A [be]-longing

Growing up, I was a quiet kid. Not the awkwardly quiet kid that gets picked on or shoved in lockers (though, that did happen to me that one time.) No, not geeky quiet, because those kids actually belonged, to each other, at least. I was the kind of quiet kid that was basically invisible.

I was good in school. Never really struggled with the work, so I could hang with the honor roll kids in high school. I became one of them for a few years. I was just smart enough to not get noticed. Not so smart that they were calling my name out when awards were handed out, but smart enough not to be on the teacher’s radar.

Stealing a line from The Three Bears, I guess you could say I was “just right.”

Looking back, I realize I have always been a bit of a chameleon. Put me in a room of people, and watch me conform. (Step up, ladies and gentleman, watch her conform.)

This past six months has busted open something inside me that has me pushing back on my desire to fit in, blend in, go with the flow, be part of the collective. I think I’ve finally, 55 years into my life, figured out who I am. What I believe in. What I don’t believe in. What I stand for and what I won’t tolerate. And I’m feeling rather fierce about it.

I’ve always avoided conflict. My feelings easily hurt. When in a place where the conversation is primarily about a topic that I disagree with, I’ve always kept quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Just smile and don’t contribute. It’s fine.

No more.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize, I don’t have to fit in. I don’t have to be one of them. Yes, they are entitled to their beliefs about mask-wearing, gun control, (God-help-me) political leadership — but I don’t have to nod and smile. I can leave. Leave the conversation. Leave the gathering. And even leave the friendship.

While we all tend to have this desire to be accepted and brought into the fold, I think what I’ve learned these past few months is that it’s important for me to have friends that align with my spirit. I’ve spent too much time compromising my own values by not taking a stand and making my personal beliefs known to those who call me a friend. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do have to want the same things for humanity.

Quitting alcohol has changed my life (and me) in countless ways. And one of the biggest changes I’m noticing is this: I feel free to be me. Just as I am. Drinker. Non-drinker. Whatever. And here’s the kicker: I was the one stopping myself from being the best version of ME. All those years I spent trying to belong somewhere, and in the end, I was already there.

Forever and ever?

A friend asked me today whether I thought that I was done with drinking forever. And it’s a question that I’ve been thinking about probably since I crossed over into the triple digits of alcohol freedom.

Today is 121 days since that last drop of wine, and when she asked me THE QUESTION, my first response was that I really thought I was done. For good. And that’s the truth as I feel it today, in this exact moment. I really don’t see myself wanting to drink alcohol again. Like the ex-smoker who finds the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke revolting, I’m finding myself more and more turned off by alcohol as the days go by. The smell of red wine is sour to me and a once-loved sniff of straight bourbon makes my nose twitch. Too strong. Too alcohol-y. Too… something.

And why in the world would I ever want to go back? I’m sleeping like a baby. My skin is smooth and my eyes are bright. I don’t have to question whether I should drink on a Tuesday night or lament over whether it’s a good idea to have a second or third glass of wine on a Friday. My brain is free from any drinking decisions (this is where the moderation thing goes wrong for some…it’s too much thinking…thinking about drinking or not drinking.)

And then there’s the fact that I love waking up hangover free every single morning. Especially on Sundays. Having the entire day free and feeling 100% able to do anything i want is such a gift. Although I was never what you would call a heavy drinker, there have been plenty of Sundays when I felt a wee bit “delicate.” So much so that I wasn’t up for a hike In the woods or motivated to jump in my kayak or even spend an afternoon in the art studio. Sometimes it was a morning of counting the hours until the fragility wore off.

No more of those days.

I don’t have time for those wasted hours.

I want to feel good all the time.

So yes, I think today I feel like I’m done now and forever. And I suppose the short answer to that question, which I added in a text to my friend is this:

“I don’t think I want to drink ever again because I love they way I feel being 4 months without it in my body. I hope that I always feel that way because I have learned a lot about the effects and for me I want to slide into old age feeling great!!”

I guess that pretty much sums it up.

Basically amazing

Last week I reached out to a friend who I hadn’t connected with in quite a while. Just your basic “Hey, how are you doing?” message. His response has stuck with me since it popped up on my screen.

“I’m basically amazing.”

