A Grenade, Not a Balm

The day started delightfully enough. Eight hours of sleep, and then my son woke at 7 and I snuggled him back to sleep for an hour. Alas, by 2pm I was hiding in the pantry eating Bark Thins that I could only half-taste because my congestion has worsened again. Ugh.

What sent me into my pantry was a big wave of life malaise that unexpectedly engulfed me this morning. My kickboxing class was cancelled, and my allergies blew up as I ran errands in lieu of working out. As I was driving around town, I was consumed by an overwhelming, sinking brain fog: I don’t want to be home, I don’t want to live in New York, I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t even know where to start getting back on top of things. It was intense and uncharacteristic and scary.

Here’s what I did: I finished my errands, came home to relieve my babysitter, and let my kids watch TV so I could do a Peloton ride. I was hoping for an endorphin boost but the ride didn’t do it for me. So I resorted to chocolate.

But here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t use this as an excuse to start drinking early. I refuse to dive into a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to distract myself from the discomfort of feeling these disturbing and depressed feelings. Yes, I fed my foggy melancholy with chocolate. But for me that is a much better choice than booze.

I finished the bag of Bark Thins while my kids played remarkably nicely. And then I started to get myself together a bit. I made an appointment with my PCP and also with an allergist. I got through a bunch of emails and updated our family calendar. I drank some water and took my vitamins. And I started to feel a bit better. My allergies also calmed down after spending a few hours inside.

The day improved from there. I made things easier for myself by taking kids out to dinner so I didn’t have to cook. I’m planning to go to bed with a book as soon as I post this. This day is definitely ending on more solid footing than I found myself this morning.

As unnerving as it was, I’m proud of myself for staying present with my sad state. I didn’t deny it, didn’t try to run from it. Bark Thins notwithstanding, I allowed my mood to just be, and I took the steps I could take to help it pass.

For years, I turned to wine in times like this. And that is how I lost myself. I thought wine was the solution to melancholy and anxiety. I thought wine was a balm to soothe my stress-induced cracks. To fill my life’s fissures until they healed.

But instead of putting me back together, wine broke me apart. Wine was a grenade, not a balm. Alcohol broke me into so many fragments it got too hard to piece myself back together every morning. So I stopped trying. And started living as an incomplete version of myself.

I could not operate at my full potential because I was not full. Pieces of me were cracked, broken, misplaced. Some pieces of the puzzle that was me were jammed into the wrong spot, warping the overall image and making it impossible to complete.

No one really saw this, I don’t think. But I knew it. Wine shattered me. I’d pick up enough pieces to get through the day, only to be reshattered again that night.

I have spent the last thirteen months painstakingly – but joyously – gathering and repairing and rediscovering the whole picture of me. It’s hard work, but besides carrying my two babies it’s the most important work I’ve ever done.

Today, the picture I see is someone who has color back in her cheeks but is nonetheless run down, anxious about my upcoming leg procedure, and tired of not feeling my best. I let my fatigue, anxiety, and frustration get the better of me for awhile. But I trust in my ability to come back from all this and I know I’m finding more of my pieces along the way.

From Plateau to Progress

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My Monday kickboxing class is different from Wednesday and Friday. The latter days are super fast paced, calorie-torching, muscle-scorching. My Monday instructor focuses more on technique, which makes for a great balance. His combos are also more dynamic and technically difficult, so even though the pace is slower I always end up sore after his class.

Even though I had a crappy night of sleep thanks to my Frenchie who was up throughout the night, and a hectic morning due to my mutt who had an early vet appointment (if it’s not the kids, it’s the dogs!), I made it to class today. I felt fresher than anticipated, and as the class progressed I felt strong and agile.

I felt strong. I am strong. I can do real push-ups now, with proper form and all. I can throw a Superman punch and I can kick someone in the head (you know, if I ever needed to). I am learning more, and feeling more natural doing these moves and combos, each week.

Each week I see progress. I am continually building physical and mental strength. I am becoming more confident as I progress not just in fitness, but in other areas of my life too. Parenting. Marriage-ing. Writing. Cooking. Volunteering. Connecting.

