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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The nice girl’s guide to setting boundaries

the anonymous mommy

setting boundaries

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

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

doormat

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

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

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

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

Motherhood

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

baby
Ahem.

When is setting boundaries necessary?

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

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

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

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

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

What do I say?

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

horse
How did I come into it?

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

First offense

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

spray bottle
Effective perhaps, but not exactly subtle

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

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

Ongoing behavior

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

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

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

Michelle Obama and the Dalai Lama

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

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

michelle obama
I’m going to have to pass…

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

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

dalai lama
You need to back off asshole.

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

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

Tricky. Very tricky.

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

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

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

Oh, I’m fine.

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

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

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

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

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

Toddlers

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

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

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

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

The lesson? Grit your teeth and follow through.

Start small

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

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

latte
Mmm. Tastes like concession.

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

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

A longer view

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

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Slacker Mom Holiday Hacks

the anonymous mommy
slacker mom holiday
Oh shit it’s Christmas.

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

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

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

xmas planning
It made sense in November, okay?

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

Get out of Hell free card – skip it

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

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

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

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

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

The Holiday Card

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

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

Slacker mom holiday hack

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

woman on couch
Better.

Decorating

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

bagel ornament
Hole-y night

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

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

Hosting

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

place setting
Not happening

Slacker Mom Holiday Hack

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

crowdsurfing
I said get me a YAM not SAM

Outsource

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

Make it quick!

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

Tick Tock bitches.

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

Family

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

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

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

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

Slacker Mom Holiday Hack – Run away

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

Take breaks

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

Presents

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

sad dog
He’ll be okay

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

Slacker Mom Holiday Hack

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

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

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

‘Tis a gift

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

mother and child

The danger of “it’s not that bad”

the anonymous mommy

it’s not that bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cupcake crumbs
Yeah, that should be plenty 

It’s not that good

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

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

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

dog ate bed
This could be why

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

Serenity

serenity now

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

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

Courage, to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

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

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

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

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

Sending out an S.O.S

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

scissors in head
It looks worse than it is

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

Fear and Change

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

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

One-upping

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

          “My child is in the NICU”

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

not helpful
Thanks Melissa. That’s helpful.

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

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

Do you know your enemy?

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

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

The only way to change a culture is to

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

2) Change ourselves.

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

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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How to parent when the world seems awful

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

Take that underwire!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hashtag revolution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn off the news

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

via xkcd

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

Turn it over

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

me too

Focus inward

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

Know where you are part of the problem


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

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

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

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

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

Be kind

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

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

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


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

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

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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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Do It Anyway – How to live a great life even when you’re scared

the anonymous mommy

A fish without a bicycle

Yesterday, at 37 years old, I learned to ride a bike. Well, relearned really. Because you can indeed forget how to ride a bike, and I did. I hadn’t ridden since I was ten and had been perfectly fine at it. Perhaps not popping wheelies or anything, but I had long since lost the training wheels.

Then at around 28, I hopped on a friend’s bike and attempted to pedal off. Instead, I fell. I hit the pavement hard but I laughed it off, stinging with both pain and embarrassment. I tried again – and again I fell down. I was suddenly acutely aware that if I broke my wrist and couldn’t type, I would be in a bad financial situation very quickly. So I made a joke out of it. I was the one person in the world who could forget how to ride a bike. Ta da.

I have always been a klutz.   Despite attempts to thwart it with years of ballet, yoga, and walking with a book on my head, the only effect was that I knocked things over with good posture.

Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t see you there!
While it’s funny to others, it’s mortifying to me. When I bump into a table and spill something with an inevitable crash, I feel a small breeze as heads snap towards me. In general, I avoid things that require coordination.

My husband is an avid cyclist, not in a way that involves lots of spandex, but he definitely things of biking as an enjoyable time. For years he has suggested that I take one of the free bike riding classes offered by Bike NYC. I always nodded along and said, “Maybe I will!” But inside my head, I heard, “You can’t do it.   You’ll fall. You’ll get hit by a car. You’re too clumsy for this.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it. I truly thought I couldn’t.

The Bucket List

As I do at the beginning of each season, I made a “Summer Bucket List”, which I might as well title, “Nah, let’s do it next weekend.”