Honestly, I was surprised by his answer. I hate to say it, but I’m more accustomed to the “I’m fine,” “Doing Ok,” or “Eh, you know… ” Our go-to, default response to the “how are you” question is typically pretty lackluster, when you really think about it. We probably don’t even truly take in the question before responding with a cookie-cutter (blah, blah) response. We aren’t taking a beat to dig deep for the answer. We’re not stopping before answering to really consider how we really are doing.

My son, Nick, I’ve noticed, is unique in his responses. (He is also a glass half-full kind of guy, so that probably explains it. When I ask him how he’s doing, his response to this generic question is rarely mindless, and is 99% of the time, it’s a positive or upbeat response. “I’m doing great!” (Yes, even with the exclamation points!) or “Awesome! How are you?” It’s funny how that has stuck with me, how different his responses are over others, and how different they are even to my own. His positivity is inspiring.

So, I’ve decided that I just want to be “basically amazing.” Because, well, I am. Feeling basically amazing, I mean.

I have family and friends to love, who love me back. (Basically amazing.)

I live in a beautiful mountain home with the love of my life, where I create art and am so at peace. (Basically amazing.)

I am healthy. I am happy. I live life on my own terms. (Basically amazing. )

Why wouldn’t I be amazing?

When people ask me why I quit drinking, I think I’ll just tell them that it’s because I feel basically amazing when I’m not drinking. That might shut down the conversation, as there’s no room for negative feedback to that answer.

I had a pretty big health scare this week with my husband this week. He’s fine, but the big takeaway for me was the reminder that time is ticking. There is a before and an after. I’m happy that my “after” was that my husband came home and he’s fine. I’m grateful that we can continue our journey together. This is what I have. These days and hours. To love and be loved. To laugh and play and take care of each other. There isn’t going to be a better time to make the best of life.

So, how am I, you ask? I. Am. Basically amazing.

Why, oh why?

Today is Day 83 of this alcohol-free journey. Honestly, I had no idea how many days it’s been since that last sip of wine. I had to look it up on the phone app I downloaded on or about Day 3. The app keeps track of the number of days, as well as how much money I’ve saved. So, to date, it’s 83 days and 581 dollars.

Having that 581 dollars in my bank account seems like a pretty good answer to the question I get every time I take a pass on an alcoholic beverage.

But, why?

During the last 83 days, we have been pretty isolated from people. We’ve seen a few friends in the last month or so, but, for the most part, I haven’t had to answer the why question too many times. But, the thing is: I’ve had to answer it every time.

And I wonder, why? Why do I have to offer a reason for quitting? Like what I’m doing is just so crazy that there just has to be a logical reason for doing it? Why do people need to know?

And, more incredulously, why, when I give a reason, do some feel the need to people mock my reason? Scoff at my personal decision to give up drinking. They do, and they have. And… more will. They want to know why, and then if it’s not a reason that they’re expecting or that works for them, they dismiss it.

Which is why… you really don’t need to know why. My why is my own.

I have several friends who are vegetarians, and when they made that choice, I never asked them why. It’s really none of my business why. It’s a decision they made for their own personal reasons. I would never say to them “Oh come on, just one bite of steak. One bite won’t hurt you.” I would never challenge their lifestyle decision. And I support them when they visit my home — ensuring I have meat-free options.

I know that as we venture back out into our social circles, I will attract curious looks and unsettled reactions when I pass the wine bottle to the left or the right without pouring a glass for myself. I’ve already experienced the negative comments when I gave up beer last year. I heard the “Oh, come on, don’t be a party-pooper,” and have had to explain, to incredulous listeners, that I was doing “no beer for a year.” And even then, I had to explain why I would do that. It got old. Very quickly.

Here’s a why question: Why is it socially acceptable to put someone on the spot for not drinking?

But here’s the thing: I don’t care if you drink. I really and truly don’t. So why should you care if I don’t? Why does the WHY matter? I don’t ask people why they drink. I don’t ask them why they drink beer versus wine. I don’t ask them how much they drink or when they started drinking. I. Don’t. Care.

