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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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

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.

Click To Tweet

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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Why you should ask for help from your partner

 

I don’t like to ask for help.  I practically have an allergy to it.   I never mind when someone else asks me to help them.  That seems justified.  But when I do it, I feel like it’s too ballsy to go around outsourcing things to people.  I should be able to handle my own life.  But what about my husband’s and my son’s lives?  I manage theirs too to different degrees.  It’s taken me time to realize that I can ask my husband for help and that he’ll gladly take on some of the 5,000 tasks constantly flying through my head.  But asking people to do things that they haven’t been handling previously can be tricky.

The concepts of The Mental Load and Emotional Labor have been getting a lot of press lately.  The gist is that the reason moms are always so exhausted is that they take on more work than others notice or appreciate.   We manage work, the household, and pretty much all the chores necessary to keep everything on track and where it needs to be. And we handle the laundry, the cooking, the bathing, the cleaning, but even if our partners help out with that stuff (and that’s a big if), we are still left with all the other intangibles.

We task ourselves with making sure everyone’s been to the doctor, buying presents, remembering birthdays, buying more clothes for the kids, planning family outings, and keeping the social calendar. It adds countless tasks to the day when we are already balancing taking care of the needs of others for about fifteen hours a day. That’s the approximate time per day spent where we AREN’T handling those things.   And then we try to cram all of those into the hour or two left in our day, and it’s no wonder our heads are perpetually about to explode.

A friend of mine put it this way: “I feel like I have all these plates I’m supposed to be spinning, and I have just figured out how to balance them all, but that’s when everything’s perfect. If one thing goes wrong in our lives, I’m going to drop it all.”

Oh shit, I have to sneeze

And God forbid you drop one. You forget to sell the PTA wrapping paper, or you tank a presentation at work. The kids are out of clean underwear, or you forgot to pay the credit card bill and now your interest rates resemble something you would expect from your friendly neighborhood loan shark. Some things you can afford to drop. Others you can’t. But when we are this fried, we don’t always get to choose what to drop, it just happens.

It’s clear here that something has got to give. Since the article on the mental load went viral, I have heard several of my friends say that they broached the topic with their husbands, and it did not go over well. They felt attacked, and confused. They were, after all, doing more than their fathers did! Hell, they would even pick up tampons at the store if you wanted them to, so feminist and egalitarian is their viewpoint!

The whole argument in the above articles is that “You should’ve asked” shouldn’t be the answer. That they should already see that if there are dishes in the sink, they should be washed and just DO it – because that’s the logical adult thing to do. It can feel like a slight when they SEE the dishes but don’t DO the dishes. We interpret it as their registering it and thinking, “Eh, she’ll take care of it.” But I don’t think that’s the case. They haven’t been taught to see it there and make the connection. If his mother always did the dishes, then his experience of a sink full of dishes is not to look at it as a task that needs to be completed. He’s not doing it to be a dick. It’s a blind spot.

I’m invisible!

Your partner has stresses too.  To imagine he is happily going about an easy life while you toil away is a recipe for resentment on both sides.  In AA one of the most useful (and uncomfortable) parts of the steps is learning to see your part in situations where you are feeling resentment. Your partner wants to make you happy.  They just need a roadmap sometimes.  Here are the things that sometimes keep me from asking for a hand.

I don’t ask for help.

Now I realize the point of the articles above is that we shouldn’t have to ask, but I can sit here on my high horse talking about how things should be in an ideal world, but that won’t poof it into existence. There are steps between our current society and our ideal. One of those is letting my partner know when something is bothering me.

And I want breakfast in bed every Sunday.

Sometimes I don’t ask because what is bugging me is kind of stupid.   Like when my husband leaves empty soda cans next to the sink. WHY!?! It remains a mystery. Does he intend to wash them out? Has he washed them out? Why not just throw them in the recycling? And then I realize I’ve been glaring at a can for fifteen seconds instead of just throwing it out. So my logic isn’t flawless either. And bottom line, he’s a great guy and this is a piece of tin we are talking about. I realize this means I will continue to have to throw out these cans but I’m not overly bothered by it.  (That said, if he puts it on top of the garbage instead of IN the garbage, then I’m going to say something because that is an act of war.) Ahem, I mean it bothers me. Honey.

It will be faster if I just do it myself

Technically it’s true, but it’s also incredibly short-sighted. Asking someone to do something that they don’t normally do, and then explaining how you’d like it done does take some time. And it won’t come out perfectly. So when you have a million plates spinning, it’s easy to say,

Today is not the day. I have too much going on for this.”

This sentence is the thing that bars us from what we want most in life. Yes, today. Do it today. Because even though it might cause some short-term annoyance or discomfort, or it might make you late, you are prioritizing something important – the happiness of your relationship. No one wants to be seething all the time, and in return, no one wants to feel like they can’t do anything right. Give a man a fish and he will expect dinner every night. Teach a man to fish and you might be surprised to find out he’s actually a really good cook. (You will probably also end up with 25 new cooking gadgets, but that’s a separate issue.)

