Taking Aim at Diet Culture

It took a pandemic and my 40th birthday but it has finally clicked: I am done with diet culture.

If only it were that easy. If I could just flip a switch, and POOF! All my hang-ups about food and my body disappeared.

It’s not that easy, but I am capable. And I am committed. Because if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that life is too damn short and I am tired of beating myself up about eating, overeating, bingeing, not tracking points, going over points, feeling out of control, feeling powerless, making “bad” choices, falling off the wagon, eating too many carbs, eating too much sugar, eating too much fat, eating too much dairy, eating too much Halloween candy, eating too much Thanksgiving pie, eating too much Christmas candy, eating too much Easter candy, eating too much ice cream, not eating enough veg, not eating enough fruit, not eating “clean” enough… need I go on? Because I could.

Back when I was beating myself up about my drinking (and my eating, but at the time my drinking was the worse vice), reading Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind changed my life because it empowered me to change my brain. I started, little by little, rewiring my noggin. Forging new pathways instead of the well-worn trails that connected wine to stress relief, reward, pleasure, confidence, and so much more. Once I stopped drinking, I started bingeing on sugar and feared I had a new “addiction.” I tried cutting sugar out of my diet only to binge on it as soon as I let it back in. I read several books about sugar and how badly it impacts the human body, hoping the knowledge would make me want to stop eating it. But while one can forgo alcohol, one cannot, alas, forgo food. And sugar lurks everywhere, even in fruit and other “healthy” things. So cutting out sugar the way I cut out alcohol was never going to be the answer. Plus, I love cake.

Junk food has been my number one enemy since I stopped drinking, and I never found a way to crack the (pea)nut (M&M).

It turns out I was looking in the wrong direction. I was looking at junk food as my foe. Now I realize that the real villain, ranked right up there with the wine witch on my shit list, is diet culture.

Diet culture, you are going down.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate my time spent on Weight Watchers (now WW). Losing weight in 2017 helped build confidence at a time when I was flailing in the trenches of motherhood. My time on WW also crystalized my gray area drinking, and I’m not sure I ever would have had the courage to take those early breaks from alcohol without the WW social network, Connect, and in particular the #sobersisters group – a bunch of beautiful strangers who supported me with empathy and without judgment.

As one of my most amazing IRL friends messaged me the other night, “It’s ok to acknowledge that a tool that was once helpful isn’t anymore. You can be grateful for the huge role it played in your life and also decide it is no longer helping.” That, in a cracked nutshell, is how I now feel about WW. Time to cut the cord.

So I did. The other night, I wrote the following farewell message on Connect:

My dear #sobersisters, I am not ready to do what I am about to do. I will never be ready, yet I know it is the necessary next step for me in my journey. I am going to cancel my WW Lifetime membership.

I have been thinking about this for a long time, but never acted on it because, I thought, WW helped me so much with my goals. I hesitated to sever ties with my tracker. How else would I stay accountable? How else would I stay thin?

But then: 2020. One of the few gifts of this pandemic has been the paring down of life, and the mental decluttering. This time has forced me to reflect on all that was on my metaphorical plate. And that plate, I realized, was divided like a toddler’s into three areas: what fills me up, what poisons me, and what fuels me. As I move forward into my 40s, for the duration of this pandemic, and into the future that awaits us on the other side, I am trying my best to clear my plate of all but what truly fuels me; or, to stick with the metaphor, to move from a toddler’s divided plate to a grown-up plate.

Being a kickboxing instructor filled me up. I spent hours curating playlists, planning classes, and teaching. I enjoyed it, I was superfit, but I never felt in my gut that I was meant to be in the fitness industry. Kickboxing, as fun as it was, filled up my days and weeks until I had little room for real fuel.

Drinking poisoned me. Thanks to the incredible support of the #sobersisters, I took a month and then a couple of months and then a year off booze – and I have not looked back for 883 days. Being here on Connect helped me believe that alcohol freedom was possible, and I am forever indebted to each and every one of you who left me an encouraging comment and supported me along my path.

Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that diet culture is also poisoning me. Try as I might (and I have!), I cannot progress toward attuned eating and radical self-acceptance as long as I am a WW member. I need a clean break from WW and my tracker, and I am honestly heartbroken that in severing these ties I will also be saying goodbye to Connect.

Simply put, my goals have shifted. Instead of aiming to be a certain weight, I am aiming to accept my body at any size. Instead of counting points or cutting down on sugar or carbs, I am learning to listen to my body and give it what it wants.

Since joining WW in 2017, I lost weight (which I regained) and gained sobriety (which I have not lost). Connect has meant the world to me, and to this day I marvel that a group of strangers took the time to read my writing and offer words of comfort, empathy, and support. Connect is the most special place and my life will not be the same without it, without all of you.

Before I started writing this farewell message, I went onto Instagram to write to my friend Nancy, whom I met on Connect. I told her how scared and sad I was to cancel my WW membership and sever my ties with Connect, but that I know it’s the right thing for me right now. I sent the message and returned to my feed, which refreshed to show a post with this quotation:

“No one warns you about the amount of mourning in growth.” -Té V. Smith

Ain’t that the truth!