Socially distant

It’s been exactly 2 months since that last glass of wine. I remember it well, as it was Mother’s Day. I enjoyed a few glasses of my favorite wine, while reading a book and sitting on my porch swing. It was lovely. As I put the empty wine glass in the sink, I remember thinking, “Well, that’s it then.” I had been thinking of quitting for a couple years. I spent the weeks prior to Mother’s Day reading everything I could about ditching the drink. So, it was not a bittersweet moment. There were no feelings of loss or regret as I rinsed the drops of cabernet from the bottom of my favorite glass.

I was done.

When I made that decision to quit, we were well into our socially-distant protocols for the pandemic. My husband and I had not seen any of our friends since January. As I sit here now, some 61 days later, I realize that our current socially-distant reality most definitely made my early days of this journey all the easier.

As we navigate our new normal– amid still rising coronavirus cases and moving target guidelines — I find myself apprehensive about re-entering my social scene, even with masks and distancing. I’m having a hard time figuring out whether it’s that I just don’t feel comfortable yet due to the virus, or if there’s a much larger contributor to my anxiety about seeing friends up close and personal.

I’ve been in a pretty sweet bubble for a couple months. I live in a beautiful log home, with mountain breezes that sweet across the porch where I spend hours reading and writing. I have an art studio on our second floor porch that feels like I am floating high about the trees. I play there. There is nothing I could want, except… company. People. Friends. Conversation. Laughter. Storytelling and … wine drinking.

So, yes. There’s the elephant in the room. One hundred percent of my social life with friends has involved wine. Or other forms of drinking. Wineries. Breweries. BBQs with lovely cocktails. Game nights with bourbon tastings.

It’s pretty easy to be this new version of myself (who I love, by the way), when I don’t have to introduce her to anyone who might not like her as much as the old me.

I am smart enough to know that yes, this will happen. When I do finally get out into the world and see more friends again, some will find that this new me doesn’t quite fit within their circle any longer. The invitations will likely drop off and my tribe will be redefined. And, I have to be fine with that. I didn’t do this for anyone else. This new ME is all for me.

For now, I’m doing a day-by-day thing. I’ve spent time with my BFF and it was fine. Weird for her, I think, but fine. She knows me. She accepts me, for sure, no matter what. But it’s still a change in our dynamic. I get it. But I also know I can’t take on those emotions – those feelings others around my not drinking. I have my journey, and I guess, if they want to remain friends, they will have their own.

Until then, I remain socially distant and happily alcohol free.

Nothing to “wine” about

It’s been 47 days since that last glass of wine. For someone who really enjoyed a glass (or 2) of wine to mark the transition from work day to evening, that’s a huge accomplishment. So, yay me. Nearly 50 days without a drop of alcohol.

But here’s the thing: I don’t feel at all like I’m denying myself anything. Every day, when 5 o’clock nears, I allow myself the freedom to choose. Drink or not drink. And every day, for 47 days, I chose not to drink. And the more days that I choose sparkling water or ginger ale over a glass of wine, the less I even think about other options. To be honest, I really haven’t had cravings or been tempted by the sound of a cork popping as my husband opens a bottle on any given night. I’m just not interested.

I talked a little bit in my last entry about that freedom, but today, as we contemplate the idea of signing up for a workkamping gig at a beautiful winery in Wisconsin, I wondered if I would be tempted by hanging out with rows and rows of big fat grapes.

Would I be drawn in by the joyful sounds of carefree wine drinkers clinking glasses across a long wine bar? The pure irony (or cruelty?) of this particular scenario is not lost to me. This time last year, if I was approached with the opportunity to work 20 hours a week at an Italian vineyard, I would immediately research the wine list to see what lovely varietals I had in store for me. Today as we contemplated the idea, I cruised through the online menu and was so excited to see beverages that included San Pellegrino (by the 1/2 or full liter) + a full range of San Pellegrino Sodas, including Limonata and Aranciata Rossa! How fun!

The idea of working at a vineyard is just as intriguing as it was when wine was the big draw but now it’s because I’ve never worked in a winery. I’ve never been to Wisconsin. This “gig” would offer us an opportunity to experience so many new things. Be introduced to a new place, new people. Something entirely different than our day-to-day. An adventure. The work-camping allows RV-ers (like us) to work a few hours a week in exchange for a campsite, and other very cool perks of the job.

