An Unexpected and Most Unwelcome Milestone

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I anticipated sitting down to write a blog post this week about my first solo-and-sober international trip. Alas, the universe had other plans and decided to throw my family a nasty curveball:

A hospital bed.

A heart attack releasing its victim from the claws of cancer.

A newly minted widow reluctantly relieved from her duties as caretaker.

Two grown sons left, in an instant, without a dad.

Last Wednesday, my husband went to work, as usual. My daughter wore an Italian soccer jersey to Team Jersey Day at her camp. My son went to camp and then earned his long-awaited red belt in his Tiny Dragons MMA class. I went to my kickboxing class and pounded the crap out of the heavy bag, cursing cancer for bringing so much pain into so many lives but having no idea how much more painful our lives were about to become.

A normal summer day. And then my father-in-law passes away. And a normal day turns into one of those days when you’ll always remember where you were when you got that phone call. And life as we knew it will never be the same.

He was sick, but it was sudden. It always is.

Tears shed, travel plans cancelled, travel plans made. One suitcase is emptied and another is packed. One anticipated alcohol-free milestone turns into another: grief. My first grown-up experience grieving for a lost loved one without alcohol.

When I was in my early 20s, I lost my stepdad and both of my grandfathers over 18 brutal months. Those were the days when I was single and sharing an apartment with five other girls (and one bathroom, natch) on the Upper West Side. I spent every Monday night knocking back several frozen margaritas at a dive bar with my coworkers, then waking on Tuesday to run six miles around Central Park before work. Because I could do that then. Work not so hard, play hard, run hard. Repeat.

When I went through that horrible hat trick of losses, alcohol was in the picture and I’m sure I used it to cope. But I was also young and my relationship with alcohol was still relatively simple. It didn’t take the physical or emotional toll that I would experience a decade and a half later.

Cut to a decade and a half later.

I am so grateful to not have a choice to drink right now. With booze off the table and out of my brain, I have simply been a better mourner.

Here’s what I mean by that:

I have been present. I have felt the brunt of this loss – really felt it – instead of numbing myself to it. And what I’ve discovered is that yes, it hurts a lot when you really feel it. But it is also easier to find and appreciate the silver lining. He is no longer suffering. My mother-in-law is no longer burdened with his care (though of course she didn’t mind, it took a toll on her own well-being). He passed quickly and painlessly, during a week when many family members were in town visiting and could offer extra support.

I have been able to support my husband with energy reserves that would have been sapped by booze. At a time when I need all the energy I can get, I shudder to fathom how depleted I would have been if I were drinking. Depleted, and moody, and incapable of giving as much as my husband deserves me to give right now.

I have had amazing – sad and difficult but amazing – conversations with my kids about death and the soul and God. There is something beautiful and comforting in talking to kids about death – at least the way we discussed it. Very simple and high-level and just kind of lovely. “Gramps’ soul has left his body and has gone up to God. He has gotten to meet God! How cool is that?!” That kind of stuff. Talking to my kids after my husband told me the news over the phone was deeply sad, yes, but deeply beautiful too. I will never forget it.

I have been more compassionate and authentic with my mother-in-law. Because I am not drinking it is easier to choose curiosity over judgment. To observe in complete clarity how this family mourns – a style very different from my own family – and to innately respect their choices and support them as best I can. My mother-in-law is at the center of all of this and I don’t know if she can feel it, but I certainly feel that our relationship has deepened over the last several days. And I am so grateful for that.

No booze makes me a better mourner. There is beauty to be found in grief, if you can see clearly enough. And I can.

Flying Solo and Sober

A week from today, universe willing, I will be eating Nutella out of a glass jar as I rally against jet lag and soak up the sun (or, more likely, seek shelter from the rain) in Cambridge, England. It is my 10th MBA reunion, and this sober stay-at-home mom is flying solo y’all.

