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.

The surprising advantage to being unlovable

unlovable

Unloveable

“People don’t like me.”

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

can of worms
Guess I’ll go eat worms

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

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

Beats me

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

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

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

The Unlovables

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

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

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

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

The Trap

Mouse trap
Oh hey, I love cheese!

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

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

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

There is hope for us yet

Puzzle pieces
They all think they don’t fit anywhere

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

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

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

contortionist
No you’re trying too hard.

Friends Friends Friends

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

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

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

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

How To Conquer Your Little Addictions

How to conquer your minor addictions

 Why I haven’t addressed my little addictions

– and why I still might

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Inconvenient Truth

phone in hand

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

I’m Not That Bad…

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

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

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

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

Rationalization

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

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

Advanced yoga pose
This is called “Superiority Pose”

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

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

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

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Dope Dope Dopamine

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

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

I have heard various tips on the subject.

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

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

How Change Happens

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

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

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

What Would I Tell My Son?

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

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

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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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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. 

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

 

Happy List

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

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

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

It’s a magical time of year

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

My Happy List

1. Exercise – But just for ten minutes

You couldn’t find another expression?

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

2. Play with my son

Not my actual son.

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

3. Go to a meeting.

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

4. Throw the ball for my dog.

I was going somewhere… wasn’t I?

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

5. Meditate

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

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

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

7. Send someone a thank you email or text

Especially if they gave you coffee.

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

8. Sex

Bedroom optional

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

9. Take a shower/bath

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

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

10. To Be Continued

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

Stock photo lady is not happy

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

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

My Invisible Sober Friends

sober friends

sober friends

 

I don’t know any of these people, but they keep me sober.  This is a great time in history to be sober — we have all these wonderful resources. Sometimes when you aren’t face-to-face, you can say things that you otherwise couldn’t.  That’s why I love my invisible sober friends.  They strengthen my sobriety every day.

Podcasts:

podcast resource

Name: The Bubble Hour 

The details: This is my personal favorite of the sobriety podcasts, because it’s geared towards women, and it doesn’t push any one particular practice of recovery.  While I have had good luck with 12 steps, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.   These ladies focus on themes for the episodes, which are generally about an hour.  I listen to them when I am doing errands, walking around, doing dishes etc.

resource podcast

Name: Recover Girl with Anna David

The details: This one is fun. It used to be called “The Afterparty” and it fit well.  She talks with people mainly in the entertainment industry about their thoughts on addiction.  Sometimes the intros can take awhile, but it’s worth it once it gets going.  Her episode with Moby is unmissable

Books

Drinking – A love story – Caroline Knapp  

If you didn’t read this in secret while you were considering getting sober, grab it now.  It’s amazing.

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol – Ann Dowsett Johnston

An amazing analysis on how alcohol affects women differently.  Really interesting analysis on how alcohol is marketed to women and the effect that has had.  That said, a couple of the stories can be a little hard to read as a mom.

Social Media

Twitter

Go ahead and make up an anonymous handle just for recovery stuff.  Search out hashtags like #xa #recovery #sobriety etc.  You can find a good community on there pretty quickly.  I always said I’d NEVER be on there and I am eating my words.

Facebook

This one can be iffy.  Personally, I belong to a private group for sober moms which is set up as a secret board, so it won’t notify all your friends that you joined it etc.  If you can’t find any, start your own!  Be careful about liking/posting to public boards if you care about your anonymity.  But I put this on here because this particular group has been a lifeline to me.

Recovery Websites and Apps

Sober Grid

This is an app that contains a sober social network.  Just like you can on Twitter, you can get a quick response here when you need one.  While seemingly more for people newer to sobriety, sometimes that can be a good thing.  Especially if you are too busy to sponsor, just show up on there for five minutes.  Provide some experience, strength, and hope to someone who is just trying to get through their first few days.  It feels good.

Hip Sobriety

I have such a blog crush on Hip Sobriety.  It’s brainy and brilliant.  It’s a modern take on women’s sobriety, feminism, culture… I only wish it had comments enabled so I could fawn over every post.

Unpickled Blog

The personal musings of the host of the bubble hour.  Always good writing on sobriety and life.

Mrs D is Going Without

There’s a reason this site consistently ranks as one of the best recovery blogs out there.  She is funny and wise. I wish she didn’t live on the other side of the world so we could be real-life friends and hang out at each others’ houses.  You can read her first year of sobriety month by month, as it’s conveniently sectioned out at the top.  She also has a new book out which I can’t wait to read.

This post will become its own page on the blog, and I will continue to update it with new and wonderful things that I find.

Got a favorite sobriety blog? Podcast? Book?  Tell me in the comments!