Thank you, my virtual friends, my #sobersisters, for making this chapter of my life one that I will never forget. Wishing you a safe and healthy end to this crazy year, and a brighter 2021 for us all.

I clicked “Post” and the next morning I canceled my WW Lifetime membership. And damn, if it didn’t feel like a giant weight had been lifted. Pun intended.

So, whereto from here? I have two guiding lights in this process. The first is a book called The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, by Judith Matz, LCSW and Ellen Frankel, LCSW. I’ll be writing a lot more about this book in the coming weeks (let’s face it: months, considering my kids have been in and out of quarantine and writing time is short these days).

My other guiding light, really more of a super badass secret weapon, is an eight-week program called “‘Tis the Season to Ditch Diet Culture,” hosted on the “Run, Selfie, Repeat” podcast by Kelly Roberts and Kayla Reynolds, MS. These ladies have rocked my world. The program includes a bunch of journal prompts, so I’ll be tackling those soon.

After years of feeling powerless against my sweet tooth and emotional eating, I finally feel like I am focused on the right foe: diet culture. I am geared up and ready for battle. This blog has chronicled my journey to alcohol freedom, as well as my struggle with food and body image. I finally feel hopeful that these virtual pages will soon be filled with my journey of diet culture survivorship and the creation of lasting appreciation for and peace with my body. Let’s go.

My Alcohol Experiment: 100 Days of a Changed Life

It has been 100 days since I started The Alcohol Experiment. One. Hundred. Days!

I feel slightly strange marking this milestone, given that I have not gone completely sans booze. Over the last 100 days, I went sober for the first 74. Since then I have had four drinks total on three separate occasions. I have been alcohol-free for 97 out of 100 days.

On the three occasions I did drink, I was completely in control and acting within my non-negotiables. I decided before going out (because I have not had any booze at home since the start of TAE) how much I would drink, and made sure I pre-tracked the booze. So while I have not been 100% alcohol-free for the last 100 days, I have been 100% in control of my drinking.

And that feels pretty awesome.

I can’t help but wonder if I would be feeling more accomplished if I had gone completely alcohol-free for all 100 days. While that would have been an incredible achievement, I am content to not be contending with the anxiety around when or if I would have a drink again. I feel no guilt about the fact that I am celebrating an alcohol-free milestone that has included four drinks. Because that has been part of the process for me. This is my path, it’s what feels genuine to me, and as long as I maintain that authenticity it’s all good.

What am I taking with me as I move beyond these 100 days? From all the content Annie Grace graciously bequeaths us in TAE, what have been the most useful tools for me?

Non-Negotiables my non-negotiables that I initially set on Day 29 are becoming more and more deeply etched in my brain. I take this list very seriously. The structure provided by my non-negotiables is the main reason why I am cautiously optimistic that moderation will be possible for me.

The Power of Positive Thinking and Self-Talk – I didn’t realize how negative my self-talk was until I examined it through the lens of TAE. Allowing myself grace, making a conscious effort to nix negative, critical thoughts and instead treat myself with the same level of kindness with which I treat people I love has been such a gift – to myself, but also to those around me. My kids will now grow up with a mom who cherishes herself, her body, and her life. And I hope they will never struggle with negativity and self-criticism the way I did.

Gratitude for My Body – see above, and also that letter I wrote to my body on Day 11? Life-changing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am now at the best level of fitness with the healthiest body I have had since my wedding. My bod and I are BFFs now and it shows.

The Critical Role of Connection – Connecting with my husband and kids. Connecting with mom friends and old friends. Connecting with my mom. Connecting virtually with amazing #sobersisters on Connect. Connecting with myself. All of these connections are more authentic, nourishing and rewarding when experienced with a clear head and heart.

Chemical Knowledge – Alongside all of this self-examination and -improvement of the last 100 days is a keen understanding of the chemical effects of alcohol on the body. Being acutely aware of the whole process, from craving to consumption to digestion and detoxification, has definitely helped me conquer my cravings. And on the three occasions I chose to drink during the last 100 days, my awareness of what was happening in my brain and body helped me stay in control. Is drinking less enjoyable because of the knowledge I now possess? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Nope!

As I cross the 100-day threshold, what is my plan from here? To keep after it! To keep doing what I’m doing with regard to alcohol. To keep reading, listening to podcasts, seeking support from my #sobersisters. To keep writing this blog. To keep learning and sharing. And to stay positive and kind and grateful, always.

A Mocktail on Mother’s Day

Last Saturday my mom and I made our annual Mother’s Day pilgrimage to NYC for a Broadway double-header with fun meals and shopping in between shows. I had been planning for weeks to break my 60-day alcohol-free streak on Saturday with a frozen pomegranate margarita, one of my favorite drinks. But in the days leading up to #MothersDayonBroadway, I started to feel a little twinge of hesitation in my gut. And by the time Saturday rolled around, there was a strong inner voice telling me, “I don’t want it.”