If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done right

This is a corollary to the one above. The actual fact is that if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done your way which is something else entirely. If you want other people to help out and do things, you have to let go of the idea of your definition of done “right”. If your husband cleans the bathroom and misses a corner of the shower, it’s okay to let it go. You’re a mom and your house isn’t going to be perfect anyway. If you are trying to get someone to do something for you consistently, telling them they suck at it is not a terribly effective way of doing it. If everything has to be to your standards, it will have to be you who does everything.

not impressed
Why aren’t you doing that thing you suck at???

 

If it’s something seriously wrong, and now all your clothes are pink, that is generally a mistake that does not get made twice. You have to leave some room for people to make mistakes and learn on their own.

You are asking someone to take responsibility for things they didn’t have to before. Unless they are two years old, most people don’t really want more responsibilities. They are doing this for you, as they should, but don’t expect them to do cartwheels the whole time over how great it is to do chores. I’m not saying they should be surly, just that everyone should try to take it easy and have a sense of humor in the beginning. Easier said than done, I know, but at least keep the idea in mind.

The F*!&ing Morning Routine


Not necessarily related to your partner, but one of the most insidious ways overdoing it can creep into our lives is through things that SOUND like they are designed to help us be more efficient. The “morning routine” is one such albatross. Apparently you are supposed to get up an hour before everyone else (in my house this would be 4 am) and do things like exercise and meditate and read and figure out your top 3 most important things for the day.  This is supposed to make you happier and more productive.   “Successful people” whoever they are, apparently all do this. The very thought of it makes me want to weep with exhaustion. As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of meditation and exercise. But instead of being a helpful tool, I feel like these have turned into things we use to scold ourselves. If you are unhappy, and you don’t exercise or meditate because you don’t want to, that doesn’t mean there is no hope for you, or that your unhappiness is your own fault. As much as Tom Cruise was mocked for saying Brooke Shields could have cured her postpartum depression with exercise and vitamins, our society still implies that if you are depressed, maybe you’re just not trying hard enough. This is bullshit. If you are a morning person and enjoy it, go for a morning routine. But we only have a finite amount of energy. You need to decide where you can spend it.

Taking on more than is necessary 

You saw the cutest birthday party on Pinterest and now you really think you could pull off the perfect afternoon tea party theme for your three-year-old.  Kids like crumpets, right?  Homemade ones?

ask for help
Totally doable!

You have recently heard of a capsule wardrobe and think it’s a great way to save money and finally become more stylish. This will require an entirely new wardrobe mind you, but you will somehow save money in the long run. This must be thoroughly researched. There should be a workbook involved.

You want to get involved in working with at-risk kids in your area through a local program.

Sometimes we take on more than we can handle. One of the tricky things about the mental load is that some of the things we genuinely enjoy doing. I love planning the holidays at my house and getting everything set up for it, and I like planning most of our weekends. But I also know that in seasons where I have a lot of this kind of planning and errands, I am going to have less patience for other minutiae. I would love to plan an elaborate birthday party, but I know that the level of detail involved is a recipe for me being VERY cranky at the end of the day for about a month, and honestly is probably not worth it. Toddlers are happy with invisible tea.

Even worthy causes like community service sound great, but only if you are able to manage it without going berserk. I have volunteered my whole life, but I realize that now, while I have a small child and a job, is not the season for it. I will get back to it. And neither the world nor my living room will fall apart if I am not personally holding it up.

Not saying thank you

You make my life better

I can already hear you thinking, “I shouldn’t have to thank him for picking up his goddam socks!” No, that might be a bit much. But recognizing what the other person does is good too. I thank my husband whenever he takes out the garbage. Why? Because I hate doing it. It’s heavy and smelly and I find it delightful that there is someone in my life who will consistently do it for me. He does the same for me when I make something for dinner or organize an event.

I think so much of this is about being seen and appreciated. I really don’t mind doing a lot of work if I’m recognized for it. It’s when it’s taken for granted that it’s easy to get resentful. Just like a gratitude list, what you appreciate appreciates. The more you say thank you, the more things you notice that are worth saying thank you for.

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Are you messing up your kid?

messing-up-your-kid

What to do when you’ve lost it to prevent messing up your kid

I don’t know whether it’s being an alcoholic or just being a mother, but so many nights I look at my son’s little face and think, “Dear God, please don’t let me mess him up too badly.”

Part of me feels like with alcoholism running in his family, the deck is stacked against him and I want to protect him from any hurt I can, just to give him a fighting chance. But what about when I’m the cause of the hurt? When I go away on business and he doesn’t understand? Or when I realize I’ve been staring at my phone for an hour instead of playing with him? When I attempt to wrestle him into a diaper because he Will. Not. Put. On. Clothes.  When I see his big eyes fill with tears because I yelled?

Does he think I don’t love him? Is he afraid of me? What kind of monster am I if I yell at a small child?

