midlife beginning

midlife makeover: the beginning

Somehow I thought that when I gave up the wine, my weight would just miraculously drop. I’m not sure where I got that idea. I’ve been battling my weight since I was a child, long before I developed a taste for the “finer” things in life. True, in the last couple years, as my wine consumption increased, so did my weight. But now that I’ve finally given my favorite pinot noir the boot, my evening snacking has resurfaced to take its place. And so the slow but steady creep up the scale continues.

I’ve been here so so SO many times. I could just weep with the frustration. But I’ve been there before, too, and I know it doesn’t do any good. The only thing that does any good is plain old-fashioned hard work and consistency.

Tenacity.

And so here I am, starting over again. I’m about fifty pounds above my lowest weight, but also fifty pounds below my highest. It’s time to turn my story around.

I lost a staggering 100 pounds when I was in my mid-twenties. It was so incredibly hard: I swore I’d never let myself gain the weight back because I never thought I could do it again. But of course I did regain. It came on slowly, bit by bit, over the years. Several pregnancies. Moving house multiple times. Wonderful vacations. Horrible stress. In my thirties I fought with 20-30 of those pounds over and over and over again. And then, somehow, at some moment in time, I stopped caring.

I mean, I cared. I hated the way I looked and felt. I thought a lot about making healthier  food choices or taking on a new workout plan. I made a few token efforts. But I stopped really caring. About my health, my weight, how others perceived me, and how I perceived myself.

So here I sit, age 45, and have to tackle this monster again. Because I suddenly realize that I do care very much. If I feel slow and old at 45, how will I feel at 60? If I even make it to that age. Because I feel like if I continue down this path, I’m opening the door to diabetes and heart disease and all the other horrible things that come with obesity. All the things that can cut my wonderful, messy life short. And I care very much about that.

Tomorrow I begin. I know my path. I know what to do. My eyes are forward. One foot in front of the other, over and over and over again.

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live life like you mean it

What does that even mean? For me, it means living like I enjoy life, and like I want to continue living. It means treating my body well. And my mind well. It means doing things that nurture me.

Living life like I mean it means starting my day with yoga, and maybe ending it that way too. It means drinking clear water and delicious teas and strong coffee. It means fueling my body with food that makes me feel good and light and healthy. It means sunshine on my face and deep breaths of fresh air. It means long walks, and sometimes short. It means making sure I get a B-12 supplement and putting lotion on my dry skin and doing planks. It means getting my eyebrows done because that makes me feel prettier.

Living life like I mean it means reading good books that make me think, daring to dream, and daring to think about me. It means conversations with other women that make me feel good about being a woman. It means taking the time to breath deeply, to concentrate on the moment, to step back from stress if it’s causing me harm. It means doing the work instead of numbing myself. It means writing because writing makes me feel like me. It means figuring out what else I need to do to make me feel like me.

Living life like I mean it means loving my boys and relishing this time with them. It means cuddling my dog and laughing at his antics. It means loving and understanding and accepting my husband for who and what he is – he’s just another human with his own baggage trying to live his own life the best he can, after all. We’re in this together. It means making our house a home, and seeing the value in that, and not being ashamed to claim that. It means not calling myself “just” a mom or a housewife. It means accepting where I am and what we’ve built, and being happy with that.

Living life like I mean it means cutting out the things that are doing me harm. It means remembering that wine isn’t my friend. It means acknowledging that the extra weight I carry isn’t just emotional, and if I want to live a long, happy life, I need to lighten the load. It means leaving the chips and the cheese on the grocery store shelves.

Living life like I mean it means doing the hard work of acknowledging when I’m hurt, or am hurting others. It means standing up for myself when I’d rather back down, having tough conversations that I’d rather avoid, and taking up space when I’d rather hide in a corner. It also means listening to others when they stand up for themselves, acknowledging my part in problems and making amends, and making space for others when they want to come in.

I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t believe in reincarnation. I believe in this one life. This is it. I’ve been living this life for 45 years. I don’t recall when I stopped appreciating it. Stopped meaning it. But if I only get one life, I need to live it full out.

Like I mean it.

stress monster

Stress is a huge knot of uncomfortableness, lodged in the pit of my stomach. It’s robbing me of my happiness. I’ve gone 23 days without a drink. I should be proud and glowing and feeling like I can conquer the world. But instead anxiety and uncertainty are stealing that glow from me. It’s not of my making, and I can’t make it disappear. I just have to let it be, and be with it the best I can.

