Filling My Metaphorical (not red Solo) Cup

Wacky Wednesday around here. And in the craziness of this day another benefit of being alcohol-free rang loud and clear: I can pivot like a boss.

… as opposed to pivoting like a stressed out, anxious, frazzled frump.

After I dropped my son at school, I was looking forward to meeting a friend for manicures when she called me and said that she had slipped and fallen on the sidewalk and needed to go to urgent care. I pivoted instantly from “mom who mani’s” into “superfriendmom” – picking up her son, and then my son, and hosting a play date for them while my friend got the medical care she needed. The boys had the best afternoon ever, and my friend didn’t have to worry about her son. Save for a sprained ankle and some unkempt fingernails, it was a winning afternoon.

I have always considered myself a good friend. I am an only child, and I’ve spent my life funneling all the energy I couldn’t expend on siblings into my friendships. Over the last two decades, many of my friendships have involved – if not revolved around – wine. Removing wine from my relationships has been interesting in so many ways, all of which I am still identifying and processing. One of these ways, I realized today, is my enhanced ability to pivot: to switch gears quickly and smoothly in order to offer my friends the kind of support they need at any given moment.

In an instant, my afternoon changed from a fun and indulgent catch-up session with a close friend to taking full responsibility for her child. I had a clear head to be able to identify and offer appropriate help. I had the energy and wherewithal to wrap my brain around hosting a spontaneous play date for two rambunctious little boys. To Do’s were pushed aside without anxiety, to be tackled tomorrow. The whole situation was smooth and stress-free (at least for me, if not for my poor friend!).

During my Peloton ride the other day, my instructor Ally Love talked about how friendship is all about filling each other’s (metaphorical, not red Solo) cups. And how, if we all spent more time filling each other’s cups, the world would be a better place as all our cups would overflow with love and kindness. (I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist as I recall from the blur of sweat, lactic acid, and endorphins.)

Today, I filled my friend’s cup. But helping her also filled my own.

A Three-Part Conversation About Alcohol with My Seven-Year-Old Daughter

Part I: The other day in the car

My daughter and son were singing made-up songs (one of their favorite pastimes). My daughter said, “Listen to this one!” She proceeded to sing two lines of a silly song, and the final word of the rhyming couplet was “beer.” I stopped her and asked why she was singing about beer. She answered that she was repeating a song she had heard at school.

“Beer is a grown-up drink and it’s not appropriate for kids to sing or joke about it,” I said.

“Why?”

“Well, because beer is not something kids can have. And if a grown-up drinks too much of it, he or she can get sick.”

We left it at that, my daughter and son jumping back into their silly songs; and me reeling, trying to replay the conversation and figure out if I needed to say anything else, wondering who was singing about beer at school, and, admittedly, judging the kid and his or her parents.

Part II: Bedtime, Super Bowl Sunday

Perhaps spurred on by seeing beer commercials during the Super Bowl, my daughter asked, “Mommy, what’s alcohol?”

“Alcohol is a drink for grown-ups. Beer and wine are types of alcohol.”

“Oh right. And if you drink too much of it you get sick, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then why would a grown-up drink it?”

“Well, some grown-ups like the taste of it. And if you drink a small amount, you don’t get sick.”

“Do you drink alcohol?”

“Actually, right now I am not drinking alcohol. I used to drink wine, but I decided I didn’t like how it made me feel. So I stopped. I am not drinking alcohol for a whole year to see how healthy and good I can feel without it.”

“Are you ever going to drink alcohol again?”

Before I could stop these cowardly words, out they came:

“I don’t know. I might. But it would only be for special occasions, like if Daddy and I go out for a nice dinner or maybe at Christmas-”

Pause here. As these words came out of my mouth, they felt like a betrayal. To my daughter and to myself. After all, I was just telling her I don’t like how alcohol makes me feel, and then there I was telling her that I was going to go back to drinking it. And I used Christmas as an example! UGH. This past Christmas was so much more wonderful without wine. And yet there I was, admitting to my daughter that because it is a “special occasion” that that meant I would choose to drink. In that moment I enforced a subconscious neural pathway in her mind that grown-ups need to drink alcohol to celebrate and enjoy holidays. F.

I could see the confusion on her face. “But why would you drink it if it makes you feel sick?” She rightfully asked.

