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Photo 3978451 © Christopher King | Dreamstime.com

I have this weird anxiety when something comes in the mail. It’s because historically, anything that came in the mail was stressful — an unexpected bill, unintelligible legal documents in German, the energy company wanting me to somehow read the meter (which I always screw up, and they end up calling to talk me through it).

Instead of opening the mail, I would put it in a stack and try to forget about it. The thing is, I want to be the kind of woman who opens the mail as soon as she gets it. Not only do I want to open it, but I want to throw away the envelope instead of leaving it in a pile on the dining room table. I also want to be the kind of person to take out the garbage when it’s full (or ensure the kids do it), and not just stuff empty envelopes in until the garbage explodes.

A lot of things have changed for me in 2020. While the world seems to be crumbling around us, I appear to be getting my feet on the ground, finding my direction and enjoying life. I feel more like myself than I ever have.

During lockdown, I did this thing called future authoring. It is basically a set of questions you answer in detail to describe not only what your future looks like but how you get there.

You know me: I’ve run ten marathons. I’ve trekked the Himalayas. I work out regularly. I completed a manuscript. And yet, the plateau I’d been standing on seemed to stretch out forever. I felt like I had an invisible lasso around my ankle, that I couldn’t see well enough to undo.

And the mail kept piling up.

Something has been bothering me: a nagging thought that has eluded me until recently.

I love wine.

And not with the restraint of a sommelier.

I am in a middle-aged, yoga-pant-wearing, pinot-grigio culture. It is accepted, joked about and normalized that when stress happens, we reach for a glass of wine.

I’m not trying to wine-shame anyone here, but my dependence on alcohol, either through habit or as stress-relief, was holding me back from being the woman I described in my future authoring.

I had to simply face the fact I wasn’t just drinking the standard 5 ounce glass. I would have two or three big glasses. In lockdown, I could consume half a bottle a night 5 days a week, or sometimes an entire bottle on any given Friday or Saturday. When things were stressful (and they’re pretty much always stressful as a solo mom), I would grab a dry red and unwind. While I didn’t drink to feel “normal,” I do feel I had turned to alcohol to numb my feelings. If you know my story, you understand there are a LOT of feelings I’d prefer to keep comfortably numb.

For Christmas one year I got a cheese plate made from a flattened wine bottle. The label on it whimsically stated: “I make wine disappear, what’s your superpower?” I know it was meant kind-heartedly, but it bothered me. That’s not how I wanted to be known. With a history of addiction in my family, and addictive tendencies myself, I was worried I could easily keep the unhealthy drinking habits my entire life. And the amount of drinking was considered quite normal these days. Besides, I wasn’t drinking as heavily as I was a couple years ago.

So when a friend of mine said they were starting a 90 day challenge of no alcohol, I decided to try sobriety. I started a little later than they did, but 11 days into this thing, I’ve already noticed some changes.

My hair

Normally, after I shower, I immediately have to blow-dry, flat-iron and add product to get rid of all the frizz. My hair felt like straw if you ran your hands through it. After about a week of not drinking, I woke up one morning, and my hair had spiral curls. I had always blamed my damaged hair on the hard German water and the box dye I use. But in reality, it had everything to do with hydration. For every glass of wine I drank, I could have lost 100 mL of hydration. I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure hair needs water to live.

I have abs?!

I like to blame my belly on having birthed four large babies. But since my youngest is 16, I can’t really use the “baby belly” excuse anymore. While there is some loose skin there, after eleven days of no alcohol (and eating clean), I don’t have to suck-in to put on my jeans. In fact, I can see definition in my abs.

And ribs?!

Yep. I can see my ribs now. They’re not grossly protruding skeletally, but I can see they exist. My bras fit better around my ribcage and my formerly tight tee shirts have a little more room to breathe.

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2 things I never do: wear booty shorts and take off my shirt at Crossfit. Yet, this is me. All my leggings were dirty, and it was humid AF in the gym that day.

