Financial Fear – Learn how to cope when you can’t make ends meet

financial fear

financial fear

Math has never been my strong suit.  It appeals to me in theory.  I like that it’s the same in every language.  That it’s  dispassionate.  There is only one right answer to an equation.  There’s no ambiguity.  Something is comforting about that.

Except when it comes to money.  Because what do you do when, despite your best intentions, the number you need and the number you have don’t match?  That is slightly less comforting.  Alright – it’s downright terrifying.

gun-aimed-at-woman
Almost preferable

Financial fear is the silent cloud hanging over our generation.  We are the first to be less secure than our parents, and thereby able to give our children less.  The cost of homes and childcare have increased exponentially while salaries for everyone but the top earners have remained comparatively low.

When I look up financial fear online, it tells me it’s normal to be afraid of not having enough money.  I should just save up six months of expenses.  And then, of course, be maxing out my 401k.  I’d laugh but I’m too busy hyperventilating.   (And God forbid you discuss any of this.  It’s a faux pas.  You might make someone rich uncomfortable.)

I am not going to solve any of that here today, though I wish I could.  What I am going to do is explain how I have learned to make financial fear less crippling.  Because as much as I wish worrying about money made me earn more of it, well it just doesn’t work that way.  I do offer a few practical suggestions towards the end, but the goal of this is to show you how to move through your fear so you can find a solution, rather than drink over it.

Dive In

It’s all well and good to say “don’t worry” but it’s about as effective as telling someone not to think of an elephant.

elephant
I know you can’t stop thinking about me.

Instead of pretending to shrug it off, I ask myself these questions:

What am I really afraid of here? 

What is the worst outcome? 

How likely is that to happen?

Half the time I don’t even really know what exactly I’m afraid of.  I just keep thinking “I need X amount of money and oh-my-God-I-don’t-have-it!!  What will I do?  What will happen?”  These tend to repeat on a supremely unhelpful loop.   So here’s how I got it to work today –

“Shit!  I thought I could afford this preschool, but they want me to pre-pay! While I’m still paying for daycare!  This is the only place I can afford with a spot left and there is no freaking way I can afford both at once!”

What am I really afraid of here?

“That I won’t have anywhere to put my son next year!  I can’t quit my job to watch him!  And a nanny is even more expensive!”

Okay and what happens then?

“I don’t know…  Children’s services comes and takes him because he is being left home alone?”

Really?  You think this is how that’s going to end?  Do you plan on leaving him home alone?

“Okay, no.  But I don’t know what to do!”

Do you have to know that immediately?  Do you have to pay them tomorrow?

No… but… 

Great.  Stop.  Time to…

Write it All down – Then Take a Break

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a big fan of writing things down.  You don’t have to keep them, but getting them out of your head and onto a piece of paper helps your brain process everything better.  A big part of the anxiety and the thought repetition comes from a feeling of urgency – it’s your brain saying, “This is important!  You don’t want to put this on the back burner, so I’m going to remind you over and over and over…” As if you could forget.  But the brain is pretty literal.  Put it down on a piece of paper and your brain gets that you are serious about it.  You have it written down so you don’t forget.

brain
Aha, a pen! I see you mean business!

So write out the problem, your big fear, why it’s not necessarily true.  Fold it up and do with it what you will.

Now it’s time to take a break from it.  Unless this is a financial situation that needs to be rectified in the next 48 hours, give yourself two days not to think about it.  I know this sounds crazy and like you can’t do it, but try.  Worrying is not the same thing as solving a problem.  It overwhelms the brain.

If you believe in a higher power, now’s the time to ask for a little help – not to solve your problem for you with bags of money, but to guide you in finding the right way through this, and to give you a little peace.  I find that helpful, but it’s optional.

Either way, put down your piece of paper and let your unconscious mind go to work on this for a couple of days.  Particularly while you sleep, your brain is busy filing things.  It looks at everything new in your life and tries to categorize it so it makes sense with everything you’ve seen in the past.  In doing so, your brain is working on helping you figure out how to solve the problem, even if it doesn’t feel like it.  (This is actually how I solved the daycare issue.  I remembered that I could borrow against my 401k and would have the funds to pay in back in January.  Thanks, brain!)

The other reason for taking a break is to keep you from doing anything stupid.  It’s unlikely you will immediately know what to do, and in a panic, you might sign up for various scammy things that promise to make or save you tons of money.  (Ask me how I know…)

One-off or Recurring

You’ve had your 48 hours.  Your brain has had time to file the new information you’ve given it and you can now start moving forward.  The first thing you need to do is to frame the situation – is this a surprise one-off?  Something medical or something with your car?  Or is it a situation where you are just living beyond your means month after month?

Now I understand that a one-time expense can stretch out and make it so that your monthly expenses are too much to handle, but it’s helpful to know these things to formulate a plan.

Eat the Frog

frog
Excuse me???

“Eat the Frog” means to do the hardest thing first.  No one wants to make a budget.  Especially when you know it isn’t going to work out in your favor.  But you need to in order to make your plan.  I used to use Mint.com but while it showed me where my money was going, it didn’t help me spend it any differently.  I can honestly say that You Need A Budget (YNAB.com) has helped me budget and save.  It made me figure out a way to afford things I never thought I could before, and it was pretty painless. Maybe even kind of fun.  I get nothing if you join this, I have no affiliation.  It just helped me.

Once you know how much money is coming in, and decide where exactly it’s going, you can see where you need to fill in the gaps.

Pride

A lot of the trouble with financial fear is that it’s mixed in with pride.  We don’t want to be of lesser status.  We feel bad and lazy or inept in some way if we can’t do what it seems like others are able to. For me, it particularly smarts that my parents were able to offer me advantages that I am not able to offer my son.  I start telling myself I squandered the changes I was given.  But the times are what they are. And my life’s not over yet.  I’m not out of chances.

I don’t know anyone else’s story and how they are managing to make ends meet.  In my mind, it’s all simple and rosy and while I was drinking money away, they managed to save up a nice little nest egg and now don’t have to worry about anything.  But reason tells me that’s unlikely.  We are all just acting like everything is fine.

Call the People You Owe

phone booth
This call is untraceable

You hate this idea.  I know it.  It feels horrible – like you are begging. But I can guarantee you that the people on the other side don’t see it that way.  I deal with contracts every day.  You know what a customer has to do to get a discount?  Ask.  That’s it.  And we give it to them.  While this is not the case everywhere, it’s shocking how frequently this applies.  I have gotten a lower interest rate on credit cards this way, a lower price for my internet, my phone…  and yes the bigger things like daycare too.  You are never the first to ask, and as long as you do it kindly, people will try to work with you.

Even if you shake a bit while doing so, in your heart do you really care what the account specialist from AT&T thinks about your financial situation?  Will you ever think about them again after this conversation? (It’s okay, they won’t be thinking about you either.)

Dave Ramsey

I am hesitant to put this in here because I haven’t tried it myself, but I have read a lot in my research about people who have turned their finances around using Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover”.  I plan on reading it and giving it a shot, but not having tried it myself, all I can say is that I’ve heard enough good buzz about it that I thought it was worth passing on.

The Myth of the Side Hustle

credit card
For a special price of only $97 you can learn how to make money

Don’t get me wrong, if you can manage a side hustle, good for you.  But if you are already working and have kids, if you’re like me you struggle to find time to shower, never mind have a side business.  (Though maybe if it got bad enough people would pay me to shower?)  Often times side hustles require a pretty good investment of time and money up front, so while it’s certainly an option, I have never found it to be somewhat of a false promise.  That goes quadruply so for anything that promises a “passive income”.

No-Spend Tuesday

I got this idea from the bullet journal community and I have found it an easy way to spend less.  Two days a week would be great, but I find I can always hack at least one.  For some reason, Tuesday works particularly well.  It’s such a blah day.  All you need to do is just get by on whatever you have around one day a week.  Eat the leftovers in your fridge, make your own coffee…  just make do for one day. If you need to buy something, just wait until tomorrow.  I can’t tell you how many times I have decided “Nah, I don’t really need that” by the next day.  The idea is not to buy a ton of things and stock up on Monday.  We are trying to save here remember?  It is relatively pain-free and it really adds up over time.

I Don’t Wanna

child covering face
You can’t make me

So much of the financial fear angle is a combination of pride, and having to do things we don’t want to do.  When it comes down to it, my constant fear that I will become a bag lady is pretty unlikely at this moment.  But the possibility of me having to move from the home and town I love in order to live within my means is a very real one.  I don’t want to deal with that.  It’s uncomfortable.

It’s almost easier to think about the bag lady scenario – it’s one where I have no choice.  I don’t have to make the hard decisions.  I don’t have to take any next steps towards something that I just don’t want to do.  But the truth is, I hate the anxiety more than the suburbs.

Most of the time it’s not that there’s nothing you can do in your situation, it’s that you don’t WANT to do the things you CAN do.  That’s fair – but call it what it is.  And while it may suck, it’s less overwhelming than a situation where there is no answer.  Just because you have to do something right now that you don’t like, that doesn’t mean it will be that way forever.

Know it’s Going to be Okay

It’s not going to be as bad as you think.  None of it.  You will make it through. Even if you lose your job.  Even if you lose your house.  Even if you lose your love.  You can move through it.  You can do more than you think. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.   I’m not saying that working hard, being honest and kind will get you everything you ever wanted in life.  But it will get you enough.  You will have enough people who will root for you and help you, and you will know that no matter what, you have the integrity to face your problems clear-eyed.

Sick in sobriety – How to avoid the triggers

sick in sobriety

sick in sobriety

Early on in my sobriety, I remember hearing around the rooms people complaining about how hard it was being sick in sobriety .  At the time I couldn’t figure out what one had to do with the other.  Of course, at that time I didn’t have any children.  I had no idea of the biological warfare that is daycare germs.  And as I sit here, having been sick for over a month with one illness after another, while I don’t necessarily want a drink, I have started to understand the problem.  It’s not that I think a drink would make anything better, that’s a guarantee in every situation.  It’s more that my defenses are down, and that little addicted part of my brain, which is usually a pretty good napper, sees its opportunity and starts whispering to me.

This feels familiar

My mouth feels like sandpaper and my head is pounding.  What does this feel like?  A hangover. This is completely unfair.  Because this was part of the deal – I stop drinking, and the hangovers stop. That’s the deal.  Who is messing with the deal? ??

we-had-a-deal
It states clearly in paragraph four.

