Checking In at Mile 24

We have collectively hit weary.

Brené Brown, March 27, 2020 (!!!)

Real talk y’all. My days have been more down than up lately. Even though we are (FINALLY, truly… seemingly?) coming out of the pandemic, even though I am 1,063 days alcohol-free, even though I am loving my coaching program, even though we’ve had beautiful spring weather (well, except for a rainy and cold Memorial Day Weekend – not that I minded the excuse to snuggle up, read, and relax!)… even though there is so much that is good and for which I am grateful every darn day, it’s just not clicking.

My pandemic-pummeled brain feels foggy and scattered. My cortisol-crammed body feels heavy and slow. I’ve read articles about how pandemic fatigue is legit, and in my recovery coaching coursework I’m currently learning how the human brain is malleable and resilient even under long-term stress. So I know why I’m feeling this way. And I know I will – if not bounce, then crawl back to a better-functioning state… eventually.

My foggy brain is the result of too much time spent in fight-or-flight mode, which is the brain’s cavemanesque response to heightened stress. My brain doesn’t know a pandemic from a plague. All it knows is that I feel stress, so it releases adrenaline just in case I have to sprint away from a saber-toothed tiger. And because my brain can’t tell my body, “Chillax, this is a little stressful, yes, but don’t worry, you are not going to starve,” my body is pumped full of cortisol and holding on to every fat cell that it can in order to survive.

The fact that this high-stress state has lasted for over a year is, frankly, fucked up. And just bad news for our brains and bodies. Prolonged fight-or-flight is an unnatural state, and a huge hormonal load for our brains and bodies to carry.

On her podcast “Unlocking Us,” Brené Brown said, “We have collectively hit weary.” And indeed we have. Yup, she said that in March. OF LAST YEAR. So if we were weary then (and if Brené says so then it is so), what are we now? Wearier? Weariest? Whatever we are, it’s not pretty and it’s not fun.

This is mile 24 of the marathon, my friends. We’ve hit the wall but we’re still not done. This is knowing the finish line exists but not being able to see it. This is wanting nothing more than to cross that line while simultaneously fearing the shape you’ll be in when you do. And this is also feeling not quite ready to be done with the race because not knowing what’s next is almost harder than just continuing to put one foot in front of the other.

Is anyone else hesitant to take off their mask? I still wear mine to the grocery store or Starbucks, and if I’m with my kids at the playground I’ll wear it because they have to wear theirs and the mom guilt propels me to mask up. But now it’s getting awkward. Because if I wear my mask in an effort to be courteous to those around me, are people just going to think I’m unvaccinated? Not to mention if I take my mask off I have to start worrying about bad breath or something being stuck in my teeth. I haven’t missed thinking about those things for the last year. This ambiguous, in-between time is tricky.

Is anyone else’s social stamina shot? A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to work the polls – not the pole, the polls, people – on my town’s local election day. My shift was two hours. I sat at a table with another volunteer, a mom of two elementary school-aged kids. She and I had enough in common that our conversation was perfectly pleasant and fun and interesting. There was a steady stream of people coming in to vote, and we checked them in one by one. There was never a crowd, and people were polite. I saw a few friends and even my kids’ nursery school teacher. WE even HUGGED, which was a joy. But the next morning I felt like I got hit by a train. I felt hungover. I felt utterly devoid of any energy. It took me awhile to connect my miserable state to having to be “on” for two hours the day before. My social stamina is minimal. It’s negligible. It’s in the toilet. And that is hard.

Is anyone else missing those early locked-down days maybe just a little? I AM MISSING THEM MORE THAN A LITTLE. There. I said it. Do I miss the endless stream of terrifying national and international news that seemed worse and worse every day? No. But I do miss that feeling of hunkering down with my kids, my husband, and our dogs on the island that was our 241-year-old farmhouse in New Hampshire, to which we fled last spring and again in the summer. I miss the simplicity, the quiet. Now that the world is opening back up – and, don’t get me wrong, that is a wonderful thing! – all the “should”‘s and “have to”‘s are popping back up on my calendar and to do list. A suddenly full calendar after a year of a mostly empty calendar has given me an unexpectedly jarring jolt.

I’ve been treading water for over a year. The constant treading hasn’t been easy, but the water itself was quiet and calm. Now, all of a sudden, huge wave of responsibility is heading toward me, starting to crest. I know I am capable of clambering up onto my paddleboard and coasting into the shore of New Normal. I just don’t feel ready. But I also know I can’t tread forever.

