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.

Pondering an AF Anniversary Vacation

Last night, in a New Year’s fit of overachieving productivity, my husband and I sat down and looked at our calendar for 2019 to schedule some house projects and travel. This September we will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, and we are determined to ditch our kids for a week. Our previous record since starting a family seven years ago is two nights away, maybe three, so this is a biggie for us. I clicked to September 2019 in my Google Calendar and saw that I had already blocked out the week of our anniversary with “NAPA!!!!”

I remember doing this. I can’t remember exactly when it was. Probably a couple of years ago. My husband and I were talking about how, for our tenth anniversary, we would do a real vacation somewhere fabulous and far away. I have been to Napa twice: once for a wedding at a venue just on the edge of the region (read: not Napa prop-a), and once to do the wine train with my husband and his aunt and uncle… whilst 13 weeks pregnant. Both were day trips. So while I have been to Napa, I have never really experienced Napa (read: touring vineyards and drinking my face off).

When my husband and I had that initial tenth anniversary conversation, going to Napa seemed to be the perfect way to celebrate. Wine! Romance! Beautiful scenery! More wine! We both agreed, and I put it in the calendar.

When I saw it there last night, I deleted it, instantly and instinctively. Because going to a wine region is no longer the perfect way for me to celebrate anything.

We talked about Europe. Portugal? France? But those don’t feel right anymore either. A couple travels to Portugal to drink port, and France, like Napa, to drink wine. I don’t know if I will be drinking again in September 2019 – my one year is up this July 4 – but whatever my status, I know I will not feel comfortable basing a romantic trip around a location famed for its booze.

I felt – still feel, kind of – guilty about this. On a world map, I now see big red X’s across some of the world’s most spectacular regions. By not drinking I am limiting the possibilities of travel that my husband and I can do. And we love to travel. We have a long, long list of places we want to see in our lifetime together. But now that list is littered with asterisks: *only if Jen is drinking.

My husband is a take-it-or-leave-it drinker. I am a take-it-and-drink-it-and-drink-some-more drinker. If I decide to remain alcohol-free, it’s unfair to him that my choice to not drink will interfere with our mutual desire to travel together to beautiful places all over the world. Places we both want to see and experience together, and where we would want to be all romantical and stuff. A bunch of them are marred by big red X’s now. And it’s my fault.

This self-inflicted guilt hit me like a punch in the face. And it hurt.

“Well,” my kind and supportive husband said, “we can just turn trips to places like Portugal and France into family trips.”

Family trips: where my not-drinking would be a virtue, not a vibe-crushing bummer. Look, kids, Mama doesn’t need to drink wine in Bordeaux to have fun! I guess that could work.

This morning I still felt like a foreseeable future buzzkill. Reflecting further upon last night’s conversation, I realized that I needed to do a little mental pivot. Instead of this: “We can’t go to Napa because Jen can’t drink or else she’ll plummet back into her gray-area soul-sucking watering hole,” let’s try this: “We aren’t going to Napa because Jen doesn’t like wine.”

I mean, I feel fine saying that I don’t want to go to Aspen because I don’t like to ski, and that Malaysia is not at the top of my travel list because I don’t like extreme humidity. So what if a few of the world’s most beautiful places just dropped down past Malaysia on my travel list. There are a lot of other spectacular spots on this planet that are notable for things other than alcohol. We’ll just prioritize those instead.

We still haven’t decided where we want to go. The space held on the calendar for “NAPA!!!!” is now simply “Anniversary Trip.” But when we do choose a destination, I’ll once again break out the all-caps and exclamation points. This time, with pride that my husband and I found a romantic place that also compliments my healthy lifestyle.

Finding the Light: One Year into My Journey

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

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


12/29/18

178 days of freedom from alcohol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wine Witch Returns

I had one of the strongest booze cravings tonight that I’ve had in a very, very long time. I’m happy to report that I surfed the urge like a boss, but it was nevertheless unsettling.

Today was a loooong day. “No-school November,” as we call it around here, is a challenging time. The kids don’t have a full week of school until the last week of the month, so our tenuous fall routine has once again fizzled before my eyes, leaving me with two stir-crazy siblings-turned-frenzied-frenemies.

We managed a few successful diversions today. Kickboxing class for me (brought to you by the iPad, which kept my kids entertained for those precious 45 minutes); play date for my daughter (bless the mom of her friend, who let the girls frolic in a giant leaf pile); and a birthday party for my son (bless those parents who hosted the party at one of those bouncy castle places). But any time they were in our house my kids were either at each other’s throats or just plain rude, to each other and to me. Ugh.

