilst-knocked-up) certainly counts as a milestone in this alcohol-free year.

So why have I not carved out the time to write about it until now, almost a month later?

I have reflected on the day, and thought about what I could write, many times. October 19, 2018. I turned 38 years old. And we bought a 240-year-old farmhouse in New Hampshire.

It was a picture perfect New England day: shining sun, piercing blue sky, and the hint of a fall chill in the air. While my husband and I walked around the house, wondering if we just made the biggest mistake of our marriage or if we just gave our family the most incredible gift to be enjoyed for generations to come, our kids delightedly explored every nook and cranny and discovered hidden treasures everywhere. “Look at this legendary pencil! This rock smells like peaches!”

The kids poked around the old barn, gleefully flitted through the back field, and climbed on a massive pine tree that had fallen across the path through the woods (as their dad and I saw the dollar signs it’s going to take to get it chopped and cleared – yikes). Witnessing the wonder in our kids’ eyes made us feel just swell. Maybe this really will be awesome. Time will tell.

That evening, we toasted my birthday and our new (old) house at the home of my aunt and uncle, who live in a nearby town. They popped the prosecco and had a ginger ale on hand for me to pour into my fluted glass. Minimal awkwardness, and I was so grateful. I didn’t miss wine, I didn’t want wine. A lovely family dinner complete with a homemade cake put the cap on a very special and very wonderful day.

And that’s that. Booze-free birthday: check!

I wanted this post to be a mic drop. I have been trying to come up with some clever, mind-blowing analogy between buying an old farmhouse and having an alcohol-free birthday. Something about a fresh start. New life breathed into old… the house as a symbol of… something. But I haven’t been able to draw enough of a connection between la maison et moi to write some poetic, full-circle piece from that angle.

Maybe I could bring major dramz with this post, I’ve thought to myself. Use the tried and true “if I were still drinking” comparison! If I were still drinking… well, it still would have been a great day. Just infused with a lot more anxiety that I would have smothered with sauvignon blanc. Nothing stark and impactful enough from that angle.

So I’m left with a simple story to tell: I turned 38 on the day we closed on an old farmhouse. I had a very nice, surreal, fun day. And I didn’t miss booze at all.

Anticlimactic, but perhaps therein lies the beauty of my first alcohol-free birthday. Maybe there are fewer a-ha moments these days, even on milestone days, because this is just part of who I am now. I am someone who doesn’t drink and who is happy about it.

My birthday was special because a birthday is a special day. It was particularly memorable because we bought a house. I’m very proud that I didn’t drink, but that’s not what truly set this day apart.

Alcohol just doesn’t deserve that much credit anymore.

Silence is Platinum (Like, Better than Golden)

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Bed and Glennon, I am coming for you by 8:30pm. Mark my words.

My husband is going out to a work dinner tonight and my plan is to read. I just started Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle and it is so good I can hardly put it down. Her writing is just – I am not equipped with words to describe how good it is, that’s how good it is. I’ve been up way too late the last couple of nights devouring this book.

But let me go back to that first sentence. My husband is out tonight and my plan is to read. If this were 2017, when my drinking was at its most routine and therefore copious, my plan would have been to drink a bottle of wine and zone out in front of whatever was on Bravo TV. These days, I do still watch TV occasionally, but I crave books always. Since ditching booze my “me time” has completely evolved.

I used to always try to fill the silence. If I was driving, music was playing. As soon as I put my kids to bed, I’d come downstairs and play a Netflix show on my computer to have on in the background while I made grown-up dinner or cleaned up the kitchen.

Now I relish silence. My kids and I love listening to Broadway soundtracks (one of my greatest achievements in parenting) in the car, but when I’m driving alone there is quiet. My evening in-between time (that is, after kids are in bed and before my husband gets home) is almost always quiet, too, now. I cook or clean up or write or tie up any other of the day’s loose ends without feeling like I need to distract myself or stuff my brain with music or a show.

Has anyone else experienced this since cutting down on or cutting out alcohol? A renewed appreciation for quiet? And if so, why do you think that is?

I attribute my new-found love of silence to the simple fact that I am so much more content and comfortable with myself now. I don’t mind hanging out with myself because I’m no longer wallowing in a sea of shame or fighting the mental to-drink-or-not-to-drink battle all day long.

I like experiencing my thoughts now instead of trying to escape or distract from them.

I welcome silence as a chance to explore my thoughts, to ponder what I’ll write about today, to reflect, to just exist in a given quiet moment. And they do feel like gifts, these moments.

I welcome silence as a chance to check in with a person I’ve been delighted to uncover and get to know. She’s cool, and she’s got some interesting ideas flitting around in this ever-clear head of hers.

But she does still love her some “Queer Eye” and “Million Dollar Listing.” Because #priorities.

The Wine Witch Returns

I had one of the strongest booze cravings tonight that I’ve had in a very, very long time. I’m happy to report that I surfed the urge like a boss, but it was nevertheless unsettling.

Today was a loooong day. “No-school November,” as we call it around here, is a challenging time. The kids don’t have a full week of school until the last week of the month, so our tenuous fall routine has once again fizzled before my eyes, leaving me with two stir-crazy siblings-turned-frenzied-frenemies.

