Out of the Gray

I was a gray area drinker. A wine mom who sought comfort and validation in kitsch and memes that enshrined alcohol as a Swiss Army knife to survive the wilderness of motherhood: easy to use, and appropriate for any and every situation that may arise.

I drank in good times and in bad, in celebration and stress and sadness. Sometimes I got drunk, but mostly I didn’t – except on Friday nights, when an entire bottle of sauvignon blanc was my “treat” for “surviving” the week.

As time passed, the buzz I sought on a near-nightly basis was found deeper and deeper down the bottle. Slowly but surely I became more reliant on wine and less in control of my consumption. Thinking about drinking took up more and more time and space in my day and in my brain.

#winemomlife was exhausting in all the wrong ways. So much wasted time and energy and money. So many calories. All to feed a habit from which I received no benefit beyond the wee hit of dopamine as I poured my first crisp, cold glass. It was all downhill from there; and yet I’d wake up and do it all again the next day.

This was my gray area: a sour, inescapable fog that I thought was the price to pay for the fun and privilege of drinking. Except as more time passed, I realized that I had stopped having fun and drinking now felt like a burden, not a privilege. I had fallen to what was, for me, soft rock bottom. Michael Bolton, not Ozzy Osborne. I was addicted but not completely powerless. I did not need professional help but I needed to boss up and help myself.

I am so grateful that I did not ignore my instincts. I listened to the voice inside that told me, “Enough. Enough now.” She may have just been quoting “Love Actually” but I heard her and I trusted her.

It has taken a long time to get to day 202. A lot longer than 202 days, to get here. I have tread water, waded through denial, been bombarded by guilt and shame, and stopped and started more than a few times. But by simply listening, and trusting myself, I saved myself from rock bottom. I saved my family from profound pain and strife. I saved my kids from lifelong scars. Even though my life was not in imminent danger, I saved it anyway.

I will never know how many drinks away from rock bottom I was. But wherever I was, it was too close for comfort.

I hesitate to give advice in this space. I’m here to record and share my journey, and if I inspire others along the way, well that is pretty awesome. But I’m not going to tell anyone what to do or how to do it. Because everyone’s relationship with alcohol is different. And everyone’s relationship with one’s family, friends, and self is different.

But please allow me one moment to ascend a soapbox and say this, because here’s the thing:

If your inner voice pipes up and demands change, please listen. You don’t have to know how to do it. And it doesn’t have to happen overnight. But listen. Trust that you will figure it out. And know that you are worth it.

Two Hundred Days

Two hundred days since I’ve had alcohol. And two days since I’ve taken a shower. But I wanted to post a selfie today, because this is a milestone after all.

Two hundred days ago, on July 5, I felt relieved and excited to commence this one-year journey. One hundred days ago, I landed in London for my first-ever solo sober international trip. Today, I endeavored to spend as much of this snowy day on the couch as possible. Less momentous, but delightful nonetheless.]

I got 2/3 of the way through a beautiful book on country home design despite dealing with cabin-fevered kids up here in NH. The kids and I also had a great romp around outside, climbing into the old chicken coop and trudging through a foot of fresh snow to explore a couple of abandoned animal pens alongside the field behind our house that we had never noticed before. A little fresh air and a lot of relaxation.

Spending my 100th day in London was coincidental, but deeply meaningful. That trip proved to me that I can travel to a place that I love, where I have myriad booze-drenched memories (both good and bad) from our years spent living there, and not be triggered to drink. I delighted in experiencing the city with complete clarity and I love it more now than ever.

Spending my 200th day in New Hampshire is coincidental, but deeply meaningful. I have no booze-drenched memories in our 240-year-old farmhouse. I have never had a drink here. There is not a single bottle of wine to be found. I have never been buzzed here, never woken with a hangover. I have experienced our adventures here (both good and bad) with complete clarity and I love it more every time we visit.

While London symbolizes my past, this farmhouse is a symbol of my future. We bought this house to have a place to unplug, relax, indulge in hobbies, and connect with nature and each other. We have always dreamt of renovating an old house like this and making it our own while honoring its history. This sweet house – even with its mice and crumbling plaster walls – is the realization of a dream. And I’m experiencing it in living color.

That’s what happens now, by day 200. Dreams are realized. Goals are attained. Connections are nurtured. And so is the self.

So I may not have showered for this selfie, but I am relishing this milestone. On we go.

Six Months Off the Sauce

Six. Months. Pause. Take a deep breath. Let this accomplishment fill your lungs and your gut and your heart and your brain. For someone who once struggled to make it for one day without drinking, half a year is truly monumental.

All those keywords that have captured various milestones along this journey apply to this one too:

Clarity
Pride
Contentment
Presence
Love
Peace

But what is different now? What have I gained that I didn’t have at one month, at 100 days, at four months?

One word comes to mind: steadiness.

Six months in, I am steady. I am not struggling, I am not wavering, I am owning my choice to be AF.

All those questions that kept me off kilter for so long – Should I drink today? Is it too early to start drinking? How much can I drink? What if I just have one more glass? How about I just finish the bottle so I can start with a clean slate tomorrow? – are gone. In their place is quiet. Space to be creative and curious. An inner calm that I never had when I was drinking.

