In Which I Wear a Bikini and Receive a Compliment

A simple, git ‘er done kind of day. My husband is finally feeling a little bit better but was still out of commission so I took the kids to their swim lessons in the morning and then to the big pool in the afternoon.

I have been really disciplined with my eating this week (hello, #lifetimeorbust) so I decided to wear a bikini top with boy shorts to the pool. Even though I decided back in June to own #bikinigoals, my self-consciousness is so deeply ingrained (and my eating has been so all over the place) that I have only worn a bikini a handful of times since then. Which is still more than I ever have in a single summer. But anyway. For me, wearing a two-piece suit is still a thing. I don’t want it to be, but it is. For now.

While I was in the pool with my doggy-paddling son, a mom friend waded over to me and this is what she said:

“Jen, your body is SICK. Seriously, I mean it. SICK. What do you do to look like that?”

Eek! A compliment! About my BODY, of all things! What do I do?!

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much. You’ve made my day. I do kickboxing three times a week and I have a Peloton. Oh, and I’ve also given up alcohol for a year so that’s part of it too.”

Hold up. Did I actually just ACCEPT a compliment about my BODY??? Without putting myself down, or making excuses, or even just rejecting it outright?

Whenever the pre-Weight Watchers me would get a compliment, my initial response was almost always some sort of self-deprecating put-down. Which of course insulted not only me but also the compliment-giver.

“I love your outfit, Jen.”

“Oh this? I got it on super-sale at Target because it was the only thing that fit and did I mention I haven’t showered for three days?”

“Your hair looks nice today, Jen.”

“Ugh well that’s because I just had it done for the first time in like two months. It never looks like this normally. Did I mention I have more grays than my husband who is five years older than I am?”

But not today, people. Today I was given the gift of a wonderful and genuine compliment on something I have worked very, very hard to achieve. And instead of spitting on it and handing it back, I accepted it with grateful, open hands and heart.

Progress!

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.

Practically Speaking, FU Bees

FU bees.

In appreciation of One Year Alcohol Free on a very practical level:

Yesterday evening I decided to be a Puppy Supermama and, despite having 20 other things to do – including feeding my human children, because, you know, priorities – I gave our puppy a good run-around play session in our front yard.

I don’t know if it was me or Fred, but one of us seriously pissed off some yellow jackets. I got stung first on my thigh. I tried to get Fred out of the yard. The poor guy yelped in pain as he was stung on his way back inside the house. I made it inside only to get stung again, on my thumb. A bee was stuck in my clothes and ended up stinging me twice more before flying away. The whole charade scared the crap out of my kids and had me (and Fred) wincing in serious pain.

And then my throat started to get itchy. I chugged some water. Didn’t help. Itchier. And then I realized I was having an allergic reaction. I was allergic to bees as a child, so this was a little alarming. While trying to play it cool in front of my kids, I slammed back a dose of Children’s Benadryl and cursed myself for recently cleaning out our medicine cabinet and tossing anything (ahem, adult Benadryl) that had expired, no matter how recently.

Trying not to panic, I got my kids in the shower and the bedtime routine rolling. As I was reading to my son, my husband came home from work – with a 101-degree fever. Totally woozy and barely functioning. So there we were: me, reading The Three Billy Goats Gruff to my son while silently praying for the Benadryl to kick in and panicking that my throat was going to close up on me. My husband, passed out in bed, his body breaking down on him after the extreme stress of losing his father one week ago. We were a hot mess.

The Benadryl did kick in after another dose. And I’m fine today. The bites are itchy but manageable. My sweet hubby is still feverish but he took a sick day and is recovering. Due to recent events I can’t even make fun of what a wimp he is when he gets sick. It’s just sad. But he’ll be ok.

Here’s what occurred to me this morning, as I was replaying the events of yesterday evening (and you probably know where this is headed):

What if I had been drinking?

How would the alcohol have interacted with the Benadryl? (Not well.) What if my allergic reaction had been worse and I had to drive myself and my kids, since I was home alone with them, to the hospital? (Eek.) What if I’d had to call an ambulance? (YIKES.)

