A Dear Sugar Letter

Dear Sugar*,

It’s not you, it’s me. Well, actually, it IS you, you tantalizing tempter. You crave-inducing killer. You are always delicious and occasionally truly divine. You are simultaneously ubiquitous and stealthy. You have always been there for me, yet were never what I actually needed. And that is exactly why I need to take a break.

You have been part of my life since I can remember, and some of my fondest memories are forever intertwined with you. Pan di Stelle gelato in Sorrento while on vacation with my husband. Cadbury chocolate straight from the factory in Uxbridge while on a field trip with my MBA class. Chelsea buns in Cambridge. Scones with clotted cream in London. The world’s best homemade ice cream and fresh waffle cones a stone’s throw from my in-laws’ home in Massachusetts. The jar of Nutella I would buy every week at Shaws after mommy-and-me class, my infant daughter snoozing away in her stroller as we walked home to our apartment in Boston’s South End. My son’s ninja-themed, Oreo-buttercreamed birthday cake, which he sliced (while supervised) with a samurai sword when he had just turned four.

Sugar, I will always love you. But right now I gotta say bye.

See, you taste so good but you hurt so bad. You send me soaring but are never there to catch me when I fall. You never fail to delight my senses, but neither do you fail to bloat my belly. You make me feel like a million bucks, then leave me feeling less than. A moment of ecstasy, then you’re gone – and I’m inevitably bombarded by an onslaught of dehydration, fatigue, and guilt.

Oh the guilt! How have I lived with it all these years? I’ll tell you how. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t believe I deserved to feel any better. I kept coming back again and again in the myriad moments where I felt weak and out of control and powerless and fat and stressed and tired.

I know better now. And you can thank your friend the wine witch for my newly enlightened state. I’ve traded guilt for grace. I know your secrets. I know how the mere promise of you releases dopamine in my brain, making me feel pleasure before you’ve even passed my lips. I know that you will always leave me wanting more. I will never be satisfied as long as I seek satisfaction from the likes of you.

So I need to look elsewhere for awhile. I need to remind us both who wears the leggings in this relationship. Yes, I will most certainly fall into the embrace of your natural counterparts. But frozen mango has more to offer than your empty promises (and calories).

I will also be looking beyond food. I will write. I will track. I will be present. I will move. I will hydrate. I will strive to become an amateur urge-surfer. And I will progress from there.

Sugar, you will always be part of my life. I can’t imagine celebrating my one year alcohol-free on July 4 without you. But it’s goodbye for now. Because I’m worth it.

With love, will, and grace,

Jen

*Added and artificial, not natural. I’m not that much of a masochist.

The Peanut Butter Cups Experiment

Awareness plants the seed of change.

I found this sentence in my Notes app today. Can’t remember where I heard this. Peloton? WW? A wise friend? Instagram? Or did I come up with it myself? Anyway, it’s an appropriate statement for day 308.

I consciously fed the sugar monster today. Seduced by a carton of peanut butter cups while grocery shopping on an empty stomach (mistake numero uno, that!), I decided to make a little experiment of indulging my recent sugar cravings. I paid for my groceries and returned to my car. As I popped open the plastic container (delayed gratification has never been my thing), I felt the giddiness of dopamine release. It takes eight minutes to drive from Whole Foods to my house. I decided I would eat four peanut butter cups on my drive home – that way I would still have a chance to be within my points today, as I had a zero-point lunch and low-point dinner lined up.

Do you think I was able to stick to just four? I probably could have, if I had chosen to exercise discipline. But I chose not to today, for a variety of reasons. As soon as I finished one peanut butter cup I reached for the next. I tried to eat them slowly, but I still managed to have about ten(ish?!) by the time I pulled into my driveway.