Though I don’t want to admit it, there is some part of my brain that thinks “If I’m going to feel hungover, I should have gotten to drink!”  This is completely different than how I actually view drinking.  I don’t think of it as a privilege that I am denying myself.  I think of it as something that doesn’t work well with my body.  Kind of like Lean Pockets.

Side note: I got food poisoning from a Lean Pocket once. Why I was eating one in the first place is beyond me.  Alcohol was definitely a part of the decision-making process.  It was horrible and to this day the sight of one turns my stomach.  But when I get the stomach flu I don’t automatically think, “But I didn’t get to have a lean pocket!” Yet feeling sick with hangover symptoms triggers my “No fair!” alarm system.  And what was the one thing that could take the edge off a hangover? Yeah.

A pound of cure

balloon head
I may be sick but I still know how to rock

I do not have a high threshold for being uncomfortable.  If I don’t feel good in some way – either mentally or physically, I want to bomb it out of my body by any means necessary.  A big part of sobriety is learning how to sit with big emotions you’d rather block out.  I have learned to do that for the most part but still haven’t mastered it on the physical side.  So I drag myself to urgent care where they prescribe all manner of pills and potions.

When I still have a cough days later, the doctor wants to prescribe Tylenol with Codeine.  I explain that I am in recovery and would prefer not to use anything with opioids.  (This is a personal choice.  If your doctor prescribes it and you take it as directed, it is not considered a slip, but for me, I just don’t want to mess with it, especially since in the past they haven’t worked well.)  The doctor orders me some other prescription cough medicine which makes the room look slightly melty and makes my head feel like a helium balloon.  But it does help me sleep.  It makes me uneasy though.

So I try the health food store.  A man in a white coat but does not necessarily have any sort of medical or pharmacological degree sells me fifty dollars of tinctures that taste like an ogre’s jockstrap.  50 drops every three hours.  After taking it twice I read that tinctures are usually extracted with alcohol.  Great.  The ones I bought apparently do not, which is a load off, but that’s also a pretty easy way to accidentally ingest alcohol.  I am lucky to have avoided that.  My head is fuzzy and I am not being vigilant.

Caution

As alcoholics, we need to be careful about the temptation to take anything that lets us turn off the world for a while.  And just to put it out there – don’t take Nyquil unless it’s the alcohol-free version. Make sure to check everything you take.  Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  Hemlock is natural too but I wouldn’t recommend taking it.

This never used to happen

drunk rhesus monkey
I can’t even feel it

“I never got sick when I was drinking!”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this.  I have even thought it myself a couple of times.  My logic was that the alcohol killed whatever germs were in my system, though science doesn’t really back that up.  If you’re a rhesus monkey trying not to get smallpox it might help slightly, and to be fair, when drinking I never DID contract smallpox…  But beyond that, there is no proof to suggest alcohol boosts immunity.

What’s more likely?  I did get sick, I just figured it was a hangover. Or even more likely, I didn’t get as sick as I do today, because back then I didn’t have children, and could actually REST when I was sick.

No rest for the mommy

I barely remember what it was like to be sick before having a child.  It sounds like it was almost enjoyable.  I could lay down all day and watch bad tv and drink overly salty soup and ginger ale and sleep until I felt better.  I don’t have that option now.  I continue to trudge through my days as if I were healthy, thereby making myself sicker and sicker.

hospital patient
Why aren’t you logged into the VPN?

Part of this is my fault, in that I don’t ask for help early enough, but this isn’t because I am being stoic.  It’s all about the very real issue of balancing child care and the goodwill of our family’s employers.  Do I want to ask my husband to be late to work and come back early so he can do daycare duty, thereby saving me the mile walk each time?  Nah, I should probably save that for when I REALLY can’t do it myself.  Should I take a sick day?  No one really does where I work, since we all work remotely.  It’s considered lame.

Can my husband get up with my son when he starts screaming at night?  Yes, and he does.  And my son will have none of it.  I am getting no more sleep lying in bed hearing him scream “I want Mamaaaaaaaa!” than I would if I just went in there and rubbed his back.  Maybe this puts him back to sleep.  Or maybe he is up for the day at 3AM.  Does he care that I am sick?  Hell no.

Am I done relaxing yet?

Something I have noticed among most people in recovery is that we are high achievers.  We aren’t great at sitting still.  Maybe it’s because of all the years we wasted, or maybe it’s because we learned to function with a handicap of being drunk so much, it acted much the same way as a baseball player swinging multiple bats as practice – a single bat feels like a feather after that.  So for us, sober life feels lighter and easier.  For all these reasons, we do not want to stop and rest.  We hate doing nothing.

enough tranquility
Okay it’s been an hour. Enough tranquility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a duvet day.  In theory.  But I usually can’t stay at it for more than a few hours.  My mind loves the idea of relaxation right until it gets bored.  So when it comes time to rest because my body is forcing it on me, I might take a half day to abandon my everyday chores, and then I get frustrated.  Why aren’t I better yet?  Now I’m still sick and the house is a disaster and I have twice as many emails to return.  This is bullshit.

The Mom Cold

You know how there’s the “man cold”?  Where some men get the sniffles and all of a sudden they act like they’re dying, and insist upon being waited on hand and foot?  My problem is that I THINK I’m behaving that way.  I think I have a man cold, when in fact I have a MOM cold.  This is where you are ridiculously ill but act like you are fine and do everything anyway.  I was certain I just had a persistent chest cold and found out it was really walking pneumonia.  It wasn’t until a doctor told me that and gave me a serious talking to that I allowed myself to call in reinforcements and just rest.

hotel room
Your sickbed awaits madam.

I have a fantasy in which I could just go to a hotel when I get sick.  Because at home, even if I try to rest, there is always something that needs to be done, and I can’t help myself.  But if I could just remove myself to a hotel, order chicken soup and sleep with no one yelling, I could recover.  Alas, I cannot afford it.

Back to reality

This is one of the many ways in which I feel like I should get a gold star for just showing up, while others seem to handle temporary illness with much more grace and little to no maid service.  So what can I do?  I can ask a friend who lives nearby to walk my son to daycare, and promise to do the same for her when she gets sick.  I can make giant mugs of herbal tea with as much honey as I want and drink them all day.  I can order chicken pho from the amazing Thai place nearby.  I can block off an hour on my work schedule and use it to take a nap.  I can go to bed at a very early hour even if I’d rather stay up and watch tv with my husband.  And I can remember that just because it FEELS like it will never end, that doesn’t make it true.  This too shall pass.

Anyone else?  Bueller?

 

 

How to relax without alcohol

relax without alcohol

relax without alcohol

You worked a full day.  You picked up the kids, made dinner, fed them, bathed them, put them to bed, cleaned up the wreckage of your living room and kitchen, and you are fried.  You have a thousand thoughts running through your head.  Responsibilities, worries, and to-dos whiz past your mind in non-sensical order.  You are wound tightly like a spring and you just want to unwind dammit.  Have a little “me” time.  How are you supposed to do this without a glass (or four) of wine?  How do people relax without alcohol?

The Recipe for Relaxation

cake recipe
Don’t question the cake

This is a dilemma that has faced every person who has ever gotten sober.  We all find a way and I promise you will too.  Now as you trawl the internet for ideas, you are likely to see a lot of the same things come up again and again.  Why?  Because they work.  If you look on the internet to find out how to bake a cake, you are going to keep seeing instructions that tell you to mix up some butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla with some flour, baking soda, and salt and bake it.  Why?  Because people have found again and again that if you do that, you will end up with a cake.  So yes, I am going to include things like exercise, meditation, and hot baths, because as much as I didn’t want them to, they do work.  But I am also going to give you a key to find out which relaxing activities might appeal to you most.  Ready?

Your most prominent sense

It all comes down to how you process the world.  You need to figure out your primary sense.  I am excluding smell and taste here because those are not necessarily constant, and well, we don’t want relaxation getting entwined with food because that’s a whole other issue. But generally, you fit into one of four categories

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic (Sensory)
  • Intellectual

We all experience these to varying degrees, but generally, we are more affected by one or two of them.  So do your best to determine your primary (and possibly secondary) sense, and check out some of the relaxation activities in that category.  You may enjoy something from every category, but because your primary sense is how you process the world, doing something that appeals to it is more likely to help you relax without alcohol much faster than one that doesn’t line up with who you are.

If you’re not sure – a sales trick

For most people, their primary sense is obvious and jumps right out at them from the list above.  But if you aren’t sure, there is a hack that I learned in a book about sales that says to pay attention to a person’s language.  Here is an example of a response from each primary sense:

Visual – “I see what you mean”

Auditory – “I hear you.”

Sensory – “I know how you feel”

Intellectual – “I understand/I think so”

Pay attention to which of these you say most often.  You may say more than one, but just keep a gentle note of it when you notice yourself (or hear yourself, or feel yourself, or think about) using language in this way.

Okay on to the list!

***

Visual

visual type

If you are primarily visual, you will probably relax more easily somewhere quiet.  Noise can be overstimulating for visual people. Things like art and design tend to appeal to you and you tend to process things very quickly.  Some relaxing activities that can appeal to a visual person are:

Coloring

adult coloring book
Must. Not. Go. Outside. The. Lines.

Adult coloring books have become all the rage over the past few years and with good reason.  It’s a great way to turn your brain off and make something beautiful.  You can grab some colored pencils at any drug store (or steal your child’s crayons, I won’t tell) and watch as a page transforms in front of your eyes. You can google it and print out free images or you can indulge in something like Johanna Basford’s The Secret Garden

Drawing

If you haven’t learned to draw, now is a great time to take up a hobby.  Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the gold standard for teaching even someone like me who could barely draw a stickman to draw semi-recognizable figures.  It is both relaxing and interesting, and you never run out of material.

Zentangle

zentangle
Easier than it looks

Another option if you don’t have the time or interest in learning to draw for real, is to try your hand at Zentangles.  This takes doodling and turns it into something repetitive, meditative, and really enjoyable.

Do a puzzle

I believe dining room tables are only good for two things: holidays and puzzles.  Otherwise, they just collect junk.  So find a puzzle you find beautiful and dump it out on the table and get to work.  Depending on the age of your children, this may or may not be possible.  I love an old-fashioned puzzle, but don’t particularly want to spend the next month fishing puzzle pieces out of the various orifices of my toddler, I tend to go the app route.  Brainsbreaker is my absolute favorite for desktop, and I am currently digging “Jigsaw Puzzles Real Free” on my iPhone.

