Social Media Invincibility, Real Life Vulnerability

My One Year Alcohol-Free is over. I am still taking it all in (and going strong – 371 days and counting!). The simple fact that I did not drink alcohol for one full year is still settling itself contentedly into my brain. At the same time, I am emerging into the world as a non-drinker. My legs are a bit wobbly but I can feel that they are strong. I’m ready to stand, to walk, to run into this new life I’ve created for myself. What I’m finding, though, is that toggling between social media and real life is raising my vulnerability to a simmer.

After I posted on July 4, I celebrated Independence Day (both the national one and my own) with my clan and our extended family in New Hampshire. I took a couple of days to read and respond to the comments that were left on my Connect and Instagram posts, both of which had trended for a hot second. Thousands of strangers (and a handful of IRL friends) took the time to read my words and hundreds wrote messages of support and celebration. I was just chuffed. Weeeee! I did this amazing thing and all these people are so excited for me!!!

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When we got back to New York on Sunday, I went to the grocery store and ran into two friends, each of whom congratulated me on reaching my one-year milestone. These congratulations felt different from what I’d received online. I may have blushed. I stifled the urge to downplay my achievement or dismiss their compliments, instead blurting out “Thank you so much!” Inside, I was not doing the happy dance brought about by strangers’ praise on social media. Inside, I was flailing, trying to hold onto my pride and confidence as these face-to-face interactions kicked up a gnarly dust cloud of insecurity.

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Yesterday, the social media maven from my kickboxing gym messaged me on Instagram to ask if she could repost my photos from days 364 and 365. I replied, without hesitation, “Yes of course!! I’m proud of it! Thank you for asking!!” Once again I felt the chuffed butterflies in my stomach. I was being recognized and celebrated for accomplishing an awesome goal. Good for me!

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When I arrived at my kickboxing class today, my first class since before the 4th of July, my instructor came over to give me a hug. “I’m not much of a social media person,” she said, “so I had no idea what you were doing. But I saw your post on our Instagram. Huge congrats to you, girl! That is amazing!” A few minutes later, after our warm-up, one of my classmates also complimented me, having seen the Instagram post as well. Fluster, flail. “Thank you so much!” was again my canned reply. Before I could stop myself, I added something like, “You know, my son is getting on the school bus in September and so I just felt like I wanted to achieve something big, something for me, before both my kids are in school full-time.”

I’m not sure what babble came out of my mouth. What I really wanted to say – to her, and to my instructor, and to my two friends I saw in the grocery store, and to my extended family with whom we spent the 4th of July – is “I SWEAR I’M NOT AN ALCOHOLIC! I DID NOT HAVE A SERIOUS DRINKING PROBLEM WITH A CAPITAL ‘P’! I WAS JUST A WINE MOM! NO BIGGIE! NOTHING TO SEE HERE!”

Except: it is a biggie. And I do want people to see me and know about my accomplishment. It’s just easier to put myself out there in front of strangers instead of family and friends. It’s easier to throw a selfie and some deep thoughts into the void of social media, where I can ignore or delete comments that I don’t like and bask in the glow of the ones I do, than it is to explain to a table full of my family members why I decided to embark on a year without booze and how I benefitted from it. No matter how proud I feel, talking about my journey in real life to friends and family is still hard. Alcohol is a fickle fiend that ingratiates itself with everyone differently. Alcohol is a loaded topic, and I feel a lot less in control and a lot more vulnerable when I talk about it in real time to real people.

Quick! Somebody call Brené Brown! I need to feel good about being so damn vulnerable!

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
-Brené Brown

Phew. Ok. That’s better.

People, whether online or IRL, are going to think what they are going to think. I cannot control what others will infer from or project onto me. All I can do is own my truth and share it.

I have chosen to share my story because it keeps me accountable and because I want to help others. I never want another mom to feel as broken and shame-swamped as I did. If reading my words gives one person the nudge he or she needs to commit to making a positive change, that is well worth putting myself out there – both online and in real life.

Day 365: Independence Day

525,600 minutes
525,600 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
– Jonathan Larson

I am one year alcohol-free. My life is forever changed. My body is forever changed. My brain is forever changed.

I am no longer beholden to a shame-swollen habit that once felt inescapable. This year has been an incredible journey –

From gray to technicolor
From isolation to connection
From guilt to grace
From self-loathing to self-love
From vicious cycle to virtuous cycle
From powerless to empowered.

This year of my life cannot be measured in hangovers or wine bottles or shame spirals. How do I measure this year? I measure in strength, in connection, and, yes, in love.

What comes next? I have spent this year recording, reflecting, and receiving. Now it’s time to take action. I’m going to start working on my book. I am ready to assume the title of writer/sober supermom.

