On Finding Grace

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

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

Why am I frustrated?

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Grace found.

Practically Speaking, FU Bees

FU bees.

In appreciation of One Year Alcohol Free on a very practical level:

Yesterday evening I decided to be a Puppy Supermama and, despite having 20 other things to do – including feeding my human children, because, you know, priorities – I gave our puppy a good run-around play session in our front yard.

I don’t know if it was me or Fred, but one of us seriously pissed off some yellow jackets. I got stung first on my thigh. I tried to get Fred out of the yard. The poor guy yelped in pain as he was stung on his way back inside the house. I made it inside only to get stung again, on my thumb. A bee was stuck in my clothes and ended up stinging me twice more before flying away. The whole charade scared the crap out of my kids and had me (and Fred) wincing in serious pain.

And then my throat started to get itchy. I chugged some water. Didn’t help. Itchier. And then I realized I was having an allergic reaction. I was allergic to bees as a child, so this was a little alarming. While trying to play it cool in front of my kids, I slammed back a dose of Children’s Benadryl and cursed myself for recently cleaning out our medicine cabinet and tossing anything (ahem, adult Benadryl) that had expired, no matter how recently.

Trying not to panic, I got my kids in the shower and the bedtime routine rolling. As I was reading to my son, my husband came home from work – with a 101-degree fever. Totally woozy and barely functioning. So there we were: me, reading The Three Billy Goats Gruff to my son while silently praying for the Benadryl to kick in and panicking that my throat was going to close up on me. My husband, passed out in bed, his body breaking down on him after the extreme stress of losing his father one week ago. We were a hot mess.

The Benadryl did kick in after another dose. And I’m fine today. The bites are itchy but manageable. My sweet hubby is still feverish but he took a sick day and is recovering. Due to recent events I can’t even make fun of what a wimp he is when he gets sick. It’s just sad. But he’ll be ok.

Here’s what occurred to me this morning, as I was replaying the events of yesterday evening (and you probably know where this is headed):

What if I had been drinking?

How would the alcohol have interacted with the Benadryl? (Not well.) What if my allergic reaction had been worse and I had to drive myself and my kids, since I was home alone with them, to the hospital? (Eek.) What if I’d had to call an ambulance? (YIKES.)

Or even if my allergic reaction had been similarly mild, what if my husband came home sick as a dog to a wife who had been drinking and downing Benadryl? What would that have been like for him, to have to worry about me and our kids under my care, while feeling so ill himself?

I shudder to think about it. Because if this were last summer, I would have been drinking. And a scary situation would have been a lot scarier.

So today I am grateful for being alcohol-free on this very practical level. I am grateful that I was sober and aware and able to take care of myself and my family. I am grateful that I could act quickly and soundly. I am grateful that my anxiety did not spiral out of control.

And most of all, I am grateful that we are all on the mend.

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.

A Mocktail on Mother’s Day

Last Saturday my mom and I made our annual Mother’s Day pilgrimage to NYC for a Broadway double-header with fun meals and shopping in between shows. I had been planning for weeks to break my 60-day alcohol-free streak on Saturday with a frozen pomegranate margarita, one of my favorite drinks. But in the days leading up to #MothersDayonBroadway, I started to feel a little twinge of hesitation in my gut. And by the time Saturday rolled around, there was a strong inner voice telling me, “I don’t want it.”

We arrive at Rosa Mexicano for lunch. The waiter asks for our drink order. “I’ll have a virgin pomegranate margarita,” I hear myself say. Alas, they are pre-mixed! Crap! The waiter recommends a mango-strawberry mocktail. And before I know it, my streak-breaking moment has passed and it’s Day 62.

Honestly, I’m shocked. And yet I guess I’m not. It just takes a glance back through what I’ve written over the past few months, especially my reflections once I hit my 60-day milestone last week, to quash the instinctual shock.

“I feel lighter, both physically and mentally.”

“I feel stronger, both physically and mentally.”

“I feel more energized – and beyond that, I have more endurance – both physically and mentally.”

Less anxious. Healthier. Empowered. In control (of booze, at least).

Why would I want to risk losing any of these feels?

And yet, would one drink really make a difference?

Do I still care enough about alcohol to find out? Or do I care more about me? (That’s a rhetorical question obviously. But maybe it hasn’t always been.)