Nature Walks

forest bathing
Keep your clothes on please.

For visual people in particular, nature walks can be very restorative.  The quiet and the beauty of a forest or park can be just what’s needed after all the noise and distractions of the day.  It doesn’t need to be a hike.  Forest bathing has recently become trendy in the United States but has been a part of preventative healthcare in Japan for over 30 years.  Basically, just being in a forest and practicing mindfulness there can decrease stress and increase immunity.

***

Auditory

listening

Auditory people tend to absorb things better when they hear them rather than see them.  They tend to have an appreciation for music and like to have long discussions.

Audiobooks

While an engaging book is always a good way to relax, sometimes as a parent I am so fried that I can’t really concentrate.  And as an auditory person, listening to an audiobook just takes the experience up a notch, and allows me to do something else at the same time (should I want to).  Audible.com is my go-to, but both Google and Apple have plenty of audiobooks to download on their app stores as well.  I particularly like a good thriller, as they are easy to get wrapped up in and before I know it, the rest of the world has faded away.

Audiobooks are also great if you’ve been over-thinking.  It’s hard to think too hard when you are paying attention to the story.  Look up a book you know you like and see what else is recommended for people who liked that book.

Music

While most people have an appreciation for music, auditory types have a special connection to it.  Make different playlists to go with different moods.  Have a “cheer up” playlist of upbeat songs, a “chill out” mix for stressful days, and a “karaoke” list of things to sing along to.  Which brings me to…

Singing

choral group
Find out about performance uniforms before signing up.

Singing just makes you feel good.  Science says so.  The vibrations both calm us and elevate our mood by producing endorphins (happy hormones) and oxycontin (a hormone associated with relaxation and love/comfort).  It reduces cortisol, a stress hormone and can even help with depression.  Joining a chorus or choir is great if you have the time as these benefits are magnified by singing in a group.  However if like me, your voice sounds like an animal that has been run over by a car, you can still reap the benefits.  Just sing in the shower or when no one else is around.

Phone a Friend

Texting seems to have taken the place of phone calls over the past decade, and while it’s definitely more efficient, it’s not as much of a bonding experience as a long gab session with a friend.  Auditory people, in particular, connect very well this way, and hearing a friendly voice at the end of the day can be a big help.  These tend to work best when you set up a “phone date”.  Otherwise, no one answers these days.  Text a friend and say you want to catch up – do they have time for a call tonight?  Like 20 minutes?  Putting a time limit on it makes it seem less daunting, and if you are enjoying yourselves you can always blow right past it.

***

Kinesthetic/Sensory

kinsethetic type

As a kinesthetic or sensory type, you experience things in a very physical way and tend to feel things very deeply emotionally as well.  So slip into something really comfy and let your body help you relax.

Yoga

yoga tree pose

In the recovery community, yoga is very popular.  It produces a sense of calm and euphoria that can be very helpful when you miss the feeling of a buzz.  As a kinesthetic person, it’s particularly helpful that this practice is slow and steady, and allows you to focus on the sensations and your breathing.

Cuddle

Whether it’s your spouse, your child, or a fur baby, find something you can cuddle.  Cuddling releases oxytocin and particularly for kinesthetic types, helps you feel more connected and bonded with those you care about.

Bath

towels and candlesYou can’t be in early recovery without someone telling you to take a bath.  No, it’s not because you smell (probably?), but because it really is one of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself.  Do your best to make it as full a sensory experience as you can.  Use some lavender bubble bath (lavender is calming), light a couple candles and soak for fifteen minutes.  This is best to do before bed because your body temperature drops when you get out of the tub, which leads to much deeper sleep if you go to bed right after drying off.  That said, don’t wait until too late to take a bath because you don’t want to fall asleep in there!

 

Gardening/Crafting

Get productive with your hands.  Whether it’s weeding a garden, knitting, sewing, soapmaking, painting, or working with clay, find something your hands love to do.  A lot of women who are attached to drinking think of it as something “just for me” after doing so much for others. Hobbies are a great way to have something that is just for you.  Find something you love to create with your hands.  It’s satisfying on a very basic human level.

Cook/Bake

child kneading dough
Kids love helping too if you don’t mind the mess…

Cooking can be very relaxing if done for fun.  Figure out a recipe you’d love to try and take your time with it, focusing on the feelings of preparing the ingredients.  Experience the sounds of chopping and sautéing, the smells of the food, watch it all come together…  It really involves all the senses and can be a lot of fun.

 

 

***

Intellectual

intellectual type

If you are an intellectual type you tend to be in your head a lot.  You think things out logically and like having lists and rules.  It can be hard to get out of your head and you might have used drinking to get your head to give you peace for five minutes.

Journaling/Listmaking

hand with writing on it
I prefer paper but whatever you have on hand…

Sometimes it helps to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page, whether that is in a journal or just a random word document.  For some reason, problems tend to stop rattling around and repeating themselves if you put it down on paper.  To that end, I also recommend list-making.  Do a brain dump of all your to-dos, ideas, projects, next steps, concerns, things to follow up on etc.  Then organize it into action items and reference files.  This is the basis behind the “Getting Things Done” system and it can be very helpful for anxiety.  Knowing where everything stands can allow you to give your brain a break.  Which makes you more likely to be able to…

Meditate

This can be hard if you are an intellectual, but it’s also the most beneficial for you.  If you drank to turn your brain off, this is learning to do that without alcohol.  It’s not hard at all.  Apps like Calm and Headspace walk you through it, so you don’t have to figure it out on your own.  Meditation has cumulative benefits so that over time, things that used to get you all worked up just don’t seem to bother you anymore.

Running (or another hard exercise)

This is another thought killer and a great way to deal with anxiety.  Make your body work so hard you can’t have a thought in your head.  And get a rush to boot.  (Get a doctor’s okay to do this first.)

Bad TV

Real Housewives, silly competitions on the Food Network, Property Brothers, The Bachelor…  Find something absolutely mindless yet somehow entertaining and enjoy the hell out of it.  No one has to know!

These are just a sampling of all the ways you can unwind.  It won’t be automatic at first, because you have conditioned yourself to associate alcohol with relaxation, so you will have to learn what it feels like to relax without alcohol.  It might feel a little different (but still awesome) and if you are in very early recovery your body may still be in a bit of shock, so it may take some time to relax properly.  But you will find what does it for you.  Pick one or two of these that sound appealing and give them a try.  If you feel like you don’t have time, think of all the time you spent glued to the couch or barstool.  The time is there if you work to find it.  You don’t have to spend hours on these things.  Just start creating new relaxation habits that fit your new life.

How do YOU relax without alcohol?

relax without alcohol
Nice if you can afford it

I’d love to hear other ways you’ve found to relax without alcohol.  Drop me a note in the comments or on social media!

I drank. Now what? Dealing with relapse.

relapse

relapse

How did I let this happen again?  How did I slip up? I knew better.  I was doing so well.  I have no willpower.  None.  I’m never going to get this.

These words, or some variation of them, have gone through the head of everyone who has ever relapsed.  While it doesn’t happen to everyone, most people who get sober long-term relapse before getting there.  Sobriety is a skill.  You won’t necessarily do everything perfectly the first time you try.

This is not square one

In AA there is a tradition of “counting days”.  You count how many sober days you have, and people clap for you.  You do this until you reach 90 days.  This has pros and cons.  I think it is valuable because it allows people to see that you are relatively new to sobriety and offer you support.  It also gives you something to hold onto when tempted.  You may want a drink but you really don’t want to lose those 45 (or however many) days you have managed to get under your belt.  This is all very positive.

The problem is, it can get discouraging.  If you slip up and all of a sudden have to start at day one again, it can be tempting to say, “Well screw it.  I better really go for it now!”  This can be incredibly dangerous.  A relapse only has to last as long as you decide you want it to.

24 hour coin
All you ever really have

There tends to be a lot of self-imposed shame to going back into a room where you just had 45 days and saying you are on day 1 again.  Let me assure you – no one is disappointed in you.  No one is exasperated.  Most of the people in that room have been there and will give you every bit as much support as they have to offer.  Now, to be fair, if you have done this a few times, there are some who might shy away a little.  Fuck em.  They aren’t your people.  Any one of us could end up on day one again whether we have two days or two decades.  We never truly have more than these 24 hours.  Those are what matter.

But the most important thing to remember here is that every single sober day you had under your belt before this still counts.  Every lesson you learned, every bit of experience you had is a building block making you stronger.  You are closer this time and you WILL get it.

Analyze what happened

The first instinct is always to berate yourself.  It’s okay to be disappointed but try not to linger here too long.  Because if you do, you can very easily end up in a loop where you believe there is no point and you might as well keep drinking.  And that is 100% not true.

This is a data point.  Use it to learn.  Something happened – what was the trigger?  If you are able to figure out what it was, great.  Come up with a plan for how you will handle it next time that does not rely on willpower.  Such as – when my husband is drinking around me, I will make myself a cup of coffee and go into another room.

Make a plan

girl scouts
Are they made from real girl scouts?

You need to be a girl scout here and be prepared (Thin Mints optional).  I am a big advocate of writing things down in these situations.  With pen and paper.  The act of thinking it, then writing it engages both hemispheres of your brain, and makes it much more likely you will remember your plan and put it into action.  Even if you burn it immediately after, it’s worth doing.  I get a little embarrassed by having these things in writing where others could find it, so I tend to write them down, then trash them.  I still remember.

GOING FORWARD

People places and things

Naughty/Nice list
Santa was onto something

So, what exactly are we writing here?  A list of potential triggers.  One column for people, one for places, and one for things.  People – Do you have a sister who makes you feel like crap about yourself?  She goes on the list.  Places – The liquor store you always went to or an area of your house you drank in?  On the list.  Things – Your favorite wine glass, the sounds of ice clinking in a glass, whatever mixer you tended to use… you know where it goes.

Now the first line of action would be to avoid these things wherever possible.  This is not forever.  You are not cutting your sister out of your life or swearing off anything with ice.  Just give yourself a month or two to make things a little easier.  Yeah, you can probably manage it, but don’t create battles to fight.  There will be enough for you to focus on.  So tell your sister you are busy, take a different route home and put your wine glass away.

