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)

the anonymous mommy

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.

the anonymous mommy

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

the anonymous mommy

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

the anonymous mommy
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”

the anonymous mommy

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.

The surprising advantage to being unlovable

unlovable

Unloveable

“People don’t like me.”

I say it the way I might tell someone that I’m allergic to cats.  Factual.  A bit of a bummer, but what are you going to do?

can of worms
Guess I’ll go eat worms

While I’ve learned to appear confident and easygoing on a superficial level, I am still petrified of situations involving new people – a new job, meeting close friends of my husband – even a new daycare.  Though I know I have learned somehow to come off a bit better when encountering new people, I also know it’s a carefully crafted facade.  Not that I’m acting, or not enjoying myself.  I’m just strictly editing.  I know I’m only one boneheaded comment away from people giving subtle glances to one another – the ones that mean “weird girl.”

In truth, yes.  I am a little weird.  I love to knit and drink frightening amounts of coffee, and my sense of humor can vary from absurd to Saharan levels of dry.  But I don’t know exactly what it is I do that sometimes puts people off.

Beats me

It’s easy for others to write this off as just my being self-indulgent, or having social anxiety.  But the thing is, it’s fairly rational.  More times than not, when I’ve entered a group of people, I didn’t quite fit.  Sometimes to the extent that people were just vaguely cool to me, or didn’t invite me to outings.  Other times I’ve had people outright ask that I be fired.  They couldn’t point out anything I said or did that was offensive.  They just didn’t like me.  Thankfully this is not a fireable offense, but it really doesn’t feel good.

I could rattle off incidents where this has been the case, but I’ll save that for my next fourth step.  The truth is, it’s happened less and less over the years, and I think it’s something that has had a snowball effect.  I’m incredibly embarrassed to admit that getting married helped a lot.  This definitely would not have been the case had I married a different type of person. It’s not about having a man.

It’s just when you see all your peers pairing off, it feels like you are the kid in class that no one wanted to be partners with.  No one wants to be that kid.  Scratching one of my biggest insecurities – that people would get close but never quite want to marry me – off the list lifted enough weight off my shoulders that I was able to straighten up a bit.  I could walk into a party and just not care as much, which is unfortunately, impossible to fake.

The Unlovables

I’m sure it sounds overdramatic to those who don’t experience this, but more than I had realized, a lot of people live this way; thinking that they are unlovable.  It’s usually left over from puberty or adolescence –  The way an 11-year-old can look awkward and uncomfortable just standing there.  Like their skin doesn’t fit right.

This sentiment comes up all the time in AA meetings.   “I never felt right.  I never fit in.”  That tells me there is something incredibly pervasive about this feeling, and that it is severe enough to make people turn to self-destructive behaviors.

Awkward teen
If the ground could swallow me up right now that would be great.

I have categorized us as “The Unlovables”.  Not because it’s at all true, but because it can sure feel that way. I have a number of friends who have acknowledged that they feel the same.  I look at them and can see that they are extraordinary.  These are whip-smart, funny, kind, interesting women.  For whatever reason, this is a combo that is not terribly well received in the world.  Some people say that others are intimidated, but something about that doesn’t ring quite true with me.  I think that some people’s hearts are just tuned to a slightly different frequency.  For those who don’t get it, it just comes through as static.

The Trap

Mouse trap
Oh hey, I love cheese!

One of the hardest things about feeling unlovable is that you tend to accept less than you’re worth.  In your career, during salary negotiations, and of course in love.  You feel grateful for scraps.  Every woman I know who feels this way has been in at least one relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive.  But it’s so hard to leave because the abuser reinforces the belief that there is something wrong with you, so you should appreciate what you can get.  They act as a mirror to the way you feel about yourself.  You think that if you leave, then you will be alone forever.

