Truce.

Not starving, still strong.

Around this time last year, as news about COVID-19 was starting to spread and tensions were starting to rise, I noticed that my weight was creeping up. With the mounting stress of the soon-t0-be-named pandemic, I should not have been surprised. Cortisol, the stress hormone, loves to puff me up. But instead of giving credit where it was due, I blamed my inability to control my eating. Once my weight surpassed my WW Lifetime weigh-in window, meaning if I stayed at that weight I would have to pay for my WW membership at my next monthly weigh-in, I decided to seek the help of a nutritionist. The woman I chose to work with had transformed the body of one of my kickboxing clients. In a matter of weeks this woman had gone from having a thin mom bod to a lean, strong physique that I confess I completely envied.

So I made an appointment to meet with the nutritionist at the beginning of March and ponied up $300 for one month of supervision. I remember going to meet her at a personal training gym, feeling so deeply ashamed as I told her how I could not stop eating sugar and crappy food, and feeling utterly humiliated as I undressed down to a tight gray tank top for the “before” picture. In the photo she snapped with her phone, my eyes were closed and my mouth was stretched into a hesitant grimace that I had meant to be a confident grin. She took the picture before I could rally a smile and suck in my gut, and did not offer to retake it.

Perhaps that should have been my first sign that she was not the right fit for me, that she would allow my “before” picture to be so completely unflattering. But I didn’t ask her to re-take it, either. In that moment I handed her control of my body for the next four weeks.

I knew her nutrition program was strict. I knew it would strip my diet of all the junk. But I did not know just how aggressively she would also strip my diet of calories. I followed her program to a T, because she was a certified professional, because I had seen the results in my kickboxing acquaintance, and because I had forked over $300. The hanger was real and I hated it, but the few times I did question her method or try to communicate how hungry I was, she would immediately dismiss my feedback.

In addition to the restricted eating, under her orders I ramped up my exercise so that I was working out for 90 minutes each morning. “Strength training doesn’t count unless it’s at least 30 minutes. Same goes for cardio,” she said. So I ran, cycled, and lifted my ass off (literally) and then refueled with three egg whites and half a cup of oatmeal made with water and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I was not allowed to eat again for the next five hours until lunch, which was lettuce, three grape tomatoes, 1/3 of a cucumber, a tablespoon of olive oil, a sprinkle of vinegar, and a few precious ounces of protein.

I remember on my son’s birthday, about half-way through the program, when she told me I could not have any cake. I started to cry as I lit the candles. Tears streamed down my face as my husband, daughter, and I sang “Happy Birthday” to my newly minted six-year-old son. At my husband’s compassionate encouragement, I ended up eating a slice of cake. It was freaking delicious. It also reawakened what I interpreted at the time to be my inner sugar demon (and what I know now to be the “binge” part of a binge/starve cycle). Over the next couple of days I voraciously snuck several more slices and could not hide it, as my daily weigh-ins plateaued. The shame was overwhelming. I felt shame for bingeing, for not being able to control myself with the birthday cake. I felt shame when I looked at the number on the scale. I was stuck in a lose-lose situation. Either I starved myself and lost weight; or I gave my body the calories it craved, gained weight, and faced the judgment of the nutritionist.

How I yearned for the approval of this woman who didn’t even care enough about me to use spell check on my weekly menus (“1/2 cup oatmeal cook n water add cinnoman with 3 egg white omelete” – I had to fight with autocorrect to type that!). On the days I emailed her my weight loss, she replied with a smiley face. On the days I emailed her with the same weight or a gain, she didn’t. I based my worth on those numbers.

I based my worth on a smiling emoji.

COVID lockdowns began around my son’s mid-March birthday. I was so tempted to abandon the program, because the thought of starving myself and exercising for an hour and a half each day during this pandemic panic was almost too much to bear. But the nutritionist wouldn’t let me stop. She pressured me to press on, and I let her. I stuck with it for two more torturous weeks, and by the end of the four weeks I was the lowest weight I had been in almost 20 years. I felt svelte and proud and fucking starving but thrilled with the way I looked. I took some “after” pictures and emailed them to her (since meeting in-person was no longer an option). She FaceTimed me to discuss my body weight and measurements. I was ready for hearty congratulations, and while she said she was happy with my efforts, I still had “around six pounds” to lose.