My husband was the one who encouraged me to go. Of course, he really had to twist my arm to get me to book a trip by myself across the pond to spend two and a half days in one of my favorite places on the planet. And then, of course, he booked himself a week-long solo sojourn to indulge in one of his many hobbies involving machinery and tools and making stuff. Sigh. At least I’ll get to catch up on all my shows. But anyway.

Thursday to Sunday. A quick, precious, jet-lagged journey of nostalgia and reconnection and contemplation lies ahead of me and I can’t wait.

While I feel very distant from the person I was during my MBA program (a decade younger, newly engaged to my now-husband, and driven to become a CEO of a non-profit), I am excited to go back. I may be the only unemployed person there. I will not be drinking at the gala dinner or partaking in any pints at my favorite pub. I will own these choices – my choice to stay at home to raise my kids and my choice to not drink.

I have chosen to stay home with my kids over having a career, despite spending one year of my life (and a lot of our money) earning a Masters in Business Administration. Do I want to return to work one day? Yes. What do I want to do? I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to leave a positive mark on the world; and in the meantime, I have put my heart and soul into raising two awesome humans. I’m doing a really good job, too (my son’s camp counselor told me so) and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Except for all the wine I drank along the way.

Well, would I change that, if I could? I’m actually not so sure. Because if I hadn’t gotten to the point where I started to question my drinking, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would still be treading in the booze pool. I would still be waking up in the morning feeling puffy and achy and groggy, swearing today will be a wine-free day, only to pour the inevitable first glass when the witching hour strikes. Day after day, denying myself the energy and health and creativity and eyes-wide-open lust for life that I have now.

I may be ten years older than I was when I walked the cobblestone streets of this 800-year-old university and absorbed with vigor all things business (except accounting – I cried my way through accounting). But my heart feels ten times bigger. My brain feels ten times more curious, my mind ten times more open.

So, no regrets. And what a relief it is that I won’t feel the need to drink. There will be no mental volleying back and forth over whether wine will help me sleep on the overnight flight. There will be no risk of over-imbibing or having to depend on friends to get me back to my dorm(!) room. Booze is off the table and that feels right to me right now.

Instead, there will be full, raw, real emotion. And there will be clear, wonderful memories. Even awkwardness (I’m anticipating some awkwardness as I try to communicate my deal to some of these folks) will be wonderful in its way – here I am, in this group of high achieving leaders in business, owning my choice to not be a high achieving leader in business.

So, what am I? I am a mom. I am an athlete. I am a blogger. I am a volunteer. I am a pillar of love and security in my little family. I am a force of goodness in the world. A small but mighty force of goodness.

If I do say so myself. I’m owning it.

And yes, Nutella does taste better out of a glass jar. And no, I will not be tracking it. I’m owning that choice, too.

A Date with a Liberated Drinker (AKA My Husband)

I inaugurated my OYAF* by going out to dinner with my husband last night (this date brought to you by an exhausted-but-willing-to-babysit grandmother – thanks, MeMe!). My sweet hubby had been surprised when I announced my year off booze a few days ago, and he wanted to know the thought process behind my decision (um, honey, are you not reading your own wife’s blog?!).

What I realized is that, while we both come from families of drinkers (though his parents quit years ago, mine are still at it), we started drinking for different reasons. My husband started drinking because he likes the taste. He usually drinks a hard cider, and he also enjoys a glass of red wine with a good steak. His cocktail order is a gin and tonic, but he never makes them at home. He aspires to whiskey connoisseurship but “it’s too much effort” to figure out the best way to drink it (preferred glass? rocks or straight?) so the bottles of local artisanal whiskey he buys continue to sit unopened in our liquor cabinet.

He likes the taste of all of these types of alcohol, and he drinks in the moment, as a situation arises. I have never seen him have more than two drinks. He claims he has never been drunk. I am not sure if I believe anyone can truly be a “take it or leave it” imbiber of booze, but if that person does exist, I married him.

