Standing in a Summer Shame Shower

I am eating frozen yogurt for lunch, topped with chocolate syrup, which I don’t even like that much, and chocolate chips, because the syrup was not enough chocolate.

It’s a “less than” day around here. I knew it might be, and it is. I tried to start the day strong. I woke at 6am to read, which is my current favorite way to start the day. I knew that starting the day on my own terms – instead of being woken up by my children, whose sweet snuggles inevitably turn into WWIII in our bed if I let them go too long – would give me the best chance to rally after a lovely but exhausting and dehydrating day yesterday.

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. He had the day to himself to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies, and I took the kids to the Bronx Zoo. I was in the supermom and superwife zone, able to wrap presents at lightning speed, clean the house and tape up some birthday décor with ease, and still have energy left to spend five hours with my children in 90-degree summer heat at the zoo – where there was a severe lack of water fountains and I refused to pay $4 for one bottle of Dasani. The three of us had drained our stainless steel water bottles within the first couple hours of our arrival, so we all ended up totally dehydrated, the empty bottles clanking uselessly in my mom bag.

The dehydration, along with junk food for lunch, sapped any remaining stamina and willpower I had left. So by the time I drove us back through the Bronx, up the Taconic Parkway into Westchester County and home at last, instead of drinking water and eating a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit, I dove headfirst into the jar of peanut butter. But what’s peanut butter without chocolate? So I scrounged in my pantry until I found the remnants of a bag of chocolate chips from an old baking foray. I undid the rubber band and dumped the rest of the bag into a bowl. I topped my spoonful of peanut butter with as many chocolate chips as would stick. Slurp, chew, suck the spoon clean because that would be my last spoonful I swear. Repeat. My now-refilled stainless steel water bottle sat on the kitchen counter beside me, undrunk.

This would have been bad enough. But for his birthday celebration my husband and I had decided that we would go out for ice cream after dinner. Our fridge is on the fritz (which is also contributing to my stress level, as I can only buy the bare minimum of groceries and I’m paranoid the food we do have is not cold enough so we are all going to ingest some sort of heinous bacteria and end up with severe food poisoning) so the kids and I did not bake a birthday cake for him this year as we usually do. Ice cream had been on the agenda for days leading up to his birthday – yet that did not stop me from making myself almost sick with pb&c. Or eating the ice cream two hours later.

So after too little water and too much sugar yesterday, I knew I would need hydration and grace to rally today. I did my 6am reading, dropped the kids at camp, and made it almost on time through the demolition derby course that is summer construction traffic to my kickboxing class. In a shocking turn of events, I felt like crap through most of the class. Heavy, slow, and uncoordinated. Surprise surprise. Glimmers of confidence were quashed by a glance in the mirror at my bloated belly, as I whiffed knees and threw wayward jabs.

After class I had to navigate additional construction traffic to make it to the grocery store. I am hosting dinner tonight for a dear friend from California who is popping into town for work travel with a mentee. My inner perfectionist is pouring on the pressure to make a beautiful, tasty, healthy meal with a fridge that isn’t cooling things properly. Oh, and I have to clean the house. And exhaust the dogs so they will be chill and not jump all over our guests. And strike the perfect balance between letting my kids rest after camp while I prep dinner and not letting them get so bored that they go insane upon my friend’s arrival.

I am standing in a summer shower of insecurity with intermittent downpours of shame. I can’t stick to healthy habits. My virtuous cycle is eroding back to vicious. I will never be able to conquer sugar, and sugar is now holding me back from my best self the way alcohol used to. I will never be as good at kickboxing as I want to be, never achieve a higher level of fitness because I can’t stick to healthy habits for long enough. I’m not going to feel svelte and energized when I leave on my big trip in 10 days. I can’t, I won’t, I’m not.

There are larger issues rearing their fugly heads here, too (as their usually are). This is not really about a chocolate peanut butter binge or the pressure of making a delicious dinner. I have felt adrift and scared since my One Year Alcohol-Free ended on July 4. I no longer have the composition of a daily social media post anchoring my schedule and giving me purpose. Now that my year is over I have nothing to do but walk the walk. No more anticipating, just doing. Sticking to being alcohol-free is the easy part. Sitting down to start working on my book is the hard part. I am still not quite sure what I want to say or how I’m going to say it. I am still figuring out my voice, in my writing, both on this blog and on social media, and in real life.

