Life Lessons from My Kids, Part 2: How to Handle Heartbreak

Yesterday was unexpectedly emotional and I am typing this through eyes made puffy from plentiful tears and with a heart that is broken but bursting with love.

My almost-7-year-old daughter had her belt test for her mixed martial arts class. Both of my kids have been studying MMA for almost two years, and their coach is the best extracurricular instructor they have had in any activity they’ve tried. Yesterday my daughter earned her orange belt, and she is the top-ranked student in her level. She was also one of only two girls that tested yesterday. She has thrived under the coaching – and, more, the mentorship – of her teacher.

After the belt ceremony, the director of the MMA school gifted the coach with a beautiful samurai sword. And then he dropped the proverbial hammer: the sword was a goodbye gift, as the coach is leaving the school at the end of this year.

A boy sitting near me burst into tears. My eyes welled up as my heart sank into the padded floor of the studio. I looked at my daughter, whose face registered confusion, then shock, then devastation. She looked at me and we both let the tears fall.

That’s when my daughter’s heart broke for the first time.

And mine broke for her, and for my son too. The departure of their beloved coach is a profound loss for our family, and we will be feeling it for a long, long time.

We will be feeling it. Feeling it – not numbing it, not quashing it, not burying it, not running from it.

Feeling it. That is what we did yesterday afternoon. After more tears and hugs and pictures with their coach (pictures that make well up every time I look at them, because my sweet kids and their wonderful coach are trying so hard to smile but they are all crying) we promptly went out for ice cream. It helped a little, as ice cream does.

At bedtime, my daughter asked me to lay down with her for a few minutes so we could snuggle and talk some more. And I hope I never forget what she said through her last tears of the day:

“I feel like my heart is getting bigger. Every time someone leaves my heart it cracks and grows bigger. And someone else will come in and fill it back up.”

When a heart breaks, it grows.

This is what happens when we allow ourselves to feel pure, true, profound sadness: growth. Space for more love to fill the void left in the wake of a broken heart.

I have spent so much of my life trying to numb sadness. Enough of that. I’m going to take a cue from my daughter and let new love in instead.

Life Lessons from My Kids, Part 1: Self-Care

These are good days. There is pain, there is fatigue, there is a crazy holiday season happening around us. But my son and I have battened down the hatches and we are weathering his post-tonsillectomy recovery together.

For the last four days we have been in our mellow little home bubble. Lots of TV, Legos, and ice cream for him. Lots of cooking, Peloton, and to do list-ticking for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this time. But I think it happened now because we both needed a break. My son was worn down from years of restless sleep due to ginormous tonsils. He needed to have them removed. I was worn down from months of busy routine regularly interrupted by hectic breaks from routine. I needed to wipe the calendar clean.

We both needed this time. And we will both emerge from it as improved versions of ourselves.

As heart-wrenching as it has been to see my son in pain, I have been amazed and inspired by his quiet bravery, strength and persistence. He’s just getting through it. He’s letting himself rest. He’s taking his medicine. He’s eating when he’s hungry, and hydrating as much as he can.

Seems simple enough. But somewhere along the path of growing up, these self-care ideals get lost. Maybe not for everyone, but they did for me. Rest when you’re worn-down. Take medicine if you’re in too much physical pain. Eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re no longer hungry. Hydrate. And then hydrate some more. That’s it. Do these things, and you give your body a chance to heal and operate at its best.

But life happens. Subconscious wires are re-routed to form connections between food and comfort, between drugs (including alcohol) and emotional pain. These and other detours become our new regular routes. Simple self-care is unlearned as our original neural pathways fray, and then crumble, without regular maintenance and use.

So this week I am taking a lesson from my son and focusing on basic self-care. I have eaten well and exercised every day since Sunday. I have kept up with my hydration. And I have felt zero temptation to drink alcohol. A year ago, the mere thought of a house-bound week with my son would have been enough to send me to my wine fridge. Now, the wine witch is not even a whisper in my ear. I have taken great care of myself this week so that I can take great care of my son. I am proud of both of us.