That said, you will not be able to avoid every trigger in your life.  You can only control yourself, unfortunately.  Think of some things that have been helpful so far in tough moments.  Was it calling a sober friend?  Posting to a forum online?  Taking a bath?  Going for a run?  (A note on exercise – I hated it my entire life until I got sober.  While it still is not always my favorite thing to do, it was a godsend when I wanted to get away from my thoughts.  I could work out hard enough that I didn’t think for a few minutes and it made the urge to escape subside.)

Write on your list what you think will be the unavoidable pitfalls and write your plan – When my sister upsets me I will_________________.  Do this for all of your people, places, and things, as well as any events coming up that you are concerned about.

HALT!

angry toddler
I am NOT tired.

This is an important tip for those new to sobriety.  Don’t let yourself get too Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired.  I kind of had to laugh at this when I first heard it, because I was pretty much always at least two of those things at any given time, if not more.  But it’s an important lesson.  Willpower is an exhaustible resource, and we seriously deplete it when we are experiencing any one of these.

Keep some trail mix in your purse, text or call at least one friend (who is either sober or is being supportive of your sobriety), and don’t stay up all night watching Netflix.  Grab a cup of coffee if you are flagging.

As the parent of a toddler, it has become painfully obvious that neither of us does well when we need a nap or a snack. But due to the demands of said toddler, I am frequently frustrated and tired.  I have learned to prioritize getting more sleep and doing yoga and/or meditation because it keeps me from getting pissed off about things.

Be careful of your brain

Nearly every alcoholic I have ever met has been incredibly intelligent. Granted they may not seem so while naked singing torch songs at your local Wendy’s, one of the reasons many people drink is to turn their thoughts off.   There are studies that suggest that with intelligence comes the tendency to overthink.  To analyze and ruminate, which is also a risk factor for depression. It’s easy to look at someone who is whip-smart and wonder why they would do that to themselves.  But it makes perfect sense to me.  Unless tempered with optimism (which can be learned), thinking too much can make you want to drown out your thoughts, just to have a little quiet.

Thankfully that big brain of yours may have noticed that drinking hasn’t been working out for you.  So you decide to get sober.  But after a while, the novelty starts to wear off.  And you start justifying.  For me, it was, “Well getting sober was so much easier than I thought.  I must not really be an alcoholic.  I just needed a reset.  I bet I could drink normally now.”  Spoiler alert – I could not.

only on tuesdays

This is how it happens.  Your brain will come up with a thousand justifications, and because you are smart, they will actually sound logical.  You need to be prepared for this.  And then think like a scientist. Look at the experiments.  A+B=C.  You+Alcohol=Drunk and miserable.  The variables yield consistent results.  You don’t have to keep redoing the experiment.

There is a famous bit of advice in AA to “Think through the drink”.  When you find yourself tempted, ask yourself what happens when you drink?  Do you stop?  Or do you have another?  And another, etc. Don’t think about what that drink will get you, think about where you will be at the end of the night.  You can destroy a lot in one evening.  So no “What if…” no “Well maybe…”

Stay busy

One of the reasons AA tells you to go to 90 meetings in 90 days is to keep you busy.  It’s a lot less tempting to get a drink on your way to or from an AA meeting than it is sitting at home in your normal routine.  Being alone takes time to learn how to do properly.  In the early days, I found it essential to pack my schedule.  Volunteering for something can be good in that it motivates you to keep your commitment.  So whether you sign up to make the coffee for the meeting, or offer to coach your kid’s soccer practice, just get some things on the calendar.

You can’t do it alone – and that’s good

It can be very tempting to isolate in early sobriety.  The people you usually hang out with drink, and might make some stupid comments if you say you aren’t drinking.  Alcohol seems to be everywhere.  Plus, you aren’t even sure what people do if they are not drinking.  Maybe alcohol gave you the courage to talk to other people, and now you don’t know how you will do it.  Or you don’t know who you are if you aren’t the party girl any more.

The only way to answer all of this is by hanging out with other people who don’t drink.  They will show you the other side of this life and all the fun and freedom it has to offer.  Yes, you will discover some of that on your own, but it’s much more fun with other people.

This is one of the things I loved most about AA, though any recovery meeting will do.  I have heard good things about Smart Recovery and Refuge Recovery, so if AA really bugs you, there are still other options. Going in, raising your hand and admitting that you are new or struggling is all you have to do to get more support than you ever imagined possible.  If someone invites you out for coffee afterward, go.  If people often go to a diner or something after the meeting – go.  You will laugh more than you imagined possible, and start to discover that the sober you is still actually a good time.

Danger moments – relapse prevention

danger sign
I need an adult

The next time you are having the urge to drink, or you have a tough situation coming up and aren’t sure to handle it, text or call these people you have met at the meetings.  They really want you to, I promise.  For those who have long-term sobriety, it helps keep them sober and makes them feel good that they could help.

If it’s in the middle of the night or you are feeling too shy, try reaching out on a sober message board or app.  I am a fan of SoberMommies on Facebook, or on Twitter, you can tweet that you are struggling with the hashtag #recoveryposse and you will get some pretty awesome people who will talk you through it.

Sometimes just hearing from all these people who have been through it, knowing they have your back and believe in you can give you the extra push you need to make it through that one tough hour and into the next one sober.

Ten Surprise Benefits of Getting Sober

the anonymous mommy

Surprise benefits of getting sober

Before getting sober I always viewed giving up alcohol the way I thought of eating kale.  Everyone knows you should do it.  It’s good for you.  But practically no one does because it sucks.  I was gobsmacked when I kept having the realization over and over – “Hey…  This is actually better!  Wait, do people know this?”

The answer is – kind of.  There are plenty of people who know this to be true in their experience, but our culture (along with hundreds of millions in advertising dollars) has convinced us that alcohol is supposed to make everything better.  Peer pressure doesn’t go away just because you’re not in high school anymore.  It just gets subtler.

Here’s me being not so subtle – you can expect to be richer, thinner, hotter, and happier.  So if you need a little boost to remember why you’re doing this, or want to see what’s just on the horizon, here are some of the cash and prizes you can expect.

1. Lose weight

This was a big payoff to me right up front.  Yes, you may know booze is fattening, but do you realize the extent? Looking at one glass of wine at 120 calories it doesn’t sound that bad.  But that’s a pretty small glass.  And if you are someone who only has one, you probably aren’t reading this blog.  If you consider that a bottle of wine has more than 600 calories, that’s a bit more daunting.  If consumed daily, that’s enough to put on 1-2lbs a week.  Take it out of the equation and guess what starts to happen?

fat apple
Yes, you, like this apple can have a 27-inch waist!

Something else of note – your liver is in charge of turning food into energy for your cells.  But even if you are working at a calorie deficit while drinking, your liver has to deal with the alcohol first to detoxify it so you don’t, well, die.  So while it’s busy doing that, any food you ate can’t be processed as fuel and so is stored as fat instead.  And then just for fun, alcohol makes your blood sugar drop, which makes you feel hungry.  So you eat more but can’t burn it off.

Some people do find that they indulge in sweets a lot when they keep drinking.  I did too.  It helps with the cravings and you know what?  I still lost weight.  I don’t recommend living on gummy bears or anything, but don’t worry too much about the sugar thing early on.

2. $$$$

Who doesn’t want more money?  If you don’t I’m happy to take it off your hands.  Alcohol is brutally expensive.  When it’s a regular part of your life you don’t really think about it, but when you remove alcohol from the equation all of a sudden you look at your bank account and start wondering where that extra zero or two came from.

Money
Oh hey, where’d you come from?

Sometimes I get bummed when I look back at what I could have saved if I never started drinking.  Could I have a down payment for a house by now?  Have my student loan paid off?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  I don’t linger there because it’s just pointless.  You can only go forward from where you are.

I am a fan of using a little of your newfound money for a treat.  Something like a massage or a couple of great audiobooks, or some craft supplies.  Just a positive rewards system.  But have milestones for this.  First week, first month, first season etc.  that way it doesn’t become a problem of its own.

3. Restaurants

I still can’t get over this one.  My husband and I used to go out for dinner and it would easily cost $150 or $200 for a nice dinner in Manhattan.  Roughly 75% of profits restaurants make is from alcohol.  They mark-up bottles of wine around 300%.  It’s bananas.  Now, our bill usually tops out between $60 to $80 at a very fancy restaurant.  That’s with multiple courses.  I feel like I’m getting away with something every time I see the bill.

Now, add to this that your taste buds actually start working better!  Alcohol not only dulls your taste buds while you’re drinking it.  Over time it can cause damage to the nerves responsible for your sense of smell and taste.  The good news is, those return once you give up alcohol and a good meal becomes a full experience.

restaurant dateSo if you’re counting, when you go out to dinner, it will now cost less, taste better, and won’t make you gain weight.  I honestly the only place I would find that would be in heaven.

4. You look hotter

Sobriety is honestly the best beauty tip I’ve got.  Within a month my skin got back its glow and my eyes were brighter. When I look at pictures of myself in which I was drinking, I can see that my eyes were never fully open.  I can see it in others’ photos too now.  They’re just not all there.

Similarly to the weight issue, when your body is busy processing alcohol, it can’t be bothered with free radicals (which cause dull skin and wrinkles).  You are also chronically dehydrated which saps the glowy quality from your skin.  Never mind the fact that if you come home drunk you probably aren’t focused on a skin regimen, or putting on sunscreen in the morning when you’re hungover…

There is also just something more poised and happy looking about someone sober.  Over time it gives you a stronger sense of self-confidence.  Which is pretty ironic since so many people start drinking because they feel self-conscious in social situations…

5. Productivity – and maybe a better job

When you aren’t constantly recovering from a hangover, you move more quickly and efficiently.  Your brain works better.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted studies that found being hungover impairs working memory by five to 10 percent and slows reaction times to such a degree that people in their 20s react at the same speed as people in their 40s.

getting sober benefit - woman in meeting
Let me show you how it should be done

There is also something subtler here.  Alcohol is a depressant.  If you are drinking frequently, a sort of fog settles over your life.  Even if it’s not full-blown depression, you just aren’t operating at full capacity.  When you take away that fog, all of a sudden, you start thinking more efficiently.  You don’t want to be stagnant anymore.  You start taking the initiative. I can’t tell you how many people I know who’ve gotten big promotions since they got sober. They just naturally started doing more at work and doing it better.

6. More free time

Along with this productivity comes a lot more free time.  Both the time you spent drinking and the time you spent recovering from hangovers are now freed up.  This is time you spent sitting in a chair essentially doing nothing.  Sure if you were out with a friend or something that counts as an activity, but you can still do that without alcohol and you don’t lose the rest of the night and the next day because of it.