The wine witch has diminished from Voldemort in The Deathly Hallows to Voldemort in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Almighty force to wimpy wisp. And I am one woke former wine mom who is too happily ensconced in my booze-free zone to ever let her gain power over me again.

Over the past six months I have experienced enough holidays and special occasions to be able to say this: I don’t merely survive them; I delight in the new normal of experiencing them without alcohol. And each and every one of these occasions has been – without exception – better and more enjoyable because I did not drink. I never thought that would be true for me, but, as my kids would say, it SO is.

Will I go back to drinking when this year is up? The million bottle question. My answer remains the same as it was on day one: I want to not want to go back. Yet I still can’t imagine my life without another sip of any type of alcohol, ever. So, when my year is up, I will either drink a bit on special occasions or I won’t. Either way, I will never go back to where I was.

I wish I was ready to say I’m done forever. I dream of writing a book about my journey that can sit on the shelf beside the other amazing “quit lit” I have read over the past year. But I’m not sure if my story has the same ending. If it doesn’t, does that make me weak, or make my journey any less significant? It probably makes me less likely to ever get published, that’s for sure.

Maybe my journey is not merely about answering the question “to drink or not to drink.” Maybe my journey is about unlocking the door to my true self – a door that had been locked for too many years. Ditching booze was the key and an old wine cork is my door stop. Self-acceptance and self-love swirl about in abundance on the other side, and I am never letting that door close again.

I’m only halfway through this year. I don’t know what I’ll be writing in July and that is OK. As long as I continue to move forward with honesty and without judgment I know that I will conclude the story of this year right where I belong.

A 180 in 2018

I once used this holiday as an excuse to start drinking early and then I’d spend the rest of the day thinking about my next drink while feeling guilty about the drink in my hand.

Today, however, has felt fresh and delightful. Like so many other milestones this year, this day has been remarkable in its new normalcy and I have enjoyed every moment.

We hosted a Noon Year’s Eve party (nine kids under age seven!), complete with a countdown to 12 o’clock and a balloon drop. I also put an entire basket of laundry away and used my Instant Pot for two different meals. From the momentous to the mundane, today has been a joy. I have reveled in the clarity, lack of grumpiness and guilt, and surplus of energy. Yay.

Today is day 180 of my one year alcohol-free. What a fitting way to end the year, on day 180. Because that’s what this year has been for me: a 180.

On the tightrope that is the spectrum of alcohol use, I was tiptoeing deeper and deeper into dependence. On January 1, I stopped, turned around, and started heading the other way. I looked behind me several times, and took more than a few steps back. But I am now confidently striding in the direction of alcohol-freedom.

2018 has been the best U-turn I’ve ever made.

So here’s to delighting in the mundane and rejoicing in the momentous. To gut hugs galore. To feeling all the feelings. And to life’s U-turns and other spectacular gifts.

Happy 2019.

Finding the Light: One Year into My Journey

One year on this journey of examining – and changing – my relationship with alcohol. A journey that began with a phone, a pounding heart, and trembling, swollen fingers hitting “Post.” The humble, guilt-laden paragraph I composed out of desperation showed up on the Connect social network feed in the Weight Watchers app, and my life would never be the same. Below is my post from a year ago, and my reflection on that post today.

12/29/17
fullsizerenderThis is me a few days before Christmas, wearing a strapless jumpsuit that fit me like a glove and in which I felt fab. I totally fell off the wagon over the holiday and am embarrassed to say I don’t think I’d fit into this same jumpsuit today. So. I’m going to start tracking again on January 1, and am also committing to a dry January. Which scares me. But I’ve become that stay-at-home mom who can’t get through the witching hour without a glass of wine (which inevitably leads to more) and that needs to change. I look forward to tapping into the power of this community to help me through and to help keep me accountable. #sobersisters I’ll take any encouragement you can offer! My heart is pounding at the thought of posting this and appealing for help, but I need it. Thank you everyone and Happy New Year to you all!


12/29/18

178 days of freedom from alcohol.

365 days of gratitude for Connect, Instagram, and The Alcohol Experiment; the books, blogs, and podcasts; for my #sobersisters from Connect; and for the brave and brilliant women who choose to live alcohol-free and write and speak and create such inspiring content that has sustained me these past 12 months.

One year ago today, it was a small but clear voice, deep inside of me, that finally took a stand and said, “Enough. Time for a change.” I didn’t know what that voice was or where it came from, but I heard it and believed it.

And now I know. That small but mighty voice was me. The real me. The me I have rediscovered over the past year. The me I want to be.

And now she is me. And that voice is mine. We are one and we have won.

I have defeated the wine witch. She may never completely disappear, I know. But she is vanquished. She will continue to try to tempt me but she will only continue to waste away.

I am still fighting other foes, and I am still a work in progress. But I have already slain my fiercest enemy. I have already won the war and claimed my prize: self-love.

One year ago today, I was terrified and embarrassed. But I was also honest and vulnerable. I didn’t know it at the time, but therein was my power. By opening myself up to receive support and encouragement from others, I also opened myself up to the possibility of loving myself again.

And I do. I found myself and I love her and I am going to continue to strengthen her and keep her healthy and safe.

#Sobersisters and teetotaler trailblazers, you illuminated the path that led me to rediscover my light this year. Let’s keep shining.

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.