As I ate them, I focused on enjoying them and did my best to be present and brush aside the guilt that was hovering, threatening to crush my sugar buzz. I thought about Annie Grace’s video of herself consuming an entire bottle of wine, and how she used that footage to motivate herself to stop drinking – and how much it motivated me back when I was doing TAE over a year ago. I mentally zoomed out and looked at myself, again trying not to judge, just observing myself indulging a strong sugar craving. I noted how the first peanut butter cup tasted (amaaaazing), versus the fifth (yummy with a twinge of gross), versus the fifteenth (because yes, I kept eating them throughout the day).

The verdict? The peaut butter cups were delicious. I’m proud of myself for not beating myself up for eating them. But my belly is so bloated right now I look pregnant. And I miss my frozen mango! I really do!

Awareness plants the seed of change. I think my sugar habits – ingrained more deeply than my wine dependence, because sugar came into my life long before booze – may actually be evolving. Because those peanut butter cups, as yummy as they were, did not taste so much better than frozen mango that I am willing to sacrifice feeling strong and svelte. I have felt so good the last couple of days. I have been eating well, exercising, and hydrating. Today’s sugar binge has made me feel completely bloated, tired, and dehydrated.

This is definitely reminiscent of when I went back to drinking after taking a one of my initial booze breaks. I knew how good I felt without wine, so going back to drinking was not as pleasurable. I no longer had the tolerance – for the alcohol itself, but also for the way it made me feel (yuck).

Today’s conscious peanut butter cup binge is a reminder of how good I feel when I do NOT cater to the sugar monster. I did still enjoy the chocolate – but less than I would have in the past. I choose to see progress here, not weakness. Yes, I succumbed to the peanut butter cups. Yes, I ate too many of them. But I did it all with awareness and without judgement. And I learned from this experience.

I don’t think I will ever fully give up sweets. But I would like to be able to eat them in moderation and have the sugar monster be a less dominant presence in my brain. I don’t think moderation is possible for me with alcohol – and with each day that passes I become less interested in drinking again at all. But sugar, for me, is different. For now. We’ll see.

A Candy-Free Easter

It’s hard to get psyched up for Easter now that I’m educating myself about sugar and also trying to lose weight this week –

As soon as that sentence flew out of my fingertips: lightbulb!

Hold up. Easter shouldn’t be about chocolate, should it? Just like Christmas shouldn’t be about wine, or a birthday shouldn’t be about cake (and/or wine).

[A note on religion: we are not particularly religious. My husband and I are still grappling with how to introduce and teach religion to our kids. So I’m writing on the topic of Easter acknowledging that it is a religious holiday that we do not celebrate in a religious way.]

So, taking religion out of it, what is left, besides chocolate? Family. Fun. And a little bit of magic, as my kids still believe in the Easter Bunny and delight in hunting for eggs around the yard (much more than I delight in waking at 5:30am to hide them).

Now, what is more important, family or chocolate? Easy question. So why am I so bummed to be on an Easter candy boycott tomorrow? I should be focused on having a lovely morning with my sweet clan, not on denying myself sweets.

It’s those pesky neural pathways! Just as I had always linked enjoying holidays with imbibing alcohol, so too have I always linked enjoying holidays with indulging in treats. And there is certainly nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence! But when removing the indulgence from the picture actually causes me to don my cranky pants, that is a problem.

I am on the sugar struggle bus. It is difficult for me to imagine enjoying Easter – or any other holiday – without treats. Tomorrow will be my first candy-free Easter ever. I know that if I were at my goal weight, tomorrow would be a cheat day. But I’m not. I’m 3lbs over my goal, with a Lifetime weigh-in looming. I could still choose to have a cheat day, but I know I would feel super guilty. So I’m going to take this opportunity to consider the possibility of enjoying Easter without chocolate.

This is not quite as scary as my alcohol-free birthday or Christmas. But it’s not easy to anticipate, either. I don’t want to feel tortured. I don’t want to miss chocolate. But I probably will.

And guess what? That is ok. This is a process. An experiment. All I can do is stay true to my commitment and see how it feels.

