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.

The Wine Witch Returns

I had one of the strongest booze cravings tonight that I’ve had in a very, very long time. I’m happy to report that I surfed the urge like a boss, but it was nevertheless unsettling.

Today was a loooong day. “No-school November,” as we call it around here, is a challenging time. The kids don’t have a full week of school until the last week of the month, so our tenuous fall routine has once again fizzled before my eyes, leaving me with two stir-crazy siblings-turned-frenzied-frenemies.

We managed a few successful diversions today. Kickboxing class for me (brought to you by the iPad, which kept my kids entertained for those precious 45 minutes); play date for my daughter (bless the mom of her friend, who let the girls frolic in a giant leaf pile); and a birthday party for my son (bless those parents who hosted the party at one of those bouncy castle places). But any time they were in our house my kids were either at each other’s throats or just plain rude, to each other and to me. Ugh.

By the time the witching hour finally rolled around, I had a sink full of dirty dishes with which to do battle as I attempted a new recipe which I must have botched because it turned out pretty nasty. I felt defeated by culinary chaos and exhausted from the resolve it took to not just scream my head off at my whiny, ungrateful children all day long.

My frayed nerves must have given the shriveled wine witch newfound life because all of a sudden, there she was. “You know what would make this better? Wine. A cold, crisp glass to help you escape this craziness. To help take the edge off. You deserve-”

Nope. Not happening. Scat! Go back into your hole! Bye, Felicia.

She retreated. And I began to “surf the urge.”

Why was I craving alcohol? A mountain of dirty dishes plus a particularly soul-sucking day of parenting? Welcome to Trigger City, where the streets are lined with sauvignon blanc and tequila grows on trees.

Would alcohol make anything better? No way. That’s an easy answer these days. It would have made me impaired, numb, dehydrated, and even more short-tempered than I already was. Most importantly, I would be showing my children that the answer to stress relief is alcohol. I don’t want them to grow up with that message like I did.

What could I do to improve my state of mind instead of boozing? Eat! My kids and I sat down to dinner and even though mine was pretty gross, my son ate his sugar snap peas without whining (!!!) and we ended up having a rather civilized and even – gasp! – enjoyable family meal.

But the dish mountain remained. To ward off the emboldened wine witch – well, first I ate a piece of chocolate in the pantry in the dark by myself (keepin’ it real y’all). Then I asked Echo to play the “Doing the Dishes” playlist – which is full of catchy pop music – and I got down with my dish pile while my kids funneled the last of their crazy energy into a rather adorable dance party.

I quashed the wine witch and I rallied to create something positive out of this slog of a day. And I’m proud of that. My kids are sound asleep and I am heading up to bed as soon as I finish writing. Tomorrow (a new day! Hallelujah!), I’m spinning at 6am and then I have my monthly weigh-in. So this mama needs to recharge her superpowers. That sounds better than getting my beauty rest, doesn’t it?

Either way, I am going to sleep with clean dishes and a clean conscience. Take that, wine witch!

Sober Boss October

October! My favorite month of the year. And this is going to be an especially exciting and momentous and busy one. This weekend my mom and I will celebrate our birthday. I was born on her 30th birthday and we celebrate together every year with a Broadway double-header in NYC. The weekend after that, I will go to London by myself (!!!). The weekend after that is my actual birthday, on which we might be doing something that is major that I can’t share yet. And then we get into Halloween mode.

In addition to all of these events, it’s Sober October and also what my favorite Peloton instructor, Ally Love, calls #BossOctober. I debated about whether or not I would officially partake in these two movements. I didn’t want to feel extra pressure as I am already trying to write every day as part of my one year alcohol-free. But of course I am already staying sober, so Sober October is a no-brainer. And I love the idea of Boss October.

For this, Ally asks us to commit to the following:
1. Decide to give up one thing you enjoy (e.g. booze, candy, etc.)
2. Choose a virtue/habit to focus on (patience, being on time, etc.)
3. Add some sort of movement to your schedule (starting a new form of exercise, adding yoga or strength, etc.)