By the time the witching hour finally rolled around, I had a sink full of dirty dishes with which to do battle as I attempted a new recipe which I must have botched because it turned out pretty nasty. I felt defeated by culinary chaos and exhausted from the resolve it took to not just scream my head off at my whiny, ungrateful children all day long.

My frayed nerves must have given the shriveled wine witch newfound life because all of a sudden, there she was. “You know what would make this better? Wine. A cold, crisp glass to help you escape this craziness. To help take the edge off. You deserve-”

Nope. Not happening. Scat! Go back into your hole! Bye, Felicia.

She retreated. And I began to “surf the urge.”

Why was I craving alcohol? A mountain of dirty dishes plus a particularly soul-sucking day of parenting? Welcome to Trigger City, where the streets are lined with sauvignon blanc and tequila grows on trees.

Would alcohol make anything better? No way. That’s an easy answer these days. It would have made me impaired, numb, dehydrated, and even more short-tempered than I already was. Most importantly, I would be showing my children that the answer to stress relief is alcohol. I don’t want them to grow up with that message like I did.

What could I do to improve my state of mind instead of boozing? Eat! My kids and I sat down to dinner and even though mine was pretty gross, my son ate his sugar snap peas without whining (!!!) and we ended up having a rather civilized and even – gasp! – enjoyable family meal.

But the dish mountain remained. To ward off the emboldened wine witch – well, first I ate a piece of chocolate in the pantry in the dark by myself (keepin’ it real y’all). Then I asked Echo to play the “Doing the Dishes” playlist – which is full of catchy pop music – and I got down with my dish pile while my kids funneled the last of their crazy energy into a rather adorable dance party.

I quashed the wine witch and I rallied to create something positive out of this slog of a day. And I’m proud of that. My kids are sound asleep and I am heading up to bed as soon as I finish writing. Tomorrow (a new day! Hallelujah!), I’m spinning at 6am and then I have my monthly weigh-in. So this mama needs to recharge her superpowers. That sounds better than getting my beauty rest, doesn’t it?

Either way, I am going to sleep with clean dishes and a clean conscience. Take that, wine witch!

Really, WW Mag? Booze as Your Holiday Cover Girl?

I have never been one to stand on a soapbox, and I have debated all day about whether to write about this. But the more I think about it, the more upset I get. I have to call out WW (that’s the newly rebranded WeightWatchers, y’all) and WW Magazine on their November/December cover. I am disappointed and perplexed as to why a company which has just rebranded itself to encompass the concept of “wellness” and claims to be the provider of “Wellness That Works” would celebrate alcohol as its holiday cover girl; and, further, insinuate that alcohol is the path to “health, joy & connection.”

In reality, a recent study published in the Lancet states that “the safest level of drinking is none.” Alcohol is a leading cause of disease and death world-wide, killing 2.8 million people every year. In the United States, 88,000 lives are lost annually to alcohol, making it the third-leading preventable cause of death. Alcohol is to blame for nearly 1 in 10 deaths of those aged 15-49 – the likely age bracket of the folks shown toasting wine on the new cover of WW Magazine.

How about showing hands toasting with hot chocolate? Or, as someone suggested on Connect, showing some hands toasting with non-alcoholic beverages? How about showing a happy holiday table scene that – gasp! – does NOT include alcohol?

I realize that the vast majority of holiday celebrations – including mine – involve alcohol. I am not standing in judgement of anyone who chooses to imbibe on a holiday or any other day.

But I am also a person for whom “gray area drinking” – that is, not hitting rock bottom but drinking enough to feel a lack of control compounded by guilt and shame – was enough of an issue that I have sworn off the stuff for a year. I have also come to trust in WW as a lifestyle that works better for me than anything else I’ve tried. I lost 23 pounds in 2017 and have kept it off with the help of my trusty tracker. I summoned the courage to take a break from drinking because of the incredible support of my #sobersisters on Connect. I achieved Lifetime two months ago (meaning, for those who are unfamiliar with WW, that as long as I stay within two pounds of my goal weight I have free access to the program) and plan to stick with WW for the foreseeable future.

So I feel let down by this magazine cover. I am not asking WW to take an anti-alcohol stance. But I do ask WW to reconsider its messaging. I believe that a wellness company should not promote alcohol, the most commonly-used addictive substance in the US, as integral to “health, joy & connection.”

Alcohol is not the key to “health, joy & connection.” Alcohol is the fast lane heading in the exact opposite direction.

Sources:

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/08/24/alcohol-death-disease-study-beer-wine/1082443002/

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol/facts-about-alcohol