Complicated (a.k.a. Three Months Without Wine)

Posted On: 04.16.12

I took this picture yesterday. We were on our way to breakfast. It was a beautiful morning and I lagged behind – as I like to do sometimes – and I captured them. My creatures. My man and my girls. In other words: My everything. Everything. It’s interesting how complicated life can be or seem, but then BAM you are hit with something on a sunny Sunday morning in Spring, and everything is suddenly simple and clear and you know what it is all about, this life thing: Them. It is about them. And they are an extension of you, connected to you in ways you can only dream of articulating, but the point is that it is also about you. You and them. Them and you.

I have not had any alcohol for three months now. And I do not say this to brag though I am proud of myself because this hasn’t been totally easy-breezy stuff for me; No, these months have been gorgeous but also complicated. Yes, both. Things can be both. I say this – that I am 25% through my year without wine – because it does feel like an accomplishment of sorts; three months is neither nothing nor forever. It is a solid nugget of time. I say this – that I have dried out for three months – because it is important for me to check in with myself and see what I have learned so far.

What have I learned? Too many things to enumerate and examine here, and many of them might have absolutely nothing to do with alcohol. A few things though: I don’t miss it. Except when I do. I sleep much better now that I have not had alcohol in my system for a considerable while. I work out much more and much more efficiently when I sleep better and have more energy. I have been far more productive in writing my novel – maybe because I am feeling great physically and not slowing myself down with dips into the vino over the course of the week?

I have been a better mom. This is the biggest thing by far. And I know it sounds odd. Why would eliminating a few glasses of wine here and there make me a better parent? I’m not sure and I’m sure it wouldn’t work this way for everyone, but when I stopped drinking I felt this palpable shift in my attitude toward my life as a mom. I have been more serene and less snappy. I have been more cheerful and less overwhelmed, less inclined to feel anxious, less inclined to doubt myself. Conversely, I have felt this wild clarity in moments with my trio; I literally feel myself noticing things more, engaging with my girls in silly and serious ways, all in all, enjoying more of my time with them. I don’t pretend to know what this is all about, but I think all of these things must be connected, right? I think feeling good, and happy, and working out and writing up a storm, and sleeping well… I had dinner with a friend recently and she walked me to the corner to hail a cab after we finished our meal and she said something. It seems like you are doing a great job with your girls. In the past, I would have wriggled and deflected, but I surprised myself that night, words just pouring from me. Thanks, I said. I feel really good about that part of my life. And I do.

Last night, I said something to Husband. The girls were tucked in and we were both wiped out. I said to him, “You know, tomorrow will be three months. How am I different three months in?” I was sitting on the couch and he was standing in the kitchen making us some decaf coffee and I looked up at him and watched as he furrowed his brow and gave this some thought and then he said it. Something I will not forget.

“You are more present. Yes, that’s it. You are more present.”

And I smiled, and thought about this, and felt a surge of something grand. Maybe it was pride. Maybe it was love. And then, because I am an overthinker and I couldn’t possibly let his answer stand on its own, I asked why. Am I more present because I am not getting buzzed and out of it or because I am not hungover/anxious or because I am not obsessing over this facet of my behavior/personality in my uber-perfectionist way? Oh, how he smiled. All of the above? I asked. And he just grinned and handed me a cup of decaf. Hot. Delicious.

*

A little story. A story that’s not so little.

This past Friday night. Bedtime. Daddy reads book #1.

Big Girl, giggling: “That book is so complicated!”

Daddy moves on to book #2.

Big Girl, again giggling: “That book is so complicated!”

More giggles.

Big Girl: “What does complicated mean?”

Me: “Tricky.”

Big Girl: “Tricky like looking at your own eye?”

She’s already smarter than I am. And she’s five.

I tuck her in. Under her covers, she shimmies and shakes. And sings.

“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. There is a jelly fish in my pants! Oh yeah. Oh yeah. There is a jelly fish in my pants! Oh yeah. Oh yeah.”

I smile. She’s five. Oh yeah.

{Phew.}

*

Three months in. Nine to go. And then what? Will I give myself that imaginary gold star and go back to my Pinot Grigio with gusto? Will I continue to abstain knowing how good and pure life can be, and feel, without it? I imagine I will choose a middle road. I don’t pretend to know. I don’t need to know. I have plenty of time to think about it. And write about it. And I will do these things because that’s what I do, how I process, how I see. That’s who I am.