We managed a few successful diversions today. Kickboxing class for me (brought to you by the iPad, which kept my kids entertained for those precious 45 minutes); play date for my daughter (bless the mom of her friend, who let the girls frolic in a giant leaf pile); and a birthday party for my son (bless those parents who hosted the party at one of those bouncy castle places). But any time they were in our house my kids were either at each other’s throats or just plain rude, to each other and to me. Ugh.

By the time the witching hour finally rolled around, I had a sink full of dirty dishes with which to do battle as I attempted a new recipe which I must have botched because it turned out pretty nasty. I felt defeated by culinary chaos and exhausted from the resolve it took to not just scream my head off at my whiny, ungrateful children all day long.

My frayed nerves must have given the shriveled wine witch newfound life because all of a sudden, there she was. “You know what would make this better? Wine. A cold, crisp glass to help you escape this craziness. To help take the edge off. You deserve-”

Nope. Not happening. Scat! Go back into your hole! Bye, Felicia.

She retreated. And I began to “surf the urge.”

Why was I craving alcohol? A mountain of dirty dishes plus a particularly soul-sucking day of parenting? Welcome to Trigger City, where the streets are lined with sauvignon blanc and tequila grows on trees.

Would alcohol make anything better? No way. That’s an easy answer these days. It would have made me impaired, numb, dehydrated, and even more short-tempered than I already was. Most importantly, I would be showing my children that the answer to stress relief is alcohol. I don’t want them to grow up with that message like I did.

What could I do to improve my state of mind instead of boozing? Eat! My kids and I sat down to dinner and even though mine was pretty gross, my son ate his sugar snap peas without whining (!!!) and we ended up having a rather civilized and even – gasp! – enjoyable family meal.

But the dish mountain remained. To ward off the emboldened wine witch – well, first I ate a piece of chocolate in the pantry in the dark by myself (keepin’ it real y’all). Then I asked Echo to play the “Doing the Dishes” playlist – which is full of catchy pop music – and I got down with my dish pile while my kids funneled the last of their crazy energy into a rather adorable dance party.

I quashed the wine witch and I rallied to create something positive out of this slog of a day. And I’m proud of that. My kids are sound asleep and I am heading up to bed as soon as I finish writing. Tomorrow (a new day! Hallelujah!), I’m spinning at 6am and then I have my monthly weigh-in. So this mama needs to recharge her superpowers. That sounds better than getting my beauty rest, doesn’t it?

Either way, I am going to sleep with clean dishes and a clean conscience. Take that, wine witch!

Putting the “I” in Volunteer. Oh wait.

I tried my professional hat on today and it felt pretty uncomfortable at first. I have been volunteering in various capacities for a small local colon cancer organization for almost 15 years, and today I was asked to fill in for the executive director at a dinner we hosted for the awesome folks who comprise our fundraising team for the NYC Marathon. All of these people have a connection to colorectal cancer (as do I) and they all raised at least $3,000 to be able to run the marathon tomorrow. I figured if these people can train for four months to run 26.2 miles, the least I can do is put on real pants and makeup.

So I did. And I did my best to fill our wonderful executive director’s shoes.

My schmooze-ability was rusty at first. To be honest, since starting my OYAF and doing all this writing and reading and exploring life as a teetotaler, I have done a lot less volunteer work. And I feel tremendously guilty about that – when I relent to the force of old habits and allow myself to fall into that mindset. I no longer have colon cancer facts and figures readily accessible in my brain. But I had to make room for all this knowledge I’m acquiring about alcohol, and so the colon cancer stuff has been relegated to back shelves and has started to gather a bit of dust. So I felt rusty and awkward, trying to be all professional-like.

But then we shared our stories. I started by introducing myself to the group, telling everyone how my stepdad was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in 2002 and passed away 20 short months later. A few months before he died, I ran a race in Central Park to raise awareness and funds for colon cancer, and I ended up being the top female fundraiser of the whole thing. My stepdad was so touched to receive such an outpouring of support, and it really made a difference in his final days. That experience also introduced me to this organization and I’ve been volunteering ever since.

Our marathon runners shared stories of loss and stories of survival. Many of us had not met each other before today, and yet there we were, instantly connected by this vicious but preventable disease. And now twenty people will take to the streets of New York City tomorrow in honor and memory of loved ones, to help spread this critical message of awareness.

This cause is still a part of my heart. But it’s also ok that I have stepped back from it a bit to focus on myself and conquer something that was holding me back from being the best I can be. I know that when I’m ready to dive back in, whether as a volunteer or employee, whether for this cause or another, I will be able to give more of myself because I am taking time to fully reveal and nurture this self.

This self is not quite ready for launch yet. And that’s ok. The schmoozing skills kicked back in by the end of today’s event, but I am also happy to be able to retreat back into my sweatpants and my Notes app to write this post. I will give what I can as a volunteer for now, and I will try not to judge myself for not giving more. Because I need to continue this internal work. And I’d like to think that by sharing this work, I am not just helping myself; I’m helping others too.