Last night was the first time since getting sober that I wanted a drink. It was a fleeting thought. I didn’t let it build. I simply acknowledged it and dismissed it. Just a month ago I would have nursed that thought until it was a full-blown craving that had to be acted upon. A month ago I would have woken up to the same problems that prompted that thought, with a hangover and guilt for companions.

Dismissing the thought was indeed a better choice. It’s a conscious choice I’m going to need to make over and over again. I’m going to have to shift slightly to make room for this monster in my life until it resolves and removes itself from my gut. I can call on yoga and breathing and writing to manage my response, but the catalyst will only move on when it is ready to move on. I can do nothing more.

Sitting with bad feelings is not for the weak. I cannot be weak here. I must be strong. I will not let one monster chase me into the grips of an even bigger one.

six things to do with those extra six hours

It’s amazing to me how many more hours there are in the day when you’re not drinking. Or planning to drink. Or out buying wine. Or deciding if you should drink. Bargaining with yourself about how much. When. Or recovering from a banger of a headache the next day. I think I’ve added a conservative six hours back into my day just by removing alcohol from my life.

So what to do with all these extra hours? The relaxing evenings and subsequent mornings have been great, but it’s been nearly three weeks. I’m ready to add something more to my life. And so, some stream of consciousness brainstorming. I could:

  1. read good books. I’m not talking trashy romance novels, although they have their place. I mean books that make me think deeply, consider other viewpoints, and spur me to positive change. I just finished reading Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life after seeing it recommended by Holly at Hip Sobriety. It’s an amazing read about finding your true calling, figuring out who you truly are, and committing yourself to living a life true to that calling. This is one I’ll reread multiple times, learning something new about the journey and myself each time. I need more books like this in my life.
  2. write more. I miss writing. I used to be good at it. Now more often than not I find myself staring at a blank screen, wondering where all the words went. Sometime in the last ten years they disappeared. Probably around the same time that fourth glass of wine began to show up every evening. I’m hoping the words come home. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I called them and they didn’t answer. Reading Cope’s book brought this back with such intensity I feel like the page is calling to me, and I must answer.
  3. get in shape. Newsflash: drinking the equivalent of a bottle of wine a night is roughly 625 calories. That’s 4,375 calories per week. That many extra calories every week, for years, have to go somewhere. On me, they’ve gone everywhere. It’s all jiggly. Thus far, I haven’t made any big modifications other than giving up the alcohol. That’s a huge change, and one I want firmly established before I take on any more challenges. Kicking the booze habit is far more important than losing a few pounds. My life, my soul, my sanity depend on it. But eating healthier and restarting an exercise habit are both on the horizon.
  4. learn a new skill. There are 101 things I’d like to learn – photography, Spanish, self-defense, web design, coding, public speaking, knitting, sewing, gardening…
  5. play the piano more. I love playing. I’m not particularly good, but I love it. It’s peaceful and beautiful and requires my total attention. When I play I’m so focused on what I’m doing right in that moment, there’s no opportunity for my mind to stray. It’s meditation for me.
  6. practice more yoga. Yoga has been an integral part of my early recovery. It’s another form of meditation for me. My body relishes the movement, my mind the stillness, my soul the connection. I am so thankful every day I make the time to step on my mat. The only question is why I don’t do it more.

The possibilities are endless.

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bottle poison

bottled up?

I’m almost afraid to write this. Maybe if I give voice to the thought everything will come crashing down around me. Maybe if I confess to what I’m feeling I’ll jinx myself.

Here it is….

This isn’t as hard as I was expecting it to be.

Truly.  I was expecting much gnashing and grinding of teeth, me stomping around in a pissed off mood, having to fight cravings every single night. I thought this was going to be terribly difficult and I was going to have to wrestle with myself every evening to keep my word and stay sober.

But that’s not the way it is at all. I feel like a switch has been flipped inside me. That the part of me that used to consider a glass of red my favorite panacea, my best buddy, my hard-earned reward…. it’s just gone. Short-circuited.

The stressors that used to “drive me to drink” are still there. My husband and I still bash heads on a regular basis. Money is still tight. My kids are still, well, kids. The demands of my life have not changed. But my reactions to those demands  have.

I think.

I tend to be a bottler. When I become upset, annoyed, stressed, angry, whatever – I bottle it up inside me. I swallow whatever emotion is eating away at me. And I keep swallowing, keep bottling it up, until I can’t possibly hold any more. Then, because it isn’t ladylike to erupt in anger at the people around you, I’ll have a drink – or four – to help dispel all that emotion eating away at my gut.