It’s important that I close this with a bit of a reality check. This hasn’t been a fairy tale three months. I have had some really hard moments. Really hard. I have had moments where I’ve had to defend my decision to do this and write this. I have had moments – icky ones, great ones – where all I wanted was a big fat glass of wine. I have had moments where I felt a keen rush of memory and emotion and I felt lost without that go-to glass to blur, to escape. I have had moments where I couldn’t for the life of me remember why I am doing this, this utterly unnecessary and perhaps truly self-indulgent experiment. I have had moments where I felt quiet and profoundly un-fun, like I was a bore to be around. I have had moments where I have felt sad, and vulnerable, and misunderstood.

So. Yes. I have had hard moments. But the thing is, the important thing is, the thing to which I cling and cling fiercely, is that the good moments, the really good, absolutely exquisite moments have vastly outweighed the hard ones. And these really good moments have become consistent in my days. They are moments when I feel awake and alive, centered and strong, energized and evolved. They are moments when things make sense, when dots begin connecting themselves, when dreams seem real and reality dream-like, when I feel swollen with purpose and meaning and, gulp, self-love.

So. Onward. There is no going back now. This is not easy, but it is good. It’s complicated. Tricky. Like life. Like looking at your own eye.

And now, of course, I am thinking of my sweet girl’s ridiculous and amazing ditty: I’ve got a jelly fish in my pants! Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

I am smiling, guys. Smiling as I write this. Smiling as I study my beautiful creatures in the picture above. Smiling as I live this and learn this. This. Whatever this is, and ends up being. This thing, this time, this story, this change.

A kind note to the next nine months: Bring it on.

*

Thank you all for your continued support and curiosity about this odd adventure of mine. Weirdly, I love answering questions about this, so please feel free to fire away in the comment box below. Oh, and I am beginning to do some research on alcohol, anxiety, parenthood and perfectionism in modern life, so please please comment here or email me at ivyleagueinsecurities at gmail dot com if you have any relevant personal stories or blog or book recommendations for me, and all of us. Thanks!

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14 Comments for: "Complicated (a.k.a. Three Months Without Wine)"
  1. Even though I don’t have my own children yet, I work with special needs children every day (I am a pediatric OT). It can be hard. It can be exhausting. But man, is it rewarding. Much like I would imagine parenthood to be, but without the majority of the responsibility. :) There are nights when I get off work where my main objective is to get home ASAP and pour myself a large glass of Merlot (my preference). Last week as I was locking up the clinic and talking to one of my best friends on my cell, I mentioned that I NEEDED a glass of wine. She said something that struck me. Something I am sure has been said before : if you NEED it, you probably shouldn’t have it. If you WANT it, then go for it. I ended up going for a run instead. I think reading your journey here completely backs up what she was trying to get across – I need to be more present in my decisions regarding alcohol in general. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you for starting my Monday off with validation!

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Emily – Thank you. For writing your own words here this morning. To completely honest, it is these posts of mine – the really long ones, the really honest ones – that cause me the most angst, and ultimately bring me the most reward, too. When I was writing this post, I was in a zone, in my own little world, my fingers flying over the keyboard, words spilling from me. And I have read the post back a couple of times and I have my own reactions to it, but in the end, I am just really happy that I am doing this, and challenging myself in this way. That doesn’t mean doing this – and writing about this, making it public – is easy. It isn’t. That’s why I smiled big when I saw your comment pop in, and read what you have to say.

      Yes, so much of this is about presence, isn’t it? That elusive thing we all strive for in our mortal lives. Presence with our families and with ourselves and with our thoughts. Presence in the moments, moments that strung together, make up our lives. You make a really really important point about want vs. need. There are times when we want things – that glass of wine, that handful of jellybeans, whatever it is – and then there are times when it feels more like need. I agree that the latter times are those when we should perhaps pause, and think, and maybe try to reach for something else – whether it is a good book, or a long walk, or a phone call with a friend. Easier said than done, I know, but maybe easy isn’t the goal after all?

      Thank you again, Emily :)

  2. Leslie

    Hi, Aidan,

    I found you when you first posted about this, through Twitter, I believe. I’ve been sober for almost 17 months. I’ve never been able to drink normally, and I know, for me, that sobriety is my only good option.

    I want to give you kudos for being public about your journey. After years of hiding my truth from people and numbing myself with alcohol, opening myself up and showing people my struggles is both liberating and terrifying. I have a friend who says it’s as if you remove the smiling, happy mask and show the scary Halloween mask you wear underneath. (which is never as scary as you make it out to be)

    Thank you for writing about this. I’m sure there are more than a few others out there who read your posts and are helped by them. :)

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Leslie – So happy you found your way here. Liberating and terrifying, yes. Both of those things. I am learning, slowly but surely, that there is something really profound about saying the equivalent of: hey, i am a human being. And I struggle with a few things. These are the things. These are the ways I am not perfect. I think it is hard for all of us to be open about the things that are not neat and tidy. I’m not sure why. Maybe because we are afraid of being judged? Maybe because we are afraid that people will see us differently? But isn’t that we truly want though – to be seen for who we are, who we really are, when we stop pretending, when we stop editing the stories of our lives to seem more sparkly than they really are? All complicated, but worth thinking about.