So, it’s June. Four weeks left of the school year routine before my kids once again audaciously bound back up into my business for the summer. I’m hoping to recover some positivity in these next few weeks. I’m determined to keep putting one foot in front of the other, or to hoist myself up onto my board and hold on tight – considering this post is now home to two metaphors. I’m going to try my best to limit the “should”‘s, tick off the “have to”‘s, and maintain boundaries as best I can. And I am going to focus on stress relief – because the clarity and energy for which I am so desperate can only be summoned once I migrate back to the front of my brain from the rear. And I can only do that by decreasing my stress.

How will I do that? I can’t end the pandemic. But I can change the way I respond to it.

I can move. Every day, I am going to aim to move my body in a way that makes me feel good. No bigger workout plan other than that. I have found during the pandemic if I mismatch my workout to my mood (including where I am in my cycle or how tired I am), it does not go well. With our bodies under so much stress for so long, this is just not the time to kick our asses. The pandemic has already done that. So if I feel like sitting on my bike, I’ll do a ride. If I feel like slowing down, I’ll do yoga. If I feel strong, I’ll lift. I will try my best to ignore calories burned and other stats, and just MOVE.

I can rest. This is probably the most critical and basic stress-soothing tool. But I don’t just mean sleep, though I will endeavor to get my 8+ hours every night. I mean rest. I mean sitting on the couch to read a book. I mean laying down in bed to watch the “Friends” reunion or the new P!nk documentary. Sleeping is a daily necessity; but rest is important too. I struggle to let myself rest without guilt, but I’m working on it. I read a book in two days over the weekend and I hope to take this non-moving momentum with me into June.

I can connect. This is a time to embrace (literally! YAY!) the cup-fillers and set a firm boundary with the cup-drainers. I have recently gone for two outdoor runs with a dear friend, and the combination of challenging movement, fresh air, and IRL companionship has truly given me life. I am going to continue to make an effort to connect with the friends who fill my cup. I need them right now in a big way, and I know my brain benefits from these joyful connections.

I can stay grateful. The power inherent in gratitude is boundless. Last month I started writing nightly in a gratitude journal again. And it’s amazing how the simple act of writing down three things for which I am grateful on a given day can flip my mindset from exhausted and down to picked-up and positive.

I can breathe. Meditation, or even just a simple breathing exercise (breathe in for four, hold for two, breathe out for eight) gently forces us to slow down and be present. I wish I wanted to meditate for 20 minutes a day, and maybe someday I will; but in the meantime I can meditate for five. And on days when even that feels like too much, I can breathe for a few minutes. When I do, I feel an immediate calming and clearing effect in my foggy head.

Move. Rest. Connect. Stay grateful. Breathe. Then do it all again tomorrow.

Life at mile 24 is not easy, and in many ways it’s more complicated than it seems like it should be. But none of us is alone in this marathon. And we are all going to make it.

Crossing the marathon finish line is glorious and emotional and vulnerable and complex. But as weak as we may feel when we get there, we’ll be stronger for having run the race.

Take the Compliment and Run

I made this post a podcast! Woohoo!

May 2021. A quick update:

1,034 days alcohol-free. 14 months into the pandemic. 7 days since my second vaccine (and still feeling fatigued, but grateful! Yay science!). 8 weeks to go in my kids’ school year. 2 giant jars of Nutella sitting in my pantry. 1 new office space in a niche off my bedroom that has me feeling super inspired and recommitted to this blog, to writing with a lower case “w” (#recoveringperfectionist), to putting myself out there more often in the hope that someone finds solace in my vulnerability and feels a little more inspired to just keep going.

Just keep going. Just do the next thing. That is enough.

Sometimes the next thing is a small task: brushing your teeth, packing a school lunch, walking the dog. And sometimes the next thing is a big ol’ leap. I did one of these big next things a few weeks ago when I finally decided to enroll in a program I’ve been pondering for the last couple of years, the IAPRC Certified Professional Recovery Coach dual certification program. By November(ish), I will be a Certified Professional Coach and a Certified Professional Recovery Coach. And I swear I didn’t just do it so I can add a lot of acronyms after my name:

Jennifer B. Butler, AB, MBA, CPC, CPRC

Although that looks pretty awesome.

