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

Wedding Day Gazing

Today is my ninth wedding anniversary. I have a feeling that if I took my dress out of its box, it would still fit – #thankyouweightwatchers. Maybe I’ll actually try it on for our big 10th next year!

Unlike in previous years, today I am looking back at my wedding day through an alcohol-free lens. And it’s an interesting view.

I’m happy to say I didn’t get tanked at my wedding. The day and night are a blur in my memory, but not because of booze – just because it was the most momentous day of my life up to that point and even though I tried to absorb every moment deep into my bones it went by in a beautiful, picture-perfect flash.

I didn’t get tanked at my wedding, but alcohol played a role. We had champagne for the toasts, of course. After an embarrassing brush with a drunken relative I made a break for the bar, only to be disappointed that the bartender served me the Chardonnay we had on hand for my stepmom instead of the Sauvignon Blanc I’d ordered.

But besides that, I didn’t drink. I remember this was a very purposeful strategy. I didn’t drink because I wanted to remember everything. I thought it would be hard to stay away from wine on my wedding night, but it wasn’t. First of all because I was SO EFFING THIRSTY the whole time, so all I wanted was water. But I didn’t want to drink too much water, because I didn’t want to have to pee in my dress. Oh, and secondly? Because I was having the time of my life and I didn’t want alcohol to mess with my bridal vibe.

I told myself not to drink too much, and I was too busy having the time of my life to break this rule that I had broken so many times before, and have broken so many times since.

I wish I had realized it then: that I don’t need alcohol to have a great time. That, in fact, alcohol often makes a good time bad and a bad time worse.

I wish I had applied the lesson I learned on my wedding night to my life once it went back to my newlywed normal. Alas, the lesson was lost in all the momentousness.

Do I blame myself for this? No way. Am I grateful to be able to see it all so clearly now? You betcha.

And that is the beauty of this year. I will experience all of these special days – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – without alcohol. And if this day is any indication, important insights await me at every milestone. Little gifts of clarity around every corner of the calendar.

Day 77. My longest AF streak ever, not counting my pregnancies. Yay. Onward.

Bringing Family to the Foreground


Yesterday was my daughter’s first day of first grade, exactly one year after her first day of kindergarten. So of course I couldn’t help myself and in a moment of mommy nostalgia I found and scrolled through the photos from her milestone first day last year.

There were posed photos outside the front door, then getting on the bus. Photos of my sweet son waiting in the rain for her to get home that afternoon. And then photos of the little celebration we had for her when she arrived. There are pictures of my happy kids, the little cake we ate, and decorations we made.

I had almost forgotten about the wine glass pictures. And a sinking feeling hit my stomach when I saw them.

Featured prominently on the kitchen counter in the foreground is my wine glass, filled generously with sauvignon blanc. This would have been at about 3:45 PM, but hey, we were celebrating. Of course I had to have wine. In the background are my kids, sitting at the counter happily eating their cake.

And isn’t that just exactly it. Wine was always in the foreground. Of my brain, of my life. And everything else – my kids, my husband, my self – was in the background. Out of focus.

What do I feel when I force myself to look at these pictures? Pity. Embarrassment. Regret. Anger, maybe? Disappointment, for sure.

I feel so distant from the person who thought that they were funny. I know that’s a good thing, but it feels… weird.

And then I remember: choose curiosity over judgment. I try not to judge others and I need to apply the same principle to my wine mom self. Because I honestly didn’t know any better. I knew that wine wasn’t good for me but I had no idea how bad it actually was. I honestly thought that wine helped more than it hurt. That it made me feel happier and more relaxed. The puffiness and grogginess were just the price to pay for those fleeting moments of fabulousness. And I thought I deserved them both: the fabulousness and the misery that inevitably followed.

When I realize now, after 176 cumulative days of booze breaks since the start of Dry January, is that the fabulousness – authentic, not faux – I was seeking only exists beyond the bottle. I also know now that I don’t deserve misery to be the flip-side of flying high, and I never did.

So let me return to the photo, this time reminding myself to be curious and empathetic instead of judgmental and upset. What do I see?

I see happy smiling faces in the background. In the composition of the photo I see a glimmer of creativity, when I know that the woman who took this picture thought her creative side was dead. I see a mama behind the camera who loves her kids a whole lot, and who wanted to make her daughter’s first day of elementary school special.

Instead of being ashamed of the mom who thought wine made a good photo op on her daughter’s first day of kindergarten, I choose to be grateful. Grateful for how far I have come. Grateful that I had the guts to do the work to get my family and myself back in focus. Grateful that wine will never be in the foreground – of my photos, my brain, or my life – again.

Putting My Name On It

Both of my kids woke this morning with 102-degree fevers. Two days before school starts. I had been planning to do my favorite Peloton ride of the week, Ally Love’s Feel Good Ride at 8:30, but I missed it because we were at Urgent Care swabbing for strep and checking goopy ears and little lungs.

I almost skipped it. Almost descended fully into mom-martyr mode – which, now that I think on it for a moment, is basically a pity party for one and helps none. As Martyr Mom, I use the excuse of my kids being sick to throw on some sweats, throw open my pantry door and ingest any comfort food I can get my Purelled hands on. Because surely junk food will help me get my kids through their viral slog-du-jour. [SPOILER ALERT: junk food is not the answer to helping sick kids. Nor is booze. Keeping myself healthy and energized is the best thing I can do for my kids when they’re sick. Not rocket science. But not always gut instinct either.]

