a perfect sober weekend (# 85)

This is a bit of an odd weekend as my kids are with their dad AND my husband is out of town. On the one hand, that’s too bad because it’s beautiful here and there is a fun local music festival going on. It would be fun to be enjoying this with my husband. On the other hand, I have throughly loved every minute of flying solo, and I have accomplished much , even while indulging myself in many activities I like to do.

It has been especially good, because I know it will be a sprint to the end of the year. This might be my last chance to deeply relax. So, let’s recap . . . and catch a glimpse of me in my natural habitat under the influence of nothing stronger than my own whims and interests. . .

Friday Left work at 4:45 p.m. to meet two of my best friends for drinks. I am far enough along in alcohol freedom that it doesn’t bother me when I am with people who are drinking. In fact, I realize that I actually have more fun, feel more present, and am able to leave invigorated and ready to switch gears instead of itching for more drinks. I had an NA Becks and some iced tea and soaked up late afternoon sun on the patio, instead soaking in several margaritas. After the drinks, I headed over to an outdoor tango event. This summer I have not done a lot of tango. I’ve been focusing on yoga instead and thinking about what role I want to give tango in my life, given that it will be a smaller role than it was when I was single. But last night was a great opportunity to dip my toes back in that water. Except for the fact that we were tangoing with mosquitoes, as much as we were with each other. I was home by 9 p.m., where I talked to my husband on the phone, web surfed and read.

Saturday  Woke EARLY naturally. (It was 5:00 a.m.) Instead of cursing my inability to fall back to sleep, I felt excited to have a couple of  bonus hours in the full day ahead of me. I read some more and worked on a photo downloading project necessitated by having had to get a new phone last week. Got laundry going, picked up the kitchen, had breakfast, and started watching a documentary. And that was all before 7:45 a.m. when I headed to the yoga studio for a 45-minute meditation followed by a 75-minute flow class. Home again, where I finished the documentary before heading out to shop. I had to get some groceries, as well as few things, including clothes hangers, at Target. Last weekend, I embarked on a massive three-closet overhaul but ran out of hangers before I could properly finish the job.

Came home. En route I discovered a podcast called “Dr. Death” and immediately got hooked. The story involves a multiple messed-up back surgeries by one messed-up doctor in Texas. As a former medical malpractice defense attorney, I find this topic fascinating–it’s about more than just one bad egg, it’s about the failure of the medical establishment to stop a surgeon like this in his tracks before he harms many patients.

After finishing the closets, I talked to a high school friend on the phone, then headed out for a 2.25 mile run around 6:30 p.m. More photo stuff, some light cooking (vanilla-cardamom-pear compote to eat with yogurt and tomato-mozzarella salad) a phone chat with my husband, and sound asleep by 10:30 p.m.

It was a quiet day, with very little social interaction, but it was peaceful and productive.

Sunday  Woke at 5:00 a.m. naturally, again. More futzing around with photos on my computer. Mostly deleting hundreds of bad selfies, I am embarrassed to say. I biked over to coffee shop a little after 8:00 a.m. to meet a friend from grad school (almost 20 years ago!) who was in town for an event. He and I caught up for about an hour, and then I went to a yoga barre class before biking to yet another yoga studio for ecstatic dance from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Home again for lunch and great deal of laundry folding and another appointment with Dr. Death. Thankfully, all the clothes had places after the closet job. Cleaned up the bathroom and scrubbed the slightly nasty kitchen stove top. Showered and walked over to yet a different coffee shop where I did a little research related to our new soon-to-be store and wrote this blog post. Soon, I will walk home, and then bike to yoga flow, followed by meditation/yin. I will be home by 8:30 p.m. to get ready for the work week and unwind before bed. Tomorrow morning I will be fresh as a daisy and back on the yoga mat at 6:00, before work.

