Looking Back on Day One from Day 360

It has been three hundred and sixty days since I last consumed alcohol (YAHOO!). Something about hitting this number spurred me to go back and read my post from Day One.

Here is what I wrote on July 5, 2018:

I woke this morning with a dry mouth and puffy face, the result of two margaritas and a few sips of wine: my last alco-hurrah before embarking on my 52-week experiment in sobriety. I had planned to drink one last glass of Sauvignon Blanc to say farewell to my drinking days. But by the time I got to it I already felt queasy from the margaritas and zillion tortilla chips (because ‘Merica) so I could only manage a few measly sips.

It was a good ending note, actually. I could have done without the nausea but it was reassuring (in an albeit unpleasant way). I had planned to have a few drinks, to celebrate Independence Day and my own impending independence from alcohol. But my body didn’t want ’em. There will be less to miss, I think, now that I know I’m no longer capable of “having a few drinks” the way I used to “have a few drinks…” every night.

I have had Sauvignon Blanc, my shining beacon of fabulosity, on a pedestal for the last several years. She has been my savior, my salve, my BFF. She has comforted me, chilled me out, lifted me up.

Except she’s a devil in disguise. A fraud broad. A knockoff handbag sold out of a trash bag on Broadway. At least that’s how she has been revealed to me. Everybody is different. But my body is onto her, even if my still-smitten brain wants to give her another chance. And another.

For the next 365 days, that won’t be an option. I’m locking the door to my mental trophy room and letting the key fall into the bottomless pit of my mom bag, to rest among the half-crayons, Hot Wheels, and used tissues.

Why am I doing this now?

My gut has announced that now is the time. I have a year before my son starts kindergarten. So, a year to figure my shit out so that I don’t feel completely gutted when he struts onto the school bus. That same September, in 2019, I’ll be celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I’m still a couple of years away from turning 40, but I want to lay the groundwork now to feel amazing by then.

I am closer than I have ever been to my best body ever. And I have been doing Weight Watchers for long enough now to know that I can’t effectively address my eating issues (read: battle the sugar-and-salt monster) with the shadow of alcohol looming over me. Willpower is a finite resource, after all.

As the phase of early motherhood comes to an end for me, I need to be able to think clearly and creatively about where I’m heading. I know I can’t do that if I continue to be seduced by Sauv B. Those days are over. For now. Maybe forever. But definitely for now. And I have a feeling that if I ever chose to open that door again, I’ll find Sauv B’s pedestal has crumbled to dust.

***

Reading this tonight, on Day 360, I am simply overcome with gratitude and relief. I am grateful to my 37-year-old self for being so damn honest and brave. I am relieved that so much of what I hoped to get out of this year has indeed come to fruition.

Best body ever? Check.

Daring to battle the sugar monster and salt hag? Check.

Increased clarity and creativity? Yup.

Figuring out my sh*t? On it.

En route to feeling fabulous at 40? Fo sho.

And the pedestal on which I once held my beloved sauvignon blanc? It crumbled weeks ago, the dust blown away by the winds of change. The empty space it left in my “mental trophy room” has been filled with beaming new beacons:

Self-confidence. Self-worth. Self-love. Empathy. Energy. Clarity. Creativity. Connection. Grace. And so much more.

My mental trophy room’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

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.

Filling My Metaphorical (not red Solo) Cup

Wacky Wednesday around here. And in the craziness of this day another benefit of being alcohol-free rang loud and clear: I can pivot like a boss.

… as opposed to pivoting like a stressed out, anxious, frazzled frump.

After I dropped my son at school, I was looking forward to meeting a friend for manicures when she called me and said that she had slipped and fallen on the sidewalk and needed to go to urgent care. I pivoted instantly from “mom who mani’s” into “superfriendmom” – picking up her son, and then my son, and hosting a play date for them while my friend got the medical care she needed. The boys had the best afternoon ever, and my friend didn’t have to worry about her son. Save for a sprained ankle and some unkempt fingernails, it was a winning afternoon.