When I was drinking, I was not progressing. I was plateauing. Yes, life went on around me and I went with it. My babies grew into kids. We moved houses. I exercised with sporadic dedication. I took on various volunteer gigs. I did things.

I did things, yes. I had a wonderful life and I felt happy and lucky and all that. But I was only going to get so far with booze by my side. And the plateau that had held me for so many years was starting to crumble.

No one around me saw it. Or at least no one ever said anything. But I saw it in the mirror every morning. And I felt it, from my toes to my heart to my brain, every hour of every day.

At first, that plateau had felt like a slinky, sexy dance floor. But years later, it felt like a dance floor at dawn – sticky and suffocating. Still, I stayed. Because I didn’t know where else to go. I didn’t know what lay beyond the confines of this dance floor that was once shiny and exciting but now disgusted me.

One hangover too many, and the edges of that dance floor began to crumble into quicksand. I jumped. Before I could be swallowed. I jumped with no confidence of my ability to escape the quicksand, but I knew I had to try.

From soft rock bottom to rock solid ground. No more dance floors for me (at least not metaphorical ones). No more plateaus, only progress.

Six Months Off the Sauce

Six. Months. Pause. Take a deep breath. Let this accomplishment fill your lungs and your gut and your heart and your brain. For someone who once struggled to make it for one day without drinking, half a year is truly monumental.

All those keywords that have captured various milestones along this journey apply to this one too:

Clarity
Pride
Contentment
Presence
Love
Peace

But what is different now? What have I gained that I didn’t have at one month, at 100 days, at four months?

One word comes to mind: steadiness.

Six months in, I am steady. I am not struggling, I am not wavering, I am owning my choice to be AF.

All those questions that kept me off kilter for so long – Should I drink today? Is it too early to start drinking? How much can I drink? What if I just have one more glass? How about I just finish the bottle so I can start with a clean slate tomorrow? – are gone. In their place is quiet. Space to be creative and curious. An inner calm that I never had when I was drinking.

The wine witch has diminished from Voldemort in The Deathly Hallows to Voldemort in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Almighty force to wimpy wisp. And I am one woke former wine mom who is too happily ensconced in my booze-free zone to ever let her gain power over me again.

Over the past six months I have experienced enough holidays and special occasions to be able to say this: I don’t merely survive them; I delight in the new normal of experiencing them without alcohol. And each and every one of these occasions has been – without exception – better and more enjoyable because I did not drink. I never thought that would be true for me, but, as my kids would say, it SO is.

Will I go back to drinking when this year is up? The million bottle question. My answer remains the same as it was on day one: I want to not want to go back. Yet I still can’t imagine my life without another sip of any type of alcohol, ever. So, when my year is up, I will either drink a bit on special occasions or I won’t. Either way, I will never go back to where I was.

I wish I was ready to say I’m done forever. I dream of writing a book about my journey that can sit on the shelf beside the other amazing “quit lit” I have read over the past year. But I’m not sure if my story has the same ending. If it doesn’t, does that make me weak, or make my journey any less significant? It probably makes me less likely to ever get published, that’s for sure.

Maybe my journey is not merely about answering the question “to drink or not to drink.” Maybe my journey is about unlocking the door to my true self – a door that had been locked for too many years. Ditching booze was the key and an old wine cork is my door stop. Self-acceptance and self-love swirl about in abundance on the other side, and I am never letting that door close again.

I’m only halfway through this year. I don’t know what I’ll be writing in July and that is OK. As long as I continue to move forward with honesty and without judgment I know that I will conclude the story of this year right where I belong.

Pondering an AF Anniversary Vacation

Last night, in a New Year’s fit of overachieving productivity, my husband and I sat down and looked at our calendar for 2019 to schedule some house projects and travel. This September we will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, and we are determined to ditch our kids for a week. Our previous record since starting a family seven years ago is two nights away, maybe three, so this is a biggie for us. I clicked to September 2019 in my Google Calendar and saw that I had already blocked out the week of our anniversary with “NAPA!!!!”