Exhausting
As in the past, it included “Learn to ride a bike”. There was no indication this year would be any different. After all, we still hadn’t gone to Governor’s Island or had a picnic in the park, and I’d certainly push for those before teetering around on two wheels towards certain injury.  I don’t know what it was that made me one day go and sign up. I felt proud enough of that step.  That’s close enough to doing it, right?   “It’ll probably rain” I reasoned. It always seems to rain a lot on the weekends! No such luck. The weather was perfect.

So off I went. I threw on the incredibly dorky training helmet provided and proceded to waddle around on a bike without pedals, the seat cutting into my lady bits.

If you tell me I’m going to get calluses I quit.

The Bird

They put the pedals on my bike and I freaked. I was going to fall. I had a two-year-old and a new job. I could not break my arm right now!   (Because there are definitely convenient times to do so.)  But the instructors had my number. They did a number of drills with me to build me up to it, and all of a sudden I was off. I was wobbly at first, but before long I was pedaling quickly to build up speed and then feeling the wind skim across my face while I cruised. For an hour and a half, I was ten years old again. I didn’t feel like a mom, or a wife, or an adult, though I love being all those things. I felt like a bird. I was flying.

Because my mind always keeps everything right-sized, about a half hour in, I thought to myself, “I could do a triathlon now!” That might be a bit of a stretch. But you know what I can do? I can bike down to the pier a few miles away and watch the sunset over the water with a view of the statue of liberty. It’s one of my favorite places and I almost never go because it is too much of a trek by foot. I can’t believe I’ve been giving that up for so long.

Feeling proud, and thinking about it that night, I realized that like so many of the best things in life it had followed a predictable pattern:

  1.  I was scared to do it
  2.  After much procrastination, I did it anyway
  3.  I couldn’t believe how much I loved it.

Getting sober was a lot like this for me. I honest to goodness didn’t think I could do it. But I finally got to the point where I was willing to at least try. I will always have a voice in my head that tries to keep me stagnant. It wants to glue me to the couch. Some of its arguments are very well reasoned at times. But slowly but surely I am learning a new mantra.  Do it anyway.

Do it anyway.

This may sound like a bastardized version of Nike’s “Just Do It”, but to me, they strike a very different tone.  “Just Do It” sounds like it’s addressed to someone who is tough.  Do It Anyway acknowledges that there will always be a reason not to do something.  It’s the simple and patient answer to the list of excuses.  It acknowledges fear.

Do it anyway. even though you might fail. Do it anyway, even if you don’t know how. And yes, even when you just don’t feel like it, do it anyway. Because your brain will do everything it can to talk you out of having the best experiences of your life.  Fear isn’t the enemy; stagnation is.  It’s so easy to forget that we have so much less time than we think.

Real Heroes Don’t Wear Capes

While picking out a bike for the class, I found myself standing next to a woman in her early 70s. “This is my second class.” She said. “They wouldn’t give me pedals on my first one because I wasn’t going fast enough. But I’m going to get them today.”

Actual badass not pictured.
This woman is my hero. She is learning a new physical skill at 71. She’s not saying she’s too old to learn how. She didn’t give up when they told her she was too slow. She just showed up again and did the work. Later that afternoon as I was riding past, I saw the instructors putting pedals on her bike, while she beamed. Not 20 minutes later she was up and riding. Maybe slowly. Maybe with a bit of a wobble. But she did it.

Pick something on your list that scares you. Do it anyway.

The Happiness Challenge Part II – Complaining

the anonymous mommy

If you listened what I said in my post last week, you made a Happy List to have on hand for when things get tough.  And if you are anything like me, you probably didn’t make one. You thought, “Hmm, that’s a really good idea” and then proceeded to pin it on Pinterest, never to be looked at again.  Or maybe you emailed it to yourself.  Perhaps you thought you’d just remember and didn’t need to write it down.  I know.  I’ve done it myself.  But guess how many of those things I figured I would remember actually helped me?  Zero.  Because if I don’t take the time to write it down with my own hands, I’m not really committing to it.

stop complaining
All surfaces in my home are this clean. Yup.
Studies show that writing things down (not just typing) helps us remember things better because we are engaging different parts of the brain.  Both the visual side – so you write it on the paper and not on the coffee table, and the verbal by finding the exact words you will be using.  Just like with recovery, just thinking about it doesn’t get it done.  If you want to take five minutes now to jot some down, I’ll wait.  Here’s a link to the article in case you missed it or need a refresher.