My gut made me do it. This pesky gut of mine keeps clinging to wanting to write a book (yes, that is still on my bucket list and yes, it still terrifies and intimidates me on a daily basis); and, since becoming alcohol-free myself, wanting to help others ditch booze in a professional, entrepreneurial, mom boss kind of way.

I am absolutely loving the program so far. It has been like yoga for my brain. I feel more limber and stronger for having applied myself to the modules, worksheets, and practice exercises. I feel the invigoration of a long-overdue, much-needed mental stretch. My inner critic is having a field day trying to come up with ways to sabotage me (most involve scrolling Instagram – so unoriginal) but I have kept her at bay so far.

Just do the next thing.

When I was a wine mom, my inner critic was living large, spitting a constant barrage of abuse that sent me to my wine fridge on a daily basis. Wine crippled my ability to stand up for myself. Wine made me feel incapable of weathering discomfort. Again and again, I chose to numb. I didn’t believe I was strong enough to stand up against that voice that told me I wasn’t good enough, thin enough, smart enough.

Yesterday, in the midst of lingering fatigue from receiving my second Covid vaccine, my inner critic once again tried to get the best of me. “You will never be able to start your own coaching business. So many smart, pretty, successful women are already doing it. You’ll never actually be able to find any clients. You’ll wimp out on this, just like you’re doing with your book.” (That last one is a particularly low blow.)

I heard her. I felt hurt by her. But I did not open a bottle of wine. I did not even open one of the giant jars of Nutella. Instead of slinking away and numbing myself to those words that slashed me from within, I talked back. “Oh hi, inner critic. My, how vocal you are today! You make me feel pretty awful. But you are just a voice. You have no power. And using alcohol or sugar will only give you the power you crave. So I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to acknowledge that you’re there and try my best to do nice things for myself until you fade into the background where you belong.”

I took a nap. I took a shower. I walked my dog. I read a magazine. I meditated. I jotted in my gratitude journal.

I took my power back.

And today, I took more of my power back my taking some compliments.

I have an email account tied to this blog, but I rarely check it. Over the last few years I have received some really wonderful, heartfelt notes from people who have read this blog, or found me on Connect or Instagram, or read my posts on Motherly or This Naked Mind.

I never wrote anybody back.

This is VERY unlike me. I am a good correspondent. I keep in touch with people. I like writing emails. But for some reason, I just could not bring myself to respond to these very kind emails – some of which have been sitting in my inbox since 2018.

This morning, I sat at my new desk in my new office space – a bright, happy, vibrant office space fit for a life coach – took a deep breath, inhaling who I want to be and exhaling my inner critic’s b.s., and I wrote everybody back.

In her book Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes has a brilliant and hilarious chapter on taking compliments (and how many women suck at it). She reminds us:

“No one is obligated to compliment you.

“They do it out of kindness.

“They do it because they want to.

“They do it because they believe the compliment they are offering.”

Today, finally, I chose to receive these compliments. And I wrote everybody back to acknowledge them (well, and to grovel a bit for my tardy replies). I created a folder in my email called “Gold Star File” and I moved all of the wonderful emails there. Then I printed some of them out, to keep these compliments at hand for the next time my inner critic dares to pipe up.

But I think, if I keep on this path of believing in myself and my ability to be a great coach and a great writer, my inner critic’s pipes will fade to peeps. And I’ll be able to focus on my life’s work instead of drowning in self-doubt.

One. Thousand. Days.

Listen to this post on Spotify!

1,000 days alcohol-free. 1,000 days free of the shame that was invisible to everyone around me yet kept me limited, fearful, and small.

My gray-area drinking limited my brain power and my potential. I spent so much time thinking about drinking – when can I start? How much can I have? What if I have just one more glass?
And then – why did I drink so much? Why can I never just have one? What is wrong with me?
And then – when can I start? All over again.

Alcohol kept me as its fearful prisoner, even as the key to my chains was in my pocket all along. I was afraid to break the bond because, without booze – how would I de-stress? How would I take a moment for me? How would I socialize? How would I enjoy a date night or survive a family get together? How would I feel like the funniest/prettiest/best version of myself?

Wine mom life was a small life. Almost every day was bookended by guilt-ridden grogginess and a guilt-ridden buzz. Alcohol kept my self-confidence small, my creativity quashed, my energy low, my patience thin.