We arrive at Rosa Mexicano for lunch. The waiter asks for our drink order. “I’ll have a virgin pomegranate margarita,” I hear myself say. Alas, they are pre-mixed! Crap! The waiter recommends a mango-strawberry mocktail. And before I know it, my streak-breaking moment has passed and it’s Day 62.

Honestly, I’m shocked. And yet I guess I’m not. It just takes a glance back through what I’ve written over the past few months, especially my reflections once I hit my 60-day milestone last week, to quash the instinctual shock.

“I feel lighter, both physically and mentally.”

“I feel stronger, both physically and mentally.”

“I feel more energized – and beyond that, I have more endurance – both physically and mentally.”

Less anxious. Healthier. Empowered. In control (of booze, at least).

Why would I want to risk losing any of these feels?

And yet, would one drink really make a difference?

Do I still care enough about alcohol to find out? Or do I care more about me? (That’s a rhetorical question obviously. But maybe it hasn’t always been.)

On a date night a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had a very candid chat about our diet goals. He has recently committed to cleaning up his carb-inhaling act; and though his approach is different from mine, we are on the same page in terms of cutting the crap and getting healthier for ourselves and to set a better example for our kids. We agreed on this: that we would like to get to a point where we can go out to dinner, have a drink, eat a burger, splurge on dessert – and have that meal be an isolated indulgence, NOT a shove that sends us back down into the junky spiral that we have been trying to escape basically since becoming parents.

My husband has a true take-it-or-leave-it relationship with alcohol. I do not. So to include “have a drink” in the description of an ideal date night is a bigger deal for me than it is for him. I recognize this. I’ve got my toolbox now. My non-negotiables remain steadfast. I am aware and I am armed and I am determined to never fall back down to where I was.

But why do I still feel the need to include “have a drink” at all?

Because I am not ready to proclaim myself a non-drinker. But also, I don’t want to drink. So.

Last #MothersDayonBroadway, my mom and I spent our time between shows having margaritas with dinner and prosecco at a cute Irish pub. This year, because we weren’t bar-hopping, we had so much time on our hands we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. We browsed the shops at the Time Warner Center. We found her some cute summer shoes at TJ Maxx. We had dessert at Pinkberry. It was refreshing, if a bit disorienting.

I did miss being able to go sit at a bar and have a drink with my mom. I missed feeling giddy and fabulous. But I didn’t miss the crash. I didn’t miss the void left by a worn-off buzz, the dehydration, having to suppress the yearning for more booze, the anxiety about having to drive home. Yikes. Nope, I did not miss any of that at all.

We saw “Mean Girls” that night, and it was hysterical and awesome and I was able to fully absorb both the fantastic show and the amazing audience. I drove us home afterwards, grateful to be sober and not having to calculate how much time had passed since my last drink. I slept well and woke up guilt-free on Sunday.

I am really proud of myself, if a little surprised to have made the choice that I did. [I should note that one of my non-negotiables is that I will not drink if I have to drive. My plan had been to have one margarita with lunch at noon which would have worn off completely by the time I was driving home 11 hours later. But the fact that I would have been compromising, if not fully breaking, a non-negotiable did factor into my gut decision to go for a mocktail instead.] I accept that I still have conflicting feelings that will take time to untwine. And I accept that I still don’t know what my relationship with alcohol will be.

For now, it’s back to our weekly routine, which at this point is easily, breezily alcohol-free for me. No date nights or other potential drinking occasions coming up this week. So I am going to try to give myself some head space. I will shift my focus back to simply (because it’s so simple – ha!) staying on track. I will stay within my points, achieve my workout and daily water intake goals, and get my butt to bed. Keep it simple. Give myself grace.

It’s Tuesday, which also happens to be Day 64. But it’s also just Tuesday.

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 30

Day 30 of The Alcohol Experiment: appreciating this present and pondering the future.  

Day 30 on April 30 and Day 50 alcohol-free for me. Seems like a good time to finish up this Experiment!

[But wait! Spoiler alert: Annie offers five bonus days of content! Woohoo!]

Nevertheless, let’s raise a glass of passionfruit seltzer and take a moment to absorb the awesomeness that TAE has been. What a gift. What a gift of health and awareness I have given myself. What a gift for all of us on Connect to have shown each other such support, compassion, and grace. These last 50 days have been illuminating, challenging, and inspiring beyond words or measure. 

But the journey is not over yet! 

It’s Day 30. And now we really need to think seriously about where we go from here. Annie gives a few ideas to those of us who want to keep this momentum going but are not 100% comfortable with “forever.” Of these, I definitely plan to invest in my non-negotiables. Keep ‘em handy and stick to ‘em. And if I don’t, I’ll deploy the “lengthening strategy” and take a longer booze break than my last. I have definitely noticed a difference between the 30 days I did in January and the 50 (of 60) I’ve achieved as of today. Alcohol is becoming even less of a thing that holds any importance in my life. If I cross a non-negotiable line, I’ll do 90 days. With no guilt or shame, but with gratitude and grace. And on we go.