And then you do leave.  Because something in you knows that this just isn’t right.  And the shitty part is, you usually are alone for a while.  It feels exactly like what you feared is coming true.  Dating can be so incredibly soul-crushing and invalidating that it can make you miss the person who treated you badly.  Because at least they knew who you were and loved you, even if it wasn’t great all the time.

People don’t stay in these relationships because they are awful all the time.  There are inside jokes and shared histories.  There are movies that you’ve seen together and holidays past.  It’s just that the bad parts are SO bad.  And get closer and closer together.  But when you are staring down the barrel of another holiday season alone, it’s easy to regret leaving.  If you try and talk to your friends about this, no one will listen when you say you want to go back because all they can see is the abuse.  And they’re right, but it doesn’t feel that way yet.  Sometimes your friends play the role of your sanity when it’s on a break.  It’s good to have an understudy.

There is hope for us yet

Puzzle pieces
They all think they don’t fit anywhere

I was talking to a woman in the midst of this the other day, and I felt like she was reading a book I’d already finished.  “Oh oh!  I know this part!” I wanted to shout.  “Don’t worry.  It gets better!  There’s a plot twist in a couple of chapters that makes it all make sense.”

Because there is an upside to being one of us.  It’s not that no one loves us, it’s just that we aren’t for everyone.  But the people who do get us absolutely treasure us. We aren’t interchangeable with someone else.  We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Every woman I have known who has gone through this has ended up with an absolute gem of a partner.  The kind that was worth waiting for.  Who helps you with the dishes and the kids, and doesn’t yell at you.  And it feels really weird at first because it’s almost too easy.

And sex can seem strange.  It’s not that you aren’t attracted to them because you very much are.  But it’s more relaxed.  You don’t have that sense of “I’m going to fuck your brains out so you realize what a great catch I am! Ta-da!”  (Which doesn’t work particularly well anyway.)  It’s not performance art, it’s for real, which is scary until it’s not.  Because when you’re not busy twisting yourself into a pretzel to be impressive, you can actually focus on sensations and start having a good time yourself.

contortionist
No you’re trying too hard.

Friends Friends Friends

Of course, this isn’t just all about men.  Though I don’t always click with people at a party, or in whatever mom’s group I dip my toe into, over the years I have managed to collect my own little island of misfits. A good number of my friends have been in my life for ten to twenty years and I could tell them anything, no matter how weird.

The thing that strikes me about all of them, and all the other self-professed unlovables I’ve met, is that they are unusually kind.   They lack a killer instinct.  This admittedly has its drawbacks, but it’s beautiful and it’s rare.  These are the kind of people you can trust to hold a piece of your heart in their hand.

This world is full of so many different kinds of people.  If you’ve found connection in the past – be it a friend, a lover, or even a dog, the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor that you will again.

We aren't interchangeable with someone else. We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Click To Tweet

How To Conquer Your Little Addictions

How to conquer your minor addictions

 Why I haven’t addressed my little addictions

– and why I still might

Recently, I wrote about my experience with eating disorders and alcoholism (aka Whack-A-Mole).

While I consider myself to be in recovery, that doesn’t mean I am free from dependency. There are also what I refer to as Little Addictions. They are commonplace.  So small they barely count – that’s what I tell myself.  These are the things that won’t kill me, but certainly don’t make me stronger.

Coffee.  I start each day with a latte containing six shots of espresso.  I know what you’re thinking, but it’s just three double shots.  Who the hell takes a single shot?  So it’s really like three.  (Nice addict thinking there, huh?)  I sometimes have a second one of these later. I have an amazing stash of coffee. Including some with a caffeine level so high it carries a warning label.

Huge amounts of coffee
This was just what fit in the shot

There is paraphernalia everywhere from French presses to espresso machines. I don’t like that I joke about it the same way I did about wine. (You can pry it from my cold dead hands, etc.) I was able to quit when I was pregnant, but unsurprisingly the cravings for it came roaring back once I started drinking it again.

What do we want? COFFEE! When do we want it? I'LL FUCKING CUT YOU.
Relax, my son can’t read yet.