So now that we have that done, it’s on to the Advanced Exercise.  This is a challenge, no doubt. But I like a challenge. This is the last item on my happy list.  It’s my Big Guns when everything sucks.  It’s hard as hell, but it works.  My number one happy trick is:

Stop Complaining. 100%.

Seriously?
Don’t worry. I’ll give you the secret I use, and you won’t become some annoying Pollyanna type.

This is a game changer so stay with me here:  When you talk about something, you reinforce it to yourself.  By saying it out loud, you are plucking it from all the flotsam and jetsam that floats through your mind and saying, “Here.  This is true.  This is safe to say to the outside world.”  The more you focus on those things and see them as conversation pieces, the more your brain looks for evidence of them every day and stores them up.  So now they are multiplying.  You get to choose whether they are doing that for the good or the bad.

What will I say to people?

Complaining is tricky because it’s a social crutch.  Who can’t relate to stepping in a huge slush puddle on the way to an important meeting, or having the baby keep you up all night right before a big day?  It’s a safe topic. Like the weather, only not as boring.  Everyone will nod and commiserate with you, and you feel like you’ve made a connection.  But look at what you’ve actually done – you’ve taken something admittedly crummy and spread it. So now several people are thinking about circumstances from their past that are unpleasant.  No one’s day improves because of this.

When you think about it, how much of your conversations are spent complaining?  Go back and look at your text messages.  I’m always horrified when I do this.  It can happen before you realize it — you have become that person who is always bitching about something or another.  I know I can fall into this completely by accident.  But now I know how to turn it around.

It was a radical idea to me that something shitty could happen to me and I could just keep it to myself.  That it wouldn’t get worse for doing so. I think on some level I felt like if I told people something negative happened, they would then coddle me.

“The dry cleaner ruined my favorite shirt.”  Subtext – You should buy me an ice cream cone.

Definitely mint chip.
Being sad or scared and seeking comfort is not the same as complaining. If someone close to you dies, or you lose your job, of course, you need support.   You do not need to be comforted because the deli didn’t toast your bagel to your specifications.

One Day at a Time

This is some One Day at a Time business, but we’ve got practice with that.  Don’t wait til tomorrow or Monday or the next new moon. And don’t just try to complain less. That keeps the focus on the crappy things AND makes you feel deprived so they just fester. 

By taking the option completely off the table, a miraculous thing happens – you begin to let the things that annoy you go.  They serve no purpose anymore.  You aren’t going to entertain anyone with them.  Just like how the obsession with alcohol is lifted when we decide to give it up, your brain just says, “Well that’s off the table completely.  Might as well focus on something else.”
This happens quickly. I saw a major effect after about two days.  The world seemed a thousand times better.  I was practically giddy. I was focused on all the good stuff and barely noticing the bad.  Because really?  It’s not all that bad.  I was just magnifying it.

When everything goes wrong – My secret weapon

I get it.  Some days suck.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong over and over, and you feel like you are just going to explode if you can’t unload it all.

Sit down. I have stories.
Guess what?  You have permission.  You can complain to your little heart’s content for up to one hour.  But only AFTER you name one hundred things you are grateful for.

Yes, one hundred.  Not by rote.  Think about each thing as you count it and try to associate a sense with it.  When you are thankful for your baby think of her tiny chubby fingers.  When you are thankful for your home, think about how great it feels to open the door after you’ve been away.  You don’t have to write it all down, but I find keeping count with a pen and little hash marks keeps me from losing track.  This may take awhile.  If you REALLY need to complain, make your way through it.  But for me, I found that this exercise stopped my complaining every time.  Mostly because I was in such a better mood it was no longer necessary, but sometimes it was just the feeling of, “Oh screw it.  This is too much work.  It’s not worth it.”  Either way, I never got to one hundred.  But I know I could if I needed to.

Me too

I was going strong with this for a long time and fell off the complaint-free wagon about seven months ago because I was feeling sorry for myself.  (Never a good look on me.)  So with this post, I am dusting myself off and getting back to it because I know it makes my life better.  It makes me a happier person.  And I love the idea that in looking back at my day, I can say I put only good out into the world with my words.

What would happen if you started right now?  

I’d love to hear how this goes for you. Here in the comments or on social media.