1,000 days after my last drink, here’s what I can say: I am learning to take up space, unapologetically, just as I am. I am learning to cope with discomfort by being uncomfortable instead of numbing myself with booze or food or doom scrolling.

Cutting alcohol out of my life did not solve all of my problems but it solved one big one: alcohol. The clarity and capability that are sobriety’s wingwomen make all of life‘s other problems, puzzles, and pickles easier to solve – or at least navigate.

That’s what I’m doing now. I am a navigator. I choose to go through, not skirt around or spin in circles or sink.

1,000 days is a number that once seemed preposterous. Not just unachievable, but undesirable. The day I took my last drink, I didn’t believe it would be my last, or that I would ever want it to be. But I also knew that I was tired of feeling limited, and fearful, and small.

I am still working toward limitless, and fearless, and big. But the work is so worth it, and so is the journey.

900 Days Alcohol-Free

900 days.

This is a big number. This is a number that would have seemed completely unattainable to me back in my #winemom days. But here I am. 900 days makes me proud. 900 days feels exactly where I’m meant to be.

900 days of alcohol freedom is the greatest gift I have ever given myself. And, as the cliché goes, it just keeps giving. The more days of sobriety I accrue, the better equipped I am to recognize its many layers of gifts.

Sobriety is like the nesting doll I received as a gift when I was a child, and I have spent these 900 days opening one doll after another.

At the outset of my AF journey I enjoyed the immediate, surface-level benefits: clear skin, bright eyes, less puff. Then I started to uncover some deeper joys: decreased anxiety, increased energy, more patience with my kids, more presence in my life. And now, 900 days in, I am getting to know my true self, ponder my life’s purpose, and pursue my goals with vulnerability, authenticity, and confidence.

I once thought alcohol made me more myself. I thought it brought me out of my shell, helping me emerge more confident, flirtier, funnier. Now I know it made me silly, short-tempered, and shallow.

In 900 days I have cracked open a lot of dolls, each revealing the next nestled deeper inside, each more complex, intricate, and awe-inspiring than the last. Each doll stands on her own, but when nestled together they create the complete gift that is my sobriety.

Have I made it to the center yet? To the last, smallest, solid doll? I don’t think so. But I’m trying not to focus on her, or on what happens when I get there. Instead I’m trying to stay right here, to stay with the gifts I’ve acquired thus far. To cherish each of them as I wait for the next to be revealed.

5 Reasons Why I’m Not Going to Drink on Election Night (and You May Want to Stay Off the Sauce, Too)

As election night approaches, tensions are running higher than third wave COVID infection rates and social media feeds are inundated with jokes and memes about drinking to survive all the drama. “I won’t hear anything on November 4th because, either way, I’ll be hungover,” proclaimed Stephen Colbert in his Late Show monologue on October 26. “Election Night Drinking Game: Drink. Then keep drinking,” suggests a meme on Instagram. 

How else can we be expected to endure the night (week?) (MONTH?!) that will be a climactic moment in the dumpster fire of 2020 other than with a bottomless wine glass in hand? Why would we want to? Election night is either a celebration or a pity party, depending on the outcome and how we voted. Either way, we drink, right? 

This November 3, I won’t be heading to my wine fridge – and I challenge you to think about going alcohol-free as well. Here are five reasons why I won’t be drinking on election night:

  1. Alcohol increases anxiety.

During my drinking days, I fully subscribed to the notion that alcohol is the ultimate stress-reliever. I drank to soothe my anxiety. I waited all day to pour my first glass of sauvignon blanc, and relished the feeling of warmth and calm that washed over me as I took my first few crisp sips. But even at the peak of my drinking I could admit that the more I drank, the farther out of reach that initial zen feeling became. As Annie Grace puts it in her book The Alcohol Experiment, “[A]s the alcohol is metabolized, we actually feel more stress than we did when we started. Alcohol leaving the body makes us feel worse. So what do we do? Have another! 

“It’s ironic that we drink to relax, because drinking actually adds stress to our lives.” Further, numbing ourselves to the source of our stress and anxiety – such as a high stakes presidential election during a pandemic – does not make the stressor go away; it will just make us feel worse when we get around to dealing with it. Facing the outcome of the election with a clear head in the moment is a proactive way to deal directly with the source of anxiety and ultimately better for our mental health.