And when my evolved self is ready to launch back into real pants and makeup on a more regular basis, look out world. She’s gonna be fierce.

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.

One. Hundred. Days.

One hundred days of sobriety
Of alcohol-freedom
Of clarity
Of growth
Of presence
Of progress
Of learning
Of exploring
Of curiosity
Of beauty
Of pride
Of realness
Of honesty
Of support
Of courage
Of candor
Of confidence
Of authenticity
Of love
Of contentment
Of grace
Of peace.

One hundred days since I have consumed alcohol: an addictive, harmful substance that I once valued as integral to my life. I thought it brought me relaxation, when really it compounded my anxiety. I thought it made me happy and energized, when really it made me moody and exhausted. I thought hangovers were my price to pay for having a treat, when alcohol was a trick all along.

I don’t blame myself for being tricked. I don’t blame myself for still thinking about alcohol and sometimes really, really wanting it. And you shouldn’t either. Walking this unconventional path and dismantling decades of subconscious programming ain’t for sissies. Ain’t got time for the blame game.

So I don’t blame myself for missing it. I miss alcohol the way I used to miss old boyfriends. I knew they weren’t good for me, so I broke up with them. But I missed them, and on one or two occasions I took them back before breaking up with them again. Because navigating life without them was hard. It was a lot easier having a companion, a crutch, an excuse, a distraction, than it was to forge ahead on my own. But I persisted, because deep down I knew I didn’t deserve to settle. Then I met my husband. And I realized how good life could really be, how deeply I could love and be loved. How complete and content I could feel.

Breaking up with alcohol has done the same. I never knew adult life could be like this. This full of all that is good. All that I listed above, and so much more. Having left this long-term toxic relationship behind, I once again feel complete and content.

When I first stopped drinking on January 1, the start of my first of three breaks this year, I felt a vast, profound void. I felt a sense of loss. I felt disoriented and adrift. But I knew, in my gut, I had to forge ahead. I knew I deserved better.

I received the myriad, life-changing gifts of sobriety like my kids tearing into their presents on Christmas Day. Gimme gimme gimme. Is there more? There is? Yay! But unlike half of those toys which inevitably end up broken or unused, I hold these precious gifts tenderly in my heart and in my mind, and I access them daily.

One hundred days.

I’ve written this after dozing for a couple of hours on my flight to London. It’s almost 2AM in New York, and we are landing soon. I am so very tired, yet so very thrilled to be celebrating my first 100 days and kicking off the next 100 in one of my favorite places on the planet. I may be on my own, embarking on this next adventure. But I know I’m not alone.

I was never alone. And neither are you.

Sober Boss October

October! My favorite month of the year. And this is going to be an especially exciting and momentous and busy one. This weekend my mom and I will celebrate our birthday. I was born on her 30th birthday and we celebrate together every year with a Broadway double-header in NYC. The weekend after that, I will go to London by myself (!!!). The weekend after that is my actual birthday, on which we might be doing something that is major that I can’t share yet. And then we get into Halloween mode.

In addition to all of these events, it’s Sober October and also what my favorite Peloton instructor, Ally Love, calls #BossOctober. I debated about whether or not I would officially partake in these two movements. I didn’t want to feel extra pressure as I am already trying to write every day as part of my one year alcohol-free. But of course I am already staying sober, so Sober October is a no-brainer. And I love the idea of Boss October.

For this, Ally asks us to commit to the following:
1. Decide to give up one thing you enjoy (e.g. booze, candy, etc.)
2. Choose a virtue/habit to focus on (patience, being on time, etc.)
3. Add some sort of movement to your schedule (starting a new form of exercise, adding yoga or strength, etc.)

Here is my Boss October plan:
1. Giving up booze (which of course I’m already doing). I thought about giving up something else, like red meat or Halloween candy. But being alcohol-free is far from effortless yet. Still a lot of work, a lot to read, and a lot to write on this topic alone – so I’m sticking to it!
2. I will focus on being more present with my kids. Specifically, I am committing to 15 minutes of one-on-one time with my son and daughter every day. No phones, no distractions. Which may sound a) simple and b) like not a lot of time. But for me, to put my phone down and not multi-task is a huge challenge. And I hope that by committing to a month of this unplugged, focused time with each of my kids, I can start to change my multi-task-obsessed behavior.
3. I already feel fairly maxed out with my workout schedule, and I am traveling in the middle of the month. BUT I am going to do more with the time I have. Small changes could make a big difference! I have wanted to add a 60-minute ride and upper body strength training to my schedule, and so it is time to BOSS UP. I am going to tweak my workout schedule thus:

Old schedule (my week resets on Tuesday because that is my weigh-in day):
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 45-min ride plus 10-min abs
Sun – 45-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

New schedule:
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest or recovery ride
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 30-min ride plus 10-min upper body and 10-min abs
Sun – 60-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

I’m excited for these challenges and I’m looking forward to making new connections with others who are partaking in either Sober October or Boss October – or both!

Who’s signing up for Sober October? Anyone interested in committing to Boss October with me? Let me know! Bring on Sober Boss October!