I smiled and nodded and thanked her. Then I hung up the phone and said, “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING BITCH” (not my usual lexicon) and promptly went downstairs to open the jar of Nutella I had bought for the occasion.

The four-week program concluded at the end of March, right when my period was due. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t get my period again until the end of April. My body had been so starved that my period stopped. I was so starved that after I lay in bed to read to my kids at night, standing up again made me feel so dizzy I had to hold on to the bed frame to catch my balance.

Once I was off the hook of the nutritionist’s dreaded meal plans, I promptly started bingeing to a degree that I have never binged in my life. Granola by the bag. Nutella by the jar. Ice cream by the pint. I gained back all 17 pounds that I had lost, and piled another ten on top of that. Pandemic pandemonium, of course, added to the stress and my need for comfort food. I have never felt so utterly powerless over food. Once I started eating, some other force took hold within my body, shoveling in as much food as I could and stopping only when I started to feel sick and sometimes not even then.

Looking back, it’s now easy for me to see that this program of extreme body transformation was not the right fit for me. The pandemic, of course, only made it worse. I should have stood up to the nutritionist. I should have told her I needed more calories. I should have told her that I almost passed out on a near-nightly basis. I should have stopped working with her and let her keep the damn $300 because you can’t put a price tag on personal wellness and mental health.

Instead I blamed myself. “I am struggling to stick with this program because I can’t control myself around food.” “I am a sugar addict and I don’t deserve more food than this.” “If I hadn’t been eating so much before this, decreasing my caloric intake would not feel like such a shock.” “I feel like I’m going to pass out because I’m weak.” If I didn’t lose weight from one day to the next, I had failed. If I added an extra ounce of chicken to my dinner, I was cheating. The cycle of negativity was all-encompassing.

It has taken me almost a year to write about this. Because it has taken me almost a year to learn the lessons and make peace with my experience. I have not lost any of the weight I regained. But I have also gained perspective, and I am ready to move forward into 2021 a changed person. I am not just a different size than I was this time last year. I have a different, evolved outlook on my relationship with food and with diet culture.

My goal now is simple:

Truce.

I’m so tired of being at war with my body and with food.

Enough. Enough, now.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is that I am damn lucky to be alive, and healthy, with a body that is strong and functional. This body has kept me safe for 40 years. This body deserves to be honored. This body deserves to be respected. Revered. Every day, at every size.

Slowly but surely I am teaching myself to eat what I want when I want it. I am trying to think about how the food I desire will make me feel, and adjust accordingly. Some days, it’s: “If I eat that Nutella, it will taste delicious but then it will give me gas and make me feel lethargic, so I’m going to have some chocolate almond butter instead.” Other days, it’s: “If I eat that Nutella, it will taste delicious but then it will give me gas and make me feel lethargic, but I really want it so I’m going to have it.” Either way, no judgement. That is the goal.

My closet now contains comfortable clothes in several sizes so that I can always find something that feels good to wear.

When negative self-talk creeps up, I try to quash it like I’m the world’s greatest whack-a-mole champion.

Most importantly, I recognize that this is a marathon. I have been reduced to tears while on the phone with a friend, confessing to her that I am terrified I will go through this process of making peace with my body and with food… and end up being a bigger size than I used to be, than I want to be. But I also know that if I do this work, if I forge these new neural pathways in my brain, I will be content at any size because I will no longer base my self-worth on my size.

My worth is not my size. Say it with me now. My worth. Is not. My size.

I will never post another “before and after” photo collage. Because “after” does not exist. My body, every body, is constantly shifting. There is no “after” for me anymore. There is just “during.” Right now, this is me, during a pandemic, committed to ditching diet culture in my life and my brain, learning to listen to my body and enjoy food. Learning to nurture instead of restrict. During, and then during, and then during.

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.