Annie asked us to take a final selfie today. You can find mine, along with my selfie from Day 1, on my Instagram: @maintaining_mama. I’d say there is a bit of a difference!

She also asked us to write one more letter – this one to our future selves. Yikes! I’m going to have so much more gray hair in ten years! But putting that aside…

Dear 2028 Me,

First and foremost, I hope that this letter finds you and your family healthy and happy. I hope your marriage (19 years now!!) has continued to thrive on its strong foundation of love, trust, and communication. I hope the kids are torturing you less in their teens than they did as toddlers, but I won’t be surprised if that’s not the case! Just remember that they are still the greatest human beings to ever grace this planet, and they can probably wipe their own butts now. So that’s good.

Now let’s talk about you. And me. Let’s talk about us. 

You may recall that the years of having babies who grew into toddlers who grew into kids were HARD. There were times where I disappeared completely into a run-ragged mom with little sense or value of self. I found comfort and solace in wine, among other things. The other things (husband, friends, exercise, Nutella) were good for me – ok, except maybe the Nutella. The wine, not so much, as it turns out.

So I have spent the beginning of 2018 laying the groundwork for a better, brighter, healthier, happier future. And I hope by now you have long been thriving in the new normal I have worked so hard to create. As cliche as it may sound, I hope you are living your best life – whatever that may mean to you. A lot happens in ten years! Ten years ago – heck, even two years ago! – I never would have imagined I’d be obsessed with a snazzy spin bike, or that our whole family would be turning into a bunch of ninjas with our MMA training. I never would have imagined that Weight Watchers and Connect would become so ingrained in the fabric of this wonderful existence I am weaving for myself. I remember my creative self feeling shut down, and now that sassy gal feels reawakened and limitless. And I never would have guessed that removing alcohol from my life would be the key to it all. 

Not that I know what “it all” means. And that’s ok. I don’t know exactly where I’m headed. I don’t know what I will do professionally once both kids are in school full time. I don’t know how far I will go with writing. Or even kickboxing. But right now I am existing in a state of contentment, hope, confidence, gratitude, empowerment, and love that I have never experienced in my life. And it feels amazing.

I hope you look back on 2018 as a turning point. The time when your life went from good to extraordinary. The time when you went from happy to content, from distracted to present, from hazy to crystal clear. The time when alcohol dwindled from near-daily dependence to insignificance and the rest of your awesome life opened up to you.

I’m sure the last decade has not been all rainbows and narwhals. But I hope that you have learned from your setbacks and used them as stepping stones. Because that’s what they are.

You are beautiful. You are an amazing mom and wife and citizen of the world. 47 is the new 37. Keep after it! The world is a better place because you have been a part of it for 47 years.

I love you.


Me in 2018

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 29

Day 29 of The Alcohol Experiment: pondering your happiest, most fulfilled life [spoiler alert: it probably does not include a lot of alcohol].

Annie calls this lesson “Tough Love” but I actually found it to be incredibly helpful, practical and hopeful.

I have been guilting myself for not feeling ready to say I will never drink again. Lucky for me (and I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way!), Annie swoops in and encourages us to ditch the fear of forever. Instead of torturing ourselves with the question of “Do I have to stop drinking?” let’s instead ask ourselves, “How can I have the happiest, most peaceful, most fulfilled life?” 

Ah. Deep breath. Isn’t that a much more pleasant question to ponder? Because it focuses on the positive. It automatically makes me think of everything that has been so great about #TAE – the clarity, the energy, the contentment. I feel like I am on my way. I have been ascending my Hierarchy of Needs pyramid (see Day 22!) and I have the potential to make it to the tippy top: self-actualization. Self-fulfillment is within my reach now. I can feel it. 

All well and good, but this is veering into pretty floofy territory. Luckily Annie asks us to do something very concrete here: define our non-negotiables. As we move forward, we draw lines in the sand. And if we cross back over those lines we know we need to reassess and possibly take another break. That sounds doable.

I’ll be tweaking this list, but here’s what I have so far:

  • I will not be drunk in front of my children.
  • I will not drink when I am alone; or alone with my children during the witching hour or any hour.
  • I will not drink when I have to drive, or if I am traveling alone.
  • I will always put my children, my husband and my safety before alcohol.

When I first wrote this list, I wrote “never.” But I changed “never” to “not.” Something about “never” makes me feel uncomfortable and unconfident. One thing Annie said in her video which totally resonated with me is, “When we put definitive rules on ourselves, we rebel.” Oh hi, yup, that’s me. I do it with food, too. Self-sabotage. Ugh.

So instead of burdening myself with “never” I will take my non-negotiables to heart and believe in my ability to make good decisions. 