On a date night a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had a very candid chat about our diet goals. He has recently committed to cleaning up his carb-inhaling act; and though his approach is different from mine, we are on the same page in terms of cutting the crap and getting healthier for ourselves and to set a better example for our kids. We agreed on this: that we would like to get to a point where we can go out to dinner, have a drink, eat a burger, splurge on dessert – and have that meal be an isolated indulgence, NOT a shove that sends us back down into the junky spiral that we have been trying to escape basically since becoming parents.

My husband has a true take-it-or-leave-it relationship with alcohol. I do not. So to include “have a drink” in the description of an ideal date night is a bigger deal for me than it is for him. I recognize this. I’ve got my toolbox now. My non-negotiables remain steadfast. I am aware and I am armed and I am determined to never fall back down to where I was.

But why do I still feel the need to include “have a drink” at all?

Because I am not ready to proclaim myself a non-drinker. But also, I don’t want to drink. So.

Last #MothersDayonBroadway, my mom and I spent our time between shows having margaritas with dinner and prosecco at a cute Irish pub. This year, because we weren’t bar-hopping, we had so much time on our hands we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. We browsed the shops at the Time Warner Center. We found her some cute summer shoes at TJ Maxx. We had dessert at Pinkberry. It was refreshing, if a bit disorienting.

I did miss being able to go sit at a bar and have a drink with my mom. I missed feeling giddy and fabulous. But I didn’t miss the crash. I didn’t miss the void left by a worn-off buzz, the dehydration, having to suppress the yearning for more booze, the anxiety about having to drive home. Yikes. Nope, I did not miss any of that at all.

We saw “Mean Girls” that night, and it was hysterical and awesome and I was able to fully absorb both the fantastic show and the amazing audience. I drove us home afterwards, grateful to be sober and not having to calculate how much time had passed since my last drink. I slept well and woke up guilt-free on Sunday.

I am really proud of myself, if a little surprised to have made the choice that I did. [I should note that one of my non-negotiables is that I will not drink if I have to drive. My plan had been to have one margarita with lunch at noon which would have worn off completely by the time I was driving home 11 hours later. But the fact that I would have been compromising, if not fully breaking, a non-negotiable did factor into my gut decision to go for a mocktail instead.] I accept that I still have conflicting feelings that will take time to untwine. And I accept that I still don’t know what my relationship with alcohol will be.

For now, it’s back to our weekly routine, which at this point is easily, breezily alcohol-free for me. No date nights or other potential drinking occasions coming up this week. So I am going to try to give myself some head space. I will shift my focus back to simply (because it’s so simple – ha!) staying on track. I will stay within my points, achieve my workout and daily water intake goals, and get my butt to bed. Keep it simple. Give myself grace.

It’s Tuesday, which also happens to be Day 64. But it’s also just Tuesday.

Losing the Big Picture and a Booze-Free Breakthrough

I lost sight of the big picture yesterday.

It was my one-year anniversary of hitting my original goal weight of 145lbs. It was also the Mother’s Day brunch celebration at my son’s nursery school. I remember going to the event with my daughter when she was in Pre-K last year, feeling triumphant for hitting my weight loss goal. Yesterday morning, I couldn’t resist weighing myself – and I was 146lbs.

I felt discouraged. I had a lovely time at the brunch – but also ate quiche, pumpkin bread, banana bread, and a blueberry muffin. Then last night I ate a 13-point pint of Enlightened ice cream and followed that with about 22 points’ worth of granola.

At about 8pm, my mom arrived for the weekend. My husband had to go out on an ambulance call (he’s a volunteer EMT). I decided to stop eating, hydrate, and enjoy the time hanging out with my mom. By the time my hubby got home, my mom and I were telling funny stories and laughing our heads off. My husband said, “This is like you ladies after a few glasses of wine, only without the wine!”

His comment made me feel SO GOOD and so proud and so happy. He was right – we were having a great time together WITHOUT wine! It was a great way to end what was otherwise a bit of a rollercoaster day.

I am now in the negatives for my points this week, with the entire weekend ahead of me including a day out in NYC today with my mom. I weighed myself again this morning to keep myself accountable –

and as of this morning I’m 144.6lbs. So I LOST a pound and a half after eating all those carbs yesterday!

So I am resetting my view to the big picture. I put too much pressure on my one-year goal weight anniversary yesterday. I’m going to try not to do that again! I will reinvest my trust in the process. Give myself kindness and grace. The rest (and the weight loss) will follow.

Oh Hi. What am I Doing Here?

Hey there! I took this blog (and its lovely Insta-sistah, @maintaining_mama) public last night so I thought now would be a good time for a proper introduction.