And beyond my writing is the rest of my life. Parenting as a non-drinker. Pursuing my interest in teaching kickboxing. Putting more time and effort into my volunteer commitments, which I admittedly half-assed during my OYAF because I prioritized my OYAF. No regrets, but half-assing things is not my style. It hasn’t felt good and it’s time to boss up.

I write because it helps me step away from the peanut butter jar and process what is really going on. I share my writing because it helps me believe that I am not alone in my fears and insecurities. When I put my writing out there, I think about you (whoever you are, thank you for being here) reading it, and I think about what you would say to me. “You are not alone. You’ve got this. Give yourself grace. You are making amazing changes in your life. You are stronger than you think.” And then I feel better.

I hit “Publish” and I close my laptop. I put on my shoes, grab my car keys, and step back out into the sun to enjoy this beautiful day.

Boxing Over Boozing

I went back to my MMA gym today for my 3rd kickboxing class of the week, and I’ll be back again tomorrow – a new record for myself! I have never done more than three kickboxing classes in a week. But this week’s schedule (or lack thereof) has allowed me to get over there a bunch, and I’m loving it.

To think, I almost never tried kickboxing because of a hangover.

My kids had been doing karate at this gym for several months when the manager approached me one afternoon and said I should try the adult class. This was October 2017, and I was stuck in what I did not realize was the nadir of my #winemom drinking days. I admitted to him that I had always wanted to try kickboxing, but used my Peloton as an excuse. “I don’t know if I can justify spending any more money on fitness,” I said.

“Well, here’s a coupon for one week of free classes. Let me know when you want to come in,” he replied, ignoring my lame excuse as any good salesperson would.

The coupon was set to expire on November 1. I procrastinated all of October. Also, FYI, the night before November 1 is Halloween. And I couldn’t accompany my kids trick-or-treating without my Tervis full of wine, obviously. So November 1 rolled around, and my coupon expired because of my Halloween hangover.

I showed up to the gym a couple days later to take my kids to their class. The manager asked me where I had been and why I didn’t start my trial week yet. I made some joke about drinking too much on Halloween, shame singeing my insides as I said it.

“So when did you say you’re going to start?” He asked.

“Umm… next week?”

“Ok. I’ll extend your offer for one more week.”

I can’t remember if I drank the night before my first class. If I did, I’m sure I used Herculean willpower to limit myself to one or two glasses of wine so that I could be in good enough shape to make it through. I don’t remember exactly what drills we did, or how many people were in the class with me. I do remember my hamstrings seizing up as they attempted to squat for the first time in months (years?). I remember hating how out of shape I felt. And I remember how much I freaking loved kicking and punching the crap out of that red heavy bag, despite having no clue what I was doing.

My passion for kickboxing ignited that day, in that very first class, and it continues to grow.

It was not long after I started kickboxing regularly that I realized my new passion for martial arts was in direct conflict with my passion for sauvignon blanc. If I drank the night before a class, it was a slog and I felt disgusting. If I didn’t drink, it was a blast and I felt powerful.

I have no doubt that my passion for kickboxing helped nudge me toward my commitment to Dry January that December. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dry January was the start of my alcohol-free journey that has led me here, to Day 345 of 365 (and beyond). I’m not sure I would be where I am if that gym manager hadn’t encouraged me. And even if he only did it to make a buck, I am still grateful to him for scratching out 11/1 and writing a new expiry date on that coupon.

From Plateau to Progress

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My Monday kickboxing class is different from Wednesday and Friday. The latter days are super fast paced, calorie-torching, muscle-scorching. My Monday instructor focuses more on technique, which makes for a great balance. His combos are also more dynamic and technically difficult, so even though the pace is slower I always end up sore after his class.

Even though I had a crappy night of sleep thanks to my Frenchie who was up throughout the night, and a hectic morning due to my mutt who had an early vet appointment (if it’s not the kids, it’s the dogs!), I made it to class today. I felt fresher than anticipated, and as the class progressed I felt strong and agile.

I felt strong. I am strong. I can do real push-ups now, with proper form and all. I can throw a Superman punch and I can kick someone in the head (you know, if I ever needed to). I am learning more, and feeling more natural doing these moves and combos, each week.

