500 Days of Alcohol Freedom and Just a Little Pee in My Pants

Today, at 500 days alcohol-free, I jumped a few extra feet out of my comfort zone and taught Saturday morning heavy bag kickboxing. I teach every Thursday and Friday morning, but Saturday is a different level of intensity. On Thursdays and Fridays, I usually teach between four and ten people. Saturday is a packed room, 16 or more, with attendees often needing to double up on a heavy bag. Thursday and Friday mornings witness the stay-at-home moms (like me), the college students and nannies, and others who are liberated from the 9-5 grind. Saturday brings the workhorses, the veterans – many of whom are more experienced than I. They come expecting their hardest workout of the week. I usually take this class on Saturday and the instructor always kicks my ass. Today, she is at the beach and left it up to me to provide the ass-kicking.

On Thursdays and Fridays, the gym is quiet except for the action in the big red and gray room we use for the heavy bag class. Not so on Saturday, when the gym is packed. Kids’ classes are running in the other room and the students’ parents (some of whom are my friends) are milling around. My boss – the owner of the joint – flits between teaching the kids and schmoozing the parents and observing the heavy bag class.

I am used to a quiet gym and a small, dedicated group of sweat-loving ladies. Today the gym was busy. My crowded class was full of intense athletes. And my peers, boss, and kids peered through the big glass windows to watch me teach. Oh, and my husband was on a bag in the front row.

No pressure.

Did I also mention that before class started I managed to both spill my tea and pee my pants?

***

A few days ago, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to teach this class. My annual bout of bronchitis struck last Sunday. And it’s been the pits, as always. But I decided to take myself to Urgent Care right away to get some prescriptive relief for my overtaxed airways. Albuterol + Prednisone + Paul Rudd’s new Netflix series got me through the worst of it on Sunday and Monday. The drugs kicked in and I turned enough of a corner to teach my classes on Thursday and Friday. Even though I went hoarse on Thursday and was still coughing, teaching brought me out of my bronchial funk and back into the land of the living.

I put on my own oxygen mask first this week. Rest, hydration, and a little steroid assistance… oh, and grace. Accepting the situation for what it is, avoiding a pity party pitfall, taking the care I can and letting go of what is out of my control. Not fussing (too much) about lost workouts or extra calories. That is how I navigated my bronchial drama – and I’m better off for it.

In my previous battles with bronchitis, I would obsess about what I could not control, and be annoyed at my inability to control these uncontrollable aspects of illness. I used to feel forlorn guilt about missing workouts due to being sick, and shame myself for comfort-eating my way through a virus. The shame, of course, just made me eat more.

I know now that wine was at the root of all of this. Because my dependence on wine had me living in a near-constant mindset of guilt and shame. That was how I coped with hard things: I always found a way to guilt myself through it. I relieved the guilt by drinking to escape it. Until the shame inevitably set in.

I am so grateful to be off that misery-go-round.

I am so grateful to have traded guilt for grace.

I am so grateful to be back in action.

And so I was today. My heart was pounding as I pulled my swagger wagon into the parking lot of my MMA gym. I grabbed my stainless steel tumbler and took a slug of my Throat Comfort tea, failing to notice that the mug had been leaking for the duration of my commute. The lukewarm tea dribbled down my puffy jacket and right onto the crotch of my new black leggings with rose gold metallic flecks. “Bless the makers of this miracle fabric that doesn’t show sweat, or apparently tea,” I thought to myself as I grabbed my backpack to head inside. Dodged that bullet!

I was the first to arrive at the gym after the manager who opens up. With my stomach butterflies multiplying by the minute, I tried my best to play it cool and stuck to my normal routine. I took my boots off and entered the big red and gray room. My bare feet padded across the black mat to the far corner, where I dropped my backpack, plugged in my old iPhone to get my music going, plugged in and set my digital clock, and taped my class plan to the cabinet that houses the sound system. I padded back to the entrance, put my boots back on, and hustled to the bathroom.

I’d had lots of tea. I’ve also had two children. And I’ve also had bronchitis. What I thought would be a small, dry cough turned into an unexpectedly deep, productive, phlegmy cough, and the next thing I knew I felt a dreaded warm gush and dashed into the nearest bathroom stall.

I really don’t pee my pants that much. But I sure did today – with about 12 minutes to go until my class began. Luckily, in my limited experience of pants-peeing I can say that the gush always feels worse (by which I mean more plentiful) than it is. I sent up another offer of gratitude to the athleisure gods who made this miracle fabric that betrayed neither my tea nor my pee. I flushed the toilet and washed my hands. Took a quick glance in the mirror – no mascara schmears, at least I had that going for me – and headed back into the gym.

