Sober Holiday Strategy: What If You Had To?

As Thanksgiving comes waddling at us, I have to say I am very much looking forward to another booze-free holiday season. I also realize that two years ago, the thought of enduring the stress of the holidays without booze would have filled me with gut-churning anxiety (please note that holidays are a lot less stressful without booze in the first place, but I digress). For those of you who are pondering an alcohol-free holiday season, or have committed to staying dry but are dreading it, here’s a thought: what if you had to?

What if you had to be sober? What if you were on antibiotics or pregnant or had some other medical or religious or spiritual or physical reason that took booze off your holiday table?

If there were a hard and fast rule, more than a well-intentioned whim or sheer willpower, that kept you from imbibing, would that make you approach the holidays differently? Instead of seeing not drinking as the mother of all bummers, would you perhaps instead be open to this new sober holiday experience, and maybe even be interested in seeing how you could make the most of it?

I first encountered this “what if you had to” mindset on my Peloton bike during a ride with the incredible Christine D’Ercole. On the bike, these words help me push myself beyond what I believe I can do. What if I were really cycling up a hill, and my kid was at the top, and I had to make it up to her as fast as I could? I would effing haul ass.

These five words are versatile and applicable beyond the bike that goes nowhere. For a rule follower like me, these words hold a lot of power, too. Yes, you have to surrender to your imagination. (For those of y’all who aren’t down with that, I have another mindset you may find helpful – stay tuned for an upcoming post.) But once you do, you can explore the feeling you create. Try it on, see how it feels.

See how it feels to imagine that you cannot consume alcohol over the holidays for some steadfast, set-in-stone reason. You don’t have to decide whether or not to drink, or how much to drink. Drinking is not an option, so there is no decision to be made. No draining of your well of willpower. No brainpower spent debating with the wine witch. That might feel pretty good, right?

Spoiler alert: it does. It really, really does.

Sober Boss October

October! My favorite month of the year. And this is going to be an especially exciting and momentous and busy one. This weekend my mom and I will celebrate our birthday. I was born on her 30th birthday and we celebrate together every year with a Broadway double-header in NYC. The weekend after that, I will go to London by myself (!!!). The weekend after that is my actual birthday, on which we might be doing something that is major that I can’t share yet. And then we get into Halloween mode.

In addition to all of these events, it’s Sober October and also what my favorite Peloton instructor, Ally Love, calls #BossOctober. I debated about whether or not I would officially partake in these two movements. I didn’t want to feel extra pressure as I am already trying to write every day as part of my one year alcohol-free. But of course I am already staying sober, so Sober October is a no-brainer. And I love the idea of Boss October.

For this, Ally asks us to commit to the following:
1. Decide to give up one thing you enjoy (e.g. booze, candy, etc.)
2. Choose a virtue/habit to focus on (patience, being on time, etc.)
3. Add some sort of movement to your schedule (starting a new form of exercise, adding yoga or strength, etc.)

Here is my Boss October plan:
1. Giving up booze (which of course I’m already doing). I thought about giving up something else, like red meat or Halloween candy. But being alcohol-free is far from effortless yet. Still a lot of work, a lot to read, and a lot to write on this topic alone – so I’m sticking to it!
2. I will focus on being more present with my kids. Specifically, I am committing to 15 minutes of one-on-one time with my son and daughter every day. No phones, no distractions. Which may sound a) simple and b) like not a lot of time. But for me, to put my phone down and not multi-task is a huge challenge. And I hope that by committing to a month of this unplugged, focused time with each of my kids, I can start to change my multi-task-obsessed behavior.
3. I already feel fairly maxed out with my workout schedule, and I am traveling in the middle of the month. BUT I am going to do more with the time I have. Small changes could make a big difference! I have wanted to add a 60-minute ride and upper body strength training to my schedule, and so it is time to BOSS UP. I am going to tweak my workout schedule thus:

Old schedule (my week resets on Tuesday because that is my weigh-in day):
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 45-min ride plus 10-min abs
Sun – 45-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

New schedule:
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest or recovery ride
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 30-min ride plus 10-min upper body and 10-min abs
Sun – 60-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

I’m excited for these challenges and I’m looking forward to making new connections with others who are partaking in either Sober October or Boss October – or both!