Like so many other women on the cusp between Gen X and Gen Y, my name is Jen. I actually just Googled what generation I am and apparently those of us on the cusp are technically Xennials now? Not sure how I feel about that.

I’m a stay-at-home mom (or SAHM, as we hashtag it these days) burbin’ it up outside NYC. My kiddos are six and four and like every other parent, I believe that they are the greatest human beings to ever grace this planet. Also like every other parent (whether you admit it or not, you know it’s true) there are times that my children are maniacal devil spawn who break me down into a sobbing ball of rage. They’re the best though. Seriously.

I also have a husband and two dogs to round out my chock-full-o-love but chaotic existence. Oh, and I try my best to balance three volunteer gigs: colon cancer non-profit, local ambulance corps, and PTA (obv).

In other words, WTF am I thinking starting a blog?! Ain’t got time for that!

Oh but I must. This is what I’m learning. Writing makes me happy. Thinking thoughts – both big and small – about my diet, exercise, relationship with booze, and general existence as a 37-year-old-25-lbs-lighter mama on the cusp of having some semblance of a life again now that my kids are older – and taking the time to write some of these thoughts down, IS IMPORTANT. Maybe even vital.

I need this time right now. I need this outlet. It is going to make me happier, more fulfilled, a better mom and wife and person. (This is me trying to convince myself that taking this time for ME, to do something I enjoy, is OK. Mom guilt, begone!)

But enough about me. What are YOU doing here?

Seriously if anyone on the interwebs besides my mom has read this far, I am sending you a big ol’ hug. I honestly don’t know what this blog will become, if or how it will resonate with anyone else. But if you’re here, welcome. And thank you. And I really, really hope you find some comfort here. Maybe some inspiration, maybe a much-needed smile.

I promise to be real. I don’t have time to be anything else, y’all. I am far from Pinterest-perfect and I hope I stay that way. Because real life can be pretty darn exquisite, when you’re not scooping dog poop or covered in your kid’s puke. And some of the time, I am neither of those things.

Some of the time, I am strong. I am energized. I am motivated. I am eating clean. I am working out five times a week. I am balanced.

And some of the time, I’m raiding my pantry. I’m PMSing. I’m crying. I’m dropping F-bombs in front of my kids. I’m drinking too much wine. I’m in a dismal slump.

I hope that this blog will help me spend more time on the living-my-best-life side of the spectrum and less time on the tortilla-chip-and-sauvignon-blanc-binging side. And who knows. As this little project makes its way in the crazy congested blogosphere, maybe I won’t be the only one.

 

Home Again

We are back from an incredible week in London and I am in bed with a nasty virus. Grateful that it’s nothing worse – though I haven’t been bedridden like this in months – and that today is Sunday so my hubs can take the kids while I rest up.

But UGH.

I’ve been putting crap into my body for two weeks now, between my pre-vacay salt-and-sugar extravaganza and then eating whatever I wanted while in London. And while I’m sure this illness is not entirely due to my being off the wagon, I’m guilting myself about it anyway. Maybe if I hadn’t eaten so poorly, maybe if I hadn’t had wine, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick and I’d be able to be productive today instead of feeling like a puffy zombie.

I know I need to cut myself a break and focus on the positives. We had an incredible week in one of my favorite cities on the planet. My husband and I were able to provide a fun, eye-opening, enriching travel experience for our kiddos while reliving some of our fondest memories of the years we spent living in London. It was truly wonderful.

And this Weight Watchers journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Habits don’t change overnight. And weight gain doesn’t mean failure. Track it and move on.

Move on. Move past this guilt because it’s not helping me in any way. And learn. I’m learning there are certain foods I just can’t have in my house. That doesn’t make me weak, it makes me aware. I’m learning that allowing myself to eat whatever I want doesn’t feel like a treat anymore, it just messes with my body and weighs me down with guilt and disappointment.

I don’t want to look back on this trip and feel guilt. I want to look back on this trip and remember it for the amazing, special week that it was. I hope that as I get past this illness I will do just that.

And the next time we travel, I will remember that travel is not a ticket to a bottomless buffet. My one-year Weight Watchers anniversary is approaching. I have been fueling my body with healthier choices for almost a year. Naughty foods have a more negative impact on me now. A good lesson to learn, even if I learned it the hard way this time around. I believe I will make better choices from now on.

So, when I look back on our London trip, I hope I remember, above all, the joy on my son’s face when he rode his first double decker bus; the pride with which my daughter used her first digital camera to capture our adventures; the happiness we all felt being together in a wonderful place.

Time to get back on track.