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.

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.

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.

A Tale of Two Boots

The silver lining of today’s relentless rain: it gives me an excuse to wear my new (old) favorite Hunter wellies.

My husband ordered these boots for me several years ago. Well, not these particular boots. Well, they could be the ones he ordered me. But probably not.

You see, these boots are limited edition, and they came out after I had my daughter in 2012. I saw a celebrity wearing them in a magazine and my wonderful husband (who shares in my Anglophilia) searched high and low to snag me a pair in my size.

Except they didn’t fit. I felt embarrassed and defeated as I tried to yank them over my postpartum calves, to no avail. I took them to a cobbler who tried to stretch them out, to no avail. I held onto them because I loved them. But I never believed they would actually fit.

So there they sat, in my closet, a daily reminder that I was overweight and out of shape and would never be thin enough to effortlessly slide my svelte calves into Hunter boots. As if I needed one more thing about which to feel guilty in those early days of motherhood.

A few years after I first received the boots, I decided to make some changes. No, this is not when I joined Weight Watchers or decided to stop drinking. Instead I decided to accept myself just as I was. No, not acceptance. Resignation. I had had two kids after all. So I resigned myself to being bigger. I had my wedding rings sized up. I found a neighbor who is an eBay ninja and I purged my closet of these boots and other items that had been glaring at me for years, taunting me, decimating my self-confidence. I used the money I made from eBay sales to buy boxy, loose clothing in a size that made me feel shame every time I shopped.

This state of resignation lasted for a couple more years. And then I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired of feeling fat and gross and I knew I needed to try, at least, to lose weight. I had no faith in my ability to succeed with weight loss, much less being able to maintain it. But I was desperate to feel better. My mom and I joined Weight Watchers in March 2017, I lost 23 pounds in 10 weeks, and I haven’t looked back.

Except for these boots. I have looked back many times at these boots. I don’t have many regrets in life, but damned if I didn’t regret selling my Limited Edition Hunter Vintage Union Jack wellies. (Plus, my husband was not thrilled either, considering they had been very hard for him to find in the first place. His rightful annoyance was the whipped cream atop my guilt-and-shame sundae.)

I Google-stalked these boots in the hope that they would be re-released. But they weren’t. So I bought myself a pair of royal blue boots at the Hunter outlet. As elated as I was to fit into them, and as cute as they are, they still did not fill the void.

So I set up an alert on eBay. And the boots popped up a few times at outrageous prices. (Have I mentioned they are limited edition?) And then, the other day, this pair appeared. At a price around about what I made off the pair I sold. With butterflies in my stomach, I opened the listing. And after firmly dismissing a moment’s hesitation – “Do I really deserve these? After all I was the dum-dum who sold my original pair…” – I clicked “Buy now.”

And now here they are. Back in my life. But rather than searing me with shame from the inside of my closet, they are keeping my feet dry and making me feel a little fabulous as I do my usual mom-chauffeur routine.

Clearly this is about more than just the boots (but seriously how cute are they?!). It’s about believing in myself and my ability to be my best. Believing that I deserve the best. Believing that if I put good energy into the universe, the universe will respond in kind.

I’m choosing to receive these boots as both a gift and a message.

A gift to myself for putting in the work that has not only given me slimmer (and stronger) calves but improved my overall well-being in myriad ways.

And a message from the universe:

“You are forgiven for not believing in yourself. And I trust you won’t make that mistake again.”

Wedding Day Gazing

Today is my ninth wedding anniversary. I have a feeling that if I took my dress out of its box, it would still fit – #thankyouweightwatchers. Maybe I’ll actually try it on for our big 10th next year!

Unlike in previous years, today I am looking back at my wedding day through an alcohol-free lens. And it’s an interesting view.

I’m happy to say I didn’t get tanked at my wedding. The day and night are a blur in my memory, but not because of booze – just because it was the most momentous day of my life up to that point and even though I tried to absorb every moment deep into my bones it went by in a beautiful, picture-perfect flash.

I didn’t get tanked at my wedding, but alcohol played a role. We had champagne for the toasts, of course. After an embarrassing brush with a drunken relative I made a break for the bar, only to be disappointed that the bartender served me the Chardonnay we had on hand for my stepmom instead of the Sauvignon Blanc I’d ordered.

But besides that, I didn’t drink. I remember this was a very purposeful strategy. I didn’t drink because I wanted to remember everything. I thought it would be hard to stay away from wine on my wedding night, but it wasn’t. First of all because I was SO EFFING THIRSTY the whole time, so all I wanted was water. But I didn’t want to drink too much water, because I didn’t want to have to pee in my dress. Oh, and secondly? Because I was having the time of my life and I didn’t want alcohol to mess with my bridal vibe.

I told myself not to drink too much, and I was too busy having the time of my life to break this rule that I had broken so many times before, and have broken so many times since.

I wish I had realized it then: that I don’t need alcohol to have a great time. That, in fact, alcohol often makes a good time bad and a bad time worse.

I wish I had applied the lesson I learned on my wedding night to my life once it went back to my newlywed normal. Alas, the lesson was lost in all the momentousness.

Do I blame myself for this? No way. Am I grateful to be able to see it all so clearly now? You betcha.

And that is the beauty of this year. I will experience all of these special days – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – without alcohol. And if this day is any indication, important insights await me at every milestone. Little gifts of clarity around every corner of the calendar.

Day 77. My longest AF streak ever, not counting my pregnancies. Yay. Onward.

On Finding Grace

I am not having a particularly grace-filled day. So I am writing this post in the hopes of finding some.

