No Self-Sabotage to See Here!

It’s the eve of our summer “vacation” (seeing as we are bringing both kids and dogs, I’m trying to be optimistic in using that word instead of “trip”) and I’m callin’ it: no self-sabotage here, folks!

I have earned a blue dot every day this week. I have worked out the last seven days in a row – I don’t know that I’ve EVER done that! My goal was to get out ahead of my vacation by  conserving Weeklies and racking up FitPoints, so that I not only start the week feeling svelte and energized, but also can be a little more indulgent with my food choices while we’re away. Achievement unlocked.

The pre-AF me was a self-sabotage expert. If I had an important event or date or trip coming up, I would promise myself that I wouldn’t drink (“detox before you re-tox” was one of my favorite sayings) and would eat clean in the days leading up to it. I made these promises, and then I broke them. Always. By stuffing my face and drinking too much. And then I’d feel disgusted and disappointed in myself, always, as I dug through my closet and tried to find something else to wear because the original outfit I had picked out did not flatter my wine belly. [Spoiler alert: nothing flatters a wine belly. Especially one complimented by a puffy face and shame-filled heart.]

I didn’t realize it then, but I see it now:

Promises made on a conscious level are easily broken by one’s subconscious if they are not aligned with one’s subconscious wiring.

I need to think of a zippier way to phrase that and I’m too tired to come up with it right now (plus I have a ton of packing to do tonight). But that’s it. Those deals I tried to strike with myself (“Don’t drink this week and then you can fit into your dress AND get wasted at so-and-so’s wedding on Saturday!”) were never going to work because my subconscious was never on board.

My subconscious was wired to drink. And eat junk food. And so that’s what I did, especially when I put pressure on myself to NOT do those very things. Willpower is a finite resource. I’m still toiling away at the rewiring, but I must be doing something right, because I can feel that long-ingrained habits are truly changing. As my daughter would say, HAL-LE-YOU-YA!

My daughter ascended a climbing wall for the first time today. When she got to the top she pushed a green button that set off a bright flashing light, to show that she made it, before she happily bounced off the wall and back down to the floor. After she made it to the top that first time, all of a sudden the wall was a lot less daunting. She pushed that green button several more times today, climbing with greater confidence each time.

This week has felt like a climbing wall to me. With our departure date waiting for me at the top, I strapped myself in, hooked myself up, and I climbed. I held onto every blue dot earned and every workout completed, each one getting me closer to that green button.

And now I’m here, at the top. I push the button. I take a deep breath. I glance down to see how far I’ve come. I take another breath, a pause to absorb how good it feels to have made it. Because once I’m back on the ground the green button will seem so high. But I’ve been here once, and I’ll be back. Next time, with greater confidence.

I bend my knees and push off the wall, bouncing down to the ground with a pride-filled heart.

Breathing in Grumpy Pants

Started the day off strong, with a mind-clearing dog walk and great Peloton ride. But then I must have unknowingly changed into my grumpy pants, because I am back in the same funk I have been fighting for the last few days.

The next three weeks – the last weeks before school starts! – are going to be routine-less. And that’s not how I prefer to roll. Tomorrow kicks off five days of Mama Camp, wherein I aim to create fun, magical days for my children because I want to have quality time with them slash feel guilty spending more money on camps. On Friday we depart for our summer vacation: a little over a week in a little cottage in a little town on a little island in Rhode Island. And then we come home, hopefully relaxed and renewed – is that possible when “vacationing” with two kids and two dogs? – and spend a week gearing up for the start of school.

And, actually, the real school routine won’t be rolling out for a couple of weeks after that due to my son’s preschool, which eases the kids in with teacher home visits and shortened classes and ughhhhhhh…

Breathe.

I love my kids. And someday I will look back and I will miss them being small enough to hold and snuggle. Someday “feehicarole” will be pronounced “vehicle” and that will be a little sad. Ushering these kids into proper childhood from teeter-tottering toddlerdom has been, on balance, an honor and a joy, mostly.

Breathe.

This is the point in the summer when it gets hard. And it’s ok to admit that it’s hard. I’m not the only one who struggles when routine is out the window. It’s hard on the kids too. And when they get exhausted from the relentlessly hot, sticky, and active days, I am the closest and safest target for their crankiness. By this point in the summer I’m basically walking around with one bullseye on my forehead and another on my heart.

Breathe.

I’m taking it too personally, the plentiful attitude and comparative lack of gratitude. My six-year-old, obsessed with fairness, is struggling with being kind when she sees other kids behaving much worse and still getting what they want. My four-year-old wants all of me all the time, underestimating his own capacity for creative play. Nothing I give either of them will ever be enough.

Breathe.

Because that’s parenthood, right? What kid has ever said, thank you, this is enough? I want my kids to be testing limits, experimenting with being kind and being twerps. Because that is how they will learn that the grass is realer on the kind side of the fence. The twerp side? Just turf. It may be green, but it’s fake. And there are more toys and treats on the kind side too, even if they might not be easy to see sometimes.

So where does this leave me? Breathing a little deeper than before I started typing. Feeling a little more empathy for these two little souls who are under my care. It’s tough being a kid, wanting to do and be and play with and create so many things all the time, and being bossed around by grown-ups who may or may not always know what they’re doing.

My husband sent me out of the house this afternoon, to work through and shake off my funk. I started typing this from the pedicure chair. By the time my watermelon toenails and I got home, my husband and kids had cleaned the playroom and started packing for our trip. When I walked in the door my husband was folding a load of laundry and the kids were quietly and calmly looking through cookbooks, picking out recipes they want to make while we’re away. With my husband’s prompting, both kids told me that the theme of this upcoming Mama Camp week is “appreciation.” Tears welled up in my eyes as my son told me that he is going to try to do more on his own and, when he does need help, he will be more polite in asking for it. My daughter said that she will stop stalling at bedtime (a major pet peeve of late) and that she will be more cooperative. In exchange, she’ll be allowed to leave her light on for 15 minutes – because, you know, fairness.

Breathe.

I have a wonderful family. And I hope these next few weeks ultimately serve as a reminder of that. If I start to veer back into my dreaded funk, I’ll come back to this entry and read it and remind myself to breathe some empathy back into my being.

P.S. to Self: Don’t forget how much worse ALL OF THIS would be if you were still drinking. How did you even work through funks when you were a Wine Mom? Oh, you didn’t. Not really. You just poured a glass of wine and sent your woes sinking to the bottom of the bottle. Then you’d finish the bottle, and there your woes would be, right back in your gut. But not anymore. Kudos to you. Keep after it.

Antsy, in Perspective

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

So. Antsy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.