I remember doing this. I can’t remember exactly when it was. Probably a couple of years ago. My husband and I were talking about how, for our tenth anniversary, we would do a real vacation somewhere fabulous and far away. I have been to Napa twice: once for a wedding at a venue just on the edge of the region (read: not Napa prop-a), and once to do the wine train with my husband and his aunt and uncle… whilst 13 weeks pregnant. Both were day trips. So while I have been to Napa, I have never really experienced Napa (read: touring vineyards and drinking my face off).

When my husband and I had that initial tenth anniversary conversation, going to Napa seemed to be the perfect way to celebrate. Wine! Romance! Beautiful scenery! More wine! We both agreed, and I put it in the calendar.

When I saw it there last night, I deleted it, instantly and instinctively. Because going to a wine region is no longer the perfect way for me to celebrate anything.

We talked about Europe. Portugal? France? But those don’t feel right anymore either. A couple travels to Portugal to drink port, and France, like Napa, to drink wine. I don’t know if I will be drinking again in September 2019 – my one year is up this July 4 – but whatever my status, I know I will not feel comfortable basing a romantic trip around a location famed for its booze.

I felt – still feel, kind of – guilty about this. On a world map, I now see big red X’s across some of the world’s most spectacular regions. By not drinking I am limiting the possibilities of travel that my husband and I can do. And we love to travel. We have a long, long list of places we want to see in our lifetime together. But now that list is littered with asterisks: *only if Jen is drinking.

My husband is a take-it-or-leave-it drinker. I am a take-it-and-drink-it-and-drink-some-more drinker. If I decide to remain alcohol-free, it’s unfair to him that my choice to not drink will interfere with our mutual desire to travel together to beautiful places all over the world. Places we both want to see and experience together, and where we would want to be all romantical and stuff. A bunch of them are marred by big red X’s now. And it’s my fault.

This self-inflicted guilt hit me like a punch in the face. And it hurt.

“Well,” my kind and supportive husband said, “we can just turn trips to places like Portugal and France into family trips.”

Family trips: where my not-drinking would be a virtue, not a vibe-crushing bummer. Look, kids, Mama doesn’t need to drink wine in Bordeaux to have fun! I guess that could work.

This morning I still felt like a foreseeable future buzzkill. Reflecting further upon last night’s conversation, I realized that I needed to do a little mental pivot. Instead of this: “We can’t go to Napa because Jen can’t drink or else she’ll plummet back into her gray-area soul-sucking watering hole,” let’s try this: “We aren’t going to Napa because Jen doesn’t like wine.”

I mean, I feel fine saying that I don’t want to go to Aspen because I don’t like to ski, and that Malaysia is not at the top of my travel list because I don’t like extreme humidity. So what if a few of the world’s most beautiful places just dropped down past Malaysia on my travel list. There are a lot of other spectacular spots on this planet that are notable for things other than alcohol. We’ll just prioritize those instead.

We still haven’t decided where we want to go. The space held on the calendar for “NAPA!!!!” is now simply “Anniversary Trip.” But when we do choose a destination, I’ll once again break out the all-caps and exclamation points. This time, with pride that my husband and I found a romantic place that also compliments my healthy lifestyle.

One. Hundred. Days.

One hundred days of sobriety
Of alcohol-freedom
Of clarity
Of growth
Of presence
Of progress
Of learning
Of exploring
Of curiosity
Of beauty
Of pride
Of realness
Of honesty
Of support
Of courage
Of candor
Of confidence
Of authenticity
Of love
Of contentment
Of grace
Of peace.

One hundred days since I have consumed alcohol: an addictive, harmful substance that I once valued as integral to my life. I thought it brought me relaxation, when really it compounded my anxiety. I thought it made me happy and energized, when really it made me moody and exhausted. I thought hangovers were my price to pay for having a treat, when alcohol was a trick all along.

I don’t blame myself for being tricked. I don’t blame myself for still thinking about alcohol and sometimes really, really wanting it. And you shouldn’t either. Walking this unconventional path and dismantling decades of subconscious programming ain’t for sissies. Ain’t got time for the blame game.