Each week I see progress. I am continually building physical and mental strength. I am becoming more confident as I progress not just in fitness, but in other areas of my life too. Parenting. Marriage-ing. Writing. Cooking. Volunteering. Connecting.

When I was drinking, I was not progressing. I was plateauing. Yes, life went on around me and I went with it. My babies grew into kids. We moved houses. I exercised with sporadic dedication. I took on various volunteer gigs. I did things.

I did things, yes. I had a wonderful life and I felt happy and lucky and all that. But I was only going to get so far with booze by my side. And the plateau that had held me for so many years was starting to crumble.

No one around me saw it. Or at least no one ever said anything. But I saw it in the mirror every morning. And I felt it, from my toes to my heart to my brain, every hour of every day.

At first, that plateau had felt like a slinky, sexy dance floor. But years later, it felt like a dance floor at dawn – sticky and suffocating. Still, I stayed. Because I didn’t know where else to go. I didn’t know what lay beyond the confines of this dance floor that was once shiny and exciting but now disgusted me.

One hangover too many, and the edges of that dance floor began to crumble into quicksand. I jumped. Before I could be swallowed. I jumped with no confidence of my ability to escape the quicksand, but I knew I had to try.

From soft rock bottom to rock solid ground. No more dance floors for me (at least not metaphorical ones). No more plateaus, only progress.

Life Lessons from My Kids, Part 1: Self-Care

These are good days. There is pain, there is fatigue, there is a crazy holiday season happening around us. But my son and I have battened down the hatches and we are weathering his post-tonsillectomy recovery together.

For the last four days we have been in our mellow little home bubble. Lots of TV, Legos, and ice cream for him. Lots of cooking, Peloton, and to do list-ticking for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect of this time. But I think it happened now because we both needed a break. My son was worn down from years of restless sleep due to ginormous tonsils. He needed to have them removed. I was worn down from months of busy routine regularly interrupted by hectic breaks from routine. I needed to wipe the calendar clean.

We both needed this time. And we will both emerge from it as improved versions of ourselves.

As heart-wrenching as it has been to see my son in pain, I have been amazed and inspired by his quiet bravery, strength and persistence. He’s just getting through it. He’s letting himself rest. He’s taking his medicine. He’s eating when he’s hungry, and hydrating as much as he can.

Seems simple enough. But somewhere along the path of growing up, these self-care ideals get lost. Maybe not for everyone, but they did for me. Rest when you’re worn-down. Take medicine if you’re in too much physical pain. Eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re no longer hungry. Hydrate. And then hydrate some more. That’s it. Do these things, and you give your body a chance to heal and operate at its best.

But life happens. Subconscious wires are re-routed to form connections between food and comfort, between drugs (including alcohol) and emotional pain. These and other detours become our new regular routes. Simple self-care is unlearned as our original neural pathways fray, and then crumble, without regular maintenance and use.

So this week I am taking a lesson from my son and focusing on basic self-care. I have eaten well and exercised every day since Sunday. I have kept up with my hydration. And I have felt zero temptation to drink alcohol. A year ago, the mere thought of a house-bound week with my son would have been enough to send me to my wine fridge. Now, the wine witch is not even a whisper in my ear. I have taken great care of myself this week so that I can take great care of my son. I am proud of both of us.

I have never admired my son more than I have this week. He is just such a good, sweet guy. And I feel more motivated than ever to be the best mom I can be. Because that is what he and my daughter deserve. They deserve me at my best. And so do I.

A Year in Discovery, Pondering Recovery

With a body full of tight, sore muscles after my 60-minute advanced bootcamp class on our new Peloton Tread yesterday, I climbed on my bike for a recovery ride this morning. A negative self-talk battle ensued, as is usual when I attempt to take it easy. I finally came to the realization today that this is a waste of energy and needs to change.

Recovery rides, for me, are as mentally challenging as other workouts are physically challenging. Even though I know my body needs the rest, it is a mental fight to feel good about not pushing myself. I don’t like feeling tired. I don’t like falling behind the instructor’s numbers. I want to be able to give it my best all the time. But if I were to push past my comfort zone in every single workout, I would burn out or hurt myself. And I know I deserve better than that.

I have to remind myself that a recovery ride these days is necessitated by a super hard workout the day before; whereas it used to be necessitated by super hard drinking the night before. I am no longer punishing myself for a hangover; I am soothing and loosening tight, fatigued, and growing muscles. A recovery ride should feel like a treat – not a failure.