My class was a whirlwind of nerves, combos, and sweat. Imperfection abounded. My Spotify playlist jumped into shuffle mode and I had to change iPhones, causing a two-second eon of – gasp! – no music in the speakers. I botched demonstrating a couple of combos, forgetting where I was and what punch or kick came next. And my cough – which has been fairly dry and sporadic for the duration of this virus, decided to amp up its phlegm production during the 45 minutes I was on the mic. Try doing a jab-cross-hook-cross-switch-left-kick while attempting to choke down a stubborn loogie. Not as easy as it sounds, my friends.

But damn, I looked great in my rose gold-flecked leggings. My kicks felt purposeful and strong. My voice was clear (when I wasn’t coughing) and I felt saucy and inspired as I motivated my crew to get through the killer workout I had written just for them.

My perfectly imperfect Saturday kickboxing class was the perfect way to spend my 500th day of alcohol freedom. The red and gray room was my arena today. And I was in it. Tea, pee, phlegm, and all. Leading this class wasn’t easy. It was far from perfect. But it was good. It was enough. I am enough.

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. – Brené Brown

I own these 500 days with pride. I hold each of them – the best ones and the worst ones and each and every one in between – in love and light today, honoring every stage of this incredible journey.

Bright eyes. Open mind. Happy heart. Fresh underwear. This is me at 500 days alcohol-free.

Regaining – and Maintaining – Perspective

I posted this to Instagram last week, on Halloween Eve:

In truth this has been an unexpectedly intense week and I am struggling with balance and self-doubt. There is so much to look forward to – my Halloween kickboxing class tomorrow, trick-or-treating with my kids tomorrow night, and my First Friday theme class on Friday. I know I will rally but right now I am just feeling low energy and blah. 

But I’m feeling these things. I’m not denying them or numbing myself to them or running away. I am sitting with the discomfort and while it doesn’t feel good, I know that I am doing myself a solid by just hanging out in this meh. 

I know booze won’t help me. I really want some chocolate but I know that won’t help me either. So I’m going to take a break from my work and walk my dog before I have to go pick up my kids. And that, for me, is progress.

After I posted it, I went downstairs and ate an RX Bar (at least it wasn’t Nutella). I got my dog on his leash and out the door. I started to walk through my meh. And then I remembered this:

I had been out five of the previous six nights. So not only was I short on sleep, but over the course of those nights, I navigated the following situations without booze:

  • Christmas shopping
  • Dinner out with my husband and my mom
  • Going to see two Broadway shows plus dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant – the one with the famous frozen pomegranate margaritas
  • Volunteer meeting
  • A mom’s night out at – wait for it – a wine bar

Each of these evenings (except the volunteer meeting) would have been fueled by booze two years ago and remembered as a blur the next day. Yet I happily navigated all of them without hesitation and without a single drop of vino or tequila. In my former wine mom life, a series of evenings like these would have meant consuming the equivalent of several bottles of wine plus numerous cocktails. I may be exhausted. I may be hitting the Halloween candy a little (a lot) too hard. But taking a moment to regain perspective while walking my dog was a turning point that helped me emerge from the meh.

Perspective comes and goes and I sometimes frustrate myself in this constant state of losing and regaining it. “At least it’s not booze.” “This too shall pass.” “One container of pumpkin pie hummus is not the end of the world.” “You still look and feel better than you ever looked or felt when you were drinking.”

These sentiments help, but they only go so far, especially when a virtuous cycle is teetering on the brink of a descent into the vicious. And this is where I’ve been since that last Instagram post. I had a lovely, mind-clearing, perspective-regaining dog walk, and the next day was Halloween and trick-or-treating in the rain. Then my kids had a half-day of school. Then daylight savings wreaked its biannual havoc. Then my kids had another half-day of school. Then they had a full day off. And by the end of the day yesterday not only had I polished off that container of pumpkin pie hummus, I dove head-first into the Halloween candy and even raided my kids’ freezer stash of mini ice cream cones.

WTF?!

I underestimated how challenging this time of year can be. If I had just flipped back to this post I wrote last November, I could have been more prepared. I wouldn’t have bought the hummus. Or the chocolate spread (I didn’t mention that, did I? Yeah, I polished that off too.). I could have better steeled myself for No-School November and the one-two punch of Halloween and Daylight Savings.

But, I think in part due to the crazy week I had in the lead-up to Halloween, I went in unprepared. And I ate all the sugar and did none of the hydrating and just generally dropped the ball on self-care.

Today is a new day. My kids are back at school. And I have a plan to yank myself out of this vicious cycle and back into the virtuous:

  • Drink a gallon of water today
  • Do a 60-minute Peloton bootcamp
  • Make tea immediately after lunch to combat sugar cravings
  • If I’m still craving sugar, take 15 minutes to read about how bad sugar is for me (via Sugar Blues, a book that was recommended to me)

Hydration, exercise, and education. These are my weapons against the sugar monster. Because perspective can only get me so far in the battle for my best life. Onward! 490 days and counting!

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

img_2691.jpg

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.