There is a particular kind of empowerment that has been percolating within me since quitting. Maybe it’s just my ego on fire with the “I can do anything” chatter, but the idea of leaving my life behind for 2 or 3 months and going on a journey that is completely unknown sounds like just the thing to do.

That’s the thing that’s so great about life, right? The not knowing part. I, for one, am ready to toss out the script and ad-lib a little.

Or maybe I’m already doing that! 🙂

Free and clear

Google says: After 30 days without alcohol, the fog starts to clear from your brain and you finally feel like yourself again. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol.

As I passed the 30-day mark yesterday, I can attest to the fact that since ditching alcohol I’ve lost a little weight, slept so much better, felt less anxious, and just feel happier overall. When talking to a friend today, I found myself almost giddy as I shared my alcohol-free journey. She and I have had plenty of conversations around drinking and wine–of cutting back and maybe even giving it up. I was excited to share my milestone with her and so pleased to hear her say that I had inspired her to consider her own journey toward an alcohol-free life.

There are most certainly some challenges ahead, as I introduce new self to my friends once we are socializing again, but I feel confident in my decision to embrace this new version of myself. I really do like her so much more. She is clear-headed. Calm. Motivated. A little carefree, almost. And she’s still fun. Well, no LESS fun than she was when she was drinking!

The freedom that comes with choosing not to drink is really motivating for me. I’m free from the self-talk (wine or no-wine tonight?) I’m free from the Sunday hangovers. I’m free from the self-shaming the day after a few glasses too many. I am free from falling asleep on the couch before the movie ends and free from waking up in the middle of the night with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth due to hydration.

I’m just plain free.

Thinking about drinking

Day 23. I haven’t spent this many days without wine in decades. That sounds awful, just writing that, but even when I was a newbie wine drinker, I drank wine a few days a week — so yea, 23 days without a drop of alcohol feels very liberating!

I started this personal blog so that I could track the changes to my life — the way I felt, etc — along this journey. As I don’t plan on going back to drinking, the number of days don’t really matter to me as much as the way my life is changing without alcohol in it. But there IS something about ticking off days on the calendar. Everyone likes to track success, right? I think it’s motivating to know those numbers.

The biggest change I’ve found now that I’ve surpassed three weeks is that I don’t think about drinking anymore. Not at all. Not at 4 o’clock, when happy hour was on the horizon. And not at 5 o’clock when the workday is done.

The last few years, I’ve spent a lot of hours thinking about drinking. Thinking about whether I should have a glass of wine on a Tuesday. Thinking about whether I should have a good bottle of wine with our Italian dinner on a Wednesday. Thinking about whether I should NOT drink on a Thursday. Thinking that it probably wouldn’t be any fun to go out for date night at the local bar we love and order just a club soda.

So much thinking…about drinking.

It seemed like all I ever did was think about not drinking. Even in the morning, when chatting with a friend, our conversations of late have turned to the topic of drinking. Both of us on the same page that we really felt like the two or three glasses of wine most days of the week was probably not helping us, health-wise. Neither of us would be classified as “alcoholics” (though, I have tons of thoughts on that whole term…), but it had become clear to us that drinking was a big part of our everyday lives.

And what did we really THINK about that?

We talked about how I wanted to change my relationship with alcohol so often that I think both of us were sick of talking about it. We talked about not drinking Mon – Thurs. And I tried to stick to that. We talked about arthritis and aches and pains we were feeling in our post 50-year-old bodies — blaming alcohol as a likely culprit. And yet, when 5 pm rolled around, I popped the cork on an everyday Cabernet and all conversations about the perils of alcohol were abandoned.

The next morning, foggy-headed after drinking that third glass of red, I’d feel that regret. Why didn’t I just have one glass of wine with dinner and be done with it? I remember one time even looking in the mirror and calling myself an idiot. It didn’t feel good to feel like a failure.

So, today on Day 23, I woke up again at 6:30, jumped out of bed and within an hour had taken our dog for a walk AND enjoyed a bike ride with my husband. And tonight, when 5 pm rolls around, I’ll be sipping a Perrier Lime, knowing that tomorrow morning I wake up with a clear head and a positive attitude.

No more thinking about drinking.