As for me, I went the more standard route. I tried alcohol my senior year of high school. I drank to fit in and to feel less inhibited. I drank because that’s what I thought cool and sophisticated and grown-up people do. I drank for the buzz, for how good it made me feel. I hated the taste of that first rum and Coke, mixed for me at a graduation party by a friend’s older brother. But I drank it. And on I went from there.

My husband drinks for the taste. He has a very simple and straightforward relationship with alcohol. He does not experience willpower-zapping, soul-bruising cognitive dissonance. He does not play date night whack-a-monologue. He has no beef with booze. And so, while he supports my decision to spend a year off the sauce, he can’t fully understand why I feel such a bone-deep need to do this.

But he will support me through and through, on the basis of his love for me. And that is what I need from him. He hasn’t been to my side of the liberation-fixation scale, and that’s ok. I am building my own network, both personal and virtual, of people who have been there. I have a stack of books to read; dozens of Instagram accounts to follow; and the incredible #sobersisters community on Connect. I even have a few IRL friends and family members to talk to. And maybe, as this year progresses, there will be more.

For now, I am securely steeped in the honeymoon phase of my year of sobriety. Day two, baby! I feel gleeful, free, inspired. And I’m basking in the glow of my lovely date last night, a nice meal made memorable by a breakthrough conversation.

*One Year Alcohol-Free, obv. Is the abbreviation catching on yet?

No Day But Today: Day One of My OYAF*

*One Year Alcohol-Free

I woke this morning with a dry mouth and puffy face, the result of two margaritas and a few sips of wine: my last alco-hurrah before embarking on my 52-week experiment in sobriety. I had planned to drink one last glass of Sauvignon Blanc to say farewell to my drinking days. But by the time I got to it I already felt queasy from the margaritas and zillion tortilla chips (because ‘Merica) so I could only manage a few measly sips.

It was a good ending note, actually. I could have done without the nausea but it was reassuring (in an albeit unpleasant way). I had planned to have a few drinks, to celebrate Independence Day and my own impending independence from alcohol. But my body didn’t want ’em. There will be less to miss, I think, now that I know I’m no longer capable of “having a few drinks” the way I used to “have a few drinks…” every night.

I have had Sauvignon Blanc, my shining beacon of fabulosity, on a pedestal for the last several years. She has been my savior, my salve, my BFF. She has comforted me, chilled me out, lifted me up.

Except she’s a devil in disguise. A fraud broad. A knockoff handbag sold out of a trash bag on Broadway. At least that’s how she has been revealed to me. Everybody is different. But my body is onto her, even if my still-smitten brain wants to give her another chance. And another.

For the next 365 days, that won’t be an option. I’m locking the door to my mental trophy room and letting the key fall into the bottomless pit of my mom bag, to rest among the half-crayons, Hot Wheels, and used tissues.

Why am I doing this now?

My gut has announced that now is the time. I have a year before my son starts kindergarten. So, a year to figure my shit out so that I don’t feel completely gutted when he struts onto the school bus. That same September, in 2019, I’ll be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m still a couple of years away from turning 40, but I want to lay the groundwork now to feel amazing by then.

I am closer than I have ever been to my best body ever. And I have been doing Weight Watchers for long enough now to know that I can’t effectively address my eating issues (read: battle the sugar-and-salt monster) with the shadow of alcohol looming over me. Willpower is a finite resource, after all.

As the phase of early motherhood comes to an end for me, I need to be able to think clearly and creatively about where I’m heading. I know I can’t do that if I continue to be seduced by Sauv B. Those days are over. For now. Maybe forever. But definitely for now. And I have a feeling that if I ever chose to open that door again, I’ll find Sauv B’s pedestal has crumbled to dust.

It Begins (Tomorrow): One Year Alcohol-Free

I am taking myself by surprise here. But I haven’t felt a good fire like this in my belly for awhile and so I know that it’s there for a reason and this is where I am meant to be. Tomorrow, July 5, 2018: the first day of one year alcohol-free. It is ON.

How did I get to this point? I have not hit rock bottom. There was no wake-up call. No emergency that propelled me to jettison myself out of dire straits.