An Inconvenient Truth

phone in hand

I am also addicted to my phone.  God, that’s predictable, isn’t it? Just as I was with alcohol, I am perfectly aware of my dependence, yet I am mollified by the fact that seemingly everyone else is addicted too. There are different degrees of course. I leave it in my purse when I am out to dinner, or with friends unless it is to show them pictures of how cute my son is. (They were definitely going to ask. I’m just saving them time really.)

I’m Not That Bad…

A woman I know told me that a man she met on Tinder checked his phone during sex. He thought he was being sneaky about it, in that he didn’t actually pick it up, but Jesus. Just like there was always someone I could point to, often not too far from my circle, and say, “Now that is an alcoholic. I just like to drink.  That guy has a PROBLEM“, Tinder guy is very helpful when I want to rationalize.

As usual, I know it’s a problem and as usual, I really don’t want to do anything about it. Part of me doesn’t understand why I do it. What’s so interesting on there? Nothing really. Candy crush? Endlessly pointless. I have no idea why I play. Facebook? Yes, I love the ability to keep up with friends and see what they are up to, but I really don’t’ need to know on an hourly basis. It’s the same with Twitter and Instagram – they aren’t real, but they take me out of the present moment.  But I have no reason to want out. I have a beautiful life.  Why do things I consider myself lucky to have – a toddler, a job, an apartment cause me to need to “unwind”?

We all know the reasons phone addiction is not a good thing.   Hell, I refused to read the website Hands Free Mama for years because I thought it was about phone-shaming.  (It’s not and it’s amazing.) But just seeing the title of that blog I thought, “I KNOW already, okay?”

How to conquer your little addictions
I’m not defensive. You’re defensive.

Rationalization

The addictive part of my brain tells me that this dependence is technically an improvement. My other addictions were life-threatening given time. But I feel like this is too, in its own insidious way. I might live just as long, but I won’t be here for it.

I remember thinking years ago that if I quit smoking and quit drinking I would be a really annoying person.  I pictured myself as a sanctimonious asshole in $300 yoga pants.  I didn’t think I’d still be “me”. Anyone who didn’t drink clearly didn’t know how to have fun.  “Everyone needs a vice!” I crowed.  I now find it hilarious that I thought I would be vice-free if I just removed the alcohol.

Advanced yoga pose
This is called “Superiority Pose”

What I didn’t realize, was all I would gain when I removed the alcohol.  I pictured everything the same, just without the one thing that made life entertaining.  But when I stopped, I finally was able to get off my couch.  My depression lifted.  All of a sudden I was going to places like the zoo and the beach or to picnics and museums.  I didn’t flake at the last minute because there wouldn’t be booze there or because I was too hungover.  I’m sure there are things I am missing out on with my phone addiction.

But what mole is coming when I smash this one? Shopping? Sex? Work? Money? Another round with the food monster? All of my experience tells me there’s something lurking there. I am still the same person, and that terrifies me.

One of the things I love about AA is that you are encouraged to keep evolving.  To face yourself honestly and do the right.  To keep becoming a better person.  I love that right up until I have to actually do something about it.

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Dope Dope Dopamine

The little zing I get from a like on Facebook or Instagram, or looking at my blog stats is ridiculous.  It’s like there is a twelve-year-old in my brain going, “Look!  Look!  People like you!  Finally!”  In theory, I don’t care.  In practice, I pick it up like a one hundred dollar bill on the street.

How to conquer your little addictions
If it’s not on Instagram, did it really happen?

I have heard various tips on the subject.

  1. Turn off your notifications. (No.)
  2. Delete Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. (Okay but they’re still easy to get to on the browser.  Also, see my response to tip number one.
  3. Put it somewhere you could hear if it rang but don’t pick it up during family time.

This third one I was actually willing to put into practice and it worked pretty well.  I focused on my family, had pretty good playtime with my son and laughed with my husband.  But for some reason, I stopped doing it after I had a bad day and just didn’t go back.