“Skinny” jeans

I have a pair of jeans from six years ago (at the height of my marathon running & obsessive/restrictive eating) that now fit me perfectly. I don’t have to lay across the bed to zip them. Much like fitting a collar to a dog, I can easily slip my fingers around the waistband. I wear a belt to keep them from sliding down. It is an oddly satisfying thing to put on a pair of jeans and to be comfortable in them.

The scale

I hate scales. Hate them. I become obsessed with the numbers. If I’m .01 kg heavier on one day, I’ll beat myself up (slightly obsessive personality here). And scales don’t account for muscle mass, which being a Cross-fitter, is pretty significant. However, with none of my clothes fitting me properly, I decided to step on the dreaded beast. I was shocked to discover I was at my “ideal” weight. I haven’t been this weight in six years. When I WAS last at this weight, I was in a near constant state of hunger and deprivation. The photo the coach snapped at the gym was a shock. I didn’t recognize myself at first. I’m sure my weight will stabilize at some point. For now, it’s going down every day. At the time of this edit, I’m half a pound below my ‘ideal.’ This is a very interesting experiment.

Scarfing my food

With the cessation of merlot, I’m gravitating towards healthy food. I can’t get enough veggies, and I’ve mostly stopped eating meat, except for fish. I don’t even crave dairy — and I do love cheese (when I say “love” it means eating half a wheel). I was always gluten-free and rarely ate sugar, so sweets weren’t an issue for me.

The weirdest thing about my eating is I inhale my food now. Normally, I take a long time to eat (it used to drive my mom bats). Now I can devour a huge salad in minutes. I have to make myself slow down and chew, instead of swallowing meals like a python. I’ve also found I get much fuller with less food. I had a single gluten-free vegan pancake Saturday and was stuffed. I had a small second one because it felt weird to only have one.

Thirsty…all the damn time

The only time I’ve had this much water was while trekking the Himalayas. As we gained altitude, it was important to drink 3–4 liters a day. I easily down 3 liters of water a day. My pee comes out like chamomile tea that hasn’t been steeped long enough. I mostly drink still water, but I also enjoy fizzy water with lime too. God bless LaCroix.

Exercise

While I do work out regularly, my fitness is moving to a new level. I’m not necessarily lifting more weight (that will take time) but my body feels better. Because I feel lighter, I don’t dread long runs — I WANT to take them. Instead of being fueled by alcohol calories, my workouts are fueled by veggies — and it makes a huge difference. I wish I could see my cells under a microscope. They’re probably the Schwarzenegger of cells by now — ripped and flexing to each other. My endurance has improved drastically just because I’m giving my body what it needs. I’m not exercising any more than normal, and I’m not on some crazy diet (I still eat some carbs and healthy fats). I have simply stopped drinking wine.

Visceral fat

One reason people can have beer bellies is because fat is winds its way around the internal organs. This is typically why you see dudes with skinny arms & legs walking around like they’re 8 months pregnant. I can imagine my liver saying, “Thanks! Now let’s detox this body!” Not only has my bloated belly gone away, but I’ve also reduced my risk of fatty liver disease. Wrapping the liver in a sumo suit hindered its ability to get rid of toxins and metabolize fat. Now that the liver doesn’t have to battle the Malbec, it can get to work on my love handles.

Calories

I knew this intellectually, but I didn’t realize how much “a glass or two” of wine, five days a week would pack on the weight. It’s not just the empty calories (apx 570 for a bottle of merlot), but excess weight also happens because the body will burn the calories from alcohol before it burns calories from food. Having a slice of pizza and a beer once in a while probably isn’t going to set you back tremendously, but consistently chugging the Cab means your body is running on alcohol and storing excess calories on random parts of your body.

The challenges

Salt

I love salt potato chips. And pommes mit mayo. LOVE them, which translated means I’ll eat an entire bag of chips or the largest box of fries that fits through a drive-through window. I’m sure I’ll have those things again at some point. But for now to get my salt fix, I’ll have a small bowl of veggie chips, salted popcorn, or salted pistachios (beware of ‘salt & pepper pistachios, as they contain sugar for some reason). Those snacks seem to satisfy my cravings for salt. I don’t crave sweets, but if I do want some kind of desert, fruit is enough to make me happy.