“Well, in small amounts it doesn’t make you feel sick.” UGH WHY ARE YOU MAKING EXCUSES FOR POISON AND REINFORCING PRO-ALCOHOL MESSAGING WITH YOUR OWN CHILD?! STOP!

“Does Daddy drink alcohol?”

“Yes, he drinks something called hard cider which is like apple cider but with alcohol in it. He likes the way it tastes so that is why he drinks it. He drinks maybe one or two every month, which is not a lot at all.”

“Well I am never going to drink alcohol.”

“I think that is a great choice and a strong choice and I’m very proud of you.” [And kicking myself for how I just handled this critical exchange.]

Part III: The next evening, while out for a walk with dogs and scooters

“Take my hand, Mama,” she said.

As we held hands and walked with her scooter I said, “I wanted to talk to you about something. Yesterday, when you asked me if I would start drinking alcohol again and I told you I might drink at Christmas, it bothered me that I said that. Because last Christmas was, like, the funnest ever, and I didn’t have any wine then, so why would I want to have any on any other Christmas? That would be silly! I don’t want you to think that when you’re a grown-up you have to have alcohol to enjoy a holiday or any other special day.”

“I know. That’s why I’m never going to drink alcohol. I hope that your friends make good choices like you, Mama.”

* * *

In my daughter’s mind, it’s simple: if alcohol can make you feel sick, why on Earth would you ever drink it?

It was that simple for all of us, once. And I’m starting to believe that it can be that simple again. If that is the neural pathway I choose to traverse, back and forth, over and over, it will become smooth as a silk carpet. I believe I can get there. And I hope when I do my daughter is still there, standing tall and strong in the glow of her simple yet profound wisdom.

Life Lessons from My Kids, Part 2: How to Handle Heartbreak

Yesterday was unexpectedly emotional and I am typing this through eyes made puffy from plentiful tears and with a heart that is broken but bursting with love.

My almost-7-year-old daughter had her belt test for her mixed martial arts class. Both of my kids have been studying MMA for almost two years, and their coach is the best extracurricular instructor they have had in any activity they’ve tried. Yesterday my daughter earned her orange belt, and she is the top-ranked student in her level. She was also one of only two girls that tested yesterday. She has thrived under the coaching – and, more, the mentorship – of her teacher.

After the belt ceremony, the director of the MMA school gifted the coach with a beautiful samurai sword. And then he dropped the proverbial hammer: the sword was a goodbye gift, as the coach is leaving the school at the end of this year.

A boy sitting near me burst into tears. My eyes welled up as my heart sank into the padded floor of the studio. I looked at my daughter, whose face registered confusion, then shock, then devastation. She looked at me and we both let the tears fall.

That’s when my daughter’s heart broke for the first time.

And mine broke for her, and for my son too. The departure of their beloved coach is a profound loss for our family, and we will be feeling it for a long, long time.

We will be feeling it. Feeling it – not numbing it, not quashing it, not burying it, not running from it.

Feeling it. That is what we did yesterday afternoon. After more tears and hugs and pictures with their coach (pictures that make well up every time I look at them, because my sweet kids and their wonderful coach are trying so hard to smile but they are all crying) we promptly went out for ice cream. It helped a little, as ice cream does.

At bedtime, my daughter asked me to lay down with her for a few minutes so we could snuggle and talk some more. And I hope I never forget what she said through her last tears of the day:

“I feel like my heart is getting bigger. Every time someone leaves my heart it cracks and grows bigger. And someone else will come in and fill it back up.”

When a heart breaks, it grows.

This is what happens when we allow ourselves to feel pure, true, profound sadness: growth. Space for more love to fill the void left in the wake of a broken heart.

I have spent so much of my life trying to numb sadness. Enough of that. I’m going to take a cue from my daughter and let new love in instead.

Life Lessons from My Kids, Part 1: Self-Care

These are good days. There is pain, there is fatigue, there is a crazy holiday season happening around us. But my son and I have battened down the hatches and we are weathering his post-tonsillectomy recovery together.

For the last four days we have been in our mellow little home bubble. Lots of TV, Legos, and ice cream for him. Lots of cooking, Peloton, and to do list-ticking for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this time. But I think it happened now because we both needed a break. My son was worn down from years of restless sleep due to ginormous tonsils. He needed to have them removed. I was worn down from months of busy routine regularly interrupted by hectic breaks from routine. I needed to wipe the calendar clean.