Unsurprisingly it’s not when I am going through this that I find any answers. It’s when my friends go through the same thing that I suddenly have pearls of wisdom about it. I can give them the grace I can’t give myself. But in turn, I can try and remember it for next time. Because as much as I hate it, there will be a next time. And I promise you: You are not messing up your kid as badly as you think.

messing up your kid
Why didn’t I just let him wear his pajamas to school?

We are doing better than our parents

This isn’t to say they did a bad job. I still consider my mother to be one of the best role models around for me or anyone else for that matter, but we learn things as a society from one generation to the next. If you look at parenting just a generation or two ago, it’s pretty crazy to realize the extent to which things have changed. Just as my son rides in a car seat instead of on my lap, we take the information available at the time and we do the best we can with what we know.

rickety playground
Sure, that looks totally safe for a two-year-old!

These are teachable moments

Okay so you yelled at your kid and they cried and now you kind of wish the ground would swallow you up. As tempting as it is to ignore it and figure things will go back to normal when they see you aren’t mad anymore, you are missing an opportunity here.

You aren’t perfect and that’s okay. No one is. It’s important for them to learn how to have humility about their own flaws, and to learn to forgive them in others. I’m not saying to go into a big speech about it, but when you are both calm, find an age-appropriate way of saying, “Hey, I’m sorry I yelled at you. Yelling isn’t a good way to solve problems. We all make mistakes, and then we say we’re sorry.” Don’t give excuses for why you were yelling. You can absolutely discuss their behavior separately. But they are more likely to hear you if you don’t seem mad anymore. And justifying the yelling will just get their back up whether they are two or twenty.

Do Better

Now unfortunately along with the apology, you do actually have to try to do better in the future. I’m not saying you will never yell at your kid again because that’s a joke. But if it’s happening every day, then maybe it’s time to research ways to keep your temper better. Whatever the issue is that’s the problem, look at your part of it.  Your child is going to be on every fourth step you do.  This is the best chance you have at minimizing the extent to which you mess your kid up.

Please let him turn out better than me…

Keep it in perspective

One of my favorite ways to keep things in perspective is to ask myself, “Have I ever heard anyone use this as part of their ‘before’ story in an AA meeting?” 99% of the time, the answer is no. You don’t hear things like, “My mom never gave me the toys I wanted,” or “she yelled at me to put on my clothes every morning”.   A kid isn’t a soufflé. It’s not something where you do one thing wrong and they are ruined. And when you do something truly awful? They love you so much and they will give you a thousand chances to get it right.

(That said, if you are hurting your children, or you are worried about your behavior, talk to a therapist, stat.  They can help you.  If you’re not coping on your own, it won’t magically happen.  Insurance covers some of it and a lot of them work on a sliding scale. )

Make sure your child goes to bed knowing they are loved

There are days that are just awful and the two of you seem to butt heads. You are exasperated and just want them to go to sleep so you can have some peace. (Hey, sometimes I wish for that on a good day too.) I’m not trotting out the old adage of “never go to bed angry” because you can’t always change a feeling on a dime. What you do have the power to do is to say,

“I’m still very upset. But I love you very much. No matter what.”

Having that sense of security and being loved is a huge part of the mental health of a person at any size.

Worse comes to Worst

All this aside, you will mess your kid up at least a little. Everyone does, it’s unavoidable. As they get older, I think it is important to share our stories with them. Perhaps not the gory details, but the general message of, “You can turn it around.” There is a genetic element to this, and what they become is not all down to you and your actions. And if they ever do end up at the wrong end of too many bottles, they have you as living proof that there is a way out.

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How To Survive As An Introverted Parent

When people find out you’re having a child, they love to warn you about a lot of things – “You’ll never sleep again!” “Your boobs will fall!” “You’ll pee when you sneeze!”

“No sweat.” I thought. “It’s called coffee, a bra, and some kegels. Jeez. “ Ah, my single self… so adorable in her smugness.

Not me. I’ll be different.

 

But the one thing they didn’t tell me – you will never be alone again.

Me, Myself and I

I have always considered myself an introvert – someone who recharges their batteries best when alone in quiet situations, and I get easily over-stimulated and cranky by crowded or loud environments. But it’s more than that somehow. Unless I am completely apart from other people, my brain just won’t turn off. Some part of it is always calculating how I appear to others, what I should say, (if anything), reading their movements and expression, and making sure I look like I’m not thinking about any of these things. I don’t think this is necessary. It’s pretty ridiculous in fact. Some part of my brain does it anyway. Not until I enter an empty room do I realize I’ve been clenching my stomach muscles.

Alcohol was something that made this much easier. Because it blunted my senses, I could better tolerate the blaring music and the crush of people at a bar. I could talk myself into having a good time because I was barely there. But I still felt a huge sense of relief when my key turned in the lock of my quiet apartment.