And how will I stick to these non-negotiables? I will write them down and have them at the ready. I will be more open and communicative with my husband and more honest with myself. I will try to remember the power of visualization, seeing myself sticking to my non-negotiable plan and having a blast. And if I get to a point where I need to take another break, I will not shame myself. I will recognize it for the gift that it is and I will take it, gratefully.

My first break, back during Dry January, was about 35 days. Right now I am on day 45 and I am going to go to day 60 (at least!). I am proud to commit to that and I know it will feel amazing to achieve it.

Annie says, “Promise yourself you will fight for your best and happiest life.”

I finally believe I deserve to make that promise.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 28

Day 28 of The Alcohol Experiment: the possibility of moderation and Annie’s Alcohol Experiment (by which I mean she actually shows us the video she made of herself imbibing an entire bottle of wine. WOWZA she is brave!).

To moderate or not to moderate? That is the question for some of us. 

When I first began to openly question my drinking and think about how I wanted to change my ways, moderation seemed like the holy grail. The perfect way to incorporate alcohol into a healthy, balanced lifestyle. 

It’s safe to say I see things a little differently now.

Even though she veers very close to contradicting herself, Annie tells us she believes moderation is possible via two distinct paths:

Path numero uno: your feet are firmly planted on the liberation side of the liberation-fixation scale and alcohol is a non-issue. You can truly take it or leave it. 

Yeah… that ain’t me. My husband is like this though, so I’ve observed this behavior with a mix of awe and envy for over a decade. Some nights he drinks one hard cider, some nights he doesn’t. When we go to dinner, he’ll usually order one cider or a glass of wine. I don’t think I have ever seen him consume more than two drinks. He just doesn’t want to. And he’s never been drunk. If I asked him to stop drinking today, while he may not understand the request since he has never struggled with alcohol, he would be able to do it easily. Me? Not so much. 

So let’s look at the second path to successful moderation: super duper Type A-style planning, organization and complete commitment to following set-in-stone rules. Plus constant, hawk-eyed, honest vigilance. All while acknowledging that alcohol will do everything in its power to thwart your efforts.

Hmm. If this is the only other option, then this must be the way forward for me. This could even be a good fit for my rule-following self!  

But here’s what will happen to me, and anyone else who follows this path. Alcohol will create a thirst for itself while literally making us thirsty. It will impair our brains’ ability to make decisions and stick to them. It will dull our senses so everything becomes less enjoyable and then present itself as a solution to that sad sitch. If we drink alcohol, we will crave alcohol, even if we aren’t actually enjoying the alcohol we’re drinking.

So, um, why are we doing this again?

Are we doing this at all?

Personally, I don’t know. Part of me feels disappointed that I am not ready to bite the bullet and commit to being alcohol-free forever and ever. But I also have to be honest with myself, and with all of you. I’m not ready for forever. I need to keep experimenting. I need to take this day by day, milestone by milestone.

I have my high school reunion coming up and I am not going to drink. I am excited at the prospect of not drinking, actually. Knowing I’ll be able to drive with total control. Knowing I will get a great night of sleep (by myself in a hotel room! Woohoo!) after our class party. Knowing I will remember all of it. And, frankly, curious to see how it feels to be sober among my high school friends.

The weekend after that, my mom and I are going to our favorite restaurant for Mother’s Day and I am planning to have a pomegranate margarita. This is a tradition with which I am not yet ready to break. But, again, I’m very curious. I want to see if I still enjoy it, and I am very much hoping it does not live up to the tasty memory. This is the only upcoming occasion I can think of where I have any desire to drink. 

Am I embarrassed to post this? To admit to you all that after weeks and weeks of study, writing, and committing to an AF lifestyle, that I am going to be drinking a margarita on May 12? HELL YES I AM SO EMBARRASSED. Please don’t think less of me! Please don’t worry for me! Please accept that this is where I am!

There is no right or wrong here, as Annie reminds us. And she encourages us to keep experimenting as we continue on our way. And then she shows us her own experiment: condensed video footage from the night she filmed herself drinking an entire bottle of wine. 

And wow. The footage is raw and sad and depressing and strange and uncomfortable to watch. To think that I used to do that to myself on a regular basis… ugh. Just ugh. To think that I used to long for that haze despite knowing I would feel heinous the next day… ugh. 

Nope. Let’s stay clear and energized and happy and confident and receptive to all the beauty that surrounds us, shall we?

We shall.

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 27

Day 27 of The Alcohol Experiment: a no-holds-barred look at booze.

“Chemically, you’re fighting a losing battle. Maybe it’s actually a winning battle because your brain will do everything in its power to keep you from dying.”

– Annie Grace, The Alcohol Experiment Day 27

This is one of those essays where Annie layeth the smacketh down. No holding back, no holding hands. She lays bare what alcohol really is [spoiler alert: it’s ethanol, the only consumable type of alcohol, so toxic you’d barf it right up if you took even one tiny straight sip!], and what it really does to our bodies. She writes with a clarity that makes it easy to understand and impossible to unlearn. And that is a good thing.