How Change Happens

They say there are six stages that have to happen to change an addictive behavior:

  1. Precontemplation – Not even thinking about it.
  2. Contemplation – Thinking about stopping, but don’t want to yet.
  3. Determination/Preparation – Figuring out what’s involved beyond willpower.  Strategizing and choosing a quit date.
  4. Action – Putting the plan in place and stopping the behavior.
  5. Maintenance and Relapse – The behavior has been stopped for a moderate amount of time.  Continuing strategies that keep it that way, and if you slip up, getting right back on the horse – using the relapse as data to figure out how to avoid it in future.
  6. Termination – It’s mostly effortless now.  No sense of temptation or craving.

I pretty much live in 2 – Contemplation.  It’s not a comfortable place to be.  It’s knowing I should change even though I don’t really want to.  Or wanting to, and not believing I can do it.  My brain constantly prodding – “Better the devil you know…”

What Would I Tell My Son?

two year old
This is always a good compass.  Would I tell him just to let it go?   I doubt it.  If he were a teen or an adult with this issue, I would tell him that there are no little addictions.  Just what moves you closer to life, and what moves you further away.  That I believe in him.  That it was ridiculous not to try.  That he is never done battling bosses in this game.  He will never be perfect but he should never stop improving himself – only for the reason that it will make him happier!

I don’t know why I can’t treat myself with the kindness I show to him.  But I can ask myself those questions.  And try to take that Mommy’s advice.

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Eating Disorders, Alcoholism, and Motherhood

eating disorders

Whack-A-Mole

My first love was not alcohol. It was food. Starting around age 8, in response to a myriad of stressors, I started bingeing. So I did what far too many ten-year-olds do. I started a diet.

Whack!

Which led to an eating disorder.

Mole.

Then I fell in love for the first time and felt better about my body and was able to slowly learn to eat again.

Whack!

It’s purely a coincidence that I started drinking around then.

Mole.

Then I quit smoking.

Whack!

And stopped eating food, saving my calories for drinking instead.

Mole. Mole.

I tried to beat back the eating disorder and get sober at the same time.

Whack! Whack!

But was asking too much of myself at once. I couldn’t keep it up and started drinking again.

Mole.

Three and a half years ago I got sober.

Whack.

And stopped eating again.

Mole.

And started exercising 2-3 hours a day.

Mole.

Then I got pregnant and had to seriously knock that shit off.

Whack…

My arms are exhausted.  I don’t want to play this game anymore.

First Things First?

Around the rooms, this is known as “Whack-a-Mole”. You take care of one problem, and another pops up.  I have often heard the advice – work on what’s killing you fastest.  But food and alcohol are tangled up together for me, in that they both try to solve the same problem –anxiety.

The first time I went into a recovery group and was reading the Big Book, I kept saying to my sponsor, “Oh, I totally relate to that.  Only about food…”  It happened so many times, she eventually said to me, “You know, I don’t know that alcohol is your real problem.  I think it’s food.”

My reaction was twofold:

  1.  No shit, Sherlock.
  2.  Yippee!  That means I can go DRINK!
But I’m not overly excited about it…

And that’s exactly what I did. For the next five years.  It didn’t occur to me that I was using alcohol in the same way I had used dieting in the past – as a numbing device.  But because I tended to bounce back and forth between the two, it didn’t make sense to me that BOTH could be a problem until much later.

Coping mechanisms

I don’t know why I seem to ping-pong between the two.  I can’t seem to find a point of total balance. There is something in me that is overwhelmed by the daily minor messes of life. I feel too much and it’s embarrassing. I realize this sounds either terribly angsty or depressed. If it’s angst, I should just get over it, grow up, slap a smile on my face and get on with it. And that’s generally what I do every day.