The boycott is on. Happy Easter to all who celebrate, however you celebrate!

Winging It

The thought of ditching alcohol used to scare me. A lot. I didn’t know how I could celebrate, commiserate, travel, or watch TV without it. How could I relax? How could I rev up? How could I go to a restaurant and enjoy dinner? Or lunch, or – gasp! – brunch?!

But perhaps most terrifying was the prospect of parenting without wine (or tequila) (or whatever was in the fridge). Alcohol was the key to surviving motherhood. There couldn’t be “mommy juice” without “mom.” How could I ever be the mom I wanted to be if I couldn’t drink to treat myself and unwind at the end of the day?

You all know the punchline: I never knew the mom I wanted to be until I stopped drinking. I never knew how much I could enjoy my kids; or, when enjoyment went out the window, how effectively I could work through conflict with them. In ditching alcohol, I have gained energy, patience, compassion, and clarity. I am a better mom, wife, and human without booze. And I can type that without hesitating now, because it’s my truth y’all.

Making the scary choice to go alcohol-free has indeed opened me up and given me wings. I am forever grateful that I somehow had the guts to listen to the voice inside when she finally stood up and said, “Enough.” I still don’t know where I will be at the end of this year, if I will be ready to commit to forever or just to day 365. But I’m not afraid anymore. A teensy bit anxious on occasion, yes, but I’ll take that over the profound fear that glued a wine glass to my hand for so many years.

Am I where I want to be? Heck no. I am still very much a work in progress, and I’m still scared. What scares me now, if not booze? Freaking sugar, that’s what! As the wine witch has receded to a mere wisp in my conscience, the sugar monster has absorbed her power and begun to attempt a coup. My reliance on sugar has grown since ditching booze, and it’s starting to spiral out of control. I am managing to maintain my weight but the “to drink or not to drink” quandary that bombarded my brain on a daily basis is starting to be replaced by “to sweet or not to sweet” – and the answer, too often lately, has been GIVE ME ALL THE SWEETS.

I am reaching my limit. I can feel it. I can hear my inner voice warming up her vocal chords as she prepares to declare a war on sugar.

There are many parallels between my issues with booze and sugar, but there are also key differences. I can’t simply apply all my alcohol-free tools to sugar. Sugar is a more complicated issue, more prevalent in #momlife and society as a whole, and more deeply ingrained in our family life than alcohol ever was. The path forward is a lot less clear.

So I’m reading. I’m learning about the history of sugar, its role in society, and its impact on the body. I’m starting to ponder going sugar-free for 10 days or possibly doing the Whole30 at some point. I feel like I need a clean break from sugar but before I commit I need to have more knowledge, and a strategic food plan in place.

THIS IS VERY SCARY FOR ME. Have I mentioned that? Sweets have brought me comfort since I can remember. But I have also struggled with being overweight since I can remember. So. Here we are.

Mama needs a second set of wings.

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.

Monday Malaise

I’m feeling some malaise today. I am quite literally not at ease. It’s not the alcohol, since I haven’t had any for the last 17 days (and 96 out of the last 99 days!) anyway. It’s not even the chocolate mint waffle cone, bagels, cookies, and Chinese food I binged on yesterday – though recovering from that is not helping. It’s just me – unclouded, un-hungover – having a malaise-y Monday.

With the end of the school year upon us, and my son starting kindergarten in another year, I ponder the precipice I approach. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last six and a half years. And I don’t know what’s next for me. I don’t have a job waiting for me, or a career to which I could make a triumphant return. I am about to emerge from the depths of #SAHMlife and I don’t know what’s out there in a world where I will have SEVEN WHOLE HOURS to myself five days week.

I imagine some of this time will be taken up by a part-time job. But what am I going to do to make money? None of my volunteer commitments have the potential to turn into paying gigs. And lately I’ve lost steam with them anyway. I’ve been too into, well, THIS. Writing. And reading. And Connecting.