The Introverted Parent

Now it’s a little different. The moment I step out of my bedroom a tiny Tasmanian devil hurls himself on me and squeals with delight. Then he proceeds to trash the place. It’s both the best thing in the world and a little bit of a nightmare. When I was still commuting to an office, it was quite possible that the only time I was alone in a day was when I went to the bathroom. And that’s if I was lucky.

Yet I remember my first day back at work from maternity leave. I was completely guilt-ridden at the fact that I had left my tiny twelve-week-old in the hands of strangers. I missed him horribly. But by the end of the day, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was secretly relishing the fact that I had eight solid hours where NO ONE WAS TOUCHING ME. It was amazing.

This hand is going on your face immediately

Children are always all over you.  They don’t just do their own thing.  Their needs are extreme and constant.  Whether you work or stay home, there is almost never a time to be alone and clear your head.  You have to plan for it and shoehorn it in if need be.  Here are some of the ways that I manage to parent as an introvert without losing my goddam mind.

Take it in shifts

If you live with the baby’s father, try to make an arrangement where you each have a time, whether it’s one evening a week, a half hour a day… whatever works for you, that they will handle the kids, and you will have your alone time – and then promise them the same thing in return. Don’t forget to say thank you afterward each time. It costs you nothing and it goes a long way.

Call on other parents

If you are a single parent, you still have options. Find a friend/neighbor/other human with a pulse and a child and set up an arrangement to swap babysitting with each other. Rather than paying a 14-year-old $15 an hour, you can have another person who actually knows how to take care of a child watch yours for free! Yes, you do have to return the favor. Try to keep it to a regular schedule so that it doesn’t end up one-sided. If it does, time to find a different person to swap with. A nice bonus here is that your child can be jumping on the other child instead of on you part of the time, and may bizarrely make a friend this way.

There is even an app for that. I have heard good things about Komae, which allows you to do just that. It keeps track of things well, although you could do it with a Google Sheets excel workbook too.

Don’t use your alone time to do chores or work

This is harder than it sounds. I am notorious for cleaning (which I HATE) when my husband takes my son somewhere. Because if I don’t do it NOW, then when will it get done? Never! And soon I won’t be able to see the floor, and ants and other creepy crawlies will overtake the house and probably be in my shoes when I try to put them on. Because that is my nightmare. Yup, all that will definitely happen if I don’t pick up that toy truck and that dish.

Is this a hint that I should cook?

Then of course when my break time ends, I am even crankier because I haven’t gotten any rest! The best tip I have here is to KNOW how you unwind best and plan for it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m partial to trashy tv, knitting and messing with my phone. Or napping. Napping is so good.

Sometimes you shouldn’t be alone

There are days where it’s just not going to happen. One of you gets sick, or there’s a hurricane or your mother is in town… At these times I try to flip the script and remember why being alone is not all it’s cracked up to be. First of all, you get weird. You’re doing stuff you would never do around other people, and if that’s the case, you need to wonder why. Maybe it’s because what you’re doing isn’t advisable. Sometimes it’s just gross.

What five second rule?

“Oh hi, potato chip that fell in my bra. Nice try, I’m still eating you!”

It can also be darker than that. I know my drinking took off a lot once there was no one around to see. Being alone lets me go for broke in my self-destructive behaviors. So even if I crave alone time, I know I need to put a limit on it.

I recently had to travel for work for the first time since becoming a parent and it terrified me. Rather than relish the idea of being alone in a hotel room for three nights, I felt vulnerable. Who would I be with no one watching?

I prepared for it and didn’t pick up, but I still wasn’t my healthiest self. I didn’t eat nearly enough and drank too much coffee and barely slept. Like a kid away at college for the first time, my mind reeled with all the freedom I had to self-destruct.   Because as much as it may not feel like it, what I do when no one can see still counts.

As much as I am an introverted parent, I still definitely wanted all this – to get married and have children. I didn’t want to be alone all the time, but I’m just still getting used to the constant company years later. What sometimes feels like chaos is also something sweet.  It’s what life involves when I allow myself to love and be loved.

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The Happiness Challenge Part I: Why You Need A Happy List

 

Happy List

I love reading about the science of happiness.  Ever since I saw the TED talk by Shawn Achor or read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project I’ve loved the idea that happiness isn’t something you luck into by having a great life, it’s something you can create for yourself.  Which is why my friend, you need a Happy List.

People tend to have a baseline level of happiness.  Big life events (both good and bad) sometimes shift this level up or down for a couple of years, but generally, we revert back to our set point.  I have always had a lower set point.  This doesn’t mean I haven’t had a very good life.  But I do have a tendency to get caught up in some anxiety or depression, which often presents itself as extreme exhaustion.  It’s incredibly frustrating to know you have a good life and not be able to enjoy it.  Fortunately, through research, trial, and error, I have found a few things that definitely have raised my set point.

But sometimes bad days still come.  I’m not talking about full-blown depression, just about being in a funk.  Especially during the long gray winters we get here in the NorthEast.