Wine Cravings

If I have a craving for that red wine I love, I opt instead for a fruit juice mixed with fizzy water. I also LOVE the Holunder Bionade, but because it contains sugar, it is a special treat. I want to avoid replacing wine with a sugary drink.

The blues

Days 1 through 3 were easy-peasy. I was busy working on the new apartment, and because I was out of my typical element, I hadn’t established habits or routines at the new place. Then day 4 happened. It felt similar emotionally to giving birth. You bounce between elated and devastated faster than a William’s sister can smash a tennis ball. Even the weather was dreary and every possible thing went wrong that day. I wanted nothing more than to pop open a bottle of Apotheic Crush.

But once I start a challenge, I don’t quit. Mike used to say I could break a leg during a marathon and keep running. I would agree, thinking it was a compliment (it wasn’t). In this challenge, my desire to cross the finish is stronger than my desire to mill about the starting line.

Sleep

When I shut my eyes and dream of handsome lumberjacks, I stay asleep all night. This is unusual for me, as I usually wake up to my dog’s snoring & then my head spins with my to-do list. Nowadays, I dream vividly all night and wake up with energy. I love being the only person on the trail, walking my dog at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.

Energy

I’ll be honest, while I wake up with energy, I start to feel sluggish in the afternoon. I don’t know if this will change in the coming months, but for now, I take advantage of the bursts of energy and also allow myself to nap if I need to. The crazy thing is when I nap, even for half an hour, I will dream.

Creativity

I used to think of writers mostly as melancholy alcoholics. I didn’t think there was such a thing as a writer who didn’t drink alcohol. I’ve found that not only is my mind active while I sleep, but I’ve had some of the most creative ideas for my stories during waking hours. I’m excited about projects I’ve had in hibernation. They’ve woken up and crawled out of their caves, and I can’t wait to fatten them up.

Triggers

Nothing brings out my victim shadow like a glass of wine. While I do hear an occasional murmur from her, she pretty much stays in her corner. I have to keep an eye on her, because I know she wants nothing more than to sabotage me.

Friday was difficult because that’s the day I usually buy wine for the weekend. I was grumpy and out of sorts most of the day. I made sure to have a good nap and a good meal. It wasn’t by any means easy. I felt like Charlie Brown under a rain cloud. But I reminded myself the feeling would pass, and this challenge is worth the temporary discomfort.

Happiness

Alcohol numbs feelings, which includes both pain and joy. By numbing the pain, I was also numbing the joy. “Happy” means many things. Mostly, it’s just being myself. My real self. Some days, I’m giddy with joy (ironically, ‘drunk’ with it); and it’s not just the development of the new love interest, but I’m rediscovering that happy, positive self who’s always been inside.

Just as I have to allow myself to be sad and cry when I need to, I’ve had to allow myself to feel happy. It sounds strange, because everyone wants to be happy, right? Sometimes not. Sometimes things don’t feel ‘right’ unless something catastrophic is happening. Now, I let myself giggle and laugh. I snort when I’m very relaxed. I have to remind myself happiness is cultivated. I have to water it, feed it and let it grow. Life does not have to be a barren wasteland.

3 Months

At the onset, I didn’t think about how long three months was. It was simply a challenge, and I took it. Like trekking the Himalayas or running a marathon, it can only be done through daily dedication. I can’t see the finish line from here, but that’s okay. My goal at the end is not to go on a bender, but to change my drinking habits. I’ll likely have a glass of wine on occasion, but I’m going to have a plan for myself for when this is done. I don’t want to go back to how I was. I want to be able to handle stress in healthy ways. I want to get stronger and leaner. I want to go into the second half of my life healthy in mind and body. This challenge won’t be easy, but I know I have the strength to do it.

That’s the real goal: to change my unhealthy habits. It may seem drastic to some, but “cutting back” on the wine didn’t work for me. 90 days without alcohol just might.

Eventually, I won’t have to think about taking out the trash or opening the mail. I’ll just do it out of habit.

Written by

American expat in Germany, formerly conservative homeschool mom now navigating widowhood; runner, writer, Crossfitter, trying to figure **it out

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