Or even if my allergic reaction had been similarly mild, what if my husband came home sick as a dog to a wife who had been drinking and downing Benadryl? What would that have been like for him, to have to worry about me and our kids under my care, while feeling so ill himself?

I shudder to think about it. Because if this were last summer, I would have been drinking. And a scary situation would have been a lot scarier.

So today I am grateful for being alcohol-free on this very practical level. I am grateful that I was sober and aware and able to take care of myself and my family. I am grateful that I could act quickly and soundly. I am grateful that my anxiety did not spiral out of control.

And most of all, I am grateful that we are all on the mend.

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.

Drinkbooza, Meet Noexcusa

After a weekend that was both soul-soothing (good company) and overly indulgent (good food), I kicked my butt back on track with a kickboxing double-header this morning. It felt great and I’m very proud of myself for going!

But I almost didn’t. Because I forgot my water bottle. Because of the on again off again rainforest-style downpours. Because I’m tired from the weekend. Because I have to get organized for my trip. Because because because.

There are always excuses, aren’t there? I used to be a frequent rider on the excuse train – a hangover being one of my most-used reasons for not doing whatever task I felt like avoiding.

I actually almost didn’t try kickboxing at all. Last October, the manager of the MMA gym where my kids take their classes gave me a coupon for two free adult classes. I procrastinated. I had always wanted to try martial arts but never felt fit enough. I can also be a weenie when it comes to trying new things, perfectionist that I am. The coupon was set to expire on November 1 – the day after Halloween.

I don’t dress up for Halloween these days, but my husband wore a Chewbacca suit he’d gotten as a gag gift. I walked around our neighborhood with my family, some neighbors and friends. While the kids trick-or-treated, a bunch of us moms carried cups that said “I’m here for the Boos” – filled with wine of course. I took a selfie of me and my husband and captioned it, “Chewbacca and Drinkbooza.”

I cringed when I typed that. My, how times have changed!

The coupon expired. Because I was too hungover for class on November 1.

Thankfully, the gym manager gave me a hard time about it. I copped to my Halloween hangover and he made a polite joke about how kickboxing is good for detoxing. (Again, I cringe!) Then he agreed to extend the offer for one more week. I went to class the next day, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I’m grateful to him for not letting me hide behind excuses. And I will never let a hangover, or a forgotten water bottle, or a summer downpour, or any other wimpy excuse stand in the way of my health and workout goals. Being fit feels too damn good.

Drinkbooza, meet Noexcusa. She’s gonna kick your butt.

Flying Solo and Sober

A week from today, universe willing, I will be eating Nutella out of a glass jar as I rally against jet lag and soak up the sun (or, more likely, seek shelter from the rain) in Cambridge, England. It is my 10th MBA reunion, and this sober stay-at-home mom is flying solo y’all.

My husband was the one who encouraged me to go. Of course, he really had to twist my arm to get me to book a trip by myself across the pond to spend two and a half days in one of my favorite places on the planet. And then, of course, he booked himself a week-long solo sojourn to indulge in one of his many hobbies involving machinery and tools and making stuff. Sigh. At least I’ll get to catch up on all my shows. But anyway.

Thursday to Sunday. A quick, precious, jet-lagged journey of nostalgia and reconnection and contemplation lies ahead of me and I can’t wait.

While I feel very distant from the person I was during my MBA program (a decade younger, newly engaged to my now-husband, and driven to become a CEO of a non-profit), I am excited to go back. I may be the only unemployed person there. I will not be drinking at the gala dinner or partaking in any pints at my favorite pub. I will own these choices – my choice to stay at home to raise my kids and my choice to not drink.

I have chosen to stay home with my kids over having a career, despite spending one year of my life (and a lot of our money) earning a Masters in Business Administration. Do I want to return to work one day? Yes. What do I want to do? I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to leave a positive mark on the world; and in the meantime, I have put my heart and soul into raising two awesome humans. I’m doing a really good job, too (my son’s camp counselor told me so) and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Except for all the wine I drank along the way.

Well, would I change that, if I could? I’m actually not so sure. Because if I hadn’t gotten to the point where I started to question my drinking, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would still be treading in the booze pool. I would still be waking up in the morning feeling puffy and achy and groggy, swearing today will be a wine-free day, only to pour the inevitable first glass when the witching hour strikes. Day after day, denying myself the energy and health and creativity and eyes-wide-open lust for life that I have now.