Those of us who have read This Naked Mind and who have come this far or completed The Alcohol Experiment have read much of this information before. This is purposeful. The more we ingest the truth about alcohol, the less alcohol we will want to ingest.

Here’s the deal, yo:

The booze we drink is made of the same type of alcohol as the gasoline in our cars (or swagger wagon in my case). Ew.

Alcohol is a depressant, and forces our brains to release stimulants to maintain homeostasis, a downward-spiraling cycle in which we never achieve the same level of perceived pleasure that we get from the first few sips of our first drink.

The harder we try to get back to that original buzz, the higher we build up our tolerance. Tolerance is our brains’ preparatory defense against the onslaught of alcohol. We start to drink, and our brains unleash the stimulant dose that we have trained it to create through habitual drinking. It’s a preemptive counter-attack that negates the possibility of achieving that initial moment of chillaxation.

And finally, there’s acetaldehyde, which is as toxic as it sounds – more toxic than alcohol! – and is, believe it or not, what our bodies produce to DE-toxify from the alcohol we drink. Let’s have another moment here: the chemical that our bodies produce to detox from the alcohol we ingest is actually MORE toxic than the alcohol. That’s a LOT of toxicity circulating through our bodies.

And for what? For the lesson that we are teaching our children, that we rely on booze to cope with them? For the empty calories, the wasted SmartPoints, the booze-bloated belly? For the night sweats? The dry mouth? For the shame, self-loathing, and regret?

Nope. Not for me, thanks.

We know this now. We can’t un-know it. But this knowledge is not a bummer. This knowledge is power.

And a quick FYI: the video in this lesson is aimed at those for whom The Alcohol Experiment was not a magic bullet. If you are looking for more help, please watch this video and be proud of your continued proactive efforts!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Naked Life Story

[This story is my story. Last week I emailed Annie Grace to thank her for her work and to tell her about the impact it has had on me. Her team replied and asked me to submit my story for publication on their blog. Fingers crossed it will be published in a few weeks, but I wanted to post it here in the meantime.]
I am typing very slowly. Pondering, as I deliberately click and clack away at these keys, how to summon words that could possibly capture how profoundly This Naked Mind and The Alcohol Experiment have changed my life and the lives of people I don’t even know. (More on that in a moment.)
So. Much. Gratitude. And I haven’t even finished The Alcohol Experiment yet! (I’m on Day 27 of The Experiment, and day 40 alcohol-free.)
A little about me: I am a stay-at-home mom of two amazing/occasionally soul-sucking kids, ages 4 and 6. I have a wonderful husband and two delightful dogs, and we live outside NYC. I left my non-profit fundraising career (and the tiny paycheck that came with it) to raise my family. I volunteer for a local colon cancer organization and our town’s ambulance corps, writing and fundraising and generally trying to keep the professional part of my brain active and challenged.
But I am a mom, first and foremost. An ever-aspiring supermom. Some days I get there, most days I don’t. I used to guilt myself about that – about failing to do all the things. And I would relieve my guilt by opening a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc during the witching hour, and drinking more of it than I planned or wanted. The anticipation as I’d pour the chilled vino into my oversized wine glass, and those first few crisp, tangy sips, would take the edge off whatever kiddie and/or doggy chaos was happening around me. I’d feel a boost of energy (Hello, dopamine! Hello, sugar!) as my body donned the invisible alcohol-armor I thought I needed to battle through dinner, bath, and bed time.
By the time my kids were scarfing their hot dogs and refusing their broccoli, I’d usually have a pleasant buzz. When bath time finally arrived, I’d send them upstairs to pick out their pajamas while I chugged the rest of my glass, steeling myself for the next hour and a half of our nightly routine. At some point during those 90 minutes, pleasantly buzzed mama turned into irritable, short-fused mama. And it was all downhill from there. I couldn’t wait to get my kids to sleep so that I could pour myself another glass of wine as my reward for surviving another sanity-shredding day of stay-at-home-mamahood.
I would go to bed in a sea of shame (compounded by my efforts to hide my drunkenness from my husband), sleep like crap, and wake up in the middle of the night soaked with sweat that felt like the physical manifestation of my self-loathing. In the morning I would walk my dog and try to shake off my hangover, promising myself I would not drink that night. Then the witching hour would strike, and you know the rest.
I was stuck in a vicious cycle, revolving around the ever-present bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. The stress of sacrificing myself – as I used to see it – in order to raise the greatest human beings to ever walk the planet made me a devoted subscriber to the mommy juice myth. Until it didn’t.
Cut to 2017. My son turned three and I decided I was tired of feeling fat and exhausted. I joined Weight Watchers and lost 23 pounds in ten weeks, which felt amazing. Yet I still found ways to drink too much. I would save half my daily points and use basically all my weekly points for wine. I was no longer fat, but still felt exhausted and gross. My discomfort with my drinking had been growing for a long, long time. Finally, in December 2017, I wrote a post on the Weight Watchers social media network, Connect, saying I was going to commit to Dry January. I started following a few people who posted using #sobersisters, for inspiration and support. I was terrified and felt ashamed that my life had come to this – that I was writing to strangers on a weight loss app, desperate to not feel alone in my struggle. Desperate for connection, community, and support.
And that’s exactly what I got. In spades.
Even though I was dreading it, Dry January was a joyous and revelatory month for me. Through Connect, I learned about This Naked Mind. I read it, I wrote about it, I didn’t want it to end. But it did, and so did Dry January.
Over the next six weeks alcohol regained control of the reins, and I felt myself slipping back down into that damn pitcher plant. During one of the several nor’easters we had this winter, we lost power for four days. Not the end of the world, but no picnic either. The moment the power came back on, I opened a bottle of wine to soothe my frayed nerves and over the course of a few hours I drank the whole thing. Later that night, I threw up.
I used to drink a bottle of wine in an evening once or twice a week, and it would never make me sick. Hungover, yes, but not sick. But instead of throwing myself a pity party, I decided this was my turning point. Here was my body showing me how far I’d come since January 1. Here was my body telling me, “Nah girl, we don’t do this anymore.”
I knew I needed to take another booze break. I appealed to my Connect friends (at this point, having written about my Dry January journey, I had a couple hundred followers) and several recommended The Alcohol Experiment. I signed up immediately with relief and excitement.
I decided I would write about it, too. It’s been 40 days since I started The Experiment, and I now have 733 followers on Connect. I write about each day, synthesizing the lesson and adding content from my journal entries. It has been an incredible personal exercise for me, and I have been blown away by the thoughtful, sometimes joyful and sometimes searing comments that others write in response. A beautiful community has formed around the work of Annie Grace. She is recommended, she is quoted, she is celebrated for the way she has empowered us all.
Have I mentioned how grateful I am?
The Connect platform is fairly arcane, which was frustrating for me when I wanted to access previous posts I’d written. So I decided to put my posts up on a blog which I call Maintaining Mama. No one reads it except my mom and my best friend, but I’m ok with that. It’s just a landing place for my writing while I decide what I want to do.
I want to do something bigger. I’m not sure what yet. But I want to be a resource for others who feel like they can’t put down their mommy juice. I don’t want any mom, or anyone, to feel alone in her struggle like I did. The phrase “the opposite of addiction is connection” – from that phenomenal video on Day 22 – could not have rung more true or literal for me. Connect has become a lifeline and, I think, a jumping off point.
This Naked Mind is at the heart of it all. It’s part of me and so many others I have become privileged to support on Connect. I don’t know any of these people, and only know a few of their names. But I do know that we are all in a better, healthier place because of Annie Grace.
As for the dreaded witching hour? It passes with nary a white knuckle these days. My kids still drive me bonkers with their occasional monkey business. But I now relish the good moments with presence and energy that alcohol denied me for too long. I have never felt more like myself, and I am finally becoming the supermom I want to be.