If it’s depression, I ought to take meds for that. And that’s also what I do every day. In addition, I am active, take vitamins, meditate, and do the things I am supposed to do. But somehow there is something in me that wants to check. The fuck. Out. It’s not that I want to die. Not at all.  I just want a break, to not feel. That is probably the thing I miss the most that my addictions gave me – the numbness.

It also has something to do with reinvention. I have this image in my head of someone poised and cool, who doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Who doesn’t talk too much or too loudly, and isn’t weird.  I thought I could starve the loudness out of myself. If I made myself small enough, and sharp enough, then all my excess would be gone. I wouldn’t have these squishy emotions that can’t be contained. And with alcohol, I could feel like the confident easygoing girl in public. And make her disappear alone at night.

The problem with these coping mechanisms is that they eventually stop working.  I kept drinking more or eating less to try to get that old feeling back, long past the point where it stopped working.

What? I just feel my feelings

I remember talking to a friend one of the times I was trying to get better. I asked him what he did when things in life were bad, to cope. He said, “I don’t DO anything. I just live through it, do what I can, and eventually, it sucks less.” I stared at him thinking, “We are a different species.”

In early sobriety, I remember trying to put this sort of thing into action after someone at work had pulled a particularly obnoxious move. I handled it perfectly well in the moment, making sure I didn’t show any anger or point any fingers. But inside I was furious. I am not comfortable with anger. Not then, not now. I want it gone, immediately. I have some better tools now, but at the time I had no idea what to do with this when I couldn’t stun it senseless with alcohol. My sponsor told me to take a bath. I complied. 20 minutes later I texted her, “Okay, so now I’m wet and I’m mad. I don’t see how this is better.”

I have made a good amount of progress in the three years between then and now. I’ve gotten better at doing things the way my alien friend does, trying to go the acceptance route, and for the most part, I’m successful. But I am also aware that nothing particularly bad has happened to me in those three years. (Coincidence?) I did go through a period of being unemployed that was no treat, but I knew there would be an end to it. I don’t know how I’ll deal though when I lose anyone important to me or if there’s a natural disaster. But the program gives me tools, for which I am thankful – meetings, fellowship, prayer…It has a  general direction which is helpful.

The food issues have been harder to part ways with than alcohol.  I am an all-or-nothing person. With alcohol, it is a great relief to know it’s off the table completely.  I don’t have to think about it.  But it doesn’t work that way with food.  I am uneasy with having to find a middle ground and I still struggle with it. Another big difference is that I never miss my alcoholism. I don’t miss being drunk or hungover. But I miss my eating disorder.   I don’t know why.  I hated it. But it made me feel powerful. The mental obsession has never been lifted for me. I don’t go a day without getting on the scale. I record everything I eat. I constantly wish I ate less and weighed less. I hate that I want food. I know I need it, but I hate that it is more than a necessity. These thoughts float through my head in the same way I remember, “Oh, I should pick up the dry cleaning.” They have become mundane.  My body has been cured.  My brain has not.

Recovery communities

While this might not make sense to anyone who hasn’t struggled with eating disorders, this thought is far from unusual. I had to stop going to message boards for eating disorder recovery because too much of it was women talking about how they “wanted their self-control (aka the eating disorder) back”.

Alcoholism recovery is a chummy experience. People drink coffee together and eat doughnuts and laugh about their shared history of disaster. There is just a sense that we are all in it together — relying on and helping each other.

Eating disorder recovery meetings always have a thread of competition running through them. There is always the very immediate yardstick of who is the thinnest in the room. If it’s you, you have to stay that way. If it’s not you, you aren’t working hard enough. This is not really helpful in changing your thinking.

She’s thinner than I am. Something must be done.

Why I am afraid to fully recover

The thing I don’t want to admit is that I know I probably could be better, but I’m terrified that if I don’t think this way, then I will gain weight.  A lot of it. I’ve been overweight, and I’ve been underweight and it’s ridiculous how different I was treated.   Not by everyone, but by a lot of people.  When I was underweight I was treated better than I ever have been by both men and women.   When overweight, I frequently either invisible or a punchline. I couldn’t bear to live that way. I don’t have thick skin. There are those who are body positive and healthy at a higher weight, but I don’t have that kind of self-confidence. I want to be admired, but if I can’t be admired, I want to blend in.