A Sugar-Free Wellness Check-In

No Added Sugar January is finally drawing to a close. (Did this month seem extra-long to anyone else??) How are things, you may be wondering? Am I living my best life without added sugar? Am I riding high on the waves of naturally sustained energy? Have I slimmed down without either refined or artificial sugar thwarting my efforts?

Here’s the unfortunate truth: I’m not feeling as great as I hoped. In fact, I have been feeling insanely bloated, gassy, and frustrated. I anticipated my body running like a well-oiled machine after four weeks without sugar, but instead I have an out-of-whack gut weighing me down both physically and mentally.

How did this happen?! I haven’t had added sugar (natural, refined, or artificial) for four weeks! I thought sugar was my ultimate foe, and yet I am feeling almost as bad now as I was when I was eating it. I think the answer just might be the Muppet-like acronym FODMAP. Sugar, you are not innocent, but you are not solely to blame for my malaise, either.

Here is my roadmap to FODMAP (i.e. how I figured this out):

Starting January 1, I removed added sugar from my diet. Bye bye, junk! My daily food intake these days usually includes half an avocado, a banana, an apple, at least one tbsp of almond butter, and a handful of almonds or cashews. I often also eat grapes or frozen mango, butternut squash or sweet potato, plus beans and Fage 0 Greek yogurt for added protein. A typical day for me looks like turkey bacon and avocado for breakfast, a chopped kale salad with chicken for lunch, and chili for dinner. Snacks are usually a Raw Rev or RX bar; or oatmeal or yogurt loaded with nuts, cacao nibs, and fruit.

(Ok, I may have hit the banana-nut butter combo a little too hard. Especially once I discovered banana-peanut butter “nice cream.” And I did consume an entire container of RX vanilla almond butter in like two days. But still! I thought I was doing pretty darn good!)

But still: bloat. So much gas my kids are probably telling their friends about it. And moodiness to boot. WTF.

As I walked my dogs yesterday I listened to a Melissa Urban (yup, the Whole30 lady) podcast on gut health, and the doctor who was her guest brought up this whole FODMAP thing. I decided to look into FODMAPs and BEHOLD, here are some examples of medium- and high-FODMAP foods: avocado, bananas, apples, nuts and nut butters (if not consumed in moderation, AHEM), grapes, mango, butternut squash, sweet potato, beans, and yogurt. WELL CRAP.

FYI, in case you were wondering, FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.” But none of us will remember that so just know this: FODMAPs are carbs that some people are sometimes unable to digest. FODMAPs ferment in the colon, where they live their best lives by causing gas and gut distention, among other splendid symptoms.

I have a gut feeling (pun intended) that my body is having trouble with FODMAPs right now, especially since I have been eating (read: over-eating) a lot of high-FODMAP foods whilst navigating life without sugar this month. I have come too far in my epic battle with the sugar monster to still be feeling so gross. So here is my new plan:

Starting February 1, I will do two weeks of a low-FODMAP diet. I will also continue to stay away from added sugar. I will still eat fruit, just low-FODMAP varietals; and I will still eat nuts and nut butters but in moderation (one handful and one tbsp per day, respectively). Most importantly, I will embrace this challenge with hope and determination. I don’t HAVE to go low-FODMAP and cut sugar for two additional weeks; I GET to explore the impact of these healthy choices, see how good I can feel, and maybe even discover the food culprit/gas bandit currently loitering in my colon.

[TMI alert but as long as I’m getting this all out there: the timing for this is also good because I am at the beginning of my cycle. So I know I won’t be PMSing over the next few weeks. My hormones will be working with me on this instead of against me.]

So, over the next couple of days I’ll be eating the remaining high-FODMAP foods in my fridge and restocking with low-FODMAP alternatives. Bring on FODMAP February!

Standing in a Summer Shame Shower

I am eating frozen yogurt for lunch, topped with chocolate syrup, which I don’t even like that much, and chocolate chips, because the syrup was not enough chocolate.

