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?

 

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.

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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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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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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