In the same way that you didn’t realize how much money you were giving up, it can be shocking to see how much time you get back.  But that isn’t always comfortable.  If you find yourself wondering what to do with all this time, I highly suggest picking up a hobby.  Maybe something you did years ago, or something you always wanted to try.  Learn to knit, or bake or how to do a handstand.  Yoga is a favorite with the sober crowd because it can give you the relaxed buzz we tried to get with  alcohol without the negatives.

7. Your relationship

We say and do stupid things when we drink too much.  Sometimes we use being drunk as an excuse, but it doesn’t mean we didn’t hurt the person we love.  The fact is, when you are in your right mind all the time, you treat them better, and they treat you better.

getting sober benefit - your relationship
I love that you aren’t throwing up on me

Now it’s true, there are some out there that worry when their partner stops drinking.  What will it do to our social life?  Can I still drink?

These are questions that you will have to figure out together.  Initially, it is often helpful if they don’t drink in front of you, or if they want you to spend time at a bar, it might be best to skip that until you are more sure-footed in your sobriety.  It can have a learning curve, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting dumped because they didn’t get drunk.

8. Sober Sundays

Having a hangover every Sunday is like having the flu once a week.  You are miserable and pretty useless and can’t do much.  Even if you manage to pull yourself out of bed to drive the kids to their 800th birthday party that month, it takes all your will just to get it done, and most likely you won’t have the level of patience that kids require.  Their brains aren’t fully developed yet.  We have to be the ones with patience and maturity, and it’s hard enough to do that all the time without feeling like crap.

getting sober benefit - Sober Sundays
I’d normally just be going to bed around now

When you stop giving yourself that weekly flu, a whole day opens up.  You can get things accomplished, hang out with your family, or maybe sneak in a little relaxation time.  There is a big difference between relaxing and recovering.  I usually use some of that day to batch cook something like chili or some other one-pot meal for the week so that I can free up my weeknight evenings which are otherwise a blur.

9. Not having to think about alcohol

sandwich problem
I only have 1-2 a day. Maybe more on a weekend.

If you are removing alcohol from your life for a period of time or long-term, I’m guessing it’s something you think about.  A lot.  If you didn’t it wouldn’t be a problem.  I heard it likened to having a problem with sandwiches.  Do you lie in bed at night and wonder if you have a problem with sandwiches?  Do you wonder if you have them more often than others?  How many sandwiches do other people REALLY eat?  Maybe you could just have one sandwich a week…  I’m guessing not.  It sounds a bit silly attached to something else, but that’s how you know you have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.  If you’re thinking about it, that’s not a good sign.z

Sometimes you don’t realize how much mental energy you were giving to thinking about drinking until you take it off the table.  All the how much and when and who might care…  that’s answered.  It is a freedom that anyone who has been sober awhile doesn’t take for granted.  On days where I’ve been tempted, I realize – I don’t want to have to think about it. It’s too exhausting.

10. Parenting

getting sober benefit - parenting
Yay! Mommy doesn’t smell like a hobo!

I’m not saying that anyone who drinks is a bad parent.  But if it is something you tend to go overboard on, there is no way to keep it from your kids.  They may not know it’s the drinking per se, depending on their age, but they know when you are watching the clock waiting to get to something other than them.  They know when you are cranky in the morning and won’t play with them.

When you feel better and are more present, both of which are a natural benefit of going alcohol-free, you honestly enjoy your children more.  You can be silly with them, and trust yourself with them.  They aren’t magically perfect or without their exasperating moments, but those things just get to you less and you have more of those moments where you are completely overwhelmed with love for them.  Even when they are awake.

Bonus – Basically everything

Now that I have a few years under my belt, I can honestly say that there isn’t a situation or event that would have been better if I was drinking.  I was sober at my wedding and could not have had a better time.  I was sober through six months of unemployment, and while it wasn’t fun to be present for that, I think it would have turned into a bad spiral pretty quickly if I had been home all day with nothing to do but drink.  Even situations where I have to tolerate people I don’t like were never actually improved by alcohol.

So keep going and take your hot, rich, productive ass out to dinner.  You deserve it.  You deserve everything.

How to Avoid Drinking Traps During Dry January (and beyond)

Dry January

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”  The first time I was asked this was two weeks after I quit drinking.  It took me completely by surprise because 1) I was at a work event and 2) these people didn’t really know how much I liked my wine because it was a relatively new job.  All they knew was I was in my 30s and had just asked for seltzer rather than gulping the free Pinot Grigio like the other two women who had managed to make it into the room.

I really didn’t want people thinking I was pregnant, and going ahead and having a drink would dispel that pretty quickly.  But I also knew I’d be mad at myself if that was the reason I drank after going two weeks without. I think my reaction at the time was “Uh, no…” with a deer-in-headlights stare. Smooth.

deer in headlights
A deer who thinks you’re an asshole…

Now you may not be planning on staying alcohol-free past January and that’s fine.  For me, I knew I wanted to make it a longer-term commitment, but either way, discussing your drinking habits at a work event is not the best move, professionally.

Deciding to give up alcohol, whether for a period of time or forever is both easier and harder you think it will be.  For most people, it’s physically not that bad and you get over the cravings pretty quickly.  But it is so ingrained in our culture that it can be tricky to learn how to go about life without it.  Slipping up tends to make us beat ourselves up, when the reality is, we just needed to be better prepared.  Here are my favorite ways to be prepared for the tricky drinking pressures that can arise.

The Pregnant Pause

This one is so common I don’t even have the energy to get mad about it anymore.  While I still believe it’s really strange to inquire about the status of another person’s uterus, I’ve come to the conclusion over time that people just get excited about the prospect of babies and aren’t actually trying to ruin my career or “out” me as sober.

colleagues
I swear to God Tim if you don’t stop trying to look at my uterus…

So, in a work situation, I tend to say something like, “Nah, it’s a work event.  I want to be at the top of my game.”  Generally, that will make them insecure enough that they back off, but if they point out that you’ve drank at these things in the past, just say you know that, but you’ve recently realized that you can make these events more useful to your career if you stay sharp.

If it’s someone in your social circle, you can say you are doing Dry January if you want, or you can always just say you are on antibiotics, have to be up early, or just plain, “I don’t feel like it tonight.”  In either situation, if people persist in saying you are pregnant, just shrug and say “Wait nine months.  You’ll see.”  That usually bursts their bubble.

The Party

Who the hell throws a party in January?  Don’t they know everyone is attempting to deprive themselves in some way???  Assholes.

But they do happen.  People still have birthdays and baby showers and engagement parties etc.  Not drinking is no reason to stop celebrating happy moments in the lives of those you love.  Parties are a really neat way to experience a couple of the unexpectedly cool things that happen when you stop drinking:

cupcakes
Plus, there’s always the possibility of cupcakes.

You enjoy people more – I know that sounds really weird, especially as someone with social anxiety I didn’t really believe it at first.  But drinking really took my focus away from the people I loved.  I was busy thinking about drinking.  Thinking about what I would drink, and when I would get the next one. Was I keeping pace with those around me? Could I have as much as I wanted?  How much was weird?  When should I go home?  Etc.

When I took that off the table, I just focused on those around me.  I was able to listen to their stories and keep in the spirit of the thing we were celebrating, whatever it was.

You can catch a buzz off other people – I noticed this after the second party I went to sober.  While laughing and telling stories with some friends who were definitely tipsy, I realized, “I feel a little drunk.  I’m acting a little drunk.”  But not in a bad way.  I was telling stories a little more loudly and laughing a lot.  That was one of my favorite things about drinking.  That feeling of silly reveling.  But that never happened when I did it at home alone.  It turns out it wasn’t the alcohol at all giving me that feeling.  It was people I loved.  Cheesy, yes but a very exciting discovery.

The Friend in Need

So, you’ve been rocking the alcohol-free thing for a week or so and are feeling pretty good, when all of a sudden your best friend texts that she is having a crisis and she is on her way with a couple of bottles of wine.  This is a tough one because you really do want to be supportive, and the last thing you want to do in the midst of her pain is to make her feel guilty for drinking.

I get it, and this may be one of those situations where you feel like you MUST get a pass here right?  Not necessarily.  As someone who has been sober for almost four years, I can tell you that there is no situation that actually requires you to drink.  Your drinking will not make her situation any better.  Your words will.  Your friendship and encouragement will.

friends
Actually, you might not want to send that text…

This is a boundaries thing. It is not selfish to say you don’t want a drink.  I do like to have some good dark chocolate or ice cream around so I can offer that if they don’t want to drink around me but do want to indulge.  Or hell if it makes me feel better to have some Godiva while they drink their wine, so I don’t feel deprived, so be it.  (Sugar, though it’s another devil, can be a useful thing in the early stages of quitting drinking.  It lessens the cravings for alcohol.)

If this is your best friend or a close friend, hopefully, you can feel comfortable telling them you aren’t drinking right now.  Sometimes we don’t’ want to tell our closest people because we don’t want to be embarrassed if we fail.  But these are the people who are rooting for you to win.  They won’t judge you.  They will try to help you.  Let them.

Tell them you are 100% here for them and to come in and tell you all about what happened to them.  When they indicate the wine, that’s your cue to say, “I’m taking a little break from drinking right now.  It’s just a month but it’s important to me.  I think it will make me feel better.  You go ahead though!”  Then shift the focus back to them.  Your support and camaraderie will be the same as if you were drinking.  It’s like what I said above about catching a buzz.  You will act that way out of habit.  But maybe a little bit less sloppy.  A little bit less selfish.

90% of the time this will be enough.  Unfortunately, if you happen to be someone who is only friends with other heavy drinkers, sometimes they will fight you a little bit on it.  This says more about them than it does about you.  People who are concerned about their own drinking may start pressuring you or justifying their drinking.  For those people, I always just said, “Oh you should do whatever works for you!  For me, this is what feels best right now.”  If they can see that you are not judging them, they will usually relax.  (Note – for this to work, you sincerely need to be NOT judging them.   Keep your eyes on your own paper, so to speak.)

The shitacular day

But what about when you are the one in crisis?  Sometimes you just have one of those days where you step in a slush puddle on your way to work and everything goes downhill from there.  Every tiny thing goes wrong and your children are being less than magical to boot.  You finally get them to bed with the ease of bathing a feral cat and you feel like you just fucking deserve a drink.

I get it.  I really do.  Your nerves feel fried and you just want to soften the edges of everything.  Or maybe black it out altogether and start again tomorrow.