I have always considered myself a good friend. I am an only child, and I’ve spent my life funneling all the energy I couldn’t expend on siblings into my friendships. Over the last two decades, many of my friendships have involved – if not revolved around – wine. Removing wine from my relationships has been interesting in so many ways, all of which I am still identifying and processing. One of these ways, I realized today, is my enhanced ability to pivot: to switch gears quickly and smoothly in order to offer my friends the kind of support they need at any given moment.

In an instant, my afternoon changed from a fun and indulgent catch-up session with a close friend to taking full responsibility for her child. I had a clear head to be able to identify and offer appropriate help. I had the energy and wherewithal to wrap my brain around hosting a spontaneous play date for two rambunctious little boys. To Do’s were pushed aside without anxiety, to be tackled tomorrow. The whole situation was smooth and stress-free (at least for me, if not for my poor friend!).

During my Peloton ride the other day, my instructor Ally Love talked about how friendship is all about filling each other’s (metaphorical, not red Solo) cups. And how, if we all spent more time filling each other’s cups, the world would be a better place as all our cups would overflow with love and kindness. (I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist as I recall from the blur of sweat, lactic acid, and endorphins.)

Today, I filled my friend’s cup. But helping her also filled my own.

A Grenade, Not a Balm

The day started delightfully enough. Eight hours of sleep, and then my son woke at 7 and I snuggled him back to sleep for an hour. Alas, by 2pm I was hiding in the pantry eating Bark Thins that I could only half-taste because my congestion has worsened again. Ugh.

What sent me into my pantry was a big wave of life malaise that unexpectedly engulfed me this morning. My kickboxing class was cancelled, and my allergies blew up as I ran errands in lieu of working out. As I was driving around town, I was consumed by an overwhelming, sinking brain fog: I don’t want to be home, I don’t want to live in New York, I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t even know where to start getting back on top of things. It was intense and uncharacteristic and scary.

Here’s what I did: I finished my errands, came home to relieve my babysitter, and let my kids watch TV so I could do a Peloton ride. I was hoping for an endorphin boost but the ride didn’t do it for me. So I resorted to chocolate.

But here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t use this as an excuse to start drinking early. I refuse to dive into a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to distract myself from the discomfort of feeling these disturbing and depressed feelings. Yes, I fed my foggy melancholy with chocolate. But for me that is a much better choice than booze.

I finished the bag of Bark Thins while my kids played remarkably nicely. And then I started to get myself together a bit. I made an appointment with my PCP and also with an allergist. I got through a bunch of emails and updated our family calendar. I drank some water and took my vitamins. And I started to feel a bit better. My allergies also calmed down after spending a few hours inside.

The day improved from there. I made things easier for myself by taking kids out to dinner so I didn’t have to cook. I’m planning to go to bed with a book as soon as I post this. This day is definitely ending on more solid footing than I found myself this morning.

As unnerving as it was, I’m proud of myself for staying present with my sad state. I didn’t deny it, didn’t try to run from it. Bark Thins notwithstanding, I allowed my mood to just be, and I took the steps I could take to help it pass.

For years, I turned to wine in times like this. And that is how I lost myself. I thought wine was the solution to melancholy and anxiety. I thought wine was a balm to soothe my stress-induced cracks. To fill my life’s fissures until they healed.

But instead of putting me back together, wine broke me apart. Wine was a grenade, not a balm. Alcohol broke me into so many fragments it got too hard to piece myself back together every morning. So I stopped trying. And started living as an incomplete version of myself.

I could not operate at my full potential because I was not full. Pieces of me were cracked, broken, misplaced. Some pieces of the puzzle that was me were jammed into the wrong spot, warping the overall image and making it impossible to complete.

No one really saw this, I don’t think. But I knew it. Wine shattered me. I’d pick up enough pieces to get through the day, only to be reshattered again that night.

I have spent the last thirteen months painstakingly – but joyously – gathering and repairing and rediscovering the whole picture of me. It’s hard work, but besides carrying my two babies it’s the most important work I’ve ever done.

Today, the picture I see is someone who has color back in her cheeks but is nonetheless run down, anxious about my upcoming leg procedure, and tired of not feeling my best. I let my fatigue, anxiety, and frustration get the better of me for awhile. But I trust in my ability to come back from all this and I know I’m finding more of my pieces along the way.