There is just me, my cognitive dissonance, and an opportunity.

I have felt a bit adrift since I completed The Alcohol Experiment on April 30. I thrived within the structure of that program. Writing on each day’s topic focused my general self-care efforts. It was educational, enlightening, rewarding.

And then it was done. And drinking became drinking? and despite my iron-clad non-negotiables, the shadowy possibility of drinking slowly started looming larger and larger over my life.

My days of alcohol-freedom during Dry January and The Alcohol Experiment were chock full of life-changing epiphanies, including the realization of the impact of cognitive dissonance on my daily existence. Liberating myself from that horrible inner conflict of not wanting to drink, but wanting to drink; knowing it’s not good for me, but not being able to resist the emotional boost from pouring that first glass and taking those first few crisp sips before the soul-crippling guilt set in – felt like my brain bursting open with light and love. For reals.

I may not be at rock bottom. I haven’t broken any non-negotiables, though I have blurred the line a few times lately. I haven’t been drunk. I haven’t even had more than two drinks in one day in months. But I want that light and love back. And I want it bad.

It struck me yesterday that this is the next step for me. A whole year alcohol-free, not just 90 days or even six months. It hit me like a firm gut punch. But instead of knocking the wind out of me, my new ab muscles were clenched and ready for it. Instead of gasping for breath, I felt butterflies.

But when to start, I wondered? Should I wait until after my husband’s birthday in a couple of weeks? Should I wait for August 1 so I can start at the beginning of a month? I’ve already missed the #DryJuly boat. Maybe I should wait. It is a whole year, after all…

I logged into Connect and there was the final sign: I hit 1,000 followers. There are 1,000 people I have the opportunity to inspire with my choices, my lifestyle, my words, my pictures. And my 1,000th follower? She goes by the username @doitnowsexy. And that was that.

Do it now, sexy.

Ok, I’ll do it now. I’ll enjoy my last cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc today. I’ll probably also have a final margarita, since those are my two favorite drinks. And, you know, ‘Merica. Happy 4th and all that.

And then tomorrow, July 5, it begins. One year alcohol-free. One year AF. One year AF AF! I got this.

Fall In

A beautiful quote from my Peloton “Feel Good Ride” this morning with Ally Love. Some days it’s easy to “fall in” to self-love. Other days, like today, it feels impossible to surrender to that empowered ideal. Even though I know in that surrender is the contentment I crave.

Today, I ended up crying through my kids’ swim class after getting a speeding ticket on the way there. It’s not about the ticket, but the mortifying experience of getting pulled over with my kids in the car pushed me over the edge. I am crippled with cognitive dissonance right now. I am stuck in the shift from school year to summer and I’m letting it get the best of me.

One broken mama

Over the last couple of days I’ve tried to resort to old coping mechanisms to ease this tricky transition in our family routine. But junk food and a glass of wine make me feel so much worse. SO much worse. They always did, but I didn’t notice it as much when I was stuck in my wino-life, because I never knew how good I could feel.

But I am not fully equipped to fill the void left by booze and junk either, and that’s what broke me today. Can’t drink, can’t stuff my face with chocolate. What else do I have? Foam rolling. Tea. US Weekly (though that’s fairly toxic too). Writing. Seltzer. Stretching. Breathing…? But I just want a jar of Nutella! Is that so wrong? Yup. F.

I know this is a process. And I know I’m too hard on myself most of the time. I get lost in one bag of tortilla chips and lose sight of the long game, in which I’ve already scored more goals than I ever thought possible.

So let’s zoom out of this pity party for a moment.

This was a tough week. My daughter was crushed to have her kindergarten year come to an end. My husband was out three nights and has been renovating our garage all weekend. I haven’t had enough time or space from my kids to be able to digest the end of the school year. Oh, and I had a heinous case of PMS.

I have a kid who finished kindergarten. This is a big deal to me. A milestone in my motherhood journey. My little girl is vanishing before my eyes, and in her place is an increasingly poised, articulate, compassionate, curious, independent big kid with real feelings and opinions and the ability to express them.

She has also arrived at a point in her life where she will have legit memories. And here are her dad and I, at the helm of our family craft, doing our best to steer both of our kids through what they will hopefully remember as a happy and fun childhood while navigating the tricky waters of adulthood ourselves.

We are all first-timers here. And we are all going to stumble along the way.

After her swim lesson today, my daughter could tell I had been crying – luckily my 4-year-old son was oblivious so I only had to contend with one conversation, which of course turned the waterworks right back on. She looked me directly in the eye and wanted to know exactly why I was so upset and what she could do to help me feel better.

My kid shows compassion beyond her years. And she loves me so damn much.

I need to show her that it’s just as important to love yourself as it is to love those closest to you. I need to give myself a break. I need to show her that when things get out of whack, love brings us back to where we should be.

Oh wait. She already knows. Fall in, Mama.

My Alcohol Experiment: 100 Days of a Changed Life

It has been 100 days since I started The Alcohol Experiment. One. Hundred. Days!

I feel slightly strange marking this milestone, given that I have not gone completely sans booze. Over the last 100 days, I went sober for the first 74. Since then I have had four drinks total on three separate occasions. I have been alcohol-free for 97 out of 100 days.

On the three occasions I did drink, I was completely in control and acting within my non-negotiables. I decided before going out (because I have not had any booze at home since the start of TAE) how much I would drink, and made sure I pre-tracked the booze. So while I have not been 100% alcohol-free for the last 100 days, I have been 100% in control of my drinking.

And that feels pretty awesome.

I can’t help but wonder if I would be feeling more accomplished if I had gone completely alcohol-free for all 100 days. While that would have been an incredible achievement, I am content to not be contending with the anxiety around when or if I would have a drink again. I feel no guilt about the fact that I am celebrating an alcohol-free milestone that has included four drinks. Because that has been part of the process for me. This is my path, it’s what feels genuine to me, and as long as I maintain that authenticity it’s all good.

What am I taking with me as I move beyond these 100 days? From all the content Annie Grace graciously bequeaths us in TAE, what have been the most useful tools for me?

Non-Negotiables my non-negotiables that I initially set on Day 29 are becoming more and more deeply etched in my brain. I take this list very seriously. The structure provided by my non-negotiables is the main reason why I am cautiously optimistic that moderation will be possible for me.

The Power of Positive Thinking and Self-Talk – I didn’t realize how negative my self-talk was until I examined it through the lens of TAE. Allowing myself grace, making a conscious effort to nix negative, critical thoughts and instead treat myself with the same level of kindness with which I treat people I love has been such a gift – to myself, but also to those around me. My kids will now grow up with a mom who cherishes herself, her body, and her life. And I hope they will never struggle with negativity and self-criticism the way I did.

Gratitude for My Body – see above, and also that letter I wrote to my body on Day 11? Life-changing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am now at the best level of fitness with the healthiest body I have had since my wedding. My bod and I are BFFs now and it shows.

The Critical Role of Connection – Connecting with my husband and kids. Connecting with mom friends and old friends. Connecting with my mom. Connecting virtually with amazing #sobersisters on Connect. Connecting with myself. All of these connections are more authentic, nourishing and rewarding when experienced with a clear head and heart.

Chemical Knowledge – Alongside all of this self-examination and -improvement of the last 100 days is a keen understanding of the chemical effects of alcohol on the body. Being acutely aware of the whole process, from craving to consumption to digestion and detoxification, has definitely helped me conquer my cravings. And on the three occasions I chose to drink during the last 100 days, my awareness of what was happening in my brain and body helped me stay in control. Is drinking less enjoyable because of the knowledge I now possess? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Nope!

As I cross the 100-day threshold, what is my plan from here? To keep after it! To keep doing what I’m doing with regard to alcohol. To keep reading, listening to podcasts, seeking support from my #sobersisters. To keep writing this blog. To keep learning and sharing. And to stay positive and kind and grateful, always.