Here is my Boss October plan:
1. Giving up booze (which of course I’m already doing). I thought about giving up something else, like red meat or Halloween candy. But being alcohol-free is far from effortless yet. Still a lot of work, a lot to read, and a lot to write on this topic alone – so I’m sticking to it!
2. I will focus on being more present with my kids. Specifically, I am committing to 15 minutes of one-on-one time with my son and daughter every day. No phones, no distractions. Which may sound a) simple and b) like not a lot of time. But for me, to put my phone down and not multi-task is a huge challenge. And I hope that by committing to a month of this unplugged, focused time with each of my kids, I can start to change my multi-task-obsessed behavior.
3. I already feel fairly maxed out with my workout schedule, and I am traveling in the middle of the month. BUT I am going to do more with the time I have. Small changes could make a big difference! I have wanted to add a 60-minute ride and upper body strength training to my schedule, and so it is time to BOSS UP. I am going to tweak my workout schedule thus:

Old schedule (my week resets on Tuesday because that is my weigh-in day):
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 45-min ride plus 10-min abs
Sun – 45-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

New schedule:
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest or recovery ride
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 30-min ride plus 10-min upper body and 10-min abs
Sun – 60-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

I’m excited for these challenges and I’m looking forward to making new connections with others who are partaking in either Sober October or Boss October – or both!

Who’s signing up for Sober October? Anyone interested in committing to Boss October with me? Let me know! Bring on Sober Boss October!

Bringing Family to the Foreground


Yesterday was my daughter’s first day of first grade, exactly one year after her first day of kindergarten. So of course I couldn’t help myself and in a moment of mommy nostalgia I found and scrolled through the photos from her milestone first day last year.

There were posed photos outside the front door, then getting on the bus. Photos of my sweet son waiting in the rain for her to get home that afternoon. And then photos of the little celebration we had for her when she arrived. There are pictures of my happy kids, the little cake we ate, and decorations we made.

I had almost forgotten about the wine glass pictures. And a sinking feeling hit my stomach when I saw them.

Featured prominently on the kitchen counter in the foreground is my wine glass, filled generously with sauvignon blanc. This would have been at about 3:45 PM, but hey, we were celebrating. Of course I had to have wine. In the background are my kids, sitting at the counter happily eating their cake.

And isn’t that just exactly it. Wine was always in the foreground. Of my brain, of my life. And everything else – my kids, my husband, my self – was in the background. Out of focus.

What do I feel when I force myself to look at these pictures? Pity. Embarrassment. Regret. Anger, maybe? Disappointment, for sure.

I feel so distant from the person who thought that they were funny. I know that’s a good thing, but it feels… weird.

And then I remember: choose curiosity over judgment. I try not to judge others and I need to apply the same principle to my wine mom self. Because I honestly didn’t know any better. I knew that wine wasn’t good for me but I had no idea how bad it actually was. I honestly thought that wine helped more than it hurt. That it made me feel happier and more relaxed. The puffiness and grogginess were just the price to pay for those fleeting moments of fabulousness. And I thought I deserved them both: the fabulousness and the misery that inevitably followed.

When I realize now, after 176 cumulative days of booze breaks since the start of Dry January, is that the fabulousness – authentic, not faux – I was seeking only exists beyond the bottle. I also know now that I don’t deserve misery to be the flip-side of flying high, and I never did.

So let me return to the photo, this time reminding myself to be curious and empathetic instead of judgmental and upset. What do I see?

I see happy smiling faces in the background. In the composition of the photo I see a glimmer of creativity, when I know that the woman who took this picture thought her creative side was dead. I see a mama behind the camera who loves her kids a whole lot, and who wanted to make her daughter’s first day of elementary school special.

Instead of being ashamed of the mom who thought wine made a good photo op on her daughter’s first day of kindergarten, I choose to be grateful. Grateful for how far I have come. Grateful that I had the guts to do the work to get my family and myself back in focus. Grateful that wine will never be in the foreground – of my photos, my brain, or my life – again.

Stronger than Summer

A picture of my dog Fred this evening, as we are all feeling like crap (including Fred). My kids are still sick and so my daughter won’t be able to attend the first day of school tomorrow. And my daughter loves – truly, madly, deeply LOVES – school. When we told her we have to keep her home, she elicited heart-wrenching sobs and clung to me as if her life depended on it. My shirt is still wet from her tears.

This is far from the end of the world. But it is a huge bummer. We are doing everything we can to make her understand why she has to stay home, that it’s for her benefit but also to protect her friends from catching the virus she has. I promised her a trip to Target tomorrow to get the light-up Batman sneakers that she wants. There will be toys. There will be ice cream. There will be whatever it takes to keep both my kids happy enough to make it through another sick day.