Phew! I am taking really good care of myself this weekend (and taking care of my family too, by doing all this house stuff, even though no one is around). This is marvelous and made possible primarily by the complete and total absence of alcohol from any of these proceedings. I felt centered and able to make good decisions from hour to hour, in which I balanced my personal desires for entertainment, friendship and movement with my needs to get certain specific projects done. There was time for everything I wanted to do, and then some.

I have gone into all this exhaustive detail about my activities because I am really pleased with myself. I want to bottle this feeling! I LOVE the difference between this kid-free weekend and kid-free weekends of the not-to-distant past. Typically I would feel a bit hungover or sub-par on one of the days. I would still squeeze a lot in, because that’s my style, but I would let house stuff slip, for sure. I would not feel such surges of energy nor would I feel true peace.

Also, when I was between marriages I HATED spending any time alone. I would either be with my boyfriend-du-jour (or going on dates), planning my schedule around tango, exercising, or generally finding someplace to be. I would go to bars alone, I would go dancing alone, if I had to, just to be around people and combat my overwhelming fear that life and love would pass me by if I did not get out there and stay out there. I had no ability to sit still and just BE WITH MYSELF . . . and all my feelings.

For a while I had a certain boyfriend who had a terrible habit of canceling plans with me whenever he was freaking out about his own shit. It was a true push-pull dynamic between us, deeply unhealthy. When he pulled the last-minute bail move, as he often did on a Sunday afternoon, I would freak out — mostly because I was utterly unprepared to spend any unstructured time alone. Looking back, it was pretty pathetic. If I had to spend unplanned alone time, I did not embrace the opportunity to get other stuff done. Instead I would mope and obsess and stress and generally let everything go all to hell.

Life is so different now. I feel happy and secure with my partner, my husband. We spend a lot of time together, but when he is away I embrace having time for myself. I keep busy, but I don’t spend all that energy I used to expend putting myself in the path of strangers (i.e., men), adventure/experiences, and, many, many times, alcohol. I was always seeking to escape myself and my situation and propel myself into something new, no matter how meaningless and un-nourishing it was.

I am grateful for my perfect sober weekend and for this sweet life I am creating. Better late than never.


body: a history (# 25)

This post brings you the story of the 45-years-long relationship between food and my body. This accounting is more for me than for you, but I share in case it resonates.

I was a very skinny kid and remained so until college. I did a lot of ballet until I was 12, and it left a lasting imprint on my body, particularly my leg muscles. It was the grunge era when I was in high school in the late eighties. Everything was pretty baggy and loose and I wasn’t overly concerned about looking traditionally feminine or sexy. Nor was I particularly athletic. I pretty much thought of myself as a brain on a stick. My body was not a matter of great concern or interest to me. Except for one thing: my stomach. No matter how thin I was, I always had bit of a potbelly. This bugged me.

In college I may or may not have put on the freshman 15. Probably not that much, but I matured physically then, and went from being a scrawny kid to someone with boobs and hips. I dabbled in different forms of exercise intermittently: dance, swimming, gym workouts. I never really stuck with anything and never had a plan. I ate a lot of cheese and bread. I danced a lot, drank a bit.

My weight fluctuated within a 10 pound range from about 118-128 (I am 5’6”). Again, I didn’t think much about it. Among my friends, I was one of the thinner ones, so it would have been bad form to discuss body image issues honestly with my friends (who would have said, “but you’re so skinny!”).

Secretly I thought of myself as the fattest thin person in the world, because I knew I was not in the best shape. I guess I was what people now call “skinny fat.” I still disliked my poochy stomach and envied my heavier friends who were athletically or genetically blessed with sexy flat stomachs. Also, I had a major hang-up because my mother was extremely overweight throughout my childhood. Sometimes I was embarrassed by the looks people gave her. Other times, I worried about her health when I heard her huffing and puffing her way up the stairs. In any case, I deeply, deeply did not want to grow up to be just like my mother. I was pretty paranoid about that.