Yeah, I think AF life is my jam. So I’m sticking with it. Life is just too darn awesome without booze and I am simply not interested in drinking anymore. It is simple now, not drinking – but starting this journey was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Difficult evolved into easy evolved into simple. I wasn’t sure it would be possible for me, but here I am.

I’ve got pride to spare today, and I offer some to you. Wherever you are in your journey – whether you have decades of sobriety under your belt or are sober curious or anywhere in between – please know that by reading my posts, and commenting with your feedback and support, you have had a direct and profound impact on me. You have helped me believe in myself. You have taught me the power of vulnerability and connection.

I still can’t quite believe I’m here. I used to envision Day 365 as the act of tying a big red bow around a box containing the gift that this year has been. But now that I’m here, on Independence Day (a delightful double connotation for me!), I realize that this year is not the kind of gift that can be contained in a box tied with a bow. Because I am not the kind of person who settles for boxed life anymore.

Alcohol kept me contained. Isolated. Alcohol kept my life small, my movement limited, my vision dark. Alcohol fed my shame and self-doubt as it starved me of confidence and self-worth.

This year blew the lid off my life.

Today is Independence Day, and I am truly free.

Looking Back on Day One from Day 360

It has been three hundred and sixty days since I last consumed alcohol (YAHOO!). Something about hitting this number spurred me to go back and read my post from Day One.

Here is what I wrote on July 5, 2018:

I woke this morning with a dry mouth and puffy face, the result of two margaritas and a few sips of wine: my last alco-hurrah before embarking on my 52-week experiment in sobriety. I had planned to drink one last glass of Sauvignon Blanc to say farewell to my drinking days. But by the time I got to it I already felt queasy from the margaritas and zillion tortilla chips (because ‘Merica) so I could only manage a few measly sips.

It was a good ending note, actually. I could have done without the nausea but it was reassuring (in an albeit unpleasant way). I had planned to have a few drinks, to celebrate Independence Day and my own impending independence from alcohol. But my body didn’t want ’em. There will be less to miss, I think, now that I know I’m no longer capable of “having a few drinks” the way I used to “have a few drinks…” every night.

I have had Sauvignon Blanc, my shining beacon of fabulosity, on a pedestal for the last several years. She has been my savior, my salve, my BFF. She has comforted me, chilled me out, lifted me up.

Except she’s a devil in disguise. A fraud broad. A knockoff handbag sold out of a trash bag on Broadway. At least that’s how she has been revealed to me. Everybody is different. But my body is onto her, even if my still-smitten brain wants to give her another chance. And another.

For the next 365 days, that won’t be an option. I’m locking the door to my mental trophy room and letting the key fall into the bottomless pit of my mom bag, to rest among the half-crayons, Hot Wheels, and used tissues.

Why am I doing this now?

My gut has announced that now is the time. I have a year before my son starts kindergarten. So, a year to figure my shit out so that I don’t feel completely gutted when he struts onto the school bus. That same September, in 2019, I’ll be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m still a couple of years away from turning 40, but I want to lay the groundwork now to feel amazing by then.

I am closer than I have ever been to my best body ever. And I have been doing Weight Watchers for long enough now to know that I can’t effectively address my eating issues (read: battle the sugar-and-salt monster) with the shadow of alcohol looming over me. Willpower is a finite resource, after all.

As the phase of early motherhood comes to an end for me, I need to be able to think clearly and creatively about where I’m heading. I know I can’t do that if I continue to be seduced by Sauv B. Those days are over. For now. Maybe forever. But definitely for now. And I have a feeling that if I ever chose to open that door again, I’ll find Sauv B’s pedestal has crumbled to dust.

***

Reading this tonight, on Day 360, I am simply overcome with gratitude and relief. I am grateful to my 37-year-old self for being so damn honest and brave. I am relieved that so much of what I hoped to get out of this year has indeed come to fruition.

Best body ever? Check.

Daring to battle the sugar monster and salt hag? Check.

Increased clarity and creativity? Yup.

Figuring out my sh*t? On it.

En route to feeling fabulous at 40? Fo sho.

And the pedestal on which I once held my beloved sauvignon blanc? It crumbled weeks ago, the dust blown away by the winds of change. The empty space it left in my “mental trophy room” has been filled with beaming new beacons:

Self-confidence. Self-worth. Self-love. Empathy. Energy. Clarity. Creativity. Connection. Grace. And so much more.

My mental trophy room’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

A Dear Sugar Letter

Dear Sugar*,

It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually, it IS you, you tantalizing tempter. You crave-inducing killer. You are always delicious and occasionally truly divine. You are simultaneously ubiquitous and stealthy. You have always been there for me, yet were never what I actually needed. And that is exactly why I need to take a break.