I am figuring my shit out, learning to love myself, and finding my voice.

So what do I WANT to do once I am able to usher both my kids onto the same school bus and not be chauffeuring them, cooking for them, cleaning up after them, and wiping their butts all day?

I want to help people like the person I used to be, by which I mean overweight, wine-dependent, unfit, and – most importantly – under-self-loved. But how? There are already so many beautiful women with perfect Instagram accounts and gazillions of followers who are established in the sober/mom/fitness/wellness/you-name-it communities. Books have already been written. Podcasts have already been recorded. Who am I to think I have anything to add to any aspect of any of this?

Especially since I have not fully given up alcohol. And I have not fully conquered my eating issues. And I could always be more fit. And a better mom. Etc.

But I have come so far. I wake every morning now with a body that a year and a half ago I believed was totally unrealistic for me. Before starting Weight Watchers, I had my wedding rings sized up and now they dangle from my fingers on cool days. The thought of drinking the way I used to not only holds zero appeal, it feels like a different life – and yet it was only six-ish months ago that it was MY life. I feel more comfortable in this skin than I have felt in years – maybe ever.

And yet I’m uneasy. I think because I don’t have a clear picture of where I want to go, what I want to be, what I want to do. My opportunity to emerge from #SAHMlife is on the horizon and when I get there I want to be ready to slay.

For now, I am a work in progress. And that is ok. I will never catch up to those amazing ladies who have been pioneers in the alcohol-free movement. And that is ok. I am finding my own voice. And that is ok. I can’t pretend to be anything other than this much-improved version of me. And that is more than ok.

Will I ever give up alcohol completely? I don’t know. Here’s what I do know: I will indulge in a glass of wine the way I indulge in a cup of Cold Stone Peanut Butter Cup Perfection. Very occasionally. I know it’s not good for me. I know it brings no benefit to the body that I have worked so hard to achieve. I know I will feel worse for having consumed it. And yet I am building enough inner trust to know that one cup of ice cream or glass of wine will NOT send me into a spiral anymore. And that is huge for me.

Maybe someday these desires will disappear, and I won’t want to burden my body with booze or sugar. Wouldn’t that be great? I don’t know, actually – and that’s why it’s not my goal right now.

My goal is to spend what little kid-free time I currently have empowering myself with knowledge. Understanding acutely the effect of these chemicals on my body. But I am not going to force myself to fit into the alcohol-free mold before I’m ready, because I don’t want to set myself up for self-sabotage.

The final ascent to the self-actualization apex of Maslow’s Pyramid probably does not include alcohol or sugar, or caffeine for that matter! But everyone’s ascent is different. And I can only follow my own. As long as I’m making my way up that pyramid, no matter how round-about my route, that is the important thing.

I have more than a year until two little butts scurry up the stairs onto the school bus. I have time. I am in learning and discovery mode. And whenever I feel late to the party, with my tiny blog and tiny Instagram following, I have to remind myself that the party has already changed for the better because I am here.

 

maslow-5
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Dear Future Me

Dear Future Me,

So you found your abs at age 37 and life has been perfect since then, right? Tee hee. Ha.

I’m writing to you today because I’m reading a book called The Food Therapist in an effort to tackle my issues with food – diagnosed, according to the author, as dependence, craving for control, and lack of trust. Apparently, the more connected I feel to YOU, Jen-in-her-40s, the better equipped I will be to conquer these issues and maintain my goals (abs!) (and other stuff) for the long haul.

So how are you? Energized, clear-skinned, inspired, confident, and still fitting into a size 4-6? Continually obsessed with your Peloton bike? Still getting a literal and figurative kick out of your heavy bag kickboxing classes? I hope so.

If you recall, you spent ten weeks in 2017 dropping 23 pounds with Weight Watchers. You maintained your weight loss as you began to exercise regularly again. And you also drank regularly throughout. Your drinking became both less pleasurable and less escapable, and so you decided to go dry in January 2018. And that’s when things really got interesting.