It’s a magical time of year

And when the blues last for more than a couple of days, I start to forget that it’s temporary and that there are things I can do about it.  I have a built in forgetter on so many things.  So I created a Happy List.  This is a list of things I know for a fact improve my mood time and time again. They are generally not things I want to do in the moment.  But I respect the scientific method enough to know that they produce results.  Here are my favorites – some are pretty universal.  Be sure to make up your own and put it somewhere you can find it.  Because on a bad day, you won’t feel like looking.

My Happy List

1. Exercise – But just for ten minutes

You couldn’t find another expression?

I know.  But sometimes we have to “Eat the Frog” aka, do worst part first.  Getting my shoes on and getting out the door is often the hardest part of working out for me.  I have to conquer the inertia of my comfy couch and candy crush.  But by telling myself I only have to do ten minutes, it makes it much more doable.   I am really aiming for 30-40 minutes, but I set a timer for ten minutes, and if I don’t want to continue, I can stop right there and call it a win.  I think I’ve only stopped at that point around five times.  But even if you do, getting your blood moving and clearing your mind a little bit helps.

2. Play with my son

Not my actual son.

I’m talking full on goofball, pretend I’m a dinosaur who likes tickle fights.  Acting silly and hearing him laugh is an awesome pick me up and it’s great for bonding.

3. Go to a meeting.

Not something I always have time for, but when I do stop and MAKE the time, I am never sorry.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a meeting wishing I had stayed home instead.  There is something about being in a room with people who say out loud, “Everything is not fine and perfect.  I’m scared a lot of the time” in front of strangers.  That’s where I think being a normie must get exhausting.  Nobody has it all together, but outside those walls, we all pretend to.

4. Throw the ball for my dog.

I was going somewhere… wasn’t I?

Pets are magic.  They don’t talk to us and love us no matter what.  Now granted my dog will usually run right past the ball because he’s got ADD and forgets what he was doing, but just seeing the joy on his face and his silly galumphing around with excitement is a good pick me up. (Plus, again it gets me off the couch and some fresh air in my lungs.)

5. Meditate

This is less about a quick fix and more about a long term survival strategy.  Yes, it can be a bit boring, but I’d rather be bored for ten minutes and happy the rest of the time.  My brain resents the very idea that it needs a break.  Like an overtired toddler, it doesn’t wanna.  It tells me, “We don’t have time for this!” “But there’s this thing!  This thing I need to worry ab- ahem… figure out!”  Again, ten minutes.  That’s it.  Guided meditations are really helpful.  I like headspace but there are tons out there.

6. Call or text a friend and ask them how it’s going.

Keep the conversation totally about them, whether it’s good or bad.  Cheer them on.  If they have a problem, listen.  Don’t try to solve it.

7. Send someone a thank you email or text

Especially if they gave you coffee.

I got this from the TED talk I mention at the top.  Before you start your day, send someone a two or three line email thanking them for something.  It doesn’t have to be flowery.  Just a “Hey, that call we had the other day was awesome.  It’s always so great to talk to you. ” Or, “Just wanted to let you know, I loved what you had to say at that meeting the other day.  Thanks for bringing it up.”

8. Sex

Bedroom optional

Preferably with someone you know and like.  Because, well, duh it’s fun, but it’s also good for your brain chemistry, immunity, and oh yeah, your relationship.  Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our various screens and gadgets, it’s good for us to take a time out and just be human and focused only on each other.

9. Take a shower/bath

La la la. No one can talk to me in here…

Something about being clean and smelling good always helps my mood a little.  Some people swear by finishing with a blast of cold water but I’m too much of a wimp.  Yes, it got my heart racing and woke me up, but so would being tasered.  So as with this whole list, you choose what’s right for you.

10. To Be Continued

This is a tough one but also the most effective. That said, it requires a little explaining so I will cover it in my next post. (I know, I’m a stinker.) But there is plenty here to get started with, to gear you up for next weeks happiness challenge.

Stock photo lady is not happy

My guess is that you already know what things should be on your own happy list.  Gratitude, meditation, exercise and getting outside are cliches for a reason.  Because they work.  I know sometimes I want to binge-watch Netflix and eat peanut M&Ms and call it self-care.  And sometimes it is.  I have been known to schedule a day to do just that.  But I also know I am going to feel like crap the next day.  The items on this list are the things that make my life better.  When I do one or two of these things, it helps me feel glad to be alive – good in my body and loved in my relationships.  And that’s the point, isn’t it?  We can’t be happy all the time, nor should we expect to be.  But we can maximize it by authoring our own users manual.  And when you need troubleshooting, turn to your happy list.

What’s on your happy list? Tell me in the comments.

Time Flies

 

Awhile ago I was having a conversation with my best friend, then about 8 months pregnant with her second child.  Her husband was away for work at the time and she was dealing with a three-year-old and a heat wave.  She was obsessing over getting her son’s new room perfect so that they could move him in there before the baby was born.  I was trying to convince her to take it easy, and it all seemed so logical to me that she should just be able to let some things go and give herself a little grace.  I could practically hear her eyebrow arch over the phone. The pot was on the phone to tell the kettle she was black.