Everything about my recovery from alcoholism tells me this is bullshit. But it has been my brain since I was eight years old.  It’s how I understand the world.  That’s hard to rewire.

Culture

You couldn’t have ordered a burger?

Nearly every woman I know who is in recovery from an eating disorder has also had a problem with alcohol.  Not exactly the scientific method, though there have been numerous studies that seem to suggest this.  It makes sense to me. There is an unspoken battle between many women for who can eat the least at a given meal. When I go out to lunch, I can’t help but notice all the women with tiny salads and large glasses of white wine. I remember how the alcohol killed the hunger pangs and the lack of food made the buzz stronger. It’s a very powerful combination.  In my early days of recovery, I confided to a friend that I had stopped eating again, “It feels like being drunk.  I can’t feel anything else.”

It’s also socially sanctioned. No one ever asked me for tips on how to become a drunk.  But I have lost count of the people who pulled me aside and whispered conspiratorially, “What EXACTLY do you eat?”  As if they could make a meal plan out of a mental illness.  Though I get it.  I often miss being that thin because of how oddly revered it is in our culture.  I have to remind myself daily that it’s better to be happy and normal than skinny and miserable.

There are so many more women suffering with these issues than the numbers tell us. It is incredibly common to have an eating disorder and be a “normal” weight.  The scariest thing about writing this is doing so at a normal weight.  I worry that people will sneer or roll their eyes and think I’m pretending to be something I’m not.   Even at my worst, I never felt like I was a good enough anorexic.

Pregnancy and Eating Disorders

There is one time in life where many of us feel free from these shackles and that time is pregnancy.  For once we are EXPECTED to eat!  We are praised for it! “Oh don’t mind if I do have that Twix bar… It’s for the baby!”

Baby loves KitKats too.

Though circumstance dictated that I quit beforehand, I always figured I’d get a handle on the drinking when I got pregnant and had to stop for nine months.  I just needed a hard reset, I thought.  Now that I have spoken with so many women who have quit through pregnancy, only to ramp right back up to their prior consumption once the baby is born, I’m so grateful that I was lucky enough to get sober beforehand.   But I did sort of do that with my eating.

While some women struggle to gain enough weight due to their eating disorders, I found it to be an oasis. Beyond being culturally “allowed” to eat, my body no longer seemed like an unwanted appendage that I had to drag around everywhere. It was actually doing something. It was making a person. That was amazing to me.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that women gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, but most women I know with a history of eating disorders tended to gain closer to 50 or 60.  Sometimes more. This is not because we “pig out” but because we are never really sure what an appropriate amount of food is supposed to be. And even if we are getting the correct amount of calories for pregnancy, our bodies aren’t used to processing a normal amount of food.

Motherhood

Becoming a mother can be a double-edged sword.  I have friends who have started drinking again in order to feel like they belong in today’s wine-soaked mommy culture.  But I have a lot more friends who have gone back to their eating disorder soon after the baby is born.

I narrowly avoided it but definitely felt the temptation.  Aside from the insanity of postpartum hormones, and the panic to lose the weight, there was an intense pull to have something of myself that wasn’t “mommy”.  I felt consumed by motherhood and wished for some part of myself that was just mine.  With all its secrecy and manipulation, my eating disorder seemed to fit the bill.  But I resisted.

I have learned enough over time to know that it has nothing to do with me.  Like alcohol, it slowly takes away who I really am.  Something had already taken over my life, and it was a more positive force.  I’m not saying in any way that motherhood has cured me, or that I am cured in general.

True, whenever I’m tempted to go back to my old ways, I look at my son and think about how he needs me to be here for him.  I can’t give him the focus he deserves when I am sick.  But isn’t that a little unfair?  That’s a lot of pressure to put on a two-year-old.