So I don’t blame myself for missing it. I miss alcohol the way I used to miss old boyfriends. I knew they weren’t good for me, so I broke up with them. But I missed them, and on one or two occasions I took them back before breaking up with them again. Because navigating life without them was hard. It was a lot easier having a companion, a crutch, an excuse, a distraction, than it was to forge ahead on my own. But I persisted, because deep down I knew I didn’t deserve to settle. Then I met my husband. And I realized how good life could really be, how deeply I could love and be loved. How complete and content I could feel.

Breaking up with alcohol has done the same. I never knew adult life could be like this. This full of all that is good. All that I listed above, and so much more. Having left this long-term toxic relationship behind, I once again feel complete and content.

When I first stopped drinking on January 1, the start of my first of three breaks this year, I felt a vast, profound void. I felt a sense of loss. I felt disoriented and adrift. But I knew, in my gut, I had to forge ahead. I knew I deserved better.

I received the myriad, life-changing gifts of sobriety like my kids tearing into their presents on Christmas Day. Gimme gimme gimme. Is there more? There is? Yay! But unlike half of those toys which inevitably end up broken or unused, I hold these precious gifts tenderly in my heart and in my mind, and I access them daily.

One hundred days.

I’ve written this after dozing for a couple of hours on my flight to London. It’s almost 2AM in New York, and we are landing soon. I am so very tired, yet so very thrilled to be celebrating my first 100 days and kicking off the next 100 in one of my favorite places on the planet. I may be on my own, embarking on this next adventure. But I know I’m not alone.

I was never alone. And neither are you.

Antsy, in Perspective

Today is antsy. I had a very strange and disturbing dream last night, perhaps induced by the cold medicine I took before bed. It was one of those terrible dreams that was so far-fetched yet so real, I had to wake myself out of it. I don’t remember enough of it to describe or attempt to interpret it. But it’s been tough for me to shake today, especially given my groggy state from a non-stop summer week plus fighting off a mild cold. TGIF.

So. Antsy.

I want to know where all of this is going to lead. The not drinking. The exercise. The writing. I want to know if I’m going to quit alcohol completely. I want to know how good I can get at kickboxing. I want to know if writing will be a beloved hobby or a beloved livelihood.

I know this sounds silly. I feel silly typing it out. But I also want to be open and honest about my malaise. Because not every day can be a high. Some days are lows. And many days are in-betweens.

The important thing is that I am living them all. I am feeling my way through them all. The good, the great, the bad, the hangry, the hormonal, the #blessed, the ugh. Without booze in my life I am experiencing all of this in living color, in real time.

So today is antsy. My thoughts are swirling around my Mucinex-clogged brain. “Should I put feta in my chopped salad? Am I crazy for not signing the kids up for any camps next week? Will I ever write a book? I need a voice. What is my voice? Who is my audience? What should we do for dinner tonight? Did I pack deodorant in the swimming bag? What do I even want to say in this book I want to write? When was the last time the dogs peed today?” Ad infinitum. Circling the brain drain.

I want to have a joyous journey but right now I just wish I knew where I was headed. And that – wherever it is – it’s amazing and fulfilling beyond anything I can fathom.

But AF life already is, isn’t it? Watching my daughter play dodge ball in her karate camp today while I kickboxed in an adjacent studio, that huge grin on her beautiful face. Watching my son, the youngest in his tennis camp, throw water balloons with the big kids and then gleefully line up to get the ice bucket dumped on his head.

These summer moments that would have gone unrecognized before. The ordinary that has turned extraordinary because I SEE IT. Joy and beauty and love burst forth from the everyday, every day.

As for the writing. I have committed to writing something every day of One Year Alcohol-Free. And I do. I post to Connect and Instagram every day. I feel in my gut I need to chronicle this journey, so I’m making the time to do it. I told my kids I need some time each day for “my writing.” Sounds so official! But why not try official on for size?

And it is helping people, my writing. I know this. Because it’s helping me. And it’s helping my kids and my husband, too, because it feeds my soul and makes me happy. And I’m a better mom and partner when my soul is full and I am happy. I think I am helping people on Connect and Instagram too. But at the very least, I am helping the four members of my family by doing this writing. And if that’s all my writing ever does, that is worth making the time.

So much was passing me by when my brain and body had to waste their energy thinking about and processing booze. So, so much.