Not the end of the world, but a crappy way to end a strange summer. This afternoon it poured rain despite the blue sky and sunshine. The clouds eventually rolled over our house, followed by more sun. And no rainbow. And that epitomized it for me. Summer 2018, you have been weird and wonderful. Painful and joyous. Hot and soggy, crisp and clear. Mostly hot and soggy, though, let’s be real.

But you did not get the best of me. I am stronger than I was in June. Despite our wackadoodle summer schedule I have stayed dedicated to my workouts and, for the last 61 days, ditching booze. I am two weigh-ins away from achieving Lifetime status at Weight Watchers. I have defined some personal goals and started to put the pieces in place to achieve them. Despite the seemingly endless rain, the unexpected grief, and having to slather sunscreen on two squirmy kids for the last three months, I am stronger. Exhausted and gutted for my daughter at the moment, I grant you, but stronger.

And my family is stronger, too. Because we navigated our first loss of a loved one together. Because our kids conquered their fears of the pool and learned to love swimming. Because we traveled together and it almost felt like a real vacation. Because we are all feeling our daughter’s pain tonight and we are taking it on together.

I am grateful to have this perspective. As much as I am ready to tell this summer to F off, I also recognize the good stuff. If I were still drinking, my perspective would be skewed toward the negative. I would not have my now trusty gratitude to reinforce me when the tough stuff starts to dig in with its gnarly claws.

I am gutted for my daughter. I called my mom and cried. I talked to my husband and cried some more. I am just so, so sad for her. I didn’t cry in front of her though. I just let her cry all over me for as long as she needed.

If I were drinking, I would be drinking tonight, because Labor Day Weekend – the excuse of a holiday weekend always trumping the appropriateness of having a drink under whatever other circumstances happen to be present. My devastated daughter would not have been enough to keep me from pouring my wine. In fact her sadness would have been part of my justification.

If I were drinking tonight, I would have shut the door on gratitude. Shut the door on empathy. Thrown open the door to pity, which I would have split between my daughter and myself. I would have been thinking about my next glass of wine as I held my sobbing daughter in my arms. I would have had more to drink. And tomorrow morning would have started with a hangover and shame and guilt.

Instead, tonight was full of love and empathy. And tomorrow will start bright and clear. My daughter will still be sad. We will all still be tired, and my kids will likely still be in the throes of this nasty virus, but we will get through it together.

Because we are stronger than one strange summer.

Putting My Name On It

Both of my kids woke this morning with 102-degree fevers. Two days before school starts. I had been planning to do my favorite Peloton ride of the week, Ally Love’s Feel Good Ride at 8:30, but I missed it because we were at Urgent Care swabbing for strep and checking goopy ears and little lungs.

I almost skipped it. Almost descended fully into mom-martyr mode – which, now that I think on it for a moment, is basically a pity party for one and helps none. As Martyr Mom, I use the excuse of my kids being sick to throw on some sweats, throw open my pantry door and ingest any comfort food I can get my Purelled hands on. Because surely junk food will help me get my kids through their viral slog-du-jour. [SPOILER ALERT: junk food is not the answer to helping sick kids. Nor is booze. Keeping myself healthy and energized is the best thing I can do for my kids when they’re sick. Not rocket science. But not always gut instinct either.]

By mid-day my kids were calmly vegging in front of “Cake Wars” and so – Martyr Mom be damned – I seized the moment and hopped on my bike to do the Feel Good Ride on demand. And am I ever glad I did.

Ally never fails to inspire me. And I’m not saying that to be a goody-goody. There is something about sweating my (figurative) balls off and pedaling my legs until they burn that readies my mind and my heart to receive inspiration and wisdom. And Ally provides these in spades, especially on her Feel Good Rides. Today, she talked about being real. Not worrying about the leaderboard. Not hiding behind your username. Just being real.

So I’ll be real: Ally, I confess I was tapping away on my phone during your ride today. But I wasn’t texting or Instagramming. I was writing the notes that have formed this post.

Because I did stop hiding behind a username today. I put my last name on my @maintaining_mama Instagram account. (Once on a roll, I also got myself a domain name and created a Facebook page for this blog. Follow me! Share me!) I am no longer anonymous. I am fully out there as “a former wine mom” who has committed to one year without wine. What a way to toast Day 60!

I made these changes before the ride, but I didn’t realize the importance of my actions until Ally’s words crystallized it for me. With sweat dripping down my face and my butt begging to be plopped back down into the saddle it hit me like a full turn to the right: “my desire to help outweighs my fear of being known.”

That’s what I hastily typed into my phone. Let me expand upon that a bit now that I’ve caught my breath.

I have apparently arrived at the point in this journey where my desire to support and inspire others who may be in a situation similar to mine – that is, questioning their possibly dysfunctional relationship with alcohol – is stronger than my fear of going public with my own struggles. Am I still afraid of being judged? Yes. Am I going to shout “I USED TO BE SCARY DEPENDENT ON WINE, Y’ALL!” from the rooftops? No. (Mine’s too steeply pitched anyway.) But I want to help more than I want to hide.

What has spurred me into action? So much that I can and cannot put into words. The recent study published in the Lancet medical journal stating that “the safest level of drinking is none” – and the myriad strong reactions to it, both celebrating and poo-pooing the findings. The incredible women I’ve discovered on Instagram who are fierce and fearless and eloquent in their sobriety. The books and podcasts and blogs (see my resources page).

And time. It’s September now. I have been on this journey for nine months, drinking for some of it but mostly not. Today is day 60 of my year-long commitment. And I am simply ready to kick this existence up a notch.

But mostly, I really, really want to help other moms who are feeling shame or feeling like alcohol has the reins. Women who feel powerless to just say no to a witching hour craving. Because we all deserve better and we are all capable of better. And I’m no longer afraid to say so and put my name to my words.

Tracation* Contemplation

*Tracation, noun: a period of time spent away from from home with small children and possibly family pets that is more restful than a trip but less restful than a vacation 

We are back from our week-long trip – not “vacation” because kids and dogs. One of my friends on Connect suggested the term “tracation” and I think that’s pretty accurate. Because it was not just a trip either. There were relaxing moments. I read one-and-a-half books and, like, four magazines! But traveling with two kids and two dogs is, on balance, more tiring than rejuvenating. So. Tracation.

But here’s what’s great: we stayed for a week in a small beach-y cottage off the beaten path in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and by the end of the week we all still liked each other! WIN!

Oh, and it was also my first alcohol-free tracation. Which is a big deal. I have to remind myself of that. I am now happily over 50 days into my 365-day alcohol-free journey. I still think about booze on a daily basis but usually it’s a thin, frail desire that flickers for a moment and fizzles out just as quickly. “Ooh, wine. Nope. Ok.” Just like that. Usually.

But not always. Day 50 was tough. Because we were tracationing in her neck of the woods, we went to visit my mother-in-law. The kids and I hung out with some fun cousins while my husband, his mom and his brother did some sad and surreal and strange gathering and tying of the loose-ends left in the wake of my father-in-law’s death last month.

[Death is weird, isn’t it? On one level, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Circle of life and all that. On another level it’s achingly sad, of course. And it’s also a logistical nightmare. Weird.]

It was a long day, Day 50. A not unwelcome, but strange, but necessary interruption of our regularly scheduled tracation. It was a bit stressful. We all ate too much ice cream in giant waffle cones, which helped until it made me feel worse (as always – a lesson I refuse to learn, apparently).

There was also an ever-so-slight but noticeable crispness in the air that was unmistakably the first hint of Fall. My favorite season. Hoodie sweatshirts, blue jeans, football, pumpkins, pumpkin spice, pumpkin beer, wine… oh wait. Nope. Not this year.

And all of that was just enough to make the craving for booze stick around. Tracation interruptus. Resurfaced grief. Sadness for my husband and his loss – it’s a loss for us all, of course, and size doesn’t matter, but it does, and his is the biggest and I’m very, very sad for him. The first inkling of Fall. The realization that part of my love for my favorite season is intertwined with my love for alcohol. Amped-up anxiety as a result of that realization.

Nothing earth-shattering, and I never felt in danger of actually imbibing and breaking my commitment to this booze-free year. It’s just never fun to feel yourself taking two steps back, especially after I’ve been leaping ahead lately.

To recap:

Our tracation was successful. Day 50 was hard. Death is weird. I achieved my first alcohol-free trip and I mostly didn’t miss booze at all.

And now, we are happy to be home. It’s almost Fall. And that will be alcohol-free too, as I continue to move forward through this year of self-love and self-discovery and everything else it will come to mean to me.