Who me?

Fair point.  I do this all the time.  I take whatever life event is stressing me out, and I seem to find some project that I think will fix everything and give myself a million tasks around it.  It’s my way of trying to take control of the situation.  About a year ago, I started a bullet journal to keep myself a bit more organized and fell into an Instagram hole of amazing bullet journalists.  All of a sudden I decided my handwriting was bothering me, so I needed to incorporate 20 minutes of handwriting practice a day.

Plus my new daily workout to fix my mummy tummy.

And cut back on processed foods.

And have a “no spend” day once a week.

And a weekly meal plan for the whole family where I cook dinner most nights.

But I couldn’t figure out why I felt so stressed and unhappy. Why I kept wondering if I needed to call my psychiatrist to up my medication for the first time in ten years.  The idea that I was putting extra pressure on myself never entered my mind.

Maybe Later

These skills are all lovely things to put into practice, but now is not my time for most of them. I’d love to have beautiful handwriting, but I think everyone would prefer I use that time to shower. Because there is only room for one of the two.

While part of my desire for all these projects is certainly about a wish for control and keeping the outside of things looking perfect, I think it harkens back to something else too – the freedom that I had before I became a mother.

Even before I quit drinking, I was always a big fan of self-improvement practices and learning new things. I had a standing new years resolution to learn one new skill a year for no other reason than it interested me. I would dive into new and overwhelming projects, and experience time speed up as I focused intently and felt the thrill of the tiny improvements in my new skill emerging. I still have this urge. I still want to learn calligraphy and how to surf. I want to learn to play the ukulele. I want to learn javascript and how to make jewelry.

Well that’s efficient

But being a mom is a skill that takes more than one year to learn. I don’t know if it’s one I’ll ever master. It’s trickier than say, learning the piano. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out — everything changes.

Tempus Fugit

I am also constantly reminded in subtle ways that I won’t always be so strapped for time. The way my son’s head suddenly appears above the top of the kitchen table instead of skimming beneath it – when did he grow? A couple of months ago, I could count how many words he knows. Now I have no idea. Hundreds?

I have always hated it when mothers look at me and say– almost as a warning – “It goes so fast…” I believe it. But it irks me because my attitude has been, “Yes, I get it, but what do you want me to do about it other than to be sad?”

Maybe this is part of the answer – to put some things I want to do on hold because there will space later in my life. When my son is moody and hormonal and just wants me to leave him alone. When he goes off to college and they have to pull me off his doorjamb. Maybe that’s the time for calligraphy.

The limits of time have never sat well with me.  I remember crying as a child once when I realized I would never have time to read all the books I would want to in a lifetime.  I’m still that same girl.  There are too many things I want to do in this life and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I probably won’t get to do them all.

Choices

For me, there is a simple truth that I can’t both DO ALL THE THINGS and enjoy all the things. There is something in knowing the limitations of time.  It means your choices must be considered.  What we choose is special because whether we think about it or not, it’s what we’ve prioritized at this moment above everything else.

I also know I could do everything else on my list, but if I had never gotten to be a mother, it would have felt hollow.  So what if I got to see Kyoto but didn’t have the full human experience of having a child?  This is certainly not the case for everyone nor should it be. It’s just what’s true for me.  I have always wanted this.  It is special, and brief.  It deserves my full attention.

I still have and use my bullet journal. It helps me keep track of play dates and meetings. And I even have a page for “Stuff I Want to Learn”. Having a place to park those ideas somehow lessens the anxiety that I will immediately blank on everything I was ever interested in the moment I am left alone with my thoughts. When I get that down on paper and out of my head, I can then look up and focus on where I am right now. I can see the way my son’s hair sticks up because he’s gotten banana in it again, and notice how he smells like sunscreen and dirt from the playground. And I can know that even if it’s not a skill I can put on my resume, or impress people with at parties, I’m still always learning.

 

How to Make Mom Friends

mom friends

mom friends

Even before I had my son, I knew that along with the crib, swaddles and Rock n’ Play, there was one more essential to add to my list of must haves, and that was a tribe of mom friends.

I knew this because I saw headlines from the cool mom voices of HuffPo, Scary Mommy, Red Tricycle etc. that were pumped into my Facebook feed as “suggested articles”.

5 Types of Mom Friends Every Mom Needs”

Ok got it. I’ll be on the lookout for those.

“11 Types of Mom Friends – and Why They’re Important”

 Wait, how many now?

 “The 6 Types of Friends You Have As a First Time Mom”

 Oh, so those come preinstalled? Cool.

Hi.  We’re the mom friends you ordered.

It was my hope that these gems would just arrive as if by magic once I had the baby. They would see me with it and they would have one of their own. The shared experience of the insanity that is childbirth and the newborn phase would make us instantly understand each other. Like trauma bonding. Perhaps I’d meet them in the breastfeeding class at the hospital. (Or was that creepy?) Could I meet them at the pediatrician’s office? I wasn’t sure.