This is where you need to know what else makes you feel better.  Sometimes that involves trying some new things.  I personally think you can’t go wrong with a bath and a call or text to your best friend.  But it’s also really helpful to have someone who knows you aren’t drinking and who can support you in that.  If you don’t feel comfortable telling your friends and family, there are so many amazing resources online.  Instagram has actually become a surprise favorite of mine.  Look up hashtags like #sobermom #soberissexy #sobriety #wearetheluckiest  #sobercurious You can also find me on there @theanonymousmommmy and check out some of the people I follow.

Get a little encouragement and it can get you through the day.

Why it’s worth it

Drinking has a cumulative effect on the brain.  You are pouring a depressive on it every time you do it, and over time, drinkers experience higher levels of depression and anxiety.  Beyond the repairs happening in your liver, your limbic system, etc., you just start feeling a whole lot happier.  Like, ridiculously happy.  You may not be able to stop talking about it.

Do you remember how as a kid you had a ton of energy and used to get randomly excited about small things?  That comes back.  And you start doing more.  You go to places other than bars.  You do silly things like bowling or mini-golfing, or beautiful things like going to a botanical garden or a museum.

Child laughing

Or just hanging at home with your kids starts to become really enjoyable.  Because you aren’t watching the clock, waiting for them to go to bed so you can drink.  You aren’t waiting for the fun and relaxation because they are the fun and relaxation.

This may all sound ridiculous and exhausting right now, but it’s right around the corner.  I hope I’ve made it a little easier for you to get there.  I have three more posts coming to take you through the rest of the month (and maybe beyond?) so be sure to subscribe below so you don’t miss out!

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New Year’s resolutions suck. Here’s what to do instead.

New Year's Resolutions Suck

Chocolate cake and kale

December 31st, 2003, I resolved to lose ten pounds, quit smoking, and cut back on caffeine by the end of 2004.  I had been making those same New Year’s resolutions for the past seven years at that point – since I was sixteen.  But no matter.  This was going to be my year dammit!

By January 2nd, 2004 I was hungry, tired, very cranky and smelling vaguely of kale, I determined that 2004 sucked.

On December 31st, of that year, cigarette in one hand, coffee in another, berating myself after finishing a piece of chocolate-sticky-cake-of-death, once again mentally gearing up for the deprivation game known as January, some sort of switch flipped in my head.

kale
Don’t do this to yourself.

“No,” I said to myself.  “I’m not doing this again.  It doesn’t work.”  Hey, it only took me eight years to figure that out…  but surprisingly, I still seem to have a head start on most people when it comes to that realization.

The myth of the iron will

I wasn’t giving up on these goals, as I know I wouldn’t have been okay with just “accepting” that I would be a certain weight – That would take another fifteen years.  But I could let go of tying it to January 1st.  I have quit many things in my life – cigarettes, alcohol, dieting… pretty much everything but coffee at this point, and had many failed attempts along the way.  But not one of my successes was tied to a New Year’s resolution.  To be successful, there was always an outside trigger that made me finally not want to do the destructive behavior anymore.  It wasn’t always necessarily a serious situation, just something more than an arbitrary date.  I have just never been a person who can rely on willpower alone.

Despite what I tell myself, I am not simply a weak-willed jellyfish with no self-control as I had secretly believed.  It turns out that willpower is an exhaustible resource.  Let’s say you spend all day trying to make nice with a co-worker who frustrates the hell out of you. Or keeping your cool with your child while they have an out-of-control day. Maybe you spent the day forcing yourself to do all the work, chores and emotional labor that must be done instead of collapsing on the couch.  Chances are there will come a point in the day where you say, “Screw it.  I’m having a brownie.”  It happens so fast, and you don’t’ understand how you came to that decision when you truly do want to eat healthier.  You weren’t thinking rationally because your brain was DONE.

Brownie
I win again.

Yet every January people pile resolution on top of resolution.  Feeling gross from months of excesses of food, drink, spending, etc., we search for balance.  We are a marketer’s dream and snatch up whatever miracle cure (ahem, lifestyle change) is hot this year.

Spoiler alert – There is nothing special about this year. You will not turn into Gwyneth Paltrow overnight, able to subsist solely on barley and superiority.

 The game changer

There is an odd little quirk to this story.  Because of my perfectionistic tendencies, I couldn’t just sit by and let everyone else make resolutions and not make any of my own.  What if they became better than me?!  Even though intellectually I knew this wasn’t how things worked, I didn’t feel comfortable just doing nothing.  It felt like slacking.  So, I made a different kind of resolution.  I decided to learn about one non-school/non-work thing that year.  Just something I was interested in.  And I have done it every year since.

Some of the things I have learned in the past twelve years of doing this:

  • Handwriting analysis
  • Crochet
  • How to surf
  • Calligraphy
  • How to sew
  • Wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo (a bad one)
  • HTML and CSS
  • Started this blog

People who haven’t known me long sometimes ask me how I know how to do “everything” and it makes me embarrassed because I don’t want to seem like a know-it-all.  But I do have a lot of extra skills because of this one decision I repeatedly make every January.

You don’t need to know exactly what it is on January 1st.  I usually don’t. Just keep your eyes and ears open.  When you hear about something that interests you, ask yourself, “Do I want to look into this more?”  There are SO many cool things out there in the world, you will never get to all of them.  But you can get to more than most people ever do just by giving it some conscious thought.

I know you don’t have a ton of time.  Neither do I.  This can take up as much or as little of your time as you like.  You don’t have to MASTER something, just see if it’s for you.   Read up on it on your phone when you have five minutes.  Let yourself go down a clickhole with it.  Give yourself an afternoon to try a new activity.  If it’s safe you can bring your kids and/or your partner.  You don’t have to learn alone.

Make a wish list

Isn’t a wish list so much more appealing than a resolution?  It’s something you want to do, not something you have to do.  And I’m not talking about dressing up your inner drill sergeant in friendlier clothing.  I’m saying take whatever you think is “wrong with you” out of the equation.  This isn’t about fixing anything.  This is about FUN.

Ask yourself:

What do I want to MAKE this year?

What do I want to TRY?

What do I want to LEARN?

Write these down on paper.  I like to keep mine in my bullet journal.  It’s sort of the lazy way to set an intention.

This year I want to MAKE pizza at home, TRY a trapeze class, and Learn…  I don’t know yet but I’m excited to find out.

What about you?

What will you try this year?  What will you learn?

 

The nice girl’s guide to setting boundaries

setting boundaries

Setting boundaries has never been my strong suit. If someone needed help with something, I was always first to volunteer. If someone asked me a favor, of course I was going to help them out. That’s just being a nice person, isn’t it?

If I felt constantly overwhelmed, well didn’t all women feel that way? If I don’t feel that way, I must not be doing my share.

doormat

What held me back the most was the rationale that I wasn’t being nice if I said no to something. So I would take on whatever people heaped on me with a smile, all the time getting more and more pissed off.   I just didn’t want to be mean. The key to learning to set boundaries for me was figuring out that it could be done kindly.

For clarification, a boundary needs to be set when you have been doing one or both of these:

  • Tolerating behavior that you don’t like, and
  • Taking on tasks that are not your responsibility

Too many of us are falling into this trap. I have only in the last few years learned to say no, and it’s something that saves my health and my sanity on a regular basis.

Motherhood

Motherhood both stripped me of the most basic boundaries I had and showed me that I needed to create new ones.  A baby has zero boundaries.  Hell, they take over your whole body and push your organs out of the way!  Once they are born, their needs are not optional.  They are 100% dependent on you to survive, and they have zero fucks to give about what you intended to do today.  Since you cannot tell your baby that this isn’t a convenient time for you, some other people’s needs are going to have to be reprioritized.  No matter how much of a people pleaser you are, you can’t keep saying yes to everything that you did before.  Your energy is a resource and it needs to be rationed.

baby
Ahem.

When is setting boundaries necessary?

There’s a shortcut to figuring out where you need to set a boundary, and that is if you are feeling resentful. This is a clue that you have said yes to something that you really should have said no to. Sometimes this feels ridiculous, like telling a relative that you don’t appreciate them insulting you, but what can I say? Sometimes people are clueless or just don’t think. And they won’t get it until you tell them.

If you haven’t been saying no to being treated this way, you’ve been saying yes. I understand why. Sometimes it feels easier to grit your teeth through it than to turn it into a whole big thing. But it doesn’t have to be a scene. It can be a surprisingly easy conversation.

I have been completely astounded by what I have been able to remove from my plate by doing this:

  • I no longer answer an email the second it comes in. In fact, I close my inbox for large parts of the day. I don’t respond after business hours except in an emergency. (And yes, I have a corporate job. )
  • People have stopped saying hurtful things to me once they realized that what they were saying bothered me
  • I only cook a few days a week. When I feel like it.

And the same people still like me. I even get more respect at work!

What do I say?

Setting a boundary is not the same as snapping. It’s not finally having enough of your colleague’s dumping work on you and screaming, “Screw you and the horse you rode in on!!!”

horse
How did I come into it?

But how do you say no without all of a sudden seeming like you aren’t a team player?

First offense

It’s far easier to set a boundary the first time. Nip that shit in the bud.

spray bottle
Effective perhaps, but not exactly subtle

If someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, simply say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” Don’t elaborate. If they press you, just say, “I have too much on my plate right now.” If you add details, they will start trying to offer “helpful suggestions” as to how you might be able to squeeze it in. Don’t give them that window.  Asked and answered.

If it’s someone saying something that bothers you, call it out. This is HARD for me, but I’m learning. Instead of laughing it off, if it’s someone I generally like, I’ll say something like “Ouch. Jeez.” This will usually cause them to backpedal.   If it’s someone I don’t like, I’ll just say, “What do you mean by that?” followed by raised eyebrows and silence. It usually brings the conversation to a screeching halt and makes the person feel awkward as hell.

Ongoing behavior

So that’s all well and good, but what about the things you haven’t nipped in the bud.   Things that are so long-running they have become an expectation? This is a little more work but doesn’t have to be a huge blowout. A good script is:

I know in the past I’ve _____________________________. I’m afraid I just can’t do that anymore. My plate is too full (OR when you say X I feel Y.) I’m not saying it’s your fault because I’ve never said anything about it before. But it’s just something I can’t deal with anymore. I hope you can respect that.