By mid-day my kids were calmly vegging in front of “Cake Wars” and so – Martyr Mom be damned – I seized the moment and hopped on my bike to do the Feel Good Ride on demand. And am I ever glad I did.

Ally never fails to inspire me. And I’m not saying that to be a goody-goody. There is something about sweating my (figurative) balls off and pedaling my legs until they burn that readies my mind and my heart to receive inspiration and wisdom. And Ally provides these in spades, especially on her Feel Good Rides. Today, she talked about being real. Not worrying about the leaderboard. Not hiding behind your username. Just being real.

So I’ll be real: Ally, I confess I was tapping away on my phone during your ride today. But I wasn’t texting or Instagramming. I was writing the notes that have formed this post.

Because I did stop hiding behind a username today. I put my last name on my @maintaining_mama Instagram account. (Once on a roll, I also got myself a domain name and created a Facebook page for this blog. Follow me! Share me!) I am no longer anonymous. I am fully out there as “a former wine mom” who has committed to one year without wine. What a way to toast Day 60!

I made these changes before the ride, but I didn’t realize the importance of my actions until Ally’s words crystallized it for me. With sweat dripping down my face and my butt begging to be plopped back down into the saddle it hit me like a full turn to the right: “my desire to help outweighs my fear of being known.”

That’s what I hastily typed into my phone. Let me expand upon that a bit now that I’ve caught my breath.

I have apparently arrived at the point in this journey where my desire to support and inspire others who may be in a situation similar to mine – that is, questioning their possibly dysfunctional relationship with alcohol – is stronger than my fear of going public with my own struggles. Am I still afraid of being judged? Yes. Am I going to shout “I USED TO BE SCARY DEPENDENT ON WINE, Y’ALL!” from the rooftops? No. (Mine’s too steeply pitched anyway.) But I want to help more than I want to hide.

What has spurred me into action? So much that I can and cannot put into words. The recent study published in the Lancet medical journal stating that “the safest level of drinking is none” – and the myriad strong reactions to it, both celebrating and poo-pooing the findings. The incredible women I’ve discovered on Instagram who are fierce and fearless and eloquent in their sobriety. The books and podcasts and blogs (see my resources page).

And time. It’s September now. I have been on this journey for nine months, drinking for some of it but mostly not. Today is day 60 of my year-long commitment. And I am simply ready to kick this existence up a notch.

But mostly, I really, really want to help other moms who are feeling shame or feeling like alcohol has the reins. Women who feel powerless to just say no to a witching hour craving. Because we all deserve better and we are all capable of better. And I’m no longer afraid to say so and put my name to my words.

Tracation* Contemplation

*Tracation, noun: a period of time spent away from from home with small children and possibly family pets that is more restful than a trip but less restful than a vacation 

We are back from our week-long trip – not “vacation” because kids and dogs. One of my friends on Connect suggested the term “tracation” and I think that’s pretty accurate. Because it was not just a trip either. There were relaxing moments. I read one-and-a-half books and, like, four magazines! But traveling with two kids and two dogs is, on balance, more tiring than rejuvenating. So. Tracation.

But here’s what’s great: we stayed for a week in a small beach-y cottage off the beaten path in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and by the end of the week we all still liked each other! WIN!

Oh, and it was also my first alcohol-free tracation. Which is a big deal. I have to remind myself of that. I am now happily over 50 days into my 365-day alcohol-free journey. I still think about booze on a daily basis but usually it’s a thin, frail desire that flickers for a moment and fizzles out just as quickly. “Ooh, wine. Nope. Ok.” Just like that. Usually.

But not always. Day 50 was tough. Because we were tracationing in her neck of the woods, we went to visit my mother-in-law. The kids and I hung out with some fun cousins while my husband, his mom and his brother did some sad and surreal and strange gathering and tying of the loose-ends left in the wake of my father-in-law’s death last month.

[Death is weird, isn’t it? On one level, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Circle of life and all that. On another level it’s achingly sad, of course. And it’s also a logistical nightmare. Weird.]

It was a long day, Day 50. A not unwelcome, but strange, but necessary interruption of our regularly scheduled tracation. It was a bit stressful. We all ate too much ice cream in giant waffle cones, which helped until it made me feel worse (as always – a lesson I refuse to learn, apparently).

There was also an ever-so-slight but noticeable crispness in the air that was unmistakably the first hint of Fall. My favorite season. Hoodie sweatshirts, blue jeans, football, pumpkins, pumpkin spice, pumpkin beer, wine… oh wait. Nope. Not this year.

And all of that was just enough to make the craving for booze stick around. Tracation interruptus. Resurfaced grief. Sadness for my husband and his loss – it’s a loss for us all, of course, and size doesn’t matter, but it does, and his is the biggest and I’m very, very sad for him. The first inkling of Fall. The realization that part of my love for my favorite season is intertwined with my love for alcohol. Amped-up anxiety as a result of that realization.

Nothing earth-shattering, and I never felt in danger of actually imbibing and breaking my commitment to this booze-free year. It’s just never fun to feel yourself taking two steps back, especially after I’ve been leaping ahead lately.

To recap:

Our tracation was successful. Day 50 was hard. Death is weird. I achieved my first alcohol-free trip and I mostly didn’t miss booze at all.

And now, we are happy to be home. It’s almost Fall. And that will be alcohol-free too, as I continue to move forward through this year of self-love and self-discovery and everything else it will come to mean to me.