Who’s signing up for Sober October? Anyone interested in committing to Boss October with me? Let me know! Bring on Sober Boss October!

Schmoozing Without Boozing

Eureka! A fitted jacket still looks nice at the end of a night out when you haven’t consumed a margarita and bottle of wine!

On Saturday night my husband and I attended an annual party with our circle of preschool parent friends.

Long story short:

I stayed sober, enjoyed authentic conversation, and even felt (relatively) comfortable and (mostly) confident. Booze-less schmoozing with peers: achievement unlocked!

Short story long:

I don’t know if it was the cooler weather or what, but the party was not as boozy as I remembered it being last year. The alcohol was certainly plentiful. My hostess friend has exquisite taste in everything, from fashion to interior design to tequila, so the bar was stocked with an all-star line-up that included Whispering Angel and Casamigos. But the overall vibe was surprisingly mellow.

I was 100% resolute in my decision to not drink of course, but I still felt a pang for that Casamigos: FOMOOT (fear of missing out on tequila). I stepped up to the bar and ordered a club soda with lime for myself and a gin and tonic for my husband (his only drink of the night). And that was that. Once I had a drink in my hand, I got over my momentary FOMOOT. Boozy thoughts fizzled fast, evaporating from my brain for the rest of the night.

It was a lovely party. Dinner was a little higher in SmartPoints than I would have liked but I’ve made up for that. My husband and I caught up with some good friends and we even spent some of the time NOT talking about our kids!

I fielded a couple of comments about not drinking, but it really was just not a thing. Just as I’d hoped. I didn’t feel judged or outcast. My choice was taken in stride, as it should be.

Everyone who was drinking seemed to be in control. Which is a good thing of course. But I definitely felt like a bit of a loser for needing to take a prolonged (maybe forever) booze break, when everyone around me was handling their rosé and margaritas just fine. As I teetered on the edge of a pity party, I reminded myself of the following:

1) You never know what is really going on behind the closed doors of someone else’s mind. A relationship that may seem perfectly functional on the outside may be painful on the inside. Or not –

2) Either way, it doesn’t matter. And I can’t spend precious time and brain power creating stories about other people’s drinking. The only story that should matter to me is mine.

3) I am not weaker than my friends because I took a break from booze. I chose to do something healthy for myself and, if anything, I should feel stronger – not weaker – for making that choice.

We left the party when we got tired, around 9:15. Again, the “L”-word popped into my head. “What, we can’t even stay out past 10 now that I’m not drinking anymore?! We are such losers!” But when I said goodbye to my hostess friend, I apologized for the fact that we were leaving so early and she said, “Are you kidding me? That’s why the party started at 6!”

We are all parents of young kids. So we are all tired. I am sober and therefore acutely aware of my fatigue; whereas I used to attempt to power through it by pounding glass after glass of wine to keep the dopamine and sugar flowing and keep me awake. And for what? To have sloppy conversations I can’t remember the next day? To waste another 20 or so SmartPoints? To feel “cool” because I can stay out late? Did that ever actually feel cool? The crappy night of sleep and next morning’s hangover certainly never did.

On Sunday morning, I woke clear-headed. I took my dog for a long walk and did a Peloton ride, scoring one of my highest outputs of the week. Then I took my kids to their swim lessons and made it through the day with consistent energy and zero regrets.

I shudder to think of where I would have been physically and mentally if I had been nursing a crushing hangover.

It’s just not worth it. Not to me, not anymore.

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!

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.

Unintentionally Living with Intention

That feeling when you realize you’re unintentionally living with intention.

A first, today: I got on my Peloton bike with the intent of setting a new personal record. And then I did.

I realize this is not earth-shattering. But it matters.

