Outshining Broken Bulbs at 150 Days

Stringing the lights on the Christmas tree is one of my least favorite tasks of the year. Not to sound Grinchy, but I always end up doing it by myself, getting poked by myriad needles while trying not to be toppled by a nine-foot fir.

Tonight, my daughter asked if she could help me. And, lo and behold, my little stringbean ninja turned out to be the key to successful light-stringing! The process was painless (save for a few inevitable pokes) and a fun bonding moment. I was grateful to finally have a wingwoman to support me through this dreaded but critical Christmas task.

Then she plugged in the lights. And the top 1/4 of the tree did not work.

I could consider the whole effort a failure. I could give up, rip the lights off the tree and let it ruin my night. I could buy a new strand of lights to try to hide the broken ones. I could.

But I’m not going to do any of those things. I talked about it with my daughter and she said, “Well, it’s still a great tree even if some of the lights don’t work.” And she’s right.

I’m struggling with eating right now. But I do not consider myself a failure. I am not going to give up and let the sugar monster ruin my night. I am not going to try to hide the fact that I am struggling. And I know that I am still great even if my relationship with sugar is not working.

A year ago, I was struggling with drinking. What if I had given up then? What if I had let the wine witch ruin my night, and eventually my life? What if I had continued to hide the fact that I was struggling?

I didn’t, thank goodness. I found Connect and appealed for support and received it in spades. As low as I felt, somewhere inside I knew I was still great. I knew I deserved better, and my #sobersisters on Connect helped me strengthen that belief.

I have so much more confidence now than I did a year ago. So much more faith in myself. I have overcome a soul-crippling, dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I know I’ll figure out sugar too.

Sometimes I still feel alone in my struggles. But I know I’m not, and I never was.

If you are struggling, you’re not alone. There is support for you here. Believe that you deserve to receive it. Let us help give you the boost you need. You are not a failure. Do not give up. Do not hide, from us or from yourself.

You are great. We are great. We may have a few wonky bulbs, but our light shines beautiful and bright.

A Year in Discovery, Pondering Recovery

With a body full of tight, sore muscles after my 60-minute advanced bootcamp class on our new Peloton Tread yesterday, I climbed on my bike for a recovery ride this morning. A negative self-talk battle ensued, as is usual when I attempt to take it easy. I finally came to the realization today that this is a waste of energy and needs to change.

Recovery rides, for me, are as mentally challenging as other workouts are physically challenging. Even though I know my body needs the rest, it is a mental fight to feel good about not pushing myself. I don’t like feeling tired. I don’t like falling behind the instructor’s numbers. I want to be able to give it my best all the time. But if I were to push past my comfort zone in every single workout, I would burn out or hurt myself. And I know I deserve better than that.

I have to remind myself that a recovery ride these days is necessitated by a super hard workout the day before; whereas it used to be necessitated by super hard drinking the night before. I am no longer punishing myself for a hangover; I am soothing and loosening tight, fatigued, and growing muscles. A recovery ride should feel like a treat – not a failure.

Cue the mindset shift. I need to stop comparing myself to anyone else on the leaderboard. I need to listen to and respect my body enough to recover without judgement. I need to let go of the numbers, even if this feels contrary to my rule-following nature. If the instructor tells me to raise my resistance to 50 and push my cadence past 90, I want to do it. I feel like a weenie if I don’t.

But I hereby resolve to think of myself as a rebel instead of a weenie. I am a recovery rebel, prioritizing what is good for my body like a boss. I take it easy with wild abandon. I revel in my need to take it light and slow. Look at me, keeping my resistance at 36 when the instructor asks for 45! Y’all can take the hill without me. I’ll be chillin’ on my flat road. So badass.

I’m not there yet, but I will be. Mindsets don’t change in an instant. Practice practice practice.

* * *

It’s interesting to throw around this word “recovery” during my alcohol-free year in a non-alcohol context. I have never considered myself to be “in recovery” from my alcohol use, because I don’t believe it was excessive enough to warrant a “recovery” as I understand the term. The origin of the word “recover” means “to get again” or “get back” – but I was never gone.

I was never lost, just muddled. I have been here the whole time. I was just unable to fire on all cylinders a little more often than I could tolerate. I am not getting myself back; but I am exploring, peeling back, uncovering.

I am not in recovery. I am in discovery.

The origin of the word “discover” means “to uncover completely.” That’s more like it.

So as part of my year of discovery, I will shift my mindset about exercise recovery and give myself the permission and freedom to enjoy a well-earned flat road. I have come so far and conquered many hills along the way. I refuse to let negative self-talk hold me back in any area of my life anymore.

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.