It’s a “less than” day around here. I knew it might be, and it is. I tried to start the day strong. I woke at 6am to read, which is my current favorite way to start the day. I knew that starting the day on my own terms – instead of being woken up by my children, whose sweet snuggles inevitably turn into WWIII in our bed if I let them go too long – would give me the best chance to rally after a lovely but exhausting and dehydrating day yesterday.

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. He had the day to himself to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies, and I took the kids to the Bronx Zoo. I was in the supermom and superwife zone, able to wrap presents at lightning speed, clean the house and tape up some birthday décor with ease, and still have energy left to spend five hours with my children in 90-degree summer heat at the zoo – where there was a severe lack of water fountains and I refused to pay $4 for one bottle of Dasani. The three of us had drained our stainless steel water bottles within the first couple hours of our arrival, so we all ended up totally dehydrated, the empty bottles clanking uselessly in my mom bag.

The dehydration, along with junk food for lunch, sapped any remaining stamina and willpower I had left. So by the time I drove us back through the Bronx, up the Taconic Parkway into Westchester County and home at last, instead of drinking water and eating a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit, I dove headfirst into the jar of peanut butter. But what’s peanut butter without chocolate? So I scrounged in my pantry until I found the remnants of a bag of chocolate chips from an old baking foray. I undid the rubber band and dumped the rest of the bag into a bowl. I topped my spoonful of peanut butter with as many chocolate chips as would stick. Slurp, chew, suck the spoon clean because that would be my last spoonful I swear. Repeat. My now-refilled stainless steel water bottle sat on the kitchen counter beside me, undrunk.

This would have been bad enough. But for his birthday celebration my husband and I had decided that we would go out for ice cream after dinner. Our fridge is on the fritz (which is also contributing to my stress level, as I can only buy the bare minimum of groceries and I’m paranoid the food we do have is not cold enough so we are all going to ingest some sort of heinous bacteria and end up with severe food poisoning) so the kids and I did not bake a birthday cake for him this year as we usually do. Ice cream had been on the agenda for days leading up to his birthday – yet that did not stop me from making myself almost sick with pb&c. Or eating the ice cream two hours later.

So after too little water and too much sugar yesterday, I knew I would need hydration and grace to rally today. I did my 6am reading, dropped the kids at camp, and made it almost on time through the demolition derby course that is summer construction traffic to my kickboxing class. In a shocking turn of events, I felt like crap through most of the class. Heavy, slow, and uncoordinated. Surprise surprise. Glimmers of confidence were quashed by a glance in the mirror at my bloated belly, as I whiffed knees and threw wayward jabs.

After class I had to navigate additional construction traffic to make it to the grocery store. I am hosting dinner tonight for a dear friend from California who is popping into town for work travel with a mentee. My inner perfectionist is pouring on the pressure to make a beautiful, tasty, healthy meal with a fridge that isn’t cooling things properly. Oh, and I have to clean the house. And exhaust the dogs so they will be chill and not jump all over our guests. And strike the perfect balance between letting my kids rest after camp while I prep dinner and not letting them get so bored that they go insane upon my friend’s arrival.

I am standing in a summer shower of insecurity with intermittent downpours of shame. I can’t stick to healthy habits. My virtuous cycle is eroding back to vicious. I will never be able to conquer sugar, and sugar is now holding me back from my best self the way alcohol used to. I will never be as good at kickboxing as I want to be, never achieve a higher level of fitness because I can’t stick to healthy habits for long enough. I’m not going to feel svelte and energized when I leave on my big trip in 10 days. I can’t, I won’t, I’m not.

There are larger issues rearing their fugly heads here, too (as their usually are). This is not really about a chocolate peanut butter binge or the pressure of making a delicious dinner. I have felt adrift and scared since my One Year Alcohol-Free ended on July 4. I no longer have the composition of a daily social media post anchoring my schedule and giving me purpose. Now that my year is over I have nothing to do but walk the walk. No more anticipating, just doing. Sticking to being alcohol-free is the easy part. Sitting down to start working on my book is the hard part. I am still not quite sure what I want to say or how I’m going to say it. I am still figuring out my voice, in my writing, both on this blog and on social media, and in real life.