After graduating from college I moved to N.Y.C. I belonged to a gym that I went to intermittently, but mostly I just walked everywhere. I was in good shape. Same thing in Dublin, where I lived next. As long as I was walking everywhere, it didn’t much matter how much bread and cheese I ate or how much Guinness I drank.

Eventually I returned to the U.S. and started living with my boyfriend. I was not walking so much, and over the course of a year, I began to put on weight. I went from size 6/8 to 10/12. I don’t remember my highest weight, but it was probably about 140. When we broke up, I was very depressed and I rapidly shed about 20 pounds. Partly, I went to the gym a lot. Also, I really didn’t feel like eating, so I adopted what I now refer to as “the apple diet.” Basically, when I felt hungry, I would eat an apple until I felt better (or just bored with it). Then, I would throw the rest of the apple away and grab a new one when  hunger pangs hit. Occasionally I supplemented the apples with bread and cheese.

Eventually I got over it, started eating normally again, and got a new boyfriend. I continued to exercise semi-regularly. When I got married I weighed about 125 and probably gained about 5 pounds over the next 3 years. Then I got pregnant. The whole thing was a science experiment run amok. “Let’s just see what happens if I . . . ”

I ate pretty healthily most of the time, but I also ate whatever treats I wanted, which tended to be sandwiches with a lot of mayonnaise or, oddly, Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese. I gained 50 pounds and a TON of stretch marks.  After the birth (a C-section) my stomach, which had always been a sore spot for me, was completely and totally trashed. It was as loose and flabby as bread dough. Adding insult, I never really shed the last 10-15 pounds, which put me at around 145 for the next five years. I was exercising some, but I was also eating a lot of carbs. I looked kind of puffy. Not horrible, but not good.

Finally I committed to working out much more seriously than I ever had before. (This was about 10 years ago now—and since then I have worked out 3-6 times a week. Every. Single. Week.) I walked and ran on the treadmill, lifted weights and got down to about 135. I felt really good for the first time in years. And then . . . pregnant again!

This time, I was much more careful. I had worked so hard to turn things around, and I didn’t want to lose that. I kept exercising and ate much better (lots of organic farm-raised meat and veggies). I gained a reasonable 25-30 pounds and lost most of it quite easily soon after the birth. Although I had another C-section, I began walking a lot right away and resumed running the day I got the ok from my doctor. By the time my baby was 9 months old, I ran my first half marathon. When she was 1, I started graduate school full-time. It was stressful, and to cope with the stress I continued to make exercise a priority. My weight was about 132.

Partway through grad school my marriage broke up. Eating was not a high priority for me at that time. I also made a conscious decision to stop eating bread, pasta, and sweets . . . and to stop eating leftover anything off the kids’ plates.

In my family, I had always done most of the cooking, which I enjoyed very much. My family also enjoyed it, however they mostly refused to eat leftovers. That meant I ate leftovers for lunch until they were gone. When the marriage ended I vowed to only eat what I wanted to eat. I was no longer going suffer eating through ALL the leftovers just because nobody else would eat them.

So. without following any particular plan, I adopted a relatively low carb diet. I still ate a lot of cheese. In my new single life, with the kids around only half the time, I tended to eat less at meals, I ate mostly fruit, salad, cheese, and chicken. Simply easy things. I skipped meals a lot also. This way of eating agreed with me and without trying at all, except for keeping up with the regular, ongoing exercise, my weight dropped to 120 for the first time in many years. Effortlessly, it stayed there for almost 5 years.

But then . . .a couple of things happened. My wine and alcohol intake crept up over time. Back when I was in grad school, I barely drank. After I graduated, I definitely counteracted the stress of my job with alcohol. Without thinking about it, I was adding hundreds of calories to my diet weekly. Also, I met someone, got married again and my eating habits shifted a bit for the worse. Although we both eat low-carb meals, I began snacking more. I ate tortilla chips more.