I have never admired my son more than I have this week. He is just such a good, sweet guy. And I feel more motivated than ever to be the best mom I can be. Because that is what he and my daughter deserve. They deserve me at my best. And so do I.

Quiet Liberation from an Unwanted Libation

I was planning to go out with some lovely mom friends tonight. One of them was going to host at her house, but then she decided that we should all just meet out at a bar instead.

I was going to go, I swear. I can totally go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and hang with wine-drinking mom friends and have fun. Totally.

But then last week happened – a pre-Christmas visit from my dad and stepmom, which was fun but busy and there was more alcohol poured in my house in four days than there has been in the last four months.

And then this week happened – on Monday, my son had his tonsils and adenoids out. A routine procedure for the expert ENT surgeon, a scary and anxiety-producing morning for us. Then my poor hubby worked past midnight the last two nights. So I basically haven’t seen him since I was sobbing into his sweater as he held our 60-pound four-year-old who was thrashing and writhing and screaming his way out of anesthesia on Monday morning.

I was going to go out tonight. Really, I was. But what is more important to me right now is having some time with my husband and getting a good night’s sleep so I can continue to take the best possible care of our son.

Excuses, all of the above. I admit it.

Because while I CAN go to a bar and order a club soda with lime and have fun with my wine-drinking mom friends, it still takes a lot of energy to psych myself up for it. Energy that, right now, I ain’t got.

What energy I do have, right now, is best directed toward helping my son through his recuperation.

So I chose energy conservation and husband time tonight (he had to get on a work call at 9 but we squeezed in some good conversation before that). My mom friends were very understanding, of course.

I don’t feel any FOMO or any regret, not being out tonight. It’s just not the right time. And that’s ok.

What I do feel is a quiet liberation. I don’t have the wherewithal to fully process it right now. I won’t be shouting from any rooftops. But here’s what is true: I not only had no desire to go out to a bar tonight, I had no desire to drink AT ALL. Not there, not here. There was no wine witch whispering, “Just one glass, or maybe two, and you will feel so much happier and more relaxed.”

There was just me, examining the situation and making the best decision for me. A deceptively simple achievement, that. Because therein lies the freedom I once thought I’d lost forever.

Outshining Broken Bulbs at 150 Days

Stringing the lights on the Christmas tree is one of my least favorite tasks of the year. Not to sound Grinchy, but I always end up doing it by myself, getting poked by myriad needles while trying not to be toppled by a nine-foot fir.

Tonight, my daughter asked if she could help me. And, lo and behold, my little stringbean ninja turned out to be the key to successful light-stringing! The process was painless (save for a few inevitable pokes) and a fun bonding moment. I was grateful to finally have a wingwoman to support me through this dreaded but critical Christmas task.

Then she plugged in the lights. And the top 1/4 of the tree did not work.

I could consider the whole effort a failure. I could give up, rip the lights off the tree and let it ruin my night. I could buy a new strand of lights to try to hide the broken ones. I could.

But I’m not going to do any of those things. I talked about it with my daughter and she said, “Well, it’s still a great tree even if some of the lights don’t work.” And she’s right.

I’m struggling with eating right now. But I do not consider myself a failure. I am not going to give up and let the sugar monster ruin my night. I am not going to try to hide the fact that I am struggling. And I know that I am still great even if my relationship with sugar is not working.

A year ago, I was struggling with drinking. What if I had given up then? What if I had let the wine witch ruin my night, and eventually my life? What if I had continued to hide the fact that I was struggling?

I didn’t, thank goodness. I found Connect and appealed for support and received it in spades. As low as I felt, somewhere inside I knew I was still great. I knew I deserved better, and my #sobersisters on Connect helped me strengthen that belief.

I have so much more confidence now than I did a year ago. So much more faith in myself. I have overcome a soul-crippling, dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I know I’ll figure out sugar too.

Sometimes I still feel alone in my struggles. But I know I’m not, and I never was.