  1. Alcohol numbs the bad stuff – but also the good stuff.

At the risk of jinxing things, imagine for a moment that the election goes the way you want it to go. Visualize the numbers coming in for your candidate, the electoral map turning the color you long to see. Imagine the victory speech, the balloon drop, the pure elation and sweet relief washing over you. 

Of course, it could go the other way. And instead of elation and relief, you could be inundated with fear, dread, and disgust. You may want to don your alcohol armor to protect you from the risk of the night going awry (or, almost as bad, the night being too close to call). But if you numb out with alcohol to not feel these bad feelings, you won’t be able to feel the good feelings either. Alcohol does not allow your brain to discriminate between the happy feelings you want to experience and the crappy feelings you don’t. After the year we’ve had, I am ready for some good vibes, and I am willing to risk feeling horrible if that same risk will allow me to feel elation and hope for the future.

  1. Mocktails are a treat without the trick.

When I first stopped drinking, fearing FOMO, I steered clear of any zero-alcohol wines, beers, or spirits. What’s the point, I wondered, of drinking some calorie-laden concoction without the benefit of the buzz? But as the alcohol-free (AF) days added up, I missed the buzz less and less because I missed the after-effects of drinking not at all. I did, however, miss having something more special than seltzer in my glass to commemorate a special occasion. So I have started exploring the world of AF spirits and mocktails. Seedlip is a current favorite. And if I’m in the mood to toast the outcome of election night you better believe I’ll be sipping a Seedlip Grove and ginger ale. Mocktails are a great way to embrace a celebratory vibe without enduring a hangover the next morning.

  1. Alcohol ruins sleep. 

I wish I could count on one hand the number of nights I woke at 3am, having sweat through my pajamas, my mouth dry and sour, my heart racing, and my shame visceral. Alas, during my drinking days those nights were all too common. Improved sleep is one of the immediate benefits of not drinking, and the impact of solid sleep is profound. 

Many of us will probably not sleep well on election night, whether drunk or sober, Democrat or Republican or Independent. The evening promises to be charged with emotion no matter how it goes. So since it’s going to be a short, and likely fitful, night of sleep, I don’t want booze ruining my few precious hours to snooze.

  1. There is no parental low quite like hiding a hangover from the kids.

Right up there with sour, sweat-soaked 3am wakings among the things I don’t miss about drinking: hiding hangovers from my kids. “Mama’s tummy is just a little upset.” “Mama has a headache.” More like: “Mama feels like absolute crap and wants to hide in my closet until this shame storm passes, but instead I have to look you in the eye and pretend my malaise is not the result of my dysfunctional relationship with an addictive toxin.”

On November 4, many of us will wake up exhausted, and – if the night provides any sort of conclusion – about half of us will wake up depressed while the other half will wake up ecstatic. However I feel that morning, I will not have anything to hide. I will be able to talk to my kids about election night because I will remember election night. I want to be ready to discuss the election with my kids honestly and openly, no matter its outcome.

I vote for a booze-free election night. Of course, it’s easy for me to say all this with over two alcohol-free years under my belt. But there was a time when I could not imagine celebrating  – or commiserating – without booze. Nary a momentous occasion went by without alcohol. And that is why I have almost no memory of the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016, even though I am a diehard fan who watched Game 7 live in my living room. That is why most New Year’s Eves are forever a blur in my brain.

I decided to take a year-long break from drinking because I was tired of hangovers, fuzzy memories, guilt, and shame. My 365th day has long since passed, as has any desire to go back to the bottle. Showing up fully present in life is not always easy (especially this year), but it’s always worth it.

This will hopefully be the only presidential election during a pandemic we will witness in our lifetimes. It is also, in my opinion, a make-or-break moment for American democracy. I simply don’t want to miss it. Even if it feels terrible (EEK) to go through it, I want to go through it – not circumvent the discomfort with a booze buzz. I want to remember the tension, the anxiety, and, I hope, the excitement and relief. However this election pans out, I want to emerge as a more resilient and compassionate human for having witnessed it.

Two Years No Booze

So here we are. Our first 4th of July in quarantine, and my second Independence Day from booze. On this day last year, I was radiant. Thin, fit, glowing. I had a fresh manicure. I felt like a million bucks. But this is not 2019. I can’t expect myself to glow while the world is sick and burning.

But this is also not 2017. If I were still drinking during this pandemic, I would be paralyzed by skyrocketing anxiety and bottomless shame. I would be risking my health (and my family’s health) and increasing my exposure to COVID by making trips to the liquor store. I would be prioritizing alcohol – an addictive poison – right up there with food as a necessity for quarantine survival.