This has been a day of ticking off boxes as resentment and frustration start to simmer.

Why am I frustrated?

I am frustrated with my husband’s fever that he can’t seem to shake. I miss his presence and partnership, especially during these routine-less summer days when life seems to be injected with extra insanity and we are stuck in this relentless weather cycle of blazing sun-soupy humidity-severe thunderstorm-drenching rain (seriously, Mother Nature, from one mama to another, give us a break already!).

I want to be able to do it all and I know that’s not possible but it’s still frustrating. I want to be able to do the exercise, the healthy eating, take great care of my kids and my husband and my dogs and still have energy to keep my kitchen counter clean and stay on top of, well, life.

I am also anxious about the fact that if – WHEN – I get to lifetime and maintain it, stuffing my face in stressful times like these really is no longer an option. I know that’s a good thing. But I have relied on food since I can remember and it’s a little scary having both food and booze – my two trusty coping mechanisms – off the table.

So what is left: I go for a walk. I exercise my dog and clear my head. I identify what’s really bothering me (e.g. I’m not mad at my husband, I’m mad at his fever). Instead of distracting myself with food or alcohol, I actually think my feelings through. Huh.

***

I wrote the first draft of this post dictating into the Notes app on my phone while out walking Fred. And guess what? By the time I got home I felt better about all of it. Because instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips or a bottle of wine at 2:30pm (because weekend), I actually dug through my pile of mental rubble until I got down to brain bedrock.

And what did I uncover? Fear. Not exactly a twist ending. Pretty predictable. As I navigate this year, with its ups and downs, I will likely often discover that the complex emotions that I used to smother with booze and junk food are grounded in fear.

I no longer accept a foundation of fear. Time to start chipping away.

I came home, put my lips to my husband’s forehead, and told his effing fever to skedaddle. My husband apologized for being sick and “abandoning you with those lunatics” and I said, “My love, I actually believe you would choose me and our lunatics over being bedridden and feverish for four days, so no need to apologize.”

Weight lifted. Frustration processed and dismissed. SmartPoints and sobriety intact. Face unstuffed.

Grace found.

An Unexpected and Most Unwelcome Milestone

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I anticipated sitting down to write a blog post this week about my first solo-and-sober international trip. Alas, the universe had other plans and decided to throw my family a nasty curveball:

A hospital bed.

A heart attack releasing its victim from the claws of cancer.

A newly minted widow reluctantly relieved from her duties as caretaker.

Two grown sons left, in an instant, without a dad.

Last Wednesday, my husband went to work, as usual. My daughter wore an Italian soccer jersey to Team Jersey Day at her camp. My son went to camp and then earned his long-awaited red belt in his Tiny Dragons MMA class. I went to my kickboxing class and pounded the crap out of the heavy bag, cursing cancer for bringing so much pain into so many lives but having no idea how much more painful our lives were about to become.

A normal summer day. And then my father-in-law passes away. And a normal day turns into one of those days when you’ll always remember where you were when you got that phone call. And life as we knew it will never be the same.

He was sick, but it was sudden. It always is.

Tears shed, travel plans cancelled, travel plans made. One suitcase is emptied and another is packed. One anticipated alcohol-free milestone turns into another: grief. My first grown-up experience grieving for a lost loved one without alcohol.

When I was in my early 20s, I lost my stepdad and both of my grandfathers over 18 brutal months. Those were the days when I was single and sharing an apartment with five other girls (and one bathroom, natch) on the Upper West Side. I spent every Monday night knocking back several frozen margaritas at a dive bar with my coworkers, then waking on Tuesday to run six miles around Central Park before work. Because I could do that then. Work not so hard, play hard, run hard. Repeat.

When I went through that horrible hat trick of losses, alcohol was in the picture and I’m sure I used it to cope. But I was also young and my relationship with alcohol was still relatively simple. It didn’t take the physical or emotional toll that I would experience a decade and a half later.

Cut to a decade and a half later.

I am so grateful to not have a choice to drink right now. With booze off the table and out of my brain, I have simply been a better mourner.

Here’s what I mean by that:

I have been present. I have felt the brunt of this loss – really felt it – instead of numbing myself to it. And what I’ve discovered is that yes, it hurts a lot when you really feel it. But it is also easier to find and appreciate the silver lining. He is no longer suffering. My mother-in-law is no longer burdened with his care (though of course she didn’t mind, it took a toll on her own well-being). He passed quickly and painlessly, during a week when many family members were in town visiting and could offer extra support.

I have been able to support my husband with energy reserves that would have been sapped by booze. At a time when I need all the energy I can get, I shudder to fathom how depleted I would have been if I were drinking. Depleted, and moody, and incapable of giving as much as my husband deserves me to give right now.

I have had amazing – sad and difficult but amazing – conversations with my kids about death and the soul and God. There is something beautiful and comforting in talking to kids about death – at least the way we discussed it. Very simple and high-level and just kind of lovely. “Gramps’ soul has left his body and has gone up to God. He has gotten to meet God! How cool is that?!” That kind of stuff. Talking to my kids after my husband told me the news over the phone was deeply sad, yes, but deeply beautiful too. I will never forget it.

I have been more compassionate and authentic with my mother-in-law. Because I am not drinking it is easier to choose curiosity over judgment. To observe in complete clarity how this family mourns – a style very different from my own family – and to innately respect their choices and support them as best I can. My mother-in-law is at the center of all of this and I don’t know if she can feel it, but I certainly feel that our relationship has deepened over the last several days. And I am so grateful for that.

No booze makes me a better mourner. There is beauty to be found in grief, if you can see clearly enough. And I can.