On Untethering and Learning to Trust

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March 3 vs. March 29

Life has changed a bit since I was last here.

The novel coronavirus – barely a headline in January, as I set off on my no-sugar adventure – is now taking over the planet. My kids are out of school, my husband is (thankfully) working from home, I was (hopefully temporarily) laid off from my kickboxing instructor gig. We hightailed it out of our NY home – Westchester County being one of the OG coronaviral hotbeds in the US – and are hunkered down, self-quarantining, social distancing, and following the statewide stay-at-home order at our 241-year-old farmhouse in NH.

In other words, life has basically changed completely.

Life has been boiled down to family, health, and safety. I am trying to balance awareness and anxiety, routine and going with the flow, family time and me time, work and rest. I am trying to reconcile goals set in a pre-COVID-19 existence with our current COVID-19-dominated reality.

And here’s where I am at this moment:

In our creaky, drafty farmhouse kitchen, pre-dawn, sipping coffee. I have actually been up, tossing and turning, since 4:43am. Because today is the day that I set myself free from three months of self-imposed dietary restrictions. It feels oddly like Christmas. I feel thin and strong and really hungry and excited for the food that I’ll eat today. In these dark, quiet, solitary minutes, as the rest of my family sleeps, I am a child again, gazing in awe upon a bevy of colorful boxes while dreading the letdown that will inevitably occur once all the treats are unwrapped.

Here’s how I arrived at this Christmas-esque morning:

In January I cut added and artificial sugar from my diet. Acknowledging my sugar addiction was hard, but I was determined to tackle it as I tackled my dependence on wine – which I came to understand was a cover for my underlying sugar addiction all along.

It sucked, going without sugar for what feels like the longest month of the year, but it wasn’t torture. Because I found other ways to (over-)indulge: gluten-free pretzels, nut butter, bananas. By the end of the month I felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Mama (minus the marshmallows). So for the first two weeks of February I tried a low-FODMAP diet, plus no sugar. That helped a bit with the bloating and general malaise. On February 15 my husband and I enjoyed a planned “cheat day” that, for me, lasted two weeks. I fell deep into a spiral of sugar consumption that was actually pretty scary and left me feeling totally out of control, bloated to the max, and disgusted with myself.

So, in admitted desperation, I turned to a nutritionist recommended by a woman from my kickboxing gym who had recently undergone an incredible body transformation under the guidance of this perceived wonder woman. I met with her on March 2 and started the super-strict diet and exercise program she designed for me on March 3. The program was to last four weeks, ending tomorrow, March 30.

But today is Sunday and our favorite brunch spot is offering takeout. The world has gone to hell in a handbasket and I have been REALLY FUCKING HUNGRY FOR TWENTY-SEVEN DAYS AND SO TODAY IT ENDS.

Strike that.

TODAY IT BEGINS.

Today I set myself free. Today I accept that my life’s journey of emotional, mental, and physical wellness is a marathon, not a sprint. Today I recognize that my sobriety is a superpower that I created for myself and that I can apply to all areas of wellness. Today I challenge myself to believe in my capability.

Today I commit to learning to trust myself, no matter how many millions of baby steps it takes.

My four weeks-minus-one-day with the nutritionist were very, very hard. I have never been so hungry in my life. I have not pushed myself this much with exercise in over a decade. I did not enjoy the diet but I completely de-bloated, and I gained both strength and stamina. So, I accomplished the main goals I set for myself. I just wish it hadn’t been so miserable so much of the time. And attempting such a transformation over such a short time in the ever-engulfing shadow of COVID-19 elevated the level of difficulty from high to stupid-high.

So I AM DONE, Y’ALL. But no regrets. I made huge progress and I also learned some valuable lessons that I will carry with me. I have been exercising first thing in the morning, in a fasted state – which I had come to believe would make me feel nauseous and lightheaded but is actually just damn empowering and a badass way to start the day. I have added more strength training to my workouts which I can already tell is helping my body burn fat. I forgot how much I love lifting heavy weights. I feel leaner and stronger now, for sure.

I also learned that I was simply eating too much of too many things. I learned that I can – and, most of the time, should – operate on a diet of eggs, lean meat and fish, a little fruit and nut butter, sweet potato or brown rice, oatmeal, and lots and lots of veg. In other words, for the past four weeks-minus-one-day, I have basically been eating the way all the health food books and blogs and podcasts and Instagram accounts and wellness influencers and weight loss programs tell you to eat. And – SPOILER ALERT – it works.

I learned that I can live totally happily without beans and soy, mostly happily without dairy and white flour, somewhat happily without refined sugar, grudgingly without anything processed; and that life without avocado is bleak indeed. Now I have a better sense of what foods outside my healthy diet staples I will prioritize adding back in for special meals.

These weeks have at times made me feel resentful, cranky, and hangry to the max. But overall I also feel svelte, strong, and proud. I have overcome my lifelong fear of being hungry – and that was one of my main goals for seeking assistance from a nutritionist in the first place. Before this little nutritional adventure, if I felt the slightest twinge of what I perceived as hunger, I would grab one of the snacks that I always had on me – in my purse, in my car, in my pocket. What these weeks have taught me is that as long as I am filling my body with the right nutritious foods at the right time of day, my blood sugar will not plummet. I will not pass out or throw up. It is not comfortable to feel hungry, but neither is it the end of the world. I am learning to really listen to my body now, and not fear hunger anymore. Eureka!

That being said, I have basically been hungry for a month and it has sucked for a lot of the time. I’m done feeling deprived. I choose to feel FULL. To fill myself with all of the goodness that I can as my family navigates this unprecedented, bizarre, surreal time. In the quarantined days that continue to unfurl and wipe our family calendar clean before our eyes, I will fill my stomach with healthy food and delicious food and healthy, delicious food. I will fill my body with exercise-induced endorphins. I will fill my soul with snuggles and nature and books and writing and movies and TV. I will fill my brain with important, useful, and factual information and filter out the false or sensationalist crap. I will fill my heart with with my kids and my husband and my dogs as we, together, create this uniquely beautiful quarantined life.

Because it is beautiful, in many ways. And just because it’s beautiful does not mean that it’s not also a little scary and a lot strange. A persistent thought keeps popping into my head and it is this: “This time is such a gift.” This chance to slow down; to disconnect from life’s superfluous crap and reconnect to only what truly matters; to invest in emotional and physical health; to be present; to just be. Of course, our opportunity is another family’s tragedy and for that reason I feel like an asshole being so damn content. Then I remind myself that it’s ok to choose joy over fear. It’s ok to feel simultaneous gratitude and grief. This time IS a gift. It is a family-sized life raft keeping us afloat on a sea of uncertainty and fear.

So, for now, as we continue to float along these uncharted waters, I am done with dietary restrictions. I hereby untether myself from anything that does not belong in our family life raft. Starting now, there is no “on the wagon” or “off the wagon.” No good or bad eating, no blue dots or negative points (in WW lingo).

Instead, I am going to practice trusting myself. This will be hard work for me, because I have never trusted myself around food. But right now I have the gift of time. And now I know how great it feels to be fit and strong. I know that I can reap extra benefits of exercise on an empty stomach. I know that as long as I am filling my body with nutritious food, I will not feel debilitating hunger. I know that if my stomach emits a wee growl, it is not an emergency and I do not need to immediately grab for the nearest snack. I know the foods and portion sizes that my body needs to optimize its performance. I have a better sense of what foods help my body run smoothly and what foods give me trouble. I know how I feel if I indulge in too much junk. And I know I do not deserve to self-flagellate myself in shame if I do it anyway.

Today I set myself free from my super-strict nutrition program without setting a deadline to get “back on the wagon.” I am instead going to practice trusting myself. I am going to remember that my wellness journey is a marathon, not a sprint. I am going to use my sobriety superpower to stay present. If I slip or stumble, I will remind myself that I possess a superpower that makes the impossible possible.

I am capable. I am trustworthy. I am grateful. I am free.

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.

On Grief and Flannel Sheets

Two months since I’ve been here. In that time, I became a kickboxing instructor. My son started kindergarten. I celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary. Summer faded into Fall. I lost one of the most influential people in my life. Today was his funeral.

Today I was fortunate enough to be able to mourn the great loss of my dear friend and mentor. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt fortunate to attend a funeral before but that is how I feel today, in these moments of exhausted, head-spinning reflection as I walk my dog around my neighborhood and await the arrival of the school bus and with it my two children, who will be the recipients of extra-big hugs today.

I thought I had cried all my tears. I thought I knew the marvel of a man this man was. But the service today – heartbreaking and beautiful and so utterly fitting as it was – opened me to a greater depth of both grief and gratitude.

I am feeling layer upon layer of feeling. I am enveloped. It is the emotional equivalent of those icy days last Thanksgiving, our first extended stay at our crumbling farmhouse, with a dodgy old furnace inside and subzero temperatures outside and windows frosted over in a Disney-esque geometry of sparkling snowflakes. During those mornings I would wake feeling toasty warm, impossibly warm, in my cotton cocoon, while the air in our bedroom was cold and the air outside was below and beyond freezing.

So enveloped am I today in my feelings, coping with the loss and the celebration of the life of this great man.

Today, it is gratitude that is closest to my skin. Gratitude: my flannel pajamas covering me from head to toe, worn soft from many, many sleeps. I am so grateful to have known this man, to have worked beside this man, to have witnessed his brilliance and his humor and his drive and his heart. I am so grateful to know his family, and for him and his family to have become so close to me and mine.

On top of my gratitude there is determination: the sturdy flannel sheets of my cocoon. I feel sturdy in my determination to do what I can to help continue his legacy and to help his vision inch ever closer to reality. But I am also determined to live the lessons that he embodied. I will stay true to myself. I will do work that fills my cup. I will put my family first. I will not compromise my values and I will act with integrity in all areas of my life.

Ah, grief: the itchy wool blanket that may not feel good to the touch but nevertheless is an imperative layer to seal in the warmth. Grief: the inescapable heartbreak, the desperate disbelief, the sadness I feel deep into my bones. This is important too. It’s the underside of love – the side that reveals itself when love is lost. I am very, very sad. It weighs on me, it punches me in the gut. But it’s necessary. When I feel pummeled by my grief I remind myself that it’s because I loved this man and was loved by this man and that makes the grieving damn well worth it.

Love is love is love is the big ol’ duvet that covers my grief and makes my cocoon complete. Love is the thick, final layer protecting me from the bite of the bitter cold, from the icy chill of fear of cancer of death of all that is unknown and inevitable and out of our control.

Gratitude, determination, grief, love: my emotional cocoon in which I will continue to process my feelings, nurture myself, and grow into a changed-for-the-better person for having known and loved and lost a very special and now sacred person.

This is where I live now, in an ever-shifting cocoon of layered emotions, continually evolving. I feel all the feelings instead of hiding beneath my flimsy old alcohol blanket. That blanket never kept me warm, at least not for long. And it never protected me from the cold unknown. Beneath my alcohol blanket I shivered with anxiety, with fear, with shame.

What a gift it is, to grieve without the splintered crutch of alcohol.

What a gift it is, to love without the restrictive harness of alcohol.

What a gift it is, to feel it all, unencumbered, unlimited, authentic, honest, and free.

449 days and counting.

 

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.

Social Media Invincibility, Real Life Vulnerability

My One Year Alcohol-Free is over. I am still taking it all in (and going strong – 371 days and counting!). The simple fact that I did not drink alcohol for one full year is still settling itself contentedly into my brain. At the same time, I am emerging into the world as a non-drinker. My legs are a bit wobbly but I can feel that they are strong. I’m ready to stand, to walk, to run into this new life I’ve created for myself. What I’m finding, though, is that toggling between social media and real life is raising my vulnerability to a simmer.