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 26

Day 26 of The Alcohol Experiment: the liberation scale and a letter to my pre-TAE self.

As if we didn’t already have a tool kit bursting with helpful tactics to assist us no our path to improved health and well-being, Annie gifts us with another gem: her liberation vs. fixation scale.

This is very straightforward: when you are “liberated” it means you are in control of your relationship with alcohol. You can truly take it or leave it. You are genuinely happy with exactly where you are. On the flip side, when you are “fixated,” alcohol has taken the reins. You have lost power over your alcohol cravings. You are feeling tempted; thinking about your first drink or your next drink; you want to drink even if you know you shouldn’t. 

This scale can be used no matter what your ultimate goal is. Whether you decide to continue to be alcohol-free, or to moderate your drinking, this scale is a useful way to check yo’self before you wreck yo’self. I’ll be using this one for sure!

In the journal today, Annie asks us to write a letter to our pre-TAE selves. And wow, I feel like I have come a long way. Here is what I wrote:

Hi there,

Listen up. I remember the angst, the guilt, the worry. And the guilt. And more guilt. And I am so happy to report that you have regained control over those little a-holes. 

It has been liberating and wonderful to be booze-free again, to have alcohol not be an option, and to discover that I am perfectly happy without it. There are still sticky moments and icky thoughts. I still worry about this experiment ending, and falling back down the rabbit hole AGAIN. But, also, I don’t worry. Because I am starting to feel very natural as a non-drinker. I think about alcohol less and less with each day that passes. If anything, now I am more focused on my food issues (which share roots with my alcohol issues). I have made this major change – cutting out booze for two prolonged periods since the start of 2018 – and I deserve to feel like my best self. 

I still can’t imagine never having another pomegranate margarita ever again. And that is ok. I’m not sure what my ultimate goal is, and that is ok too. As long as I am using my flashy new pimped out tool kit courtesy of TAE, and being authentic in my journey, there is no right or wrong. There is just the path only I can travel.

