I used to think it was all too much. Being a mom of two. A wife. A business owner. The income earning member of the family whose professional success could make or break us, and whose "paycheck" could never be predicted or relied upon. It was so monumentally stressful I didn't know how I'd make it from one day to the next. But, I worked hard to keep all the balls in the air without complaining. And, of course, without asking for help. Over time, I perceived all these things were conspiring and ganging up on me. Ultimately, the despair I felt being hurled directly at my soul nearly killed me.
I have flirted with alcoholism for the better part of my adult life. About two-and-a-half years ago, I began a stint of active alcohol addiction as an extraordinarily functional, or high bottom, drunk. I can play the blame game all day long. But the bottom line is that the stress of life and my own weaknesses created the perfect storm for my downfall. A fall that had the potential to be far more devastating than it was. A fall from which I have been lucky enough to get back up and brush myself off. A fall that has taught me there’s nothing more powerful than the stress of life, especially when you harness it in such a way that it empowers you vs. beats you down.
Fifteen months ago, I woke up from the nightmare of alcoholism. And, what I've done since then to get and stay sober has resulted in a smattering of side effects that have dramatically decreased my stress level. The great part is, addict or not, any parent can benefit from what I've learned.
Not All Fuel is Created Equal
We all know the old saying, "You are what you eat," right? Well, somehow, at 43 years old, I am just figuring out how very true this is. I've starved myself, trying to live on the high of how good weight loss felt. I've lived on sugar and caffeine, constantly demanding more energy than the buzz could deliver. I've lived on a roller coaster of caffeine and booze, revving myself up to go full throttle and then forcing myself to down shift and coast along on a high.
None of these things served me, my family, or my clients. But, when I got sober, I detoxed my body of more than just alcohol and learned how to eat right. I gave up caffeine, sugar, and dairy, and focused on protein, whole grains, veggies, and fruit. Suddenly, it became so much easier to see, breathe, sleep. Focus and clarity occur naturally instead of needing to be forced. My energy level remains constant, without the dramatic highs and lows. I don't feel fried and on the edge all the time. The right foods give me the fuel I need to feel balanced and capable, two of the superpowers I use to combat stress on a daily basis.
Carving Is the New Multitasking
I used to pride myself on my ability to multitask. I'm not going to lie. There are times I'd fall flat on my face without the expertise that earned me that coveted "Multitasker of the Year" award. But, over the past 15 months, I've honed a new skill. I've become a master sculptor. I carve. And, I create boundaries.
To succeed at sobriety, I had to learn to live one day at a time. Sometimes, that means living one thing at a time. And that's where the multitasking stops and the carving begins. I think of the old song "Turn, Turn, Turn" by The Byrds: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose." There's a time for playing with my kiddos. Yes, at 11 and 9, they still like it when mom plays - whether it's basketball or hockey in the driveway, arts and crafts, or a walk. There's a time for work - I try to limit work to a couple of hours before the kids get up and the time they're at school. Afternoons and evenings are for the kids - homework, sports, other activities. Evenings after the kids are in bed are for decompressing - reading, writing, taking a bubble bath, watching television, and, of course, a wine glass filled with iced tea. Weekends are for chores and family time.
I admit I've oversimplified this to make a point. Sometimes lines get blurred or even crossed. There are days I need to slip in a few errands during work hours, and there are times I have to take work calls while shuttling the kids around. But, for the most part, carving works. It helps me maintain focus and prioritize tasks. And, carving allows for self care. You'd be amazed how much time you can create in a day when you carve out chunks of time for the tasks on your to-do list.
Am I perfect at it? Heck no! But, because multitasking is such a flat out, dizzy, overwhelming state of existence, and carving is controlled and calculated, carving makes it much easier to deflect what's nonessential as well as get back on track after the poop hits the fan.
Good Moms Say, "No"
Or at least, "Not right now." I say both things. A lot. And, my kids call me a mean mom. A lot. But, I don't mind. And, I don't feel guilty. Why? Because my kids having only what they need as opposed to everything they want teaches them they don't have to be wealthy and surrounded by material items to be happy and popular and successful. My kids recognize the value of extras and appreciate them when we decide they are appropriate.