After I posted on July 4, I celebrated Independence Day (both the national one and my own) with my clan and our extended family in New Hampshire. I took a couple of days to read and respond to the comments that were left on my Connect and Instagram posts, both of which had trended for a hot second. Thousands of strangers (and a handful of IRL friends) took the time to read my words and hundreds wrote messages of support and celebration. I was just chuffed. Weeeee! I did this amazing thing and all these people are so excited for me!!!

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When we got back to New York on Sunday, I went to the grocery store and ran into two friends, each of whom congratulated me on reaching my one-year milestone. These congratulations felt different from what I’d received online. I may have blushed. I stifled the urge to downplay my achievement or dismiss their compliments, instead blurting out “Thank you so much!” Inside, I was not doing the happy dance brought about by strangers’ praise on social media. Inside, I was flailing, trying to hold onto my pride and confidence as these face-to-face interactions kicked up a gnarly dust cloud of insecurity.

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Yesterday, the social media maven from my kickboxing gym messaged me on Instagram to ask if she could repost my photos from days 364 and 365. I replied, without hesitation, “Yes of course!! I’m proud of it! Thank you for asking!!” Once again I felt the chuffed butterflies in my stomach. I was being recognized and celebrated for accomplishing an awesome goal. Good for me!

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When I arrived at my kickboxing class today, my first class since before the 4th of July, my instructor came over to give me a hug. “I’m not much of a social media person,” she said, “so I had no idea what you were doing. But I saw your post on our Instagram. Huge congrats to you, girl! That is amazing!” A few minutes later, after our warm-up, one of my classmates also complimented me, having seen the Instagram post as well. Fluster, flail. “Thank you so much!” was again my canned reply. Before I could stop myself, I added something like, “You know, my son is getting on the school bus in September and so I just felt like I wanted to achieve something big, something for me, before both my kids are in school full-time.”

I’m not sure what babble came out of my mouth. What I really wanted to say – to her, and to my instructor, and to my two friends I saw in the grocery store, and to my extended family with whom we spent the 4th of July – is “I SWEAR I’M NOT AN ALCOHOLIC! I DID NOT HAVE A SERIOUS DRINKING PROBLEM WITH A CAPITAL ‘P’! I WAS JUST A WINE MOM! NO BIGGIE! NOTHING TO SEE HERE!”

Except: it is a biggie. And I do want people to see me and know about my accomplishment. It’s just easier to put myself out there in front of strangers instead of family and friends. It’s easier to throw a selfie and some deep thoughts into the void of social media, where I can ignore or delete comments that I don’t like and bask in the glow of the ones I do, than it is to explain to a table full of my family members why I decided to embark on a year without booze and how I benefitted from it. No matter how proud I feel, talking about my journey in real life to friends and family is still hard. Alcohol is a fickle fiend that ingratiates itself with everyone differently. Alcohol is a loaded topic, and I feel a lot less in control and a lot more vulnerable when I talk about it in real time to real people.

Quick! Somebody call Brené Brown! I need to feel good about being so damn vulnerable!

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
-Brené Brown

Phew. Ok. That’s better.

People, whether online or IRL, are going to think what they are going to think. I cannot control what others will infer from or project onto me. All I can do is own my truth and share it.

I have chosen to share my story because it keeps me accountable and because I want to help others. I never want another mom to feel as broken and shame-swamped as I did. If reading my words gives one person the nudge he or she needs to commit to making a positive change, that is well worth putting myself out there – both online and in real life.

Life Lessons from My Kids, Part 3: You are Enough

My seven-year-old daughter competed in her first martial arts competition today. She came in fourth and was the top girl in her division. Her school hosted the competition, and students from four other schools attended. She went up against kids who were bigger, smaller, scrappier, weaker, more experienced, and less experienced. What a life lesson it was for us both.