For a while, I would quake in my boots as I said this kind of thing. My heart still races a bit when I do. What if they say no? What if they yell? What if I cry? Or worse, what if I chicken out?

Michelle Obama and the Dalai Lama

I knew that if I tried to do this off the cuff, I would stumble and apologize my way through it. Not terribly effective. So I asked myself, “What would someone who really had their shit together say? Like how would Michelle Obama set a boundary?” Like a goddam queen that’s how. She’d be kind, but dignified and clear. She would expect her boundary to be accepted.

And so sometimes I still pretend I’m her when I have to set a boundary. Yes, it may be somewhat ridiculous, but it gives me the confidence boost to actually do it instead of just imagining scathing conversations putting the person in their place and hoping they figure it out through telepathy.

michelle obama
I’m going to have to pass…

And your nice girl chops can actually help you here. Kindness can be a huge part of setting boundaries that work. Your compassion and empathy are a tool here. It is possible that the person you are setting the boundary with will balk slightly. No one wants to think that they have been making you feel bad, or that they can’t have from you what they always had. They may get defensive.

Don’t take the bait. Have compassion for them. Think Dalai Lama. You are asking them to exert more effort now. Instead of spilling out all the resentment you have had building up, try to see their side.  Be supportive of them.

dalai lama
You need to back off asshole.

This may seem counterintuitive, but most of the time, if you show people you are really on their side, you will end up with a better relationship because of it. If they see you aren’t blaming them, just asking something different of them, it’s usually a much smoother ride.

This does not need to be a big confrontation.   It’s just a conversation between two people. You are stating what is going on with you. They will state their feeling on it. You will try to figure out how to fit the pieces together better so that you are both heard.

Tricky. Very tricky.

Something came up when I tried to find out what my part was in all this. It was happening repeatedly, so clearly I had something to do with it beyond bad luck. When I dug below the surface a bit, I realized that weak boundaries are really a sneaky manifestation of low self-esteem. Even if you thought you left all that in high school, what greater barometer is there than believing someone else’s wants are more important than your own?

So why did I do things I didn’t want to? I wanted people to like me. I still do. But it turns out that’s not a terribly effective way to get them to like who you really are. I remember trying to make the popular girls like me in sixth grade by giving them candy. It worked for a week. Then they decided it was kind of pathetic. It was a lesson I should have learned then, but if people don’t like you for who you are, giving them things isn’t going to to do either. Sure, they may see you as USEFUL, but who wants to be used?

Think about the people you like. Do you like them because they give you stuff or do things for you? No, you like them because of their great sense of humor or how interesting they are, or maybe they inspire you in some way. You have those qualities too, and your tribe will like you for them. But it’s hard to shine when you are buried under the weight of everyone else’s expectations.

Oh, I’m fine.

Another side of this was that I didn’t tend to ask others for help, and if I did, I felt terrible about it. I would ask for help only in desperate situations and say, “It’s really no big deal if you can’t do it.” I figured they were just like me and would know that if I was saying something, it was serious.  I also assumed they resented the hell out of it.

stuck dog
Only if you’re not busy with something else.

This is not honest. This is not fair. And it is not how I would want others to treat me.

If someone says to me, “Look, I feel like I’m drowning. I really need your help with this. Would you mind?” It actually makes me feel good to help them out, even if it means taking on a bit more work.   Asking in this way shows trust and vulnerability. It calls on friendship, rather than asking someone to be your personal assistant.

Apparently, there are people out there who ask things of others and 100% expect the other person to say no if they don’t want to do it. This was shocking to me. But it also struck me as really reasonable and fair.

Toddlers

So what if you enforce a boundary, and someone breaks it? You need to follow through. If it’s something that they have gotten away with before, you probably will have to show them you mean business. That means NOT caving and saying yes to things you don’t want to do. It means walking away from someone if they say something rude. You don’t need to yell. Just remind them, either with your words or your actions, “We’re not doing that anymore. Remember?” You have to think of them like a toddler.

angry toddler
Actually, I think I’m being quite reasonable about this.

Toddlers are the ultimate litmus test of whether you can hold a boundary. They will test and test and test your limits. I have created a monster at times because I didn’t want to make my son sad, so I failed to follow through on a boundary I set. “Okay if you throw Elmo out of the bed again, I’m not coming back in here to put him back in… ”

Anonymous toddler waits 30 seconds. Throws Elmo. Cries. Very loudly. All I want is to eat some dinner. Hoping it will be the end of it, I go back in and replace the smelly red creature. “I mean it this time. No throw! I’m serious!” But I have now taught my son that I will not follow through. He proceeds to try every trick in the book to avoid going to sleep. If I had just let Elmo sit there and suffered through ten minutes of grief over it, I would have saved myself weeks of headaches.

The lesson? Grit your teeth and follow through.

Start small

This is some advanced level adulting. I don’t pretend it’s easy. It’s not something where you can flip a switch and BOOM! You take no more bullshit! If you’re feeling nervous then start small. Don’t march into your family holiday party ready to tell your mother everything she’s ever done that bothered you. I like to think of it like a video game from the 90s. Slay a few easy bosses. Work your way up to the big ones.

Tell the barista that no, you didn’t order skim milk, and yes, you would like a new one.

latte
Mmm. Tastes like concession.

Actually say what you want for dinner tonight rather than saying, “Whatever you want.”

Every time you stand up for what you want, it’s a win. I’m not saying you should never compromise. I’m saying it shouldn’t be your default setting.

A longer view

I’m not perfect at this by any means. I’m just learning.  But it’s given me a sense of freedom I never had before.  And it’s something I want to keep working on to model for my son. Not only so he learns how to set his own boundaries, but so that he can see in action that women DO say “No” to things, and that “No” must be respected.”

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Slacker Mom Holiday Hacks

slacker mom holiday
Oh shit it’s Christmas.

It never fails. Every year I get really excited for the holidays.   I think of the warm holiday glow.  I imagine beautiful holiday cards, perfect turkeys, the smell of the Christmas tree and laughing together with my extended family.

And then I freak out.  My perfectionistic tendencies creep out from the shadows and start sharpening their teeth to bite off more than I can chew.

I tell myself all I need is to plan properly!  To make lists of my lists.  Have tasks three weeks out.  I feel like if I just spread out the tasks far enough and plan it well, there will somehow magically be time for all of them and I won’t be overwhelmed.  I’ll be able to enjoy the holiday season and still pull everything off.  I mean sure, on a regular day I struggle to find time to pick up my dry cleaning from across the street, but I should still be able to get these extra 64 things done.  Planning!!

xmas planning
It made sense in November, okay?

But then the “to dos” just keep piling up and now they’re LATE!  So I have a choice to make.  I can somehow make everything happen by skimping on sleep and the rare bit of exercise I get, or I can choose to let some of it go.  It’s not always that easy for me to believe this.  I have a ridiculous idea of how I think things are supposed to be, but I have been learning that if I decide not to do something in a given year, the world does not come to a screeching halt.

Get out of Hell free card – skip it

But it’s not the holidays without ____________!  I beg to differ.  The day will come and go regardless.  Know what really matters to YOU.  For me, I’d feel sad if I didn’t have a tree because I love the smell.  I’d be bummed to stay home and eat leftovers or something.  But apart from that, if push came to shove, I don’t particularly care about gifts or cards.  I love hosting it at my house but I understand there may be years where that just doesn’t make any sense.

weird art
An important piece that allows you to blend Halloween with Christmas.  It’s inevitable anyway.

It is okay to just skip whatever parts you don’t want to do this year.  ESPECIALLY if you have a new baby, new job, are grieving etc.  If life isn’t on coast right now, give yourself a little breathing room.  And even if things ARE easy right now, you are allowed to pick just the things you like to do and keep those. (You can call it a “curated” holiday if it makes you feel fancy…) Nothing is going to happen to you if you don’t check off every box.  I promise.

To be serious for a moment, this is a hard time of year for a lot of people.  Relapse rates go up.  Suicide rates go up.  When expectations don’t meet with reality, it can hit hard.  So ease up a little.  Scale those expectations back.  You aren’t in a movie on the Hallmark channel, so things will go wrong.  And that relative who pisses you off every year will probably do so again no matter how delicious a meal you prepare.

So though it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek — because I don’t really believe you are ever slacking if you are taking care of your family and yourself — I give you a slacker mom holiday version of what I consider to be the biggest stressors around the holidays.

The Holiday Card

I can’t imagine that anyone has ever had a good time taking a family portrait in matching sweaters.  It is always a shit show.  No one wants to be there, the kids are bored and unwilling to sit still with smiles on their faces.   You will inevitably get frustrated that they can’t do this one thing for you, and just have a nice family outing.  Save it.  Save the money for the sweaters and the photographer and the aggravation.

holiday card
Everyone now hates me but I got the damn picture

Slacker mom holiday hack

Use photos from the year.  I actually love sending holiday cards.  But I wait and see whatever half-off coupon I can find for minted.com or Vistaprint.com or one of those.  I pick a layout that already exists and just throw in some cute pics from my iPhone gallery.  The whole thing is done in fifteen minutes.  From my couch.

woman on couch
Better.

Decorating

Sigh.  I love having a Christmas tree.  That smell, hanging ornaments that are special to me, and making a new one every year…  Really I love everything about it except cleaning up the pine needles.  I love to deck the halls.  And I also love to light the menorah.  (We have both faiths in our family so we celebrate everything.)

bagel ornament
Hole-y night

There’s just one problem this year.  The Anonymous Toddler will attempt to body slam the tree.  So I may have to go for a Charlie Brown tree this year that I can perch on a high enough shelf, and burn a lot of Frasier Fir candles (for after my son’s bedtime) to make up for it.  Because I do not want to add a trip to the emergency room to my list of things to do.

As for the menorah, despite having a gorgeous handmade one, for the foreseeable future, I will be using an electric one.  I usually hate the electric ones but I actually like this one.

Hosting

We host a holiday dinner every year.  I love doing it.  In my mind, we have napkin rings and table runners and long tapered candles.  Unfortunately, I do not own any of those things.  I have to borrow a tablecloth from my mother every year because even though I have a family and a job…  that’s just a line of adulting that I don’t cross.

place setting
Not happening

Slacker Mom Holiday Hack

Borrow a tablecloth and just set it with whatever group of plates and silverware you have.  Or tell people they are eating on their laps.  (This may happen this year for us as I have invited more people than can technically fit in my apartment under current fire codes.  A table has no place here.)

crowdsurfing
I said get me a YAM not SAM

Outsource

Order some of the food like the side dishes or dessert from a fancy grocery store and put it in your own serving dish, or make it a potluck.  You do not need to cook fifteen dishes.