Day 17 and it’s all so good

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone and it was a beautiful, peaceful hangover-free weekend. We celebrated my husband’s 62nd birthday — social distancing with our son and his wife — and it was so great to spend time with them without the haze of two or three glasses of wine.

Before I decided to embark on this AF journey, I pictured birthdays and other gatherings as a events where I would feel left out if I wasn’t drinking. But this past weekend — one that is typically marked by cocktails and empty wine bottles — included writing time, creating art, reading on my porch swing, family time and so many more peaceful moments.

It’s nuts, but when the bottle of wine was opened for my husband and DIL, I didn’t feel compelled to join them. And in a kind of sadistic way, I felt quite the opposite. Not totally judging (not totally… but subconsciously??), I still almost felt that it was unfortunate that they even wanted to drink the wine.

It so hard to explain how little I want to drink, now, just 17 days after my last glass of wine. Having read so many books lately about the effects of alcohol to the body, it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut when someone cracks open a beer or pours another glass of wine.

And I REALLY don’t want to be that person. We all have our own journeys and I have to remember that this is mine and mine alone.

But still…

As I share all of the amazing benefits I’m experiencing from not drinking, there’s a part of me that is hoping that my husband will have a lightbulb moment and want to join me. Be my AF partner. Experience this amazing new, clear reality together. We’ve built such an amazing life together and what if there’s EVEN more we can do if we were both AF?

As a whiskey connoisseur, it’s unlikely, but there’s a definite feeling of camaraderie that makes that idea appealing to me.

Today is Day 17 and here’s a short list of some of the changes I’ve noticed:

  • Bright eyes
  • Softer, blotch-free skin
  • A more positive attitude
  • A sense of calm
  • Sleeping like a log (9 whole hours straight last night!)
  • Clear-headed and motivated

The big change I’m feeling, I can’t even explain. I just feel more ME. I feel present in my life. Calmer and living more in the moment. I guess you’d call it being mindful?

The popular mindfulness app, Headspace, says mindfulness is “…the ability to be fully present in the moment,” and that’s exactly how I’m feeling. Present. Happy. Peaceful. Hopeful. Life is so much better when you’re not spending your time waiting for a hangover to pass or watching the clock for happy hour. If I’m being real, yes, I’ve wasted a lot of time on both those things.

Today, I am living right here, in this exact moment and it’s glorious.

Waistlines and wine bellies

It’s been two weeks since that last glass of wine, and I’m feeling like an entirely different person. I kid you not. Like a whole new, clear-headed, positive-vibing, glowy-skinned, jump-out-of-bed-with-smile-at-7am new person.

Except that when I stepped on the scale two days ago (fully expecting to have dropped 10 pounds of wine fat), I was surprised to see the number creep well above the last check in. WELL above. Given the fact that I have not checked in with my current weight situation since pre-COVID-19 days, I really couldn’t say what that number looked like two weeks ago, but dammit, I was really and truly expecting a whole different number to flash on that dumb screen.

As part of this journey, I am fully anticipating extreme weight loss to be one of those things I add to the PROs column of the “why I quit drinking” spreadsheet. Given the fact that I was drinking in excess of the “moderate” consumption guidelines for women (which is one drink a day), and with one glass of red wine equaling about 125 calories, my weekly calorie intake should reduce by at least 2000 – 2500 calories a week.

So, they say that patience is a virtue… so I’ll check back in at the 30-day mark to see if those numbers on the scale reflect my anticipated weight drop, but for now, I think I’ll focus on not baking any more sheet cakes, cheese bread, scones, muffins, cookies, or any of the other quarantine-inspired goodies I’ve been whipping up during the last 72 days of isolation.

Yes, it’s been 72 days! Doing that actual day count on the calendar just now was a bit crazy. 72 days of not socializing. 72 days of being in the house. 72 days of recipes shared on Facebook that I “just have to try!” including:

The BEST Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.

Homemade Cheese Bread

Kitchen Sink Cookies

It’s no wonder the pounds have packed on. I’m certain I’m not alone here. This pandemic has many of us digging through the pantry in search of the one yeast packet that hasn’t expired in 2008.

So I will give myself some slack, stop filling my face with sheet cake, drink more water and check in on day 30 to see if I’m making any dent in the wine weight.