You have been part of my life since I can remember, and some of my fondest memories are forever intertwined with you. Pan di Stelle gelato in Sorrento while on vacation with my husband. Cadbury chocolate straight from the factory in Uxbridge while on a field trip with my MBA class. Chelsea buns in Cambridge. Scones with clotted cream in London. The world’s best homemade ice cream and fresh waffle cones a stone’s throw from my in-laws’ home in Massachusetts. The jar of Nutella I would buy every week at Shaws after mommy-and-me class, my infant daughter snoozing away in her stroller as we walked home to our apartment in Boston’s South End. My son’s ninja-themed, Oreo-buttercreamed birthday cake, which he sliced (while supervised) with a samurai sword when he had just turned four.

Sugar, I will always love you. But right now I gotta say bye.

See, you taste so good but you hurt so bad. You send me soaring but are never there to catch me when I fall. You never fail to delight my senses, but neither do you fail to bloat my belly. You make me feel like a million bucks, then leave me feeling less than. A moment of ecstasy, then you’re gone – and I’m inevitably bombarded by an onslaught of dehydration, fatigue, and guilt.

Oh the guilt! How have I lived with it all these years? I’ll tell you how. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t believe I deserved to feel any better. I kept coming back again and again in the myriad moments where I felt weak and out of control and powerless and fat and stressed and tired.

I know better now. And you can thank your friend the wine witch for my newly enlightened state. I’ve traded guilt for grace. I know your secrets. I know how the mere promise of you releases dopamine in my brain, making me feel pleasure before you’ve even passed my lips. I know that you will always leave me wanting more. I will never be satisfied as long as I seek satisfaction from the likes of you.

So I need to look elsewhere for awhile. I need to remind us both who wears the leggings in this relationship. Yes, I will most certainly fall into the embrace of your natural counterparts. But frozen mango has more to offer than your empty promises (and calories).

I will also be looking beyond food. I will write. I will track. I will be present. I will move. I will hydrate. I will strive to become an amateur urge-surfer. And I will progress from there.

Sugar, you will always be part of my life. I can’t imagine celebrating my one year alcohol-free on July 4 without you. But it’s goodbye for now. Because I’m worth it.

With love, will, and grace,

Jen

*Added and artificial, not natural. I’m not that much of a masochist.

Boxing Over Boozing

I went back to my MMA gym today for my 3rd kickboxing class of the week, and I’ll be back again tomorrow – a new record for myself! I have never done more than three kickboxing classes in a week. But this week’s schedule (or lack thereof) has allowed me to get over there a bunch, and I’m loving it.

To think, I almost never tried kickboxing because of a hangover.

My kids had been doing karate at this gym for several months when the manager approached me one afternoon and said I should try the adult class. This was October 2017, and I was stuck in what I did not realize was the nadir of my #winemom drinking days. I admitted to him that I had always wanted to try kickboxing, but used my Peloton as an excuse. “I don’t know if I can justify spending any more money on fitness,” I said.

“Well, here’s a coupon for one week of free classes. Let me know when you want to come in,” he replied, ignoring my lame excuse as any good salesperson would.

The coupon was set to expire on November 1. I procrastinated all of October. Also, FYI, the night before November 1 is Halloween. And I couldn’t accompany my kids trick-or-treating without my Tervis full of wine, obviously. So November 1 rolled around, and my coupon expired because of my Halloween hangover.

I showed up to the gym a couple days later to take my kids to their class. The manager asked me where I had been and why I didn’t start my trial week yet. I made some joke about drinking too much on Halloween, shame singeing my insides as I said it.

“So when did you say you’re going to start?” He asked.

“Umm… next week?”

“Ok. I’ll extend your offer for one more week.”

I can’t remember if I drank the night before my first class. If I did, I’m sure I used Herculean willpower to limit myself to one or two glasses of wine so that I could be in good enough shape to make it through. I don’t remember exactly what drills we did, or how many people were in the class with me. I do remember my hamstrings seizing up as they attempted to squat for the first time in months (years?). I remember hating how out of shape I felt. And I remember how much I freaking loved kicking and punching the crap out of that red heavy bag, despite having no clue what I was doing.

My passion for kickboxing ignited that day, in that very first class, and it continues to grow.

It was not long after I started kickboxing regularly that I realized my new passion for martial arts was in direct conflict with my passion for sauvignon blanc. If I drank the night before a class, it was a slog and I felt disgusting. If I didn’t drink, it was a blast and I felt powerful.

I have no doubt that my passion for kickboxing helped nudge me toward my commitment to Dry January that December. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dry January was the start of my alcohol-free journey that has led me here, to Day 345 of 365 (and beyond). I’m not sure I would be where I am if that gym manager hadn’t encouraged me. And even if he only did it to make a buck, I am still grateful to him for scratching out 11/1 and writing a new expiry date on that coupon.