If you are struggling, you’re not alone. There is support for you here. Believe that you deserve to receive it. Let us help give you the boost you need. You are not a failure. Do not give up. Do not hide, from us or from yourself.

You are great. We are great. We may have a few wonky bulbs, but our light shines beautiful and bright.

A Year in Discovery, Pondering Recovery

With a body full of tight, sore muscles after my 60-minute advanced bootcamp class on our new Peloton Tread yesterday, I climbed on my bike for a recovery ride this morning. A negative self-talk battle ensued, as is usual when I attempt to take it easy. I finally came to the realization today that this is a waste of energy and needs to change.

Recovery rides, for me, are as mentally challenging as other workouts are physically challenging. Even though I know my body needs the rest, it is a mental fight to feel good about not pushing myself. I don’t like feeling tired. I don’t like falling behind the instructor’s numbers. I want to be able to give it my best all the time. But if I were to push past my comfort zone in every single workout, I would burn out or hurt myself. And I know I deserve better than that.

I have to remind myself that a recovery ride these days is necessitated by a super hard workout the day before; whereas it used to be necessitated by super hard drinking the night before. I am no longer punishing myself for a hangover; I am soothing and loosening tight, fatigued, and growing muscles. A recovery ride should feel like a treat – not a failure.

Cue the mindset shift. I need to stop comparing myself to anyone else on the leaderboard. I need to listen to and respect my body enough to recover without judgement. I need to let go of the numbers, even if this feels contrary to my rule-following nature. If the instructor tells me to raise my resistance to 50 and push my cadence past 90, I want to do it. I feel like a weenie if I don’t.

But I hereby resolve to think of myself as a rebel instead of a weenie. I am a recovery rebel, prioritizing what is good for my body like a boss. I take it easy with wild abandon. I revel in my need to take it light and slow. Look at me, keeping my resistance at 36 when the instructor asks for 45! Y’all can take the hill without me. I’ll be chillin’ on my flat road. So badass.

I’m not there yet, but I will be. Mindsets don’t change in an instant. Practice practice practice.

* * *

It’s interesting to throw around this word “recovery” during my alcohol-free year in a non-alcohol context. I have never considered myself to be “in recovery” from my alcohol use, because I don’t believe it was excessive enough to warrant a “recovery” as I understand the term. The origin of the word “recover” means “to get again” or “get back” – but I was never gone.

I was never lost, just muddled. I have been here the whole time. I was just unable to fire on all cylinders a little more often than I could tolerate. I am not getting myself back; but I am exploring, peeling back, uncovering.

I am not in recovery. I am in discovery.

The origin of the word “discover” means “to uncover completely.” That’s more like it.

So as part of my year of discovery, I will shift my mindset about exercise recovery and give myself the permission and freedom to enjoy a well-earned flat road. I have come so far and conquered many hills along the way. I refuse to let negative self-talk hold me back in any area of my life anymore.

My First Alcohol-Free Birthday

Pondering my late 30s and also the fact that we just decided to close on a crumbling farmhouse

I turned 38 almost a month ago. And yes, it was a particularly busy birthday on the heels of a particularly busy week, and I was contending with a particularly bad cold and allergy double-whammy. But I can always make time to write about something important. And my first alcohol-free birthday since I was a teenager (with the exception of my two birthdays-whilst-knocked-up) certainly counts as a milestone in this alcohol-free year.

So why have I not carved out the time to write about it until now, almost a month later?

I have reflected on the day, and thought about what I could write, many times. October 19, 2018. I turned 38 years old. And we bought a 240-year-old farmhouse in New Hampshire.

It was a picture perfect New England day: shining sun, piercing blue sky, and the hint of a fall chill in the air. While my husband and I walked around the house, wondering if we just made the biggest mistake of our marriage or if we just gave our family the most incredible gift to be enjoyed for generations to come, our kids delightedly explored every nook and cranny and discovered hidden treasures everywhere. “Look at this legendary pencil! This rock smells like peaches!”