And beyond my writing is the rest of my life. Parenting as a non-drinker. Pursuing my interest in teaching kickboxing. Putting more time and effort into my volunteer commitments, which I admittedly half-assed during my OYAF because I prioritized my OYAF. No regrets, but half-assing things is not my style. It hasn’t felt good and it’s time to boss up.

I write because it helps me step away from the peanut butter jar and process what is really going on. I share my writing because it helps me believe that I am not alone in my fears and insecurities. When I put my writing out there, I think about you (whoever you are, thank you for being here) reading it, and I think about what you would say to me. “You are not alone. You’ve got this. Give yourself grace. You are making amazing changes in your life. You are stronger than you think.” And then I feel better.

I hit “Publish” and I close my laptop. I put on my shoes, grab my car keys, and step back out into the sun to enjoy this beautiful day.

11 Months Down, One Month to Go

11 months down, one month to go. This year has gone so fast, and yet I also feel light years away from where I was when I made my first OYAF post last July 5.

Today I celebrated with self-care:
6am Book Club for One – my favorite way to start the day
Kickboxing class – grueling and gratifying
Venom allergy shots – I like to tell my kids I’ll have superpowers at the end of this protocol
Annual eye doctor appointment – done
Date night with my husband – yay

I took good care of myself today, plain and simple. I did not reward myself with food (which is a huge win for me) yet I do not feel deprived. I feel full in my stomach and my heart.

At 11 months alcohol-free, with one month remaining in my year-long contract with myself, I also feel acutely aware. I am aware that I am accomplishing something important. I am aware that this year will be over before I know it. I am aware that I want to feel energized, strong, and svelte when day 365 dawns.

There is a bridge near me called the Tappan Zee, which spans the Hudson River at one of its widest points to connect Rockland and Westchester counties. The Tappan Zee Bridge used to be a nightmare, constantly congested with traffic. Over the past few years, a new bridge has been built beside the old one. The new bridge is clean and wide, with so many lanes that it’s now a pleasure to cross. It’s functioning better than the old one ever did.

The last time I crossed the new bridge, I noticed that some of the old Tappan Zee is still there, sitting on barges in the middle of the Hudson, awaiting deconstruction or demolition. While the breathtaking new bridge has been up and running for months now, the old bridge, it turns out, is still being dismantled.

New Drone Photos of Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
Tappan Zee Bridge, old and new. Photo credit: New York State Thruway Authority

That’s pretty much how I feel at 11 months alcohol-free. I have spent this year building my alcohol-free self. Here I stand: strong, sturdy, clean, open. But at the same time, my old subconscious pathways – the well-worn connections in my brain between alcohol and reward/comfort/courage/stress relief – are still there. While I have begun the long and intricate process of systematic dismantling, parts of the pathways remain. Work continues. But it’s peaceful work. No dynamite – just quiet, critical work.

There will still be occasional traffic and fender benders on the new Tappan Zee Bridge. A sound structure alone cannot guarantee stress-free travel. But the journey is going to be a heck of a lot smoother from now on.

Winging It

The thought of ditching alcohol used to scare me. A lot. I didn’t know how I could celebrate, commiserate, travel, or watch TV without it. How could I relax? How could I rev up? How could I go to a restaurant and enjoy dinner? Or lunch, or – gasp! – brunch?!

But perhaps most terrifying was the prospect of parenting without wine (or tequila) (or whatever was in the fridge). Alcohol was the key to surviving motherhood. There couldn’t be “mommy juice” without “mom.” How could I ever be the mom I wanted to be if I couldn’t drink to treat myself and unwind at the end of the day?

You all know the punchline: I never knew the mom I wanted to be until I stopped drinking. I never knew how much I could enjoy my kids; or, when enjoyment went out the window, how effectively I could work through conflict with them. In ditching alcohol, I have gained energy, patience, compassion, and clarity. I am a better mom, wife, and human without booze. And I can type that without hesitating now, because it’s my truth y’all.