There are questions though that hold promise.  Like why am I only willing to treat my body kindly when it affects another body?  What if I treated my body with the same respect I gave my growing baby?  When I was pregnant I certainly didn’t get five hours sleep a night, drink a pot of coffee a day and live on crackers and Swedish fish (aka my average weekday). Of course not! I wanted this kid to be as healthy and happy as possible. I wanted to give him a chance.  But don’t I deserve one too?

My ultimate goal is to have that same attitude towards myself all the time, not just when I’m pregnant. To insist on my own wellbeing, and to nourish myself. Because even though I’m not a growing child, I’m also not dead yet. My body isn’t a hopeless wreck that I am barely keeping going on caffeine, though it feels like it some days. It deserves a chance too. I sometimes wonder what my body could do if I let it.

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How to parent when the world seems awful

It was supposed to be different. Growing up, I was told a woman could do anything a man could do. That our mothers had marched and protested and burned perfectly good undergarments all to create a world in which women and girls wouldn’t feel like they should expect less.

Take that underwire!

This past year has been a harsh wakeup call. While I became more aware of it over the years, this year shone a spotlight on how bad it really is.

The first time I realized what I was dealing with was my first job in corporate America around twelve years ago. I had a boss who would rub my shoulders daily while telling me, “You drive me crazy, you know that? Did you tell him? Did you tell your boyfriend that if he messes up just once, I am all over that shit?”

Outraged, I told the other women in my office. They all were experiencing the same thing.

when the world seems awful
See if you could just get your measurements to be like hers…

Why doesn’t anyone say anything?” I demanded.

“Oh someone did once. Upper management didn’t believe her, so she got fired. She sued but didn’t win. Now she still doesn’t have a job. She can’t get one anywhere because companies think she’s just looking for a payday.”

“Oh.” I thought. “This isn’t how I was told it works.” No one had mentioned in the PSAs, or the mandatory employee training videos that the bad guy sometimes wins. Quite often, actually.

I waited until my exit interview with the company to say anything. I was terrified when telling the company.  I kept thinking,“You’re burning a powerful bridge. This is a small industry.” But also, “Oh sure. You waited until it wouldn’t inconvenience you to come forward. Real brave.”

It got back to me that he was shocked and angry that I “ratted him out”.   He got a slap on the wrist.

Hashtag revolution?

Fast forward to today. The headlines are full of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. People are shocked and appalled as they should be. All my friends are writing #metoo on their Facebook pages, some including their stories. I tell a truncated version of mine, and immediately take it down, for the safer “#metoo.” I feel the same way I did as when I told HR with a slightly different twist.

“Who asked you?” my brain taunts. “Don’t be so attention seeking. People have had it so much worse.  You’re one of the lucky ones.”

When I took it down I was disappointed in myself. “Real brave. Post the least controversial thing you can about it. That’s going to make a difference. I’m sure hashtags start revolutions all the time.” Some days my head is not a friendly place to be.

I hate that I’m so cynical. This year’s election was the plot twist I didn’t see coming. I believed that my son’s experience of the presidency in this country would be that he would know that was born under the presidency of a black man, and then the first president he would be fully aware of would be a woman. How would the world be different for him? Would he see people who are different from him — be it their skin or their gender – as equal without question? Probably a little starry-eyed and optimistic of me, but I hoped. It didn’t seem possible that Trump could be elected after all the racism, sexism, and generally disgusting behavior he’d exhibited.

And then he won. And all the times I’d been harassed, or mommy-tracked, or ignored were cast in a different light. “Wow,” I thought. “You really hate us, don’t you? I didn’t realize how much you hate us.” Suddenly it wasn’t just a few bad apples. We were in a bad orchard.

I know for a fact not all men hate women. Not even a majority. But maybe more than I thought. I look at my husband and my male friends whom I’ve known my whole life, and I know they are on my side. But I just didn’t quite realize what I was up against.

