RESOLUTION, RENEWAL & CHANGE

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I did it! I faithfully kept my 2014 New Year’s resolution to abstain from alcohol for the entire year. To be honest, it surprised me that I stuck with it, especially considering the major lifestyle changes it required and the fact that I had failed at much simpler resolutions in years past. As you might have guessed, I won’t dwell on those failures here. Rather, this post is about the role resolutions have played in motivating me to succeed, by enabling a much-needed renewal of some aspects of my life, including personal development and enrichment.

SCF last drink (cropped)  SCF 2015 NYE

Above: Me last New Year’s Eve (left) and this year (right). I hope that my 2014 resolution to drink no alcohol will lead to a lifetime of moderation and better health and fitness.

As I revealed a year ago when I launched this blog, I’ve had a lifelong habit of carefully considering (and then announcing) my annual resolutions, and had mixed success in keeping them. The way I see it, the end of one year and the start of another presents a great opportunity to take stock of everything, from relationships, to health and happiness, and to the state of personal finances.

Considering the stats on resolutions and that only 8% of resolution makers are successful in keeping them, my track record, frankly, is pretty darn good. In two recent years, for example, I was able to use this annual exercise to focus on different challenges and interests that contributed to lasting change—change  that has greatly enhanced my overall happiness and sense of well-being.

In 2009, I resolved to get a diary and to write “every single day.” This was important to me, because I had been an avid journal keeper in the past and wanted to get back in the habit. Although it proved impossible for me to actually write on the day itself every single day for that entire year, I did conscientiously write and fill every page in that diary. I just started my new one for 2015…

Journals (landscape)

Above: My 2009 New Year’s resolution has led to a lasting habit of maintaining a diary.

The following year (2010), I resolved to “read more” and got that vow off on the right foot by joining not one, but two different book clubs. One of those clubs turned out to be very serious about the actual reading and discussion of books and this has helped me tremendously. My husband and I joined this club together and we both greatly look forward to each session. It’s always a wonderful gathering of great friends and reading and discussion, not to mention the excellent food and wine.

After the discussion section concludes, before we head in for lunch or dinner, the same question is answered by each member in turn: “What are you reading now?” It’s brilliant, because that compels many of us to keep reading other books, above and beyond the actual assignments.

Books

Above: My 2010 New Year’s resolution helped me to rekindle my life-long love of reading.

This has been, perhaps, a round-a-bout way of getting to what I’ve been thinking about this past week. Rather than rehash my already well-documented learnings from and achievements of my dry year (if you missed them or want a refresher, please read this post or this one), I’ve been considering what the lasting impact might be of my 2014 New Year’s resolution to abstain from drinking.

First and foremost, I hope that I will be a life-long moderate drinker. I want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine or some bubbly without fear that I’ll over-indulge. Along similar lines, I hope that I will be able to maintain my weight loss for many years to come. Getting back to this weight feels great and I don’t want to go back. I’d even like to further improve my fitness level by adding more diverse workouts to my routine, and cut more time off my marathon PR (personal record). And I hope that I will remain committed to this blog and keep on writing in it regularly.

For those of you who tuned in thinking that I would reveal my resolutions for 2015, I apologize. Of course, I have more than a few resolutions up my sleeve that are already in full-swing. Please tune in next time to read about some of them. And, please leave a comment on this post with your resolutions big and small for 2015.

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So Close, I Can Taste It

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Just before I left the office last night, a rush of emotion came over me when I realized that today would be New Year’s Eve and 2014 would soon be a distant memory. Envisioning myself at midnight tonight, I became determined to have a bottle of Dom Perignon to celebrate the successful conclusion of my dry year. Surely, if ever there would be a time to enjoy a bottle of what is widely considered one of the world’s best champagnes, the anniversary of a full year without alcohol would be it.

So, I did a bit of online searching, made several phone calls, and managed to track down the only bottle of Dom Perignon within a 20-mile radius. Luckily, I was able to reserve it and pick it up along my commute home. It turns out that the bottle is from 2003 and is in a gorgeous commemorative box, bringing, perhaps, a bit more value to the $175 price tag that I paid for the bottle. Yes, I know that it’s sort of crazy to spend that much money on one bottle of consumable liquid. However, I deserve it, don’t I?

Dom Perignon

(I was happy to find this bottle of “Dom” on short notice.)

It might be hard for someone to believe me when I say that having this special bottle to celebrate with tonight actually has nothing to do with wanting to drink alcohol again.  Recently, I very happily celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and my step-daughter’s engagement party and never