We both needed this time. And we will both emerge from it as improved versions of ourselves.

As heart-wrenching as it has been to see my son in pain, I have been amazed and inspired by his quiet bravery, strength and persistence. He’s just getting through it. He’s letting himself rest. He’s taking his medicine. He’s eating when he’s hungry, and hydrating as much as he can.

Seems simple enough. But somewhere along the path of growing up, these self-care ideals get lost. Maybe not for everyone, but they did for me. Rest when you’re worn-down. Take medicine if you’re in too much physical pain. Eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re no longer hungry. Hydrate. And then hydrate some more. That’s it. Do these things, and you give your body a chance to heal and operate at its best.

But life happens. Subconscious wires are re-routed to form connections between food and comfort, between drugs (including alcohol) and emotional pain. These and other detours become our new regular routes. Simple self-care is unlearned as our original neural pathways fray, and then crumble, without regular maintenance and use.

So this week I am taking a lesson from my son and focusing on basic self-care. I have eaten well and exercised every day since Sunday. I have kept up with my hydration. And I have felt zero temptation to drink alcohol. A year ago, the mere thought of a house-bound week with my son would have been enough to send me to my wine fridge. Now, the wine witch is not even a whisper in my ear. I have taken great care of myself this week so that I can take great care of my son. I am proud of both of us.

I have never admired my son more than I have this week. He is just such a good, sweet guy. And I feel more motivated than ever to be the best mom I can be. Because that is what he and my daughter deserve. They deserve me at my best. And so do I.

Quiet Liberation from an Unwanted Libation

I was planning to go out with some lovely mom friends tonight. One of them was going to host at her house, but then she decided that we should all just meet out at a bar instead.

I was going to go, I swear. I can totally go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and hang with wine-drinking mom friends and have fun. Totally.

But then last week happened – a pre-Christmas visit from my dad and stepmom, which was fun but busy and there was more alcohol poured in my house in four days than there has been in the last four months.

And then this week happened – on Monday, my son had his tonsils and adenoids out. A routine procedure for the expert ENT surgeon, a scary and anxiety-producing morning for us. Then my poor hubby worked past midnight the last two nights. So I basically haven’t seen him since I was sobbing into his sweater as he held our 60-pound four-year-old who was thrashing and writhing and screaming his way out of anesthesia on Monday morning.

I was going to go out tonight. Really, I was. But what is more important to me right now is having some time with my husband and getting a good night’s sleep so I can continue to take the best possible care of our son.

Excuses, all of the above. I admit it.

Because while I CAN go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and have fun with my wine-drinking mom friends, it still takes a lot of energy to psych myself up for it. Energy that, right now, I ain’t got.

What energy I do have, right now, is best directed toward helping my son through his recuperation.

So I chose energy conservation and husband time tonight (he had to get on a work call at 9 but we squeezed in some good conversation before that). My mom friends were very understanding, of course.

I don’t feel any FOMO or any regret, not being out tonight. It’s just not the right time. And that’s ok.

What I do feel is a quiet liberation. I don’t have the wherewithal to fully process it right now. I won’t be shouting from any rooftops. But here’s what is true: I not only had no desire to go out to a bar tonight, I had no desire to drink AT ALL. Not there, not here. There was no wine witch whispering, “Just one glass, or maybe two, and you will feel so much happier and more relaxed.”

There was just me, examining the situation and making the best decision for me. A deceptively simple achievement, that. Because therein lies the freedom I once thought I’d lost forever.

Outshining Broken Bulbs at 150 Days

Stringing the lights on the Christmas tree is one of my least favorite tasks of the year. Not to sound Grinchy, but I always end up doing it by myself, getting poked by myriad needles while trying not to be toppled by a nine-foot fir.

Tonight, my daughter asked if she could help me. And, lo and behold, my little stringbean ninja turned out to be the key to successful light-stringing! The process was painless (save for a few inevitable pokes) and a fun bonding moment. I was grateful to finally have a wingwoman to support me through this dreaded but critical Christmas task.

Then she plugged in the lights. And the top 1/4 of the tree did not work.

I could consider the whole effort a failure. I could give up, rip the lights off the tree and let it ruin my night. I could buy a new strand of lights to try to hide the broken ones. I could.