Cue the mindset shift. I need to stop comparing myself to anyone else on the leaderboard. I need to listen to and respect my body enough to recover without judgement. I need to let go of the numbers, even if this feels contrary to my rule-following nature. If the instructor tells me to raise my resistance to 50 and push my cadence past 90, I want to do it. I feel like a weenie if I don’t.

But I hereby resolve to think of myself as a rebel instead of a weenie. I am a recovery rebel, prioritizing what is good for my body like a boss. I take it easy with wild abandon. I revel in my need to take it light and slow. Look at me, keeping my resistance at 36 when the instructor asks for 45! Y’all can take the hill without me. I’ll be chillin’ on my flat road. So badass.

I’m not there yet, but I will be. Mindsets don’t change in an instant. Practice practice practice.

* * *

It’s interesting to throw around this word “recovery” during my alcohol-free year in a non-alcohol context. I have never considered myself to be “in recovery” from my alcohol use, because I don’t believe it was excessive enough to warrant a “recovery” as I understand the term. The origin of the word “recover” means “to get again” or “get back” – but I was never gone.

I was never lost, just muddled. I have been here the whole time. I was just unable to fire on all cylinders a little more often than I could tolerate. I am not getting myself back; but I am exploring, peeling back, uncovering.

I am not in recovery. I am in discovery.

The origin of the word “discover” means “to uncover completely.” That’s more like it.

So as part of my year of discovery, I will shift my mindset about exercise recovery and give myself the permission and freedom to enjoy a well-earned flat road. I have come so far and conquered many hills along the way. I refuse to let negative self-talk hold me back in any area of my life anymore.

Sober Boss October

October! My favorite month of the year. And this is going to be an especially exciting and momentous and busy one. This weekend my mom and I will celebrate our birthday. I was born on her 30th birthday and we celebrate together every year with a Broadway double-header in NYC. The weekend after that, I will go to London by myself (!!!). The weekend after that is my actual birthday, on which we might be doing something that is major that I can’t share yet. And then we get into Halloween mode.

In addition to all of these events, it’s Sober October and also what my favorite Peloton instructor, Ally Love, calls #BossOctober. I debated about whether or not I would officially partake in these two movements. I didn’t want to feel extra pressure as I am already trying to write every day as part of my one year alcohol-free. But of course I am already staying sober, so Sober October is a no-brainer. And I love the idea of Boss October.

For this, Ally asks us to commit to the following:
1. Decide to give up one thing you enjoy (e.g. booze, candy, etc.)
2. Choose a virtue/habit to focus on (patience, being on time, etc.)
3. Add some sort of movement to your schedule (starting a new form of exercise, adding yoga or strength, etc.)

Here is my Boss October plan:
1. Giving up booze (which of course I’m already doing). I thought about giving up something else, like red meat or Halloween candy. But being alcohol-free is far from effortless yet. Still a lot of work, a lot to read, and a lot to write on this topic alone – so I’m sticking to it!
2. I will focus on being more present with my kids. Specifically, I am committing to 15 minutes of one-on-one time with my son and daughter every day. No phones, no distractions. Which may sound a) simple and b) like not a lot of time. But for me, to put my phone down and not multi-task is a huge challenge. And I hope that by committing to a month of this unplugged, focused time with each of my kids, I can start to change my multi-task-obsessed behavior.
3. I already feel fairly maxed out with my workout schedule, and I am traveling in the middle of the month. BUT I am going to do more with the time I have. Small changes could make a big difference! I have wanted to add a 60-minute ride and upper body strength training to my schedule, and so it is time to BOSS UP. I am going to tweak my workout schedule thus:

Old schedule (my week resets on Tuesday because that is my weigh-in day):
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 45-min ride plus 10-min abs
Sun – 45-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

New schedule:
Tues – 45-min ride
Wed – 45-min kickboxing
Thurs – Rest or recovery ride
Fri – 45-min kickboxing
Sat – 30-min ride plus 10-min upper body and 10-min abs
Sun – 60-min ride
Mon – 45-min kickboxing

I’m excited for these challenges and I’m looking forward to making new connections with others who are partaking in either Sober October or Boss October – or both!

Who’s signing up for Sober October? Anyone interested in committing to Boss October with me? Let me know! Bring on Sober Boss October!

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.