This is 2020. I am not where I used to be, but I am also not where I used to be.

Today I give myself grace. I remind myself to be proud of where I am in the midst of all this chaos. I have not fallen from grace, I have risen up on its wings to take care of myself and my family during this unprecedented time.
When I start to compare myself with where I was a year ago, I remind myself to adjust my units of measure. Right now, life cannot be measured in kid-free hours, because there are none. It cannot be measured in kickboxing classes, because there are none. Right now, life is measured in quarantine days, alcohol-free days, miles run, yoga classes streamed. It’s measured in book pages read and journal pages written, as I attempt to stay connected to myself and record what life is like in this bizarre time that I can only hope, someday, will be a blur.

My life is not perfect and all my problems are not solved. I haven’t lost any weight. The pink cloud of early sobriety has dissolved and the magic of my first sober year has worn off. My anxiety is present again (thanks COVID). ⁣⁣
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And also:⁣⁣
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I strive to embrace imperfection. Perfect is a mirage that sets us up to fail. Imperfect is grace, humor, and life’s exquisite realness.⁣⁣
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I feel capable. Of accomplishing pretty much anything. A mountain of dirty dishes in the sink used to be enough to defeat me. Now I’m staying sober through a global pandemic.⁣⁣
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My quarantine weight gain is bumming me out a bit, but at least it’s not compounded by the shame I would feel if I were puffed up and hungover from boozing my way through all of this corona-craziness.⁣⁣
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My anxiety is present, yes, but it’s a shadow of the monster it was when I was a #winemom. ⁣⁣
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I show up, every day, just as I am. I’m learning to love this person. I’m even letting her gray hair grow out because I give so many fewer Fs. Which gives me so much more time and energy to invest in pursuits worthier than giving Fs. ⁣⁣
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And on a related note:⁣⁣
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I used to be uncomfortable with the word “sober” because I thought using it would imply that I had a Serious Drinking Problem and I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. Now I use the term because it’s:⁣⁣
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A) True⁣⁣
B) Concise⁣⁣
C) Not up to me what people choose to believe about me and my journey. ⁣⁣
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Beneath my quarantine puff and exhaustion, a quiet power is growing. Power that comes from freedom that comes from ditching my dependence on an addictive, toxic substance that never did me any good at all. ⁣⁣
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At two years AF, I may be in quarantine, but I am free. I may not be glowing, but I am grateful – more grateful for my freedom from alcohol than I have ever been. I am learning to lean into the power of my exquisitely imperfect, true self. ⁣

Follow Your Passion – Wait, No – Your Curiosity

Yesterday while walking my dogs I listened to a podcast featuring Elizabeth Gilbert, who spoke about how not everyone has one thing that they are meant to do in life, or one single path to follow. Some of us are hummingbirds, flitting from flower to flower as we fill up on one interest and pursue the next. “Follow your curiosity,” she said, and an invisible, subconscious weight lifted from my shoulders as my dogs sniffed and peed their way along the sidewalk.

Because this is how I’ve always operated: curiously. I have always followed my curiosity – academically, personally, professionally. I have wanted to do and be so many things throughout my life, and I’ve felt guilt about that over the years because shouldn’t I have become one big thing by now? An archaeologist or a CEO or an author or something?

Perhaps instead I’m meant to continually become. At some point over the last 18 months, I became a non-drinker. I did this by following my curiosity. I wanted to see how I felt after completing Dry January, and then The Alcohol Experiment, and then taking a full year off drinking. What would it feel like to not indulge an alcohol craving? What if I could regain the reins of my life from the wine witch? Could I ever get to a point where I didn’t want to drink?

These were some of my questions. And I could only answer them by following my path, one day – and sometimes one hour – at a time.

Now that I am alcohol-free I want to write about it. Really write. Like, write a whole book. But am I really capable of this? I haven’t dedicated my life to being a writer. I don’t know if I would ever want to write a second book, or even a magazine article. But this one book project has taken hold of my heart and won’t let go. It’s the flower to which I keep flitting back. I remain curious about my ability to do the writing and navigate the publishing world. So as long as this curiosity has hold of me, I am going to pursue it. One day – one hour, one sentence – at a time.