She had had her eye on the prize: all week long the competition trophies – for first, second, and third place – were displayed on a table in the reception area at her MMA school. My daughter talked breezily about how she would win, and I did my best to manage her expectations by reminding her that she would be going up against kids from other schools and there was no way to know what her competitors would be like. At the same time, I admired her confidence and wanted to nurture it. She is 1000% more confident than I was at her age, and I hope she stays that way.

You never want your kid to face a single smidgeon of adversity, yet you know they must. These are the character-building moments that thicken their skin and push them out of their comfort zone, ultimately boosting self-esteem.

And yet, my heart sank today when I realized she would place fourth and not earn a trophy. I expected her to be upset, maybe even cry. She had trained so hard, and performed better in her matches today than I have ever seen her perform in class. But it wasn’t enough. I held my breath as they awarded the three trophies, and then gave medals to each of the other competitors. I craned my neck to glimpse the expression on my daughter’s face as the medal was placed around her neck.

When she turned to face us, she was not crying. She was perhaps a bit sheepish, but far from devastated. I took a deep breath as she walked over to us. We gave hugs and immediately started heaping well-deserved praise upon her. “Fourth place! Out of all these kids! And the top girl! You worked so hard and we are so proud of you!”

“YOU ARE MORE THAN ENOUGH,”I wanted to tell her. But I think she already knows. She was a little bummed that she missed out on a trophy, and she complained a bit (rightfully so in my definitely unbiased opinion) about some of the judging. But overall, she is happy with her performance today. She wanted to win, but she enjoyed competing for the sake of competing. The challenge and fun of the competition were enough.

My daughter – whether by nature or nurture, whether because of her youth or her wisdom – knows that she is enough. She challenges herself for the fun of it. She does her best, and is proud of her hard work.

I wish it were so simple for me. But at least I have the best role model right here under my roof and in my heart.

A Candy-Free Easter

It’s hard to get psyched up for Easter now that I’m educating myself about sugar and also trying to lose weight this week –

As soon as that sentence flew out of my fingertips: lightbulb!

Hold up. Easter shouldn’t be about chocolate, should it? Just like Christmas shouldn’t be about wine, or a birthday shouldn’t be about cake (and/or wine).

[A note on religion: we are not particularly religious. My husband and I are still grappling with how to introduce and teach religion to our kids. So I’m writing on the topic of Easter acknowledging that it is a religious holiday that we do not celebrate in a religious way.]

So, taking religion out of it, what is left, besides chocolate? Family. Fun. And a little bit of magic, as my kids still believe in the Easter Bunny and delight in hunting for eggs around the yard (much more than I delight in waking at 5:30am to hide them).

Now, what is more important, family or chocolate? Easy question. So why am I so bummed to be on an Easter candy boycott tomorrow? I should be focused on having a lovely morning with my sweet clan, not on denying myself sweets.

It’s those pesky neural pathways! Just as I had always linked enjoying holidays with imbibing alcohol, so too have I always linked enjoying holidays with indulging in treats. And there is certainly nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence! But when removing the indulgence from the picture actually causes me to don my cranky pants, that is a problem.

I am on the sugar struggle bus. It is difficult for me to imagine enjoying Easter – or any other holiday – without treats. Tomorrow will be my first candy-free Easter ever. I know that if I were at my goal weight, tomorrow would be a cheat day. But I’m not. I’m 3lbs over my goal, with a Lifetime weigh-in looming. I could still choose to have a cheat day, but I know I would feel super guilty. So I’m going to take this opportunity to consider the possibility of enjoying Easter without chocolate.

This is not quite as scary as my alcohol-free birthday or Christmas. But it’s not easy to anticipate, either. I don’t want to feel tortured. I don’t want to miss chocolate. But I probably will.

And guess what? That is ok. This is a process. An experiment. All I can do is stay true to my commitment and see how it feels.

The boycott is on. Happy Easter to all who celebrate, however you celebrate!