Make it quick!

Despite all the hassle they come with, kids are very useful to blame stuff on.  Case in point – We have people come over at 4:30, eat at 5:30 and out the door by 7:30 because of bedtime.  This actually works out for everyone.  I only have to put out a cheese plate for appetizers instead of a whole spread, and everyone gets to experience the holiday activity without it dragging on and on.

Tick Tock bitches.

This is also strategic in the realm of booze.  Because my husband and I are sober, we ask our guests to BYOB if they want to drink.  I don’t have a problem with people drinking in my home but I don’t really like it when they get drunk there.  Having a three-hour cap on it keeps most people from getting drunk to the point where they start getting belligerent.  Maybe not everyone, but more so than at a five or six-hour event where they just keep re-pouring.

Family

Perhaps the most stressful part of the holidays is being around extended family.  These people know how to push your buttons – hell they installed them!  You’re already exhausted from all the extra emotional labor, and it can make you feel less able to stand up for yourself.

One issue that tends to get to me is that I don’t know what to expect.  Will I have a good time or end up crying in my car? Both have happened with about the same frequency, so I am always on high alert for comments that will hurt me.  But being anxious about it beforehand doesn’t make them hurt any less.   Yet when I get caught up in that anxiety, it’s like I’ve created a fight where there was none.  I miss watching the kids run around and the sounds of other people I love talking because I’m prepping for an insult that may or may not come.

mean grandmother
I just thought maybe they’d wear something nice for a change.  Oh well.

I’m still learning to be present as much as I can by engaging my senses as much as possible.  But this is still hard stuff that years of therapy has only made a dent in, so while I would definitely recommend bringing yourself back to the moment as much as possible, here is my slacker solution:

Slacker Mom Holiday Hack – Run away

I am not kidding.  Be as subtle about it as you can, but do your best to avoid the person who upsets you the most.  When you get cornered by them, say an effusive “Hiiii!  How are you!  So good to see you!” And then realize that you need to help your kid with something/go to the bathroom/refill your drink/take something out of the oven etc.  Sit as far away from them at the table as you can.  Also:

Take breaks

I don’t have a huge apartment so I can’t do this as stealthily as some.  But large groups of people and lots of noise stresses me out.  So every hour or two, I will slip away to the bathroom or my bedroom (or some other unoccupied room if I am at someone else’s house.)  I mess around on my phone for five minutes, listen to the quiet, and then I am ready to go back in without losing my mind.   This was a habit I developed when I smoked.  I used to just go out for a cigarette whenever I couldn’t deal.  So when I quit nine years ago I really missed those little breaks, so I decided to keep them.

Presents

This one is overwhelming me this year since I’ve had some unexpected expenses lately.

sad dog
He’ll be okay

I absolutely love figuring out the perfect gift for someone, and watching their face when they open it. And I love the fact that I don’t have to subject myself to malls or department stores anymore but can instead get everything shipped directly to my door.  The downside is that it can be a bit too easy to keep spending money clicking away.

Slacker Mom Holiday Hack

I was trying to figure out what it is about giving gifts that makes me so happy and I came up with a couple of things that I am really after:

  • Making other people feel good.
  • Making them feel seen.

So this year I am doing something a little different that will still hopefully get these things across.  I make some damn good cookies, so I am going to make a very large batch the weekend before and put them in mason jars with some cute ribbon.  But along with that, for each person, I am going to write out a note that lets them know what I think is awesome about them and why I am glad they are in my life.  Heartfelt, but not overly cheesy. No, I will not be spending a ton of money, but we all have enough stuff.  What we don’t have enough of is appreciation for all we are and all we do.

‘Tis a gift

This is the first year my son registers the concept of Christmas and he is SO excited by it.  But he doesn’t even realize yet that there will be presents!  Right now he’s just over the moon at all the pretty decorations.  He knows something special is up and has seen enough Micky Mouse Christmas specials to understand it’s all about family and a giving spirit. I wish he could keep that sense of wonder forever, but I know that’s not reality.  For now, though, I just soak it up and let him be my teacher. That sense of wonder and kindness doesn’t require extra effort.  No slacker version needed.

mother and child

The danger of “it’s not that bad”

it’s not that bad

          My heart is feeling weird and fluttery. But I’ve never been hospitalized for my weight. It’s not that bad.

          I can’t remember the last time I went a day without a drink. But I mean I’m never drunk at work or anything. It’s not that bad.

          He punched through the wall.  I mean, it’s not like I got hurt or anything. He didn’t hit me. So it’s not that bad.

          I am crying a lot and really don’t want to leave the house.  I’m not suicidal or anything. It’s not that bad.

          My boss says gross things to me. But he doesn’t touch me, so whatever. It’s not that bad.

These are all things I’ve said in the past, either out loud or to myself. It didn’t register that anything was wrong with it. In my twisted logic, it was about respect and self-protection. I didn’t want people to think I was being too much of a drama queen. I knew that there were people out there dealing with much worse situations than I was. And I should be grateful that I wasn’t.

But that isn’t’ gratitude. That is settling for scraps.

cupcake crumbs
Yeah, that should be plenty 

It’s not that good

Okay, so maybe you are handling the situation for now. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not that good! The whole reason for saying something in the first place is because there is an internal alarm system going off saying, “Bad! Bad! Bad!” But you’re afraid you will be judged for it so you qualify it. Then no one can get mad at you.

But why are we so willing to tolerate what is admittedly not so good?  Your life should be more than “not bad”.  When you think about the hopes you have for your children, is it that their lives will be “not miserable”?  Of course not.  You want them to be happy and fulfilled.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped believing we can have nice things.

dog ate bed
This could be why

There are a number of times in life when we are slapped across the face with reality.  That some things don’t always work out. Good doesn’t always win.  You can do all the right things, and still end up with what you consider to be less than your share of happiness.  The lesson of “Life isn’t fair” is a very difficult one to accept.  Part of me still wants to stomp my foot at it like a three-year-old.

Serenity

serenity now

The Serenity Prayer is some advanced shit.  It sounds simple enough:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

Courage, to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

But damn if it’s not hard to carry out.  Yes, there are things that are simply out of your hands.  Cancer.  Natural disasters.  Who is currently in power. Other people’s will.  The fact that it’s raining…  It feels like if we just point out to others, or to the universe that it’s just not fucking fair, that life will somehow “get it” and resolve things to put them back in balance. We all wish it worked this way.  It feels like it should.  But it doesn’t.

Accepting things does not mean you have to like them and it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.  It just means that you stop throwing so much energy at them.

Then there are the things you can change, and this is sometimes harder because the onus is on you.  (Hee hee, onus.)  This is where “It’s not that bad” comes in.  That is the sound of someone realizing this is something that they should probably change – and then chickening out.  It’s scary to rearrange things in your life.  But we can’t sit there and rail about the world being unfair, and then not do our part to make it as fair as we possibly can.  Sometimes it’s about baby steps.  Just giving yourself the leeway to think “What are the GOOD things that might happen if I take action?” – instead of just imagining all the bad ones.

Being able to pick through what’s yours to change can be tricky.  Sometimes we need outside perspective.  And that’s another thing “It’s not that bad” is a placeholder for.  A request for perspective.

Sending out an S.O.S

I’ve noticed over time that it seems like message boards (or Facebook groups and their ilk) have made it a bit more possible to reach out for help. Because it’s a space on social media where we have a degree of anonymity, it allows us to show something other than the glossy highlight reel reserved for most of social media. It’s a place where people can ask each other tentatively – is this normal?

scissors in head
It looks worse than it is

I am on a few different Facebook groups for mothers and have found them very honest and useful. But “it’s not that bad” is rampant on them. Thankfully, whenever there is one of those posts, other mothers usually rally around the poster, letting her know that she doesn’t have to stand for whatever it is. But in equal measure, there is often a chorus of “yeah, same here.”

Fear and Change

Whether it’s a friend confiding in you, or someone posting on a message board, one of the reasons for downplaying the problem is that it’s scary to admit that your life isn’t perfect. We spend so much time and energy trying to convince everyone that we are happy and everything is great – even those we are closest to. Because if we admit there is something really wrong, we might actually have to do something about it. Having to “hit bottom” doesn’t only apply to addictions. If something is hurting us, most people are so afraid of change that it takes something pretty dramatic to jolt them out of their everyday routine. We’ll take the hell we have right now because we know we can survive it. We’d rather have pain than chaos.

This is another reason why sharing these things seems to happen more often online. No matter how close you feel to your online tribe, they aren’t likely to follow up with you on what you need to change. Your best friend will.

One-upping

We are all guilty of going to town with our war stories. This is another reason women tend to downplay what they are going through.

          “My child is in the NICU”

          “Oh, yeah, mine was in the NICU for two weeks and on oxygen. We couldn’t even touch him!”

not helpful
Thanks Melissa. That’s helpful.

Often this is done in a bid to connect, not belittle. But a more effective way to do this is to acknowledge them. You can say “I’m sorry. I’ve been through that. How are you doing with it today?” (Today is key here.  How they’re doing overall is too overwhelming.)  Let them lead the way in terms of asking for your story. Most likely they just need to talk.

That said, sometimes when you have a worse situation going on, it can be tempting to one-up. Because you’re not complaining, so why the hell is she? Back away from the keyboard my friend. More than one person can be in pain at a time. You don’t need to play tug of war with something you don’t want in the first place. But together you can hold it a little more lightly.

Do you know your enemy?

We are at a turning point for women right now. Can you feel it? We have the opportunity of a generation to become more powerful. To level the playing field. To say it IS that bad and we won’t accept that for ourselves. But when you listen to the voice that invalidates your pain, you accept pain as the status quo. As something acceptable.

Men aren’t the enemy here. They almost never are. Overgeneralization is never positive or helpful. The enemy is our culture. Men have their own pain and their own stories. Most just don’t talk about them because they are shamed out of it. “It’s not that bad” is translated to “don’t be a pussy”. And don’t get me started on what’s wrong with that.

The only way to change a culture is to

1) Talk about it. Say it is that bad.

2) Change ourselves.

It’s not enough to want it to be different for your daughter. You need to want it to be different for yourself.  When you hear it” It’s not that bad” come out of your mouth, it should serve as a warning sign that something is wrong in your life.  And that you matter enough to change it.