In this wonderfully mindset-shifting podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert said that following your curiosity may in fact lead you to your passion. Wouldn’t that be grand? But if not, if I am not meant to be a published author, I can and will always be a writer. And I know that the experience of trying to write a book about my journey to alcohol freedom will, at the very least, lead me to the next delectable flower, and the next.

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.

Holding My Words

So I noticed a few days ago that my Instagram topped one thousand followers (and I might have taken a screenshot at 1,001 and sent it to a couple of friends because OMG). I knew I had to play it cool on the ‘gram in case I lost followers and dipped back down into triple digits. But this was an exciting moment for me and over the next few days as my following grew beyond 1K to a number where I felt comfortable acknowledging it, I pondered how to do just that.

Should I buy metallic 1 and K mylar balloons, throw on some makeup, and get a blowout for a photo shoot? That’s not really my style. But what is my style? And what does this number mean to me anyway?

I thought about this a lot. And here’s what I’ve concluded: hitting this milestone means that my journey resonates.

It means the sober movement is gaining momentum, and that gray area drinking is becoming something people are less hesitant to acknowledge.

It means that getting my ass in the arena and being vulnerable is worth it.

It means I was never alone in my struggle with drinking, I am not alone now in my struggle with sugar, and I will never be alone in my quest for deeper self-love.

My journey is now being followed by over one thousand people. So what’s the most meaningful thing I can do? Keep going. Continue to share. Continue to believe in my AF-self and the power of vulnerability and connection.

In that spirit, I went to Staples. I went to Staples and I printed out the entire contents of my blog and every single word that I wrote during my one year alcohol-free. I had been copying and pasting and formatting for weeks, in spare moments here and there. When I hit 1,000 followers, I decided to pick up the pace and get it done.

Abandoning my flash drive at Staples felt like leaving my infant with a new babysitter for the first time. Completely nerve-wracking. Especially since one of my files was titled “BIG ASS OYAF.” (Oops – didn’t realize the Staples guy was going to be doing the printing.)

I returned an hour later to pick up 462 pages. Over 215,000 words. Words that are mine. Words that capture two of the most transformative years of my life.

As much as I say that I want to write a book, that I am going to write a book, on a day-to-day basis I am filled with self-doubt. Is what I have to say really important enough? Can I really write well enough? Am I really trying to help people or am I just being self-serving?

Today, as I held my pages in my hands, I realized that those questions are irrelevant at best, destructive at worst. Because I’ve already done it. Yes, I need an outline and I need to fill in a bunch of blanks and I need to write more about my background, etc. But so much of my book is already done. Now that I can hold these pages in my hands it is easier to believe in myself.

And I am holding these pages because of you. So thank you for reading. Thank you for following and commenting and believing and supporting. You are helping me believe in myself, and I hope I’m doing the same for you.

500 Days of Alcohol Freedom and Just a Little Pee in My Pants

Today, at 500 days alcohol-free, I jumped a few extra feet out of my comfort zone and taught Saturday morning heavy bag kickboxing. I teach every Thursday and Friday morning, but Saturday is a different level of intensity. On Thursdays and Fridays, I usually teach between four and ten people. Saturday is a packed room, 16 or more, with attendees often needing to double up on a heavy bag. Thursday and Friday mornings witness the stay-at-home moms (like me), the college students and nannies, and others who are liberated from the 9-5 grind. Saturday brings the workhorses, the veterans – many of whom are more experienced than I. They come expecting their hardest workout of the week. I usually take this class on Saturday and the instructor always kicks my ass. Today, she is at the beach and left it up to me to provide the ass-kicking.

On Thursdays and Fridays, the gym is quiet except for the action in the big red and gray room we use for the heavy bag class. Not so on Saturday, when the gym is packed. Kids’ classes are running in the other room and the students’ parents (some of whom are my friends) are milling around. My boss – the owner of the joint – flits between teaching the kids and schmoozing the parents and observing the heavy bag class.

I am used to a quiet gym and a small, dedicated group of sweat-loving ladies. Today the gym was busy. My crowded class was full of intense athletes. And my peers, boss, and kids peered through the big glass windows to watch me teach. Oh, and my husband was on a bag in the front row.

No pressure.

Did I also mention that before class started I managed to both spill my tea and pee my pants?