11 Months Down, One Month to Go

11 months down, one month to go. This year has gone so fast, and yet I also feel light years away from where I was when I made my first OYAF post last July 5.

Today I celebrated with self-care:
6am Book Club for One – my favorite way to start the day
Kickboxing class – grueling and gratifying
Venom allergy shots – I like to tell my kids I’ll have superpowers at the end of this protocol
Annual eye doctor appointment – done
Date night with my husband – yay

I took good care of myself today, plain and simple. I did not reward myself with food (which is a huge win for me) yet I do not feel deprived. I feel full in my stomach and my heart.

At 11 months alcohol-free, with one month remaining in my year-long contract with myself, I also feel acutely aware. I am aware that I am accomplishing something important. I am aware that this year will be over before I know it. I am aware that I want to feel energized, strong, and svelte when day 365 dawns.

There is a bridge near me called the Tappan Zee, which spans the Hudson River at one of its widest points to connect Rockland and Westchester counties. The Tappan Zee Bridge used to be a nightmare, constantly congested with traffic. Over the past few years, a new bridge has been built beside the old one. The new bridge is clean and wide, with so many lanes that it’s now a pleasure to cross. It’s functioning better than the old one ever did.

The last time I crossed the new bridge, I noticed that some of the old Tappan Zee is still there, sitting on barges in the middle of the Hudson, awaiting deconstruction or demolition. While the breathtaking new bridge has been up and running for months now, the old bridge, it turns out, is still being dismantled.

New Drone Photos of Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
Tappan Zee Bridge, old and new. Photo credit: New York State Thruway Authority

That’s pretty much how I feel at 11 months alcohol-free. I have spent this year building my alcohol-free self. Here I stand: strong, sturdy, clean, open. But at the same time, my old subconscious pathways – the well-worn connections in my brain between alcohol and reward/comfort/courage/stress relief – are still there. While I have begun the long and intricate process of systematic dismantling, parts of the pathways remain. Work continues. But it’s peaceful work. No dynamite – just quiet, critical work.

There will still be occasional traffic and fender benders on the new Tappan Zee Bridge. A sound structure alone cannot guarantee stress-free travel. But the journey is going to be a heck of a lot smoother from now on.

Five Weeks To Go

Day 330. Five weeks to go. Holy smokes.

Just five more weeks until I emerge from my protective bubble of my one year alcohol-free. Five weeks until alcohol is technically an option again. Five weeks until “I’m taking a year off drinking” turns into…

I’m still not sure. And that is ok.

I am beginning, very gingerly, to take stock of this year and reflect on everything I have experienced with a completely clear head and heart – and without the crutch/perceived lubricant/numbing agent of alcohol. My preliminary conclusion is that a lot happens in a year. And I am down-into-my-bones grateful to have lived it all.

Because that’s what I have accomplished. I have lived this year. I may have buried my face in a bag of small batch artisanal tortilla chips more than a few times, but I have no lost nights. No fuzzy memories. No embarrassing drunken social media posts or text messages. I have been present. I have shown up. I have acheived a perfect attendance record for 330 days and counting.

I have felt exquisite pain and exquisite joy. I have felt legit stress and #firstworldproblem stress. I have been a supermom and I have had my share of #momfails. I own it all.

I still have work to do. And when this year is up, fittingly on Independence Day (I swear I didn’t plan that!), I will still have work to do. Life work. Self work. I now realize what a privilege it is to be able to do this work. I don’t plan on running away from it again.

Courage, compassion, and connection: these are what Brené Brown calls “The Gifts of Imperfection.” I am going to spend the next five weeks embracing my imperfection. And then after that I’m going to spend the rest of my life embracing my imperfection.

Where will alcohol fit into this?

Here’s the thing. I can’t think of a single instance where consuming alcohol would have improved upon any moment of these past 47 weeks. Yes, I have had fleeting pangs of longing, but they all just dissolved into nothing. Not a single pang took root and grew into regret. Not a one.

So right now, as of day 330, I am peering out from the safety of my OYAF bubble, proud of all that I have achieved but relieved to have five more weeks to boss up. Before I know it, this year will be done. The bubble will pop, and out I will step into a world where alcohol is back on the table.

I’m scared. Part of me is tempted to declare another year off. But I’m also curious. I’m curious to see how much strength I’ve gained. I’m curious to see if I have the guts to be a non-drinker in a big-drinking world. I have never been one to swim against the tide. But now I will choose to do just that.

Because I’m not going to go back to where I was. I love my AF self and my AF life too much. I’m all in.