Making the scary choice to go alcohol-free has indeed opened me up and given me wings. I am forever grateful that I somehow had the guts to listen to the voice inside when she finally stood up and said, “Enough.” I still don’t know where I will be at the end of this year, if I will be ready to commit to forever or just to day 365. But I’m not afraid anymore. A teensy bit anxious on occasion, yes, but I’ll take that over the profound fear that glued a wine glass to my hand for so many years.

Am I where I want to be? Heck no. I am still very much a work in progress, and I’m still scared. What scares me now, if not booze? Freaking sugar, that’s what! As the wine witch has receded to a mere wisp in my conscience, the sugar monster has absorbed her power and begun to attempt a coup. My reliance on sugar has grown since ditching booze, and it’s starting to spiral out of control. I am managing to maintain my weight but the “to drink or not to drink” quandary that bombarded my brain on a daily basis is starting to be replaced by “to sweet or not to sweet” – and the answer, too often lately, has been GIVE ME ALL THE SWEETS.

I am reaching my limit. I can feel it. I can hear my inner voice warming up her vocal chords as she prepares to declare a war on sugar.

There are many parallels between my issues with booze and sugar, but there are also key differences. I can’t simply apply all my alcohol-free tools to sugar. Sugar is a more complicated issue, more prevalent in #momlife and society as a whole, and more deeply ingrained in our family life than alcohol ever was. The path forward is a lot less clear.

So I’m reading. I’m learning about the history of sugar, its role in society, and its impact on the body. I’m starting to ponder going sugar-free for 10 days or possibly doing the Whole30 at some point. I feel like I need a clean break from sugar but before I commit I need to have more knowledge, and a strategic food plan in place.

THIS IS VERY SCARY FOR ME. Have I mentioned that? Sweets have brought me comfort since I can remember. But I have also struggled with being overweight since I can remember. So. Here we are.

Mama needs a second set of wings.

The Family Line Leader Gets Pricked

I went to the allergist yesterday afternoon. This is a first for me and something I have been meaning to do for years. Every spring and fall I am plagued by seasonal allergies, and I also had a scary allergic reaction when I was stung by a yellow jacket four times last August.

Although I felt like hypochondriac for rocking up to an allergist when I am currently experiencing no symptoms, the prick test showed pretty quickly that this was a much more important appointment than I thought it would be. It turns out my seasonal allergies are severe (4 on a scale of 0-4). I also require venom testing because the doctor thinks my reaction to the bee was indeed systemic and not just local. Yikes!

Prick test: before…

… and after. Yikes!

It has been a challenge for me to prioritize my health – especially since becoming a mom. With all these other humans and dogs to take care of, it’s easy for me to put myself at the end of the line. When I was drinking, the end of the line was where I wanted to be because going to a doctor meant having to fess up about how much I drank (and of course I always lied). I never wanted to have to answer that dreaded question and so I did the bare minimum in terms of my routine medical care. For me, that meant I never dealt with my varicose veins or my allergies.

This is all changing now that I have ditched the booze and learned the importance of putting on my own oxygen mask first. My varicose veins are gone and the discomfort – both physical and emotional – has disappeared with them. Within a couple of months my allergies will be fully diagnosed and under better control. Allergy season will no longer be a torturous crapshoot of medicinal bombardment in the hope of finding some relief. I will no longer have to hide my sheer terror of bees from my kids because I will have a better understanding of my reaction and what to do in case of a sting. Both my varicose veins and my allergies had been bothering me for years. And I never did anything about them until now. I don’t think this is a coincidence, do you?

I still sometimes slip back into my old myself-last mindset. Even as recently as February, I was so focused on my kids and husband coming down with the flu that I didn’t give any thought to my own bronchitis until we all went to urgent care and the doctor put me on three different medications. That was my reminder to reclaim my spot as family line leader.

If I don’t take the best possible care of myself, how can I take the best possible care of my family? Not to mention I now look forward to being asked, “Do you drink alcohol?” Nope! Gold star for me! The virtuous cycle of proactive healthcare is a gift that keeps on giving to me and allows me to keep on giving to others.