***

A few days ago, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to teach this class. My annual bout of bronchitis struck last Sunday. And it’s been the pits, as always. But I decided to take myself to Urgent Care right away to get some prescriptive relief for my overtaxed airways. Albuterol + Prednisone + Paul Rudd’s new Netflix series got me through the worst of it on Sunday and Monday. The drugs kicked in and I turned enough of a corner to teach my classes on Thursday and Friday. Even though I went hoarse on Thursday and was still coughing, teaching brought me out of my bronchial funk and back into the land of the living.

I put on my own oxygen mask first this week. Rest, hydration, and a little steroid assistance… oh, and grace. Accepting the situation for what it is, avoiding a pity party pitfall, taking the care I can and letting go of what is out of my control. Not fussing (too much) about lost workouts or extra calories. That is how I navigated my bronchial drama – and I’m better off for it.

In my previous battles with bronchitis, I would obsess about what I could not control, and be annoyed at my inability to control these uncontrollable aspects of illness. I used to feel forlorn guilt about missing workouts due to being sick, and shame myself for comfort-eating my way through a virus. The shame, of course, just made me eat more.

I know now that wine was at the root of all of this. Because my dependence on wine had me living in a near-constant mindset of guilt and shame. That was how I coped with hard things: I always found a way to guilt myself through it. I relieved the guilt by drinking to escape it. Until the shame inevitably set in.

I am so grateful to be off that misery-go-round.

I am so grateful to have traded guilt for grace.

I am so grateful to be back in action.

And so I was today. My heart was pounding as I pulled my swagger wagon into the parking lot of my MMA gym. I grabbed my stainless steel tumbler and took a slug of my Throat Comfort tea, failing to notice that the mug had been leaking for the duration of my commute. The lukewarm tea dribbled down my puffy jacket and right onto the crotch of my new black leggings with rose gold metallic flecks. “Bless the makers of this miracle fabric that doesn’t show sweat, or apparently tea,” I thought to myself as I grabbed my backpack to head inside. Dodged that bullet!

I was the first to arrive at the gym after the manager who opens up. With my stomach butterflies multiplying by the minute, I tried my best to play it cool and stuck to my normal routine. I took my boots off and entered the big red and gray room. My bare feet padded across the black mat to the far corner, where I dropped my backpack, plugged in my old iPhone to get my music going, plugged in and set my digital clock, and taped my class plan to the cabinet that houses the sound system. I padded back to the entrance, put my boots back on, and hustled to the bathroom.

I’d had lots of tea. I’ve also had two children. And I’ve also had bronchitis. What I thought would be a small, dry cough turned into an unexpectedly deep, productive, phlegmy cough, and the next thing I knew I felt a dreaded warm gush and dashed into the nearest bathroom stall.

I really don’t pee my pants that much. But I sure did today – with about 12 minutes to go until my class began. Luckily, in my limited experience of pants-peeing I can say that the gush always feels worse (by which I mean more plentiful) than it is. I sent up another offer of gratitude to the athleisure gods who made this miracle fabric that betrayed neither my tea nor my pee. I flushed the toilet and washed my hands. Took a quick glance in the mirror – no mascara schmears, at least I had that going for me – and headed back into the gym.

My class was a whirlwind of nerves, combos, and sweat. Imperfection abounded. My Spotify playlist jumped into shuffle mode and I had to change iPhones, causing a two-second eon of – gasp! – no music in the speakers. I botched demonstrating a couple of combos, forgetting where I was and what punch or kick came next. And my cough – which has been fairly dry and sporadic for the duration of this virus, decided to amp up its phlegm production during the 45 minutes I was on the mic. Try doing a jab-cross-hook-cross-switch-left-kick while attempting to choke down a stubborn loogie. Not as easy as it sounds, my friends.

But damn, I looked great in my rose gold-flecked leggings. My kicks felt purposeful and strong. My voice was clear (when I wasn’t coughing) and I felt saucy and inspired as I motivated my crew to get through the killer workout I had written just for them.

My perfectly imperfect Saturday kickboxing class was the perfect way to spend my 500th day of alcohol freedom. The red and gray room was my arena today. And I was in it. Tea, pee, phlegm, and all. Leading this class wasn’t easy. It was far from perfect. But it was good. It was enough. I am enough.

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. – Brené Brown

I own these 500 days with pride. I hold each of them – the best ones and the worst ones and each and every one in between – in love and light today, honoring every stage of this incredible journey.

Bright eyes. Open mind. Happy heart. Fresh underwear. This is me at 500 days alcohol-free.