It matters because it marks a shift for me. I’m pretty sure this is what all those new-agey people mean when they talk about living with intention. I’ve heard that phrase before, but never gave it much thought and certainly never internalized it. Now, I get it. And I dig it. And I’m doing it, apparently.

I got 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep last night (Hallelujah!!). I shed the 2.4lbs of water weight that I was carrying around yesterday. I signed up for two back-to-back 20-minute live Peloton rides: a HIIT (high intensity interval training) ride at 10:30 and a groove ride at 10:55. I got on my bike feeling strong.

“I’m going to set a new PR on this ride,” I thought to myself.

My previous PR for a 20-minute ride was 148. My HIIT output today was 172. Done.

I told myself I could use the groove ride to recover, but I had energy reserves so I pushed myself to an output of 161 on that ride. Two consecutive rides, both better outputs than my previous record. It’s a good day for a good day.

Am I starting to live with intention? Like, for real? Could I ever have achieved this level of self-confidence and self-assurance if I were still drinking like I was? I think not. I feel like I am starting to discover who I really am. Underneath my supermom athleisure uniform, having ditched the alcohol bloat, I’m reacquainting myself with myself. Or perhaps I’m meeting myself for the first time. TBD.

Fall In

A beautiful quote from my Peloton “Feel Good Ride” this morning with Ally Love. Some days it’s easy to “fall in” to self-love. Other days, like today, it feels impossible to surrender to that empowered ideal. Even though I know in that surrender is the contentment I crave.

Today, I ended up crying through my kids’ swim class after getting a speeding ticket on the way there. It’s not about the ticket, but the mortifying experience of getting pulled over with my kids in the car pushed me over the edge. I am crippled with cognitive dissonance right now. I am stuck in the shift from school year to summer and I’m letting it get the best of me.

One broken mama

Over the last couple of days I’ve tried to resort to old coping mechanisms to ease this tricky transition in our family routine. But junk food and a glass of wine make me feel so much worse. SO much worse. They always did, but I didn’t notice it as much when I was stuck in my wino-life, because I never knew how good I could feel.

But I am not fully equipped to fill the void left by booze and junk either, and that’s what broke me today. Can’t drink, can’t stuff my face with chocolate. What else do I have? Foam rolling. Tea. US Weekly (though that’s fairly toxic too). Writing. Seltzer. Stretching. Breathing…? But I just want a jar of Nutella! Is that so wrong? Yup. F.

I know this is a process. And I know I’m too hard on myself most of the time. I get lost in one bag of tortilla chips and lose sight of the long game, in which I’ve already scored more goals than I ever thought possible.

So let’s zoom out of this pity party for a moment.

This was a tough week. My daughter was crushed to have her kindergarten year come to an end. My husband was out three nights and has been renovating our garage all weekend. I haven’t had enough time or space from my kids to be able to digest the end of the school year. Oh, and I had a heinous case of PMS.

I have a kid who finished kindergarten. This is a big deal to me. A milestone in my motherhood journey. My little girl is vanishing before my eyes, and in her place is an increasingly poised, articulate, compassionate, curious, independent big kid with real feelings and opinions and the ability to express them.

She has also arrived at a point in her life where she will have legit memories. And here are her dad and I, at the helm of our family craft, doing our best to steer both of our kids through what they will hopefully remember as a happy and fun childhood while navigating the tricky waters of adulthood ourselves.

We are all first-timers here. And we are all going to stumble along the way.

After her swim lesson today, my daughter could tell I had been crying – luckily my 4-year-old son was oblivious so I only had to contend with one conversation, which of course turned the waterworks right back on. She looked me directly in the eye and wanted to know exactly why I was so upset and what she could do to help me feel better.

My kid shows compassion beyond her years. And she loves me so damn much.

I need to show her that it’s just as important to love yourself as it is to love those closest to you. I need to give myself a break. I need to show her that when things get out of whack, love brings us back to where we should be.

Oh wait. She already knows. Fall in, Mama.