Ever the good student, I decided to get a jump on the process. I joined my local message boards and went to mommy meetups for those in my neighborhood that were due at the same time I was. It was exhausting to lug my ever-expanding self over to parts of town to meet with strangers, but I soldiered through confident that I would check off the “mom friend” list item.

At least I didn’t have to worry about one thing: since we were all pregnant, no one was drinking. I was new to the neighborhood, so no one knew that my abstaining was anything other than pregnancy related. The women were all friendly, but nothing really clicked. I felt the way I did when I was dating – putting myself out there, doing the work getting out of the house, being friendly and a good listener, and… nothing. An introvert at heart, every time I came home and sank onto the couch, I thought, “Why the hell am I bothering?”

I’ve been thinking about you all day.

Something I hear a lot in meetings – especially from women, is that they felt different and out of place as a child.   This was certainly the case for me. I was more or less born a tiny forty-year-old. I was strange. I was never comfortable.  Sure I made friends, and some very good ones at that. But in most situations where I met new people, they usually didn’t take to me right away.

And then? Alcohol. The great social lubricant that made me outgoing and charming. (Or at least it did in my own head). It allowed me to mix with people and be silly. It let me have fun. Until it didn’t.

So I have to find a different way to have fun. One of the best things I have found in sobriety is that I have become “me” again. The strange girl with a snarky sense of humor who loves knitting and writing and has zero interest in staying out late, or in what’s cool. But that’s not to say that I can’t still get out my tiny violin in these situations and replay my greatest hit — “People don’t like me.”

Once I had the baby, I had high hopes that we would now have things to bond over in the mom group. While I felt completely shell shocked by early motherhood, thanks to recovery meetings (and the internet) I knew that others were probably feeling the same way and we could all find relief in saying, “Yes! Me too!”

I did make some casual friends this way.  But I was the first to go back to work and the meetings continued without me. Once the others went back to work, they switched from meeting in a coffee shop to meeting in a bar for “girls night out”. While I have been able to hang at a bar with friends now and again, it is certainly not my preference. I recall the saying, “If you keep sitting in the barber’s chair, sooner or later you’ll get a haircut.” I knew my desire to be liked and to fit in was not a good match for this, and my one social outlet went away.

When I put my son in daycare I told myself I would try again with the moms there. But being back to work and then being with my son at night was exhausting and the excuses started piling up:

I’m already exhausted.

It seems like so much work to GO somewhere and have to be ON.

What if we don’t click?  

What if she’s a mommy wino?

Everyone just wants to drink and they’ll make fun of the fact that I don’t.

I can rationalize bringing sand to the desert. So I talked myself out of it time and time again, thinking “soon” or “next time” or “I’ll know my people when I meet them.”

Two years in and I do have some mom friends now. Here’s the advice I would give to my new mom self:

Don’t overlook what you already have

Through all my concern and frustration over not having mom friends, I was still texting my best friend daily, sometimes for hours at a time. She is a mom as well, though her son is older than mine. I was hung up on the idea of having mom friends whose babies were the same age, not realizing I was already getting the very thing that a mom friend provides – emotional support and a dash of humor. An additional bonus was that since her son was older, she wasn’t in a newborn fog and had some perspective so she could tell me what was normal. I still talk to her every day.

They don’t have to be local

Yes, it’s nice if they are because then you can make playdates and get yourself and your stir-crazy kid out of the house on a rainy day.   But that’s the role of your child’s friends, not necessarily yours. I met a great group of women in a sober mom’s group online and we definitely share all the things mentioned in these articles. Again, just because you can’t touch them it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Not everybody is interested in drinking.

This is one where I had to see my part. I threw a very elaborate pity party for myself when the mom’s group switched to a bar group. What I didn’t think about was that not all of them were necessarily interested in that either. There were over 30 women in that group and I now know that a LOT of them are not big drinkers. It doesn’t occur to them. That possibility never entered my mind. I noticed the mommy winos because they stood out to me. My ears perked up more at someone talking about meeting up for drinks because I am sensitive to that, so I felt like it was EVERYONE instead of maybe 10% of them. The normies weren’t talking about booze because they weren’t thinking about it. I couldn’t fathom that, so they flew under my radar.

Keep trying

Helpful, I know. Here’s the thing – a lot of other moms have the same excuses going in their heads. I’m too tired. I have too much to do. Not enough time with family. I don’t know this person, why would I want to hang out with them when I could SLEEP? It’s not personal. She doesn’t know you so it’s not that she has anything against you. It’s just tough to motivate.

I often think of AA as an advanced course in Adulting. We learn to do what we can and not focus so much on what others do. We learn to do our part and let the rest go. As a person who loves to analyze everything to death, the simplicity of saying, “Have I done everything I can do here?” and leaving the rest has been really useful.

You don’t know what is going on in the life of the woman who bailed on your coffee date. If her marriage is falling apart or if she broke her toe, or if she’s had zero sleep and Just. Can’t. Do It. Giving her a little grace and trying again may turn out to be all that is needed. If not? On to the next. Don’t get into the game of, “But why does it always have to be me making the effort?” Because we never know what is going on with anyone else. If you want it, it has to be you.

You will keep meeting more

Don’t sweat it if it takes awhile. When you find the right ones these women will be in your life for a long time. Sometimes something that doesn’t click at first evolves over time. I eventually became friends with a couple of women I never noticed because they were both shy. But with running into each other while picking up our kids at the same time, or chatting at birthday parties we figured out we liked each others company.

Simply having a child exposes you to a whole new community of people, and over time the classes, playgrounds, and parties bring you to wonderful people who will become a part of your life.

And as you find your mom friends, make sure to keep an eye out for that mama who is struggling. The one with deep circles under her eyes at the coffee shop holding a newborn. Tell her she’s doing great, and that it gets easier. Wink at the mom in the supermarket with the kid throwing a tantrum and say, “You’ve got this” as you walk by. You never know when you will make a friend for life.

PS – Want to be my mom friend?  Subscribe in the sidebar.  See?  You’ve got one already.

Sobriety and Motherhood

the anonymous mommy

Mother and baby napping

The “easy” days

In the grand scheme of things, I was doing okay. I had a job, a husband, a great kid, and a weird dog. I haven’t had a drink since March 2014, and I was working a strong recovery program. And then I had a baby. And it blew up my cozy little life.

Motherhood was a whole new ballgame and my tools for sobriety didn’t fit in.

I had desperately wanted to have children my whole life, but when this tiny, needy, projectile-vomiting thing was dropped in my arms, I could not have been less prepared.   But I did all the research! I read baby books and blogs, and everyone agreed I was the most maternal person they knew!   I’d expected it to come naturally and it didn’t. While I never thought it would be easy, I also never thought it would be this hard. And I certainly never expected it to be this lonely.

Too many people

All of a sudden I had to be two people – a full-time businesswoman, and a mom. How was I supposed to have time to be a third – my sober self? Because though I put my son in daycare, I certainly never felt like a part-time mom…   So I pumped at my desk while typing work emails like a much more disheveled version of the typical stock photo.

Happy woman pumping at desk
Bitch, please.

I would come home and attempt to do all the things I used to do, cooking dinner, doing laundry, scheduling time with friends… But it was just too much.

I’m failing at this, aren’t I?

I’ve heard the expression that women today don’t “Have it All” we “DO it all”. I would like to add one word to that phrase – Badly. We do it all badly because there is no way to do the work you used to do with quality when you add 60 tasks a day to them. As a new mother, I used to make a list of everything I needed to do that day including “shower” and “eat”, and still didn’t manage to accomplish both on a daily basis. As a perfectionist, having to sacrifice “done right” for simply “done” felt like failure. I sucked at work, and I was cranky at home.

“This is probably supposed to be the happiest time of my life,” I thought while pushing my son down the street in his stroller. “My baby is small and cuddly, I have a great relationship with my husband. This is what I always wanted. So why do I always feel like crying?”

I called my sponsor. “You need meetings.” She said. “There is no way you can do this without meetings. You have to prioritize them.” She was of course right. But how could I explain to her that there literally was not time in my day to take out two hours (including travel time). It just wasn’t there. Every minute of my day was scheduled. Though I tried bringing my son to meetings a couple of times, when he wasn’t distracting me he was distracting others. I just didn’t feel like it was fair.

“This is probably supposed to be the happiest time of my life” I thought while pushing my son down the street in his stroller. “My baby is small and cuddly, I have a great relationship with my husband. This is what I always wanted. So why do I always feel like crying?”

When “Mommy Needs Wine” doesn’t cut it

So I’ve had to adapt. I have found tools that have been helpful to me, but more than anything most of the time what I needed was to not feel so alone in this. I read plenty of mommy blogs that I would identify with right until the point where they would say something like: “So go have your glass (or three!) of wine mama! You deserve it!” And I’d just want to bang my head against the wall.

What I hope to provide here is some solace from that — a promise that you are not alone. You can find a way to make your recovery and your life fit together again. It’s different work than perhaps your early days. You can’t simply “speak your truth” to your baby and ask if he can keep it down because he’s really fucking with your serenity… No, these require some advanced tools.

The 12 steps were founded by men. Very smart men, but men nonetheless, and therefore do not necessarily account for a life where you are physically tethered to another human and can’t make a program your #1 priority. I don’t intend to reinvent the steps by any means. Nor do you need to be a 12 stepper to interact here. I just think that as women, we have to adapt the tools we have been given to accommodate our bodies and our lives. I’m going to tell you what has worked for me from podcasts and online forums to hiding in the bathroom and watching trashy television shows. I hope you’ll join me. Together, we can do this.