      As I said in my post, I am pretty sure that I will go back to my beloved pinot grigio when my year is up, but I’m not sure what my relationship with it will be like. I guess I will find out. Okay, now I’m off to email you and see if you’d be willing to tell me a bit more about your story!

  3. Having followed along prior to the no alcohol venture, I have to say I agree with Husband, even via writing, you seem more present. A book I would suggest for your research is Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box by Dunnewold. It really helped me and a few friends I have with the issues of perfectionism in parenthood. I am with you, all that matters is you and them, them and you. It is a beautiful thing and I would not change it for the world.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Wow. I hadn’t thought about this possibility. That a change would potentially be detectable in my writing over the past few months. Now I am curious and want to go back and read… I look forward to checking out this book. The name alone is fantastic!

      • Jess

        I have to agree. Don’t know if I would have picked it up without reading Amanda’s comment but your writing is even keener than before. I am proud of you for being so open and digging so deep. Keep it up :). xoxo

  4. Forgot to mention: I have noticed a significant relationship among my cohort of same-sex led families in regards to anxiety, alcohol, perfectionism and parenting but usually associate it as accompanying the “extra pressure” we perceive from mainstream society to be as good as, if not better, than traditionally formed families. I realize that it is a pressure we often put on ourselves, but nice to see other parents going through this and I look forward to what else you have to say on the topic.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      This is so interesting. Thank you for highlighting this angle. I think so many of us – whether representative of more or less traditional family setups – perceive a certain pressure to be a certain way, but I wonder if the expectations are really there or are figments of our overactive imaginations and perfectionist tendencies? Deep down, I think there must be something really useful about clinging to perfectionism in parenting and in other aspects of our lives; Maybe by aiming for that ‘A’ we will end up achieving more than if do not go for it in the first place? But I think there is a negative side to all of this, that so many of us set ourselves up for consistent breeds of failure, you know? I’m not sure about any of this other than that many of us (all of us) experience these things.

  5. Aiden, thank you so much for sharing! I just finished “Life After Yes” and hence discovered your blog.

    You have put words to my ruminations so well! I’ve given up certain reality TV shows and obsessing on a ‘plan’ for my life because of how limiting and destructive they felt. It is amazing what can have power over us, but only if we let it.

    So much of what you have shared reminds me of improv. Have you ever performed? Being present, getting out of our heads, saying yes are all principles of improv…and I think great ones for life!

    Enjoy those next 9 months- I’m excited to read more.

    • Aidan Donnelley Rowley

      Kate – welcome :) I am so glad you read my book and found your way here. So much of it is about letting things control us, isn’t it? We have far more agency than we realize. Habits are easily formed, but we can break them. We can choose. That is what this year is about for me: choice. I am choosing to do things differently. It is really that simple.

      Ah, improv. I love watching but don’t think I could ever do it! Just thinking about it makes my palms sweat.

      Hope you keep reading and leaving your words here. Again, welcome!

  6. I am in awe of you. The challenge that you have imposed for yourself is honorable enough. But to make it public through your blog? Amazing. The gift you are giving others, by sharing your journey is so admirable. I wish I had your courage. (Hugs to you dear bloggy friend xoxo)

  7. TJ

    A,

    A few of my running buddies and I have talked about our tendency to reach for a glass of wine particularly when under stress. I shared your first post with them and it’s been a great topic for further conversation, for change, awareness and making other choices at times. So glad to read your update here. hugs!

    tj

  8. Andrea

    I decided I needed to take a break from wine. Like you, I was using it to shut down the good, bad, and neutral thoughts that race through my brain at the end of the day. I also have three young reasons to give it up. I spent the first few days reading through every one of your blog posts trying to find reassurance and inspiration. When I read this particular post I was skeptical – quitting drinking was not making me more present. I just wanted to retreat to my room with a book and my laptop and tune everything out. I wasn’t sure I could handle the stress of homework and baths and bedtime without wine to take the edge off. But last night my son asked if he could show me something he made and I said yes. I spent time listening to him talk about his creation and why it was important to him. At the end he thanked me for being such a great mom, and for allowing him to share with me. I was overcome with guilt because he seemed to act like this was such a rare event, but also felt a warm reassurance that you are right. This is making me a better parent. Thank you for helping me to see it.

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