Your world opened up with clarity and exquisiteness that you couldn’t have imagined. You liberated yourself from the “mommy juice” myth. And when alcohol became routine again in February and March, you started The Alcohol Experiment. 30 days turned into 60 which turned into 76 days sans booze.

As of today, 93 days since the start of The Alcohol Experiment, I (switching pronouns here, sounds a little less awkward this way) have had four drinks. And I feel great about that. I have steadfastly adhered to my alcohol non-negotiables. The one night I had two glasses of wine, I enjoyed the first and did not enjoy the second. I am continuing to experiment and I am striving, always, for balance.

I wonder where you are with alcohol. In this letter I’m supposed to tell you where I want you to be. But, honestly, I’m not sure. I want you to be happy and healthy, first and foremost. I trust that you have not regressed. If you have decided that alcohol really has no place in your life, kudos to you! And if you have continued to drink occasionally, so long as you truly enjoy it and always adhere to your non-negotiables, that’s a-ok too.

As of the typing of this letter, I am about 98% at peace with my relationship with alcohol. I hope you can confidently say that you are at 100%. And if you haven’t taken a moment lately to celebrate that, please do. Go ahead, I’ll wait. The 2017 us did not believe we would ever be free from our reliance on alcohol. I am so proud to have broken free, and you should still be proud too.

As for food, I hope that walking by the small batch artisanal tortilla chips at DeCicco’s is no longer torturous for you. I hope you can have a bag of chocolate granola – or maybe even a jar of Nutella! – in the pantry without eating the whole thing in one go. I hope that you and food were able to work through your issues and that your relationship flourishes now.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy. After all, you and food had a rocky rapport from the beginning. As a kindergartener you fell asleep every night with your blankie and a Hi-C juice box. Food was always a comfort, a salve, an escape, a distraction. A moment of joy that was worth long-term emotional and physical malaise. But then you ditched booze and started to really love yourself, and once that self-love took hold there wasn’t as much room left for your toxic relationship with food, was there?

I am at the beginning now. I am just starting to untangle 37 years of food dysfunction. I think I can do it. I hope I can. No. You know what? I WILL. Because I’ve come too far to not tackle this shit. (I hope as you read this you’re smiling to yourself, endeared by my determination and my still-flickering self-doubt, which I hope you extinguished for good long ago.)

Here is how I envision you, Jen-in-her-40s:

You wake up well-rested and maintain steady energy throughout your day. You walk into your closet knowing you can fit into everything you see. Whatever you put on, your clothing brings you joy and makes you feel good about how you look. In the summer you confidently wear a bikini, and not just on skinny days. You have a strong core (do you have those awesome side muscles that I am just starting to see? I hope so!) and you don’t look pregnant by the end of the day. You are confident in how you look and how you feel and how you move. You feel sexier than I do. But most importantly, you feel strong and healthy – which may mean something different to you than it does to me, and that’s cool.

You are your own living epitome of health.

No pressure, though.

I don’t expect you to have yanked out your sweet tooth. Or your salt tooth, for that matter. I hope that you and food have a relationship based on trust and appreciation. You see food as fuel for your strong and healthy body and mind. The occasional indulgence does not send you flailing into a downward spiral or fleeing to the pantry in a state of sugar-lust. Sugar-lust may still exist for you, but YOU are in control of your cravings. You understand why they are happening. You are mindful and aware and whether you choose to indulge a craving or not, you act consciously and move on confidently.

I’m starting to feel so excited for us. I’m excited for me to become you. I could do without the additional gray hair and fine lines that will turn into wrinkles; but I’m less fussed about those things because I know that I am taking our wonky foundation and reinforcing it so that we can continue to grow, to build, to strengthen, to create, to achieve.

Thank you for getting yourself to where you are.

You’re welcome for starting you on your way.

Love,

Me