I no longer feel like I am alone. I have my tools, my family and friends, and resources up the wazoo. My Alcohol Experiment has had enough lightbulbs to string a Christmas tree. Former burdens have blossomed into beacons. “Stress relief” is now “stress resilience.” Willpower is a finite resource. I love and embrace my body for all the miracles, from microscopic to baby-birthing, it has performed and will continue to perform. Connection is the opposite of addiction. I’ve left labels behind. They’re wasting away to dust, along with my negative thoughts and self-doubt, in the brilliant sunshine of the future I am creating for myself and for my family. 

You can do this. You ARE doing this. You are powerful and you are beautiful and you are changing your life.

Keep gettin’ after it, Mama!


Your AF self

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]

My Alcohol Experiment: Day 25

Day 25 of The Alcohol Experiment: dealing with setbacks and changing your thinking (part deux).

[Ok this is getting seriously uncanny, how relevant these lessons are for where I am in my life. But more on that in a moment.]

The Day 25 essay deals with setbacks, and how to reframe them and move forward. As always I appreciate Annie’s positivity here. After Dry January, I decided to try drinking “in moderation.” Looking back on the couple of months between Dry January and The Alcohol Experiment, I can see that cognitive dissonance set in immediately. As of February 1, alcohol was a choice again. And deciding whether or not to drink took its toll. After a particularly stressful few days in February when we lost power and our lives were super-hectic, the night the power came on I drank an entire bottle of wine to celebrate/relieve stress/as a treat (all my old reasons for drinking)… and ended up getting sick that night. I won’t say I fell back down to square one, because the knowledge and awareness I’d acquired during Dry January were in place. But I definitely got back to a place of almost nightly drinking and felt weighed down by the complexities of “to drink or not to drink.” That is why I decided to start The Alcohol Experiment. Take another break, gain additional knowledge and awareness, and see where I come out.

Annie recommends reframing “mistakes” as “necessary experience.” I wanted to see how it felt to attempt moderation. And it didn’t feel so good. Lesson learned!

Now, the video in this lesson was an eye-opener for me. Annie discusses Dr. Daniel G. Amen’s “ANTs” – or Automatic Negative Thoughts. Annie reminds us that without awareness, we tend to believe our thoughts, many (most?) of which are negative. Getting stuck in negative thinking is bad for our bodies and brains – it literally messes with our biochemistry. Positive thinking, of course, has the opposite effect. Positive thinking makes us feel better physically and actually enhances brain function. Awareness is key in changing our negative thoughts to positive ones, and putting our conscious minds back in control.

Dr. Amen has identified six ANTs, and three Red ANTs (the really bad ones, y’all). Read the list below and think about how many of these ANTs have infested your brain, your body, your life:

1. All or Nothing – “I already opened the bottle and had a glass, so screw it, I’ll drink the whole bottle.” (YUP.)

2. Always Thinking – Overgeneralizing, and believing you are doomed no matter what. “Everyone drinks. I’ll never be able to escape it, so might as well just keep drinking.” (Yup.)

3. Focusing on the negative – Any Debbie Downers out there?

4. Thinking with your feelings – Assuming your feelings are truth instead of questioning them, e.g. “I’m sad/less patient/more stressed because I’m not drinking.”

5. Guilt beating – Using words like “should, must, have to” keeps us firmly planted at our own pity party. (OH HI.)

6. Labeling with negative names – “I’m fat. I’m a lush. I’m a crappy mom.” This is bad for you. Go figure! (UGH.)

And the Red ANTs:

7. Fortune-telling – “I will never be able to stop drinking.” Guess what? You’re right! When you predict the worst, your brain will make it happen. (Me.)

8. Mind-reading – Making up stories about what someone else is thinking. Ok here is my moment of crazy coincidence. For this ANT, Annie talks about how she recently attended her 20th high school reunion and how she had to be very aware of this ANT because otherwise she would think that her friends would think she was no longer fun, or that she was judgmental because she wasn’t drinking. And once we make up our minds about what someone else is thinking, we accept it as true. So, not only is this a major lightbulb (whenever my husband and I have a disagreement, we can usually trace it back to this ANT!); but this is also hugely timely for me because I am attending MY 20th high school reunion in just a couple of weeks! And I’m not planning to drink. How crazy is that?!

9. And the very worst ANT of all (drumroll please) is BLAME. Blaming your genes, your childhood, or anything else steals your control and makes you believe you are a powerless victim. And who wants to go through life like that? The blame game is always no bueno.

So now we’ve got these ANTs in our pants. What do we do?

When you think a negative thought, write it down. Take a hot second to pat yourself on the back for being aware and being awesome. Then figure out what type of ANT it is, and whip out your ANT-eater! Talk back to your ANT. Write down your retort. Destroy the mofo. And move on.

I feel a rush of empowerment absorbing all of this. Of course it will take practice but just the thought of being free of the negativity that has plagued me since I can remember thinking thoughts… it is utterly liberating.

Has anyone put this lesson into practice? Tell us about your ANT-eating successes!

[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]