A Three-Part Conversation About Alcohol with My Seven-Year-Old Daughter

Part I: The other day in the car

My daughter and son were singing made-up songs (one of their favorite pastimes). My daughter said, “Listen to this one!” She proceeded to sing two lines of a silly song, and the final word of the rhyming couplet was “beer.” I stopped her and asked why she was singing about beer. She answered that she was repeating a song she had heard at school.

“Beer is a grown-up drink and it’s not appropriate for kids to sing or joke about it,” I said.

“Why?”

“Well, because beer is not something kids can have. And if a grown-up drinks too much of it, he or she can get sick.”

We left it at that, my daughter and son jumping back into their silly songs; and me reeling, trying to replay the conversation and figure out if I needed to say anything else, wondering who was singing about beer at school, and, admittedly, judging the kid and his or her parents.

Part II: Bedtime, Super Bowl Sunday

Perhaps spurred on by seeing beer commercials during the Super Bowl, my daughter asked, “Mommy, what’s alcohol?”

“Alcohol is a drink for grown-ups. Beer and wine are types of alcohol.”

“Oh right. And if you drink too much of it you get sick, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then why would a grown-up drink it?”

“Well, some grown-ups like the taste of it. And if you drink a small amount, you don’t get sick.”

“Do you drink alcohol?”

“Actually, right now I am not drinking alcohol. I used to drink wine, but I decided I didn’t like how it made me feel. So I stopped. I am not drinking alcohol for a whole year to see how healthy and good I can feel without it.”

“Are you ever going to drink alcohol again?”

Before I could stop these cowardly words, out they came:

“I don’t know. I might. But it would only be for special occasions, like if Daddy and I go out for a nice dinner or maybe at Christmas-”

Pause here. As these words came out of my mouth, they felt like a betrayal. To my daughter and to myself. After all, I was just telling her I don’t like how alcohol makes me feel, and then there I was telling her that I was going to go back to drinking it. And I used Christmas as an example! UGH. This past Christmas was so much more wonderful without wine. And yet there I was, admitting to my daughter that because it is a “special occasion” that that meant I would choose to drink. In that moment I enforced a subconscious neural pathway in her mind that grown-ups need to drink alcohol to celebrate and enjoy holidays. F.

I could see the confusion on her face. “But why would you drink it if it makes you feel sick?” She rightfully asked.

“Well, in small amounts it doesn’t make you feel sick.” UGH WHY ARE YOU MAKING EXCUSES FOR POISON AND REINFORCING PRO-ALCOHOL MESSAGING WITH YOUR OWN CHILD?! STOP!

“Does Daddy drink alcohol?”

“Yes, he drinks something called hard cider which is like apple cider but with alcohol in it. He likes the way it tastes so that is why he drinks it. He drinks maybe one or two every month, which is not a lot at all.”

“Well I am never going to drink alcohol.”

“I think that is a great choice and a strong choice and I’m very proud of you.” [And kicking myself for how I just handled this critical exchange.]

Part III: The next evening, while out for a walk with dogs and scooters

“Take my hand, Mama,” she said.

As we held hands and walked with her scooter I said, “I wanted to talk to you about something. Yesterday, when you asked me if I would start drinking alcohol again and I told you I might drink at Christmas, it bothered me that I said that. Because last Christmas was, like, the funnest ever, and I didn’t have any wine then, so why would I want to have any on any other Christmas? That would be silly! I don’t want you to think that when you’re a grown-up you have to have alcohol to enjoy a holiday or any other special day.”

“I know. That’s why I’m never going to drink alcohol. I hope that your friends make good choices like you, Mama.”

* * *

In my daughter’s mind, it’s simple: if alcohol can make you feel sick, why on Earth would you ever drink it?

It was that simple for all of us, once. And I’m starting to believe that it can be that simple again. If that is the neural pathway I choose to traverse, back and forth, over and over, it will become smooth as a silk carpet. I believe I can get there. And I hope when I do my daughter is still there, standing tall and strong in the glow of her simple yet profound wisdom.

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.

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.