I may be ten years older than I was when I walked the cobblestone streets of this 800-year-old university and absorbed with vigor all things business (except accounting – I cried my way through accounting). But my heart feels ten times bigger. My brain feels ten times more curious, my mind ten times more open.

So, no regrets. And what a relief it is that I won’t feel the need to drink. There will be no mental volleying back and forth over whether wine will help me sleep on the overnight flight. There will be no risk of over-imbibing or having to depend on friends to get me back to my dorm(!) room. Booze is off the table and that feels right to me right now.

Instead, there will be full, raw, real emotion. And there will be clear, wonderful memories. Even awkwardness (I’m anticipating some awkwardness as I try to communicate my deal to some of these folks) will be wonderful in its way – here I am, in this group of high achieving leaders in business, owning my choice to not be a high achieving leader in business.

So, what am I? I am a mom. I am an athlete. I am a blogger. I am a volunteer. I am a pillar of love and security in my little family. I am a force of goodness in the world. A small but mighty force of goodness.

If I do say so myself. I’m owning it.

And yes, Nutella does taste better out of a glass jar. And no, I will not be tracking it. I’m owning that choice, too.

A Booze-Free Birthday and Bonus Bootcamp

Last weekend my husband and I managed to flee to NYC for 21 kid-free hours (but who was counting) to celebrate his birthday. We wandered, shopped, ate, talked, and reconnected in a way that is only possible when you are not being bombarded by tiny humans all day long. It was absolutely lovely.

It was also the first milestone of my one year alcohol-free: a sober birthday celebration. At dinner, my husband had a glass of white wine with his salad and a glass of red with his steak. Besides a fleeting pang when he ordered that Sancerre, I felt confident not drinking and grateful to be experiencing an AF birthday dinner for the first time… since I was pregnant? Probably. With my own birthday coming up in a few months, this was a successful test round.

And of course it was way more than that. It was everything the books and blogs and Instas say AF life can be. It was clear, authentic connection and contentment. It was romantic. It was reassuring. “Not only is this person still my best friend, but I love him now more than ever and our relationship is better than ever,” were the cheesy but damn true thoughts going through my head.

We talked about my choice to live a year without alcohol. Though my husband has always had an easy breezy relationship with booze, I can tell that he is really trying to understand where I’m coming from. He also accepts, without judgment, the fact that I view ditching alcohol as critical to the self-exploration I am feeling called to do right now. At one point, he used the word “rebirth” to describe my entrance into this new phase of my life – his word, not mine! It’s a loaded term, but I think I’ll try it on for size.

So: wonderful, romantic dinner followed by a wonderful, romantic walk around downtown Manhattan. A perfect night, and I remember it all, blah blah blah. I’ll pull the plug on the broken record of giddiness here. But it really was that real and good and lovely.

Because this birthday celebration would not be a boozefest, I’d booked a bootcamp class at the new Peloton Tread studio on Sunday morning. My husband exemplifies the saying “boys and their toys” and has already put down a deposit on a Tread, so we had been meaning to get to a class and try it out. And even though we got our asses handed to us, we patted ourselves on the back (interesting visual, that) for actually being those people who included a bootcamp class in a romantic birthday weekend celebration. Good for us!

I cannot remind myself enough of how far I have come. Not to toot my own horn, but to keep me motivated and focused and present and grateful. If I were still drinking, I probably would not have even booked that Peloton Tread class because of the expected hangover.

I used to believe that alcohol was a necessary and integral part of a fun evening out. I believed this wholeheartedly. Because I didn’t know any better. Because my subconscious had been wired that way. And that’s the basis on which I operated personally, socially, romantically.

When I first started this work, committing to Dry January and reading A Happier Hour and then This Naked Mind, I didn’t believe Rebecca and Annie when they told me how much fun an alcohol-free social life can be. I wanted to believe them, but “sober” and “fun” just did not coexist in my book.

Now, I’m a believer. I’ve drunk the un-spiked Kool-Aid and it tastes better than I ever thought possible. It’s not only improving my body and mind; it’s improving my marriage, too. Life is good AF.