Well, I’m working at finding other ways to cope with life’s demands, at healthier ways of coping with my emotions than burying them deep inside. Deep breathing. Walking away. Yoga. Writing. More yoga. I’m working my way up to actually talking about things and expressing myself, but one step at a time, okay? So, are the coping mechanisms I’ve put in place actually working? Or are all those uncomfortable feelings just sitting there, waiting to erupt? Am I going to explode one of these days?

Today is day 14 for me. I’ve not had the slightest desire to drink. Not once. That yearning seems to have just poofed away into nonexistence.

That seems highly suspect to me.

I think one of two things is going on.

One, all those starts and stops I’ve made on this journey are finally paying off. All those day ones and twos and occasional threes finally added up. All the time I’ve spent educating myself on alcohol and addiction and the no-win situation it creates have finally won over my subconscious brain. All the blogs I’ve scoured, videos I’ve watched, books I’ve read have finally, profoundly impacted me, and I’m truly on the road to long-term teetotaling.

Two, I’m in denial and everything I’m bottling up is going to explode very soon.

I’m rooting for number one, personally.

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boat

up the creek

I’ve been quitting drinking for years now. I bet I’ve “quit” fifty times. No, double that. But I always end up right back in the same place: in the wine aisle of the grocery store, carefully selecting my preferred personal poison.

Usually these lackadaisical attempts to quit drinking for good only last a day or two. That’s it. Until last month the longest I’d gone without drinking in over a decade was three days. Three white-knuckled, bitchy, mom-the-martyr days.

I don’t look like I have a problem. Sure, I’m overweight with sallow skin, and my eyes look dead in the morning, and you’d guess my age as being at least ten years older than reality; but I still look “normal”. I’m not the “kind of person” who has issues with alcohol.

Except I am exactly the kind of person who has issues with alcohol.

It’s been creeping up on me for years now. The nightly ritual of a glass of wine became two, then three. Then, who knows? Because I switched to boxed wine (I’m classy that way) and it became easier to “top up” my glass and harder to discern just how fast the wine was disappearing. How convenient. Two ibuprofen with my morning coffee became a ritual. Forgetting conversations with my husband or movies watched with my kids became the norm.

I could see the danger lurking. Knew it was just a matter of time before I either had to pull myself together and away from the waiting destruction, or let it swallow me whole. And I didn’t want that. I don’t want that. I was heading up the proverbial creek, getting further and further from dry land, with no paddle in sight. If I continued on this course, I was either going to get stuck in a bog or find myself adrift on a huge expanse of water with no chance of reaching safety.

On September 22 I made the break. I launched myself off that boat and started making my way to dry land. It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. I’m wading through muck and slime, and pushing through reeds that smack and scratch. Mosquitoes are whining in my ears, bringing up every embarrassing story and every moment of weakness.

I know the boat is a lot closer than the shore. It would be so easy to turn around and climb back in. But I am determined not to look back.

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morning

After ten days of waking up fresh and alert, the difference is staggering. I am in in slow motion today, my movements bumbling, my thoughts even more so. I have a headache I am stubbornly refusing to take aspirin for, so I can just sit with the consequences of my temper tantrum. My right knee, the bad one, is aching. It often does after a drinking night – I fall asleep in a bad position and don’t re-adjust. Again, sitting with it instead of fixing it with ibuprofen. Punishment of a kind. My face feels puffy, the skin stretched over too much flesh and water.

Perhaps worst of all, I can’t taste my coffee. I hadn’t realized, these past ten days, how good that first cup of coffee tastes. Until today, when it might as well be some cup of diner shit. Oh, it’s doing it’s job. I’m feeling more alert. I feel functional. Any minute now kids are going to pour out of their beds and I will be up to the tasks of momming and teaching. But I can’t taste it. I’ve robbed myself of one of my favorite moments of the day.

Yesterday was a high-stress day. It started with a bad argument that I nursed throughout the day. Instead of meditating, or reading, or listening to calming music, or writing, or taking a walk, or having a good cry, or cuddling my dog, or rolling out my mat, or calling my mom, or texting a friend, or screaming at the top of my lungs. Instead of any of that, I sucked it all back in and nursed it all day long. Until my nerves were stretched and taught and ready to snap. Until I convinced myself wine was the only thing that was going to console me.

So, was it worth it? Fuck, no.