The kids poked around the old barn, gleefully flitted through the back field, and climbed on a massive pine tree that had fallen across the path through the woods (as their dad and I saw the dollar signs it’s going to take to get it chopped and cleared – yikes). Witnessing the wonder in our kids’ eyes made us feel just swell. Maybe this really will be awesome. Time will tell.

That evening, we toasted my birthday and our new (old) house at the home of my aunt and uncle, who live in a nearby town. They popped the prosecco and had a ginger ale on hand for me to pour into my fluted glass. Minimal awkwardness, and I was so grateful. I didn’t miss wine, I didn’t want wine. A lovely family dinner complete with a homemade cake put the cap on a very special and very wonderful day.

And that’s that. Booze-free birthday: check!

I wanted this post to be a mic drop. I have been trying to come up with some clever, mind-blowing analogy between buying an old farmhouse and having an alcohol-free birthday. Something about a fresh start. New life breathed into old… the house as a symbol of… something. But I haven’t been able to draw enough of a connection between la maison et moi to write some poetic, full-circle piece from that angle.

Maybe I could bring major dramz with this post, I’ve thought to myself. Use the tried and true “if I were still drinking” comparison! If I were still drinking… well, it still would have been a great day. Just infused with a lot more anxiety that I would have smothered with sauvignon blanc. Nothing stark and impactful enough from that angle.

So I’m left with a simple story to tell: I turned 38 on the day we closed on an old farmhouse. I had a very nice, surreal, fun day. And I didn’t miss booze at all.

Anticlimactic, but perhaps therein lies the beauty of my first alcohol-free birthday. Maybe there are fewer a-ha moments these days, even on milestone days, because this is just part of who I am now. I am someone who doesn’t drink and who is happy about it.

My birthday was special because a birthday is a special day. It was particularly memorable because we bought a house. I’m very proud that I didn’t drink, but that’s not what truly set this day apart.

Alcohol just doesn’t deserve that much credit anymore.

Silence is Platinum (Like, Better than Golden)

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Bed and Glennon, I am coming for you by 8:30pm. Mark my words.

My husband is going out to a work dinner tonight and my plan is to read. I just started Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle and it is so good I can hardly put it down. Her writing is just – I am not equipped with words to describe how good it is, that’s how good it is. I’ve been up way too late the last couple of nights devouring this book.

But let me go back to that first sentence. My husband is out tonight and my plan is to read. If this were 2017, when my drinking was at its most routine and therefore copious, my plan would have been to drink a bottle of wine and zone out in front of whatever was on Bravo TV. These days, I do still watch TV occasionally, but I crave books always. Since ditching booze my “me time” has completely evolved.

I used to always try to fill the silence. If I was driving, music was playing. As soon as I put my kids to bed, I’d come downstairs and play a Netflix show on my computer to have on in the background while I made grown-up dinner or cleaned up the kitchen.

Now I relish silence. My kids and I love listening to Broadway soundtracks (one of my greatest achievements in parenting) in the car, but when I’m driving alone there is quiet. My evening in-between time (that is, after kids are in bed and before my husband gets home) is almost always quiet, too, now. I cook or clean up or write or tie up any other of the day’s loose ends without feeling like I need to distract myself or stuff my brain with music or a show.

Has anyone else experienced this since cutting down on or cutting out alcohol? A renewed appreciation for quiet? And if so, why do you think that is?

I attribute my new-found love of silence to the simple fact that I am so much more content and comfortable with myself now. I don’t mind hanging out with myself because I’m no longer wallowing in a sea of shame or fighting the mental to-drink-or-not-to-drink battle all day long.

I like experiencing my thoughts now instead of trying to escape or distract from them.

I welcome silence as a chance to explore my thoughts, to ponder what I’ll write about today, to reflect, to just exist in a given quiet moment. And they do feel like gifts, these moments.

I welcome silence as a chance to check in with a person I’ve been delighted to uncover and get to know. She’s cool, and she’s got some interesting ideas flitting around in this ever-clear head of hers.

But she does still love her some “Queer Eye” and “Million Dollar Listing.” Because #priorities.