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

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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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!