About a year ago my weight jumped from 124 to 130 seemingly overnight. Seriously. I remember the exact week when it happened. I couldn’t figure it out! At first I thought it might be the effect of more rigorous strength training I was doing at the time—more muscle, maybe. But the trend continued.

It took a while for the weight gain to be apparent with my clothes. All my clothes mostly still fit. Gradually, though, I realized that I was no longer choosing to wear my skinny jeans because they weren’t so comfortable anymore (I used to need to wear them with a belt!). The bodily changes accumulated—thicker thighs, the return of the potbelly–and I could not deny the unwelcome changes seemed to be here to stay, instead of being the product of temporary fluctuation. Perhaps the changes are partly due to my age, but deep down I also knew that I had been doing things wrong  . . . wrong for me. Before I blame my age, I want to course-correct the habits I know are wrong for me.

Being honest with myself, I was feeling much less happy with my body, and negative thoughts were beginning to overwhelm me. Particularly before I stopped drinking, I felt like I was flailing, looking for solutions while mourning my lost willpower and moderation, especially as to snacking and alcohol. Obsessive and negative thoughts were draining my energy and compounding my inability to do right by my body  for more than a day or two at a time.

I had, of course, hoped that a few pounds would just melt away once I stopped drinking. Here at almost four weeks, that has not happened for me. I don’t think I have lost a pound! That said, I do feel good, and my negative funk has begun to dissipate. I can now see that the gloom about my body was actually displaced negativity rooted in my feeling like I was drinking too much and spiraling slowly to a worse place. I was uncomfortable with myself, and my discomfort was manifesting physically.


thoughts while running like old times (# 22)

Ah! I set out running at dusk, and it was the first time in MONTHS that it truly felt good. Instead of plodding along just to get in my 2.5 miles, I felt like I could vary the pace with my mood or the music, speed up with a burst and drop easily back to my steady state instead of crapping out altogether. Maybe I can attribute my enjoyment to listening to an old running mix I used a lot from 2010-2012, when I was running many more miles at a faster clip. Revisiting those songs made me feel good, reminded me of past accomplishments and reawakened my knowledge that transformation takes time, but it can be a joyful process.

I reflected on how our daily patterns and habits can change over the years as our life circumstances change.  In turn, our habits affect how we exercise, eat, read, everything. For example, four years ago I was in a different (much more stressful) job, and I had a boyfriend who was in graduate school. He spent a lot of time working too. My habit, on the nights I did not have my kids, was to work as late as needed (maybe 6 p.m.), go to the gym, and then go to his place to have a late dinner. I always got my workouts in after work because my gym was between work and his place. I might drink some wine with dinner, but I would never start drinking until then (8 or 8:30 p.m.). My boyfriend liked to be asleep by 11 p.m. if possible, and 12 a.m. at the absolute latest. It was a relatively unvaried, contained situation, for half of the week anyway.

Then several years later, the boyfriend and I broke up. I fell in love with my husband, and I was so passionately eager to see him straight after work that I would speed home as soon as possible. As a self-employed person, he was generally available if I was. Sometimes I would work out later, sometimes not; sometimes I would work out in the morning instead, sometimes not. Sometimes, we’d have some wine when I got home, sometimes not. Before long, I got a less stressful job, closer to home, and my commuting path changed. The point is, my habits shifted with my life circumstances.  And gradually my new habits allowed for a less rigid routine, more flexibility, more decisions about how to allocate my time, and ultimately the opportunity to drink more alcohol. Which I did.

vanity (# 19)

One reason I reached the tipping point with drinking is that I am vain. I am used to looking a certain way–young for my age–but face it, I am almost 46 years old, and I am, gasp, surprise, no shit, aging. Drinking alcohol in any amount does not do me any favors. Dull puffy eyes, more often than not. Dry blotchy skin, Dead hair. It sucks! Especially because I am a woman who truly looks better at 40+ than I did at basically any other age except maybe 4 or 23. I am not, NOT, ready to go gentle into my inevitable decrepitude.