I don't act a certain way, buy certain items, or say certain things just to fit in or make myself or my kids popular with anyone else. I am honest and authentic. This is a huge stress reducer. Truly.
Intercepting the Pass = Breathing
Even at 11 and 9 my kids can be all sorts of crazy needy. But, only when I've spent the last 20 minutes giving them exactly what they need will they try to throw me off course.
For example, I've just unloaded the car and put all the groceries away, handed out snacks, poured drinks, and started a load of laundry. As I step into the bathroom and go to close the door, one kid tosses a "Hey, Mom!" I swiftly catch it with a "Just a moment, please, unless it's an emergency," and close the door. They know not to say another word until I come out. I know this is a chance to come up for air for a moment. If they really need me, they'll be waiting on the other side of the door when I emerge.
Sometimes, if I really need some time, I'll check email, Facebook, and Instagram on my phone before I open the door. But, usually I just settle for washing my hands twice - the extra breath and moment of peace is always worth it.
Doubling Down on Gratitude is a Winning Bet
Knowing things could have turned out much differently for me not too long ago has altered my perspective a bit, and I make it a point to find things to celebrate. Every single day. Sometimes I don't have to look too hard.
I pause to look around and notice small things that make me smile. They fill my heart with joy. And, when I am grateful or I appreciate something, I tend to take a beat.
On my walk the other day, I saw a butterfly. I wasn't looking for it, but there it was just waiting for me to stop and enjoy it. I was pressed for time, but this was something not to be missed. I took a photo and shared it on social media.
Earlier that day, I wished a good morning to the aunt of a single mom friend. The aunt had been recruited to deliver my friend's daughters, her nieces, to the camp bus stop. Her response to my greeting was, "Is it really?" It took the wind right out of my sails, but I came back with "Yep. I think it is. It's going to be a great day. Look, you've started by doing something so wonderful for someone. It takes a village and I know she appreciates you."
I don't just thank people. I let them know I appreciate them. I tell them they are gorgeous. Fabulous. A blessing.
Last week, after a particularly difficult morning with the kids, the driver of the car in front of me in the Dunkin Donuts drive thru line paid for my iced coffee. I truly believe these things happen to those who invite in (manifest) the kind gesture with their own behavior.
There's Nothing Selfish about Self Care
It's been said by others and bears repeating: Self care is not selfish. It's what breathes life into our souls and lifts us back up when we feel beaten down.
I used to think drinking wine at the end of the day was self care - whether I was celebrating success, drowning sorrows, or simply attempting to come up for air. For me, however, that wine was not self care. It was self destruction.
Finding new versions of self care in sobriety has been challenging. But, I'm getting the hang of it. I now make time for manicures and pedicures on a more regular basis. I have my roots touched up more frequently, even choosing to wear my hair shorter so I have to get it cut every five to six weeks. It forces me to take a time out.
I walk. About 20 miles per week. Outdoors. Being close to nature is hugely therapeutic and energizing. A stress reliever for sure. If I can't be the best version of myself, what good am I to those around me?
Perfection is Overrated (So are Showers)
I don't have to be perfect. I just have to try my best. And, I don't have to be freshly showered every time I leave the house. That's what deodorant is for.
The less pressure we put on ourselves to be flawless, perfect, and unrivaled, the better we prepare our children for reality. For failure. For defeat. For mistakes.
As parents, it's not our job to make our kids' lives perfect. Or hand them everything they want. Or pave their roads with diamonds. It's our job to provide them with necessities, teach them to be kind and loving, and fill them with respect for themselves, others, and the world around them. That's stressful enough.
At the end of the day, I honestly consider myself privileged to know the routine challenges that make parenting the incredible blessing it is. Can it be stressful? You bet! But, I embrace motherhood as an opportunity to learn and grow, right alongside my kids.
We all have choices. And, to a certain extent, the choices we make determine the level of stress we experience in our lives. Being a parent is crazy. Hectic. Sometimes out of control. Unpredictable. Challenging. That's what we signed up for. And, it's beautiful. It's life.