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.