But I’m not going to do any of those things. I talked about it with my daughter and she said, “Well, it’s still a great tree even if some of the lights don’t work.” And she’s right.

I’m struggling with eating right now. But I do not consider myself a failure. I am not going to give up and let the sugar monster ruin my night. I am not going to try to hide the fact that I am struggling. And I know that I am still great even if my relationship with sugar is not working.

A year ago, I was struggling with drinking. What if I had given up then? What if I had let the wine witch ruin my night, and eventually my life? What if I had continued to hide the fact that I was struggling?

I didn’t, thank goodness. I found Connect and appealed for support and received it in spades. As low as I felt, somewhere inside I knew I was still great. I knew I deserved better, and my #sobersisters on Connect helped me strengthen that belief.

I have so much more confidence now than I did a year ago. So much more faith in myself. I have overcome a soul-crippling, dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I know I’ll figure out sugar too.

Sometimes I still feel alone in my struggles. But I know I’m not, and I never was.

If you are struggling, you’re not alone. There is support for you here. Believe that you deserve to receive it. Let us help give you the boost you need. You are not a failure. Do not give up. Do not hide, from us or from yourself.

You are great. We are great. We may have a few wonky bulbs, but our light shines beautiful and bright.

My First Alcohol-Free Birthday

Pondering my late 30s and also the fact that we just decided to close on a crumbling farmhouse

I turned 38 almost a month ago. And yes, it was a particularly busy birthday on the heels of a particularly busy week, and I was contending with a particularly bad cold and allergy double-whammy. But I can always make time to write about something important. And my first alcohol-free birthday since I was a teenager (with the exception of my two birthdays-whilst-knocked-up) certainly counts as a milestone in this alcohol-free year.

So why have I not carved out the time to write about it until now, almost a month later?

I have reflected on the day, and thought about what I could write, many times. October 19, 2018. I turned 38 years old. And we bought a 240-year-old farmhouse in New Hampshire.

It was a picture perfect New England day: shining sun, piercing blue sky, and the hint of a fall chill in the air. While my husband and I walked around the house, wondering if we just made the biggest mistake of our marriage or if we just gave our family the most incredible gift to be enjoyed for generations to come, our kids delightedly explored every nook and cranny and discovered hidden treasures everywhere. “Look at this legendary pencil! This rock smells like peaches!”

The kids poked around the old barn, gleefully flitted through the back field, and climbed on a massive pine tree that had fallen across the path through the woods (as their dad and I saw the dollar signs it’s going to take to get it chopped and cleared – yikes). Witnessing the wonder in our kids’ eyes made us feel just swell. Maybe this really will be awesome. Time will tell.

That evening, we toasted my birthday and our new (old) house at the home of my aunt and uncle, who live in a nearby town. They popped the prosecco and had a ginger ale on hand for me to pour into my fluted glass. Minimal awkwardness, and I was so grateful. I didn’t miss wine, I didn’t want wine. A lovely family dinner complete with a homemade cake put the cap on a very special and very wonderful day.

And that’s that. Booze-free birthday: check!

I wanted this post to be a mic drop. I have been trying to come up with some clever, mind-blowing analogy between buying an old farmhouse and having an alcohol-free birthday. Something about a fresh start. New life breathed into old… the house as a symbol of… something. But I haven’t been able to draw enough of a connection between la maison et moi to write some poetic, full-circle piece from that angle.

Maybe I could bring major dramz with this post, I’ve thought to myself. Use the tried and true “if I were still drinking” comparison! If I were still drinking… well, it still would have been a great day. Just infused with a lot more anxiety that I would have smothered with sauvignon blanc. Nothing stark and impactful enough from that angle.

So I’m left with a simple story to tell: I turned 38 on the day we closed on an old farmhouse. I had a very nice, surreal, fun day. And I didn’t miss booze at all.

Anticlimactic, but perhaps therein lies the beauty of my first alcohol-free birthday. Maybe there are fewer a-ha moments these days, even on milestone days, because this is just part of who I am now. I am someone who doesn’t drink and who is happy about it.

My birthday was special because a birthday is a special day. It was particularly memorable because we bought a house. I’m very proud that I didn’t drink, but that’s not what truly set this day apart.

Alcohol just doesn’t deserve that much credit anymore.