In due course, you lucky readers, you, we will get to all the other reasons why I reached this tipping point (even though the blogosphere likely needs the raisons d’etre of another sober blogger like a waterfront picnic needs more mosquitos). For now, I will provide this much about my drinking life for context.

  • I have always been the girl who could not stop once started. Last girl awake at the sleepover, so to speak. I have been decent at simply not starting for big chunks of my life. It’s also true that there have been multiple chunks where I was having sub rosa conversations with myself about whether, maybe, just maybe, I was drinking a little too much, a little too frequently, with a little too much gusto. Watching the bottle a little too closely. (Translation: Like a freaking hawk about to wrest the bottle from you, never mind that my freaking beak is a significant impediment to consumption.)
  • I am a high-functioning person with lots of energy. Drinking has not (yet) stopped me from meeting my goals, though it has been dawning on me how much drinking has held me back in various subtle yet serious ways.
  • I have not rock-bottomed in the cinematic sense of the term. Not a single soul has ever so much as suggested that I stop drinking, except me (Midwesterners are so polite; I am not from here). I have always been my own harshest critic. Which brings me to . . .
  • I have historically been kind of judge-y. Yes, yes, patience, we will talk more about that. What I mean is, there have been times I thought various people in my life were drinking too much. But I have been hypocritical because I also thought that what with me being such a control freak, I could possibly not let such a thing happen to me. Unfortunately, it’s no secret that control freaks are absolutely thrilled to hand over the reins on a temporary basis in exchange for not being such a control freak all the damn time. However, even the freakiest control freak is powerless to transform alcohol from a progressively addictive substance into a harmless holiday weekend of a beverage.
  • I am a mother, a professional, and, as of a year ago, a delighted second wife with a delighted second husband.
  • I digress. And alliterate abundantly. But I can’t blame alcohol for that.

Back to vanity. About 10 years ago, before I got pregnant with my second child, I started working out consistently for the first time in my life. Like a good little control freak, I have kept that up ever since. I am still in very good shape, but over the past 2 years I have gained about 10-15 pounds. I still look basically ok (to the nonjudgmental eyes of anyone but me) but it has baffled me to see this weight appear out of thin air. Or, well, out of bottles of wine, pints of craft beer, and wee nips of whiskey . . what else you got?

I’m pretty smart and I eat pretty healthy, but for two years, I could not quite work out this very simple equation: All other things being equal, when you drink more over time, you gain weight over time. Then your belly starts sticking out, so that all your pretty skinny-girl clothes fit a bit tighter. Presto change-o, now you are uncomfortable in your own skin and low-level grumpy all day, every day.

Yep, just like everyone else’s mother, I would like to feel less puffy and bloat-gutted. I would like to restore to myself to the place I have lived for most of the last decade, where I felt light and strong all the time. Some people would surely tell me “sorry, but this just is what happens when you get old and perimenopausal.”

Whether that’s true or not, something else is making me disgruntled.  It is realizing deep down that no matter what else I am doing, I am failing my body in one crucial respect by continuing to drink. Drinking may make me feel less grumpy, uncomfortable, and dissatisfied for few hours, but it does not produce the desired effect all the time. In fact it makes everything worse most of the time. If I want to live with myself, and look good doing it, I have to choose the way that works all the time. Drinking won’t get me there.

energy (# 8)

One criterion for determining whether one is alcohol dependent: passing up favorite activities for opportunities to drink. I could feel this happening over the past year. I was having a harder and harder time waking up to exercise. Also, I was opting to have a glass of wine after work, which turned into several. At that point, I wasn’t in the right condition to exercise or go to tango events like I used to do several times a week. Lately, I have been tangoing about once every two weeks at best.

It has been enjoyable running again (3 days in row!). Tonight I went to tango class. Tomorrow, I will be up at 5:45 a.m. and happily heading out for a jog. It feels good to look forward to my activities again. I now have room in my brain to anticipate such things, since I am no longer pinning my hopes on having a drink or three.