For a long while, it got me down. I was depressed and felt completely powerless. I have never felt like the ways my parents fought for change – protests, rallies, sit-ins, were particularly effective in this day and age. I don’t know why it worked then and doesn’t work now.  “How am I supposed to raise a good man in this midst of all this?” I wondered.  “How do I help him be different when the voices telling him that women are things are so loud right now?”  What I have come to in these past months is somewhat simple.  I do what I can.  I try and walk the walk.  Small children pick up on energy and I don’t want to be in a constant funk.  So here is what I do when it feels like this world is a horrible and scary place to be:

Turn off the news

I used to be a news junkie. I had CNN or 1010 Wins on all the time in the background listening for developments as if current affairs were part of my job. I needed to be fully briefed so that I could spring into action at any moment! In reality, springing into action generally meant being outraged and getting into stupid battles in the comments section of Facebook.  There was just one problem with this – I was getting angrier but nothing was changing! Imagine that.

via xkcd

I found I was getting anxious whenever I saw the news feed on my phone, so decided to try a week without it. I haven’t looked back. The important stuff finds its way to me whether I want it to or not.

Turn it over

The moment I admit to myself that this is not something in my control, the load lightens a little. I don’t personally have to sit down and figure out the solution to all the world’s problems. This doesn’t mean I should stand idly by and hope for the best. But I can change my perspective. What if my purpose in going to a march wasn’t to try to change the minds of anyone in power? What if it was just to show up so that a woman who is suffering sees that I am with her? That there are hundreds or thousands with her? What if I just make a difference for one person?

me too

Focus inward

I need there to be good in the world and I need to see it. But I often feel like I have neither time nor money to donate to a worthy cause. But right now that’s okay. Sometimes your service is your family or your community. I need to teach my son to be someone who respects his fellow humans regardless of their packaging. He is two and not up for the big conversations yet, so the best I can do is model behavior for him. And that means taking a look at the ways in which I’m not so perfect.

Know where you are part of the problem


It’s hard to see your own part in these things. Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend about the whole Weinstein grossness. She said she was glad his wife picked up and left immediately.

“Yeah, but everyone knew about this before in the industry. Do you really think that she didn’t know before? Just now it’s embarrassing to stay.”

Almost instantly I wanted to slap myself.  Yes, she probably knew. And I’d imagine that’s a fairly humiliating situation. She also probably saw that everyone in the industry was turning a blind eye and that people didn’t want to piss off her husband. How well would it have gone for her if she had left before the public outcry?

I don’t think of myself as someone who blames the victim. I had to catch myself and correct it. I’m surprised when friends of mine do as I did and take down their detailed stories about this issue on social media. I guess I figure they’re braver than I am, but why should they be?

Children pick up on all of our prejudices, even those about ourselves. If I want to raise a man who respects women, then I need to respect women, including myself.

Be kind

Isn’t that what all of this is really about? Not tearing down another human being for any reason. Disagree with them, fine. Yell if you must, but don’t belittle. They will never be any more or less human than you are. Being able to listen with an open ear and an open heart has helped me change more minds than I ever could have with my debating skills.

And I cannot say this enough – no other woman is your competition. You are living your life and she is living hers. You do not need to try to be better, smarter, richer or thinner.

I’m a great believer in the butterfly effect, but I’ve always thought of it more as ripples in a pond. The idea is that when you throw a rock into a pond, it isn’t just the spot where it lands that is affected. You can see the ripples spread outward, far past the point where the impact was made. It carries on.


We don’t ever fully know the influence we have on other people and their lives. The only time people tend to reveal how much someone has shaped their lives, it tends to be at the influencer’s funeral. Which is nice and all, but just goes to show — you don’t get feedback on this in real time. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. We can’t wait for someone else to make the world a kinder place.

So tune out the noise. Turn off the tv and Facebook. Look around you and do some small good things. And be kind to each other.

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