I don’t know where I’m headed. And on days like today, when I’m low-energy and a little sick and groggy, that may bother me. But most of the time it doesn’t. Because I’m too busy delighting in the joy of the journey.

Monday Malaise

I’m feeling some malaise today. I am quite literally not at ease. It’s not the alcohol, since I haven’t had any for the last 17 days (and 96 out of the last 99 days!) anyway. It’s not even the chocolate mint waffle cone, bagels, cookies, and Chinese food I binged on yesterday – though recovering from that is not helping. It’s just me – unclouded, un-hungover – having a malaise-y Monday.

With the end of the school year upon us, and my son starting kindergarten in another year, I ponder the precipice I approach. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last six and a half years. And I don’t know what’s next for me. I don’t have a job waiting for me, or a career to which I could make a triumphant return. I am about to emerge from the depths of #SAHMlife and I don’t know what’s out there in a world where I will have SEVEN WHOLE HOURS to myself five days week.

I imagine some of this time will be taken up by a part-time job. But what am I going to do to make money? None of my volunteer commitments have the potential to turn into paying gigs. And lately I’ve lost steam with them anyway. I’ve been too into, well, THIS. Writing. And reading. And Connecting.

I am figuring my shit out, learning to love myself, and finding my voice.

So what do I WANT to do once I am able to usher both my kids onto the same school bus and not be chauffeuring them, cooking for them, cleaning up after them, and wiping their butts all day?

I want to help people like the person I used to be, by which I mean overweight, wine-dependent, unfit, and – most importantly – under-self-loved. But how? There are already so many beautiful women with perfect Instagram accounts and gazillions of followers who are established in the sober/mom/fitness/wellness/you-name-it communities. Books have already been written. Podcasts have already been recorded. Who am I to think I have anything to add to any aspect of any of this?

Especially since I have not fully given up alcohol. And I have not fully conquered my eating issues. And I could always be more fit. And a better mom. Etc.

But I have come so far. I wake every morning now with a body that a year and a half ago I believed was totally unrealistic for me. Before starting Weight Watchers, I had my wedding rings sized up and now they dangle from my fingers on cool days. The thought of drinking the way I used to not only holds zero appeal, it feels like a different life – and yet it was only six-ish months ago that it was MY life. I feel more comfortable in this skin than I have felt in years – maybe ever.

And yet I’m uneasy. I think because I don’t have a clear picture of where I want to go, what I want to be, what I want to do. My opportunity to emerge from #SAHMlife is on the horizon and when I get there I want to be ready to slay.

For now, I am a work in progress. And that is ok. I will never catch up to those amazing ladies who have been pioneers in the alcohol-free movement. And that is ok. I am finding my own voice. And that is ok. I can’t pretend to be anything other than this much-improved version of me. And that is more than ok.

Will I ever give up alcohol completely? I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I will indulge in a glass of wine the way I indulge in a cup of Cold Stone Peanut Butter Cup Perfection. Very occasionally. I know it’s not good for me. I know it brings no benefit to the body that I have worked so hard to achieve. I know I will feel worse for having consumed it. And yet I am building enough inner trust to know that one cup of ice cream or glass of wine will NOT send me into a spiral anymore. And that is huge for me.

Maybe someday these desires will disappear, and I won’t want to burden my body with booze or sugar. Wouldn’t that be great? I don’t know, actually – and that’s why it’s not my goal right now.

My goal is to spend what little kid-free time I currently have empowering myself with knowledge. Understanding acutely the effect of these chemicals on my body. But I am not going to force myself to fit into the alcohol-free mold before I’m ready, because I don’t want to set myself up for self-sabotage.

The final ascent to the self-actualization apex of Maslow’s Pyramid probably does not include alcohol or sugar, or caffeine for that matter! But everyone’s ascent is different. And I can only follow my own. As long as I’m making my way up that pyramid, no matter how round-about my route, that is the important thing.

I have more than a year until two little butts scurry up the stairs onto the school bus. I have time. I am in learning and discovery mode. And whenever I feel late to the party, with my tiny blog and tiny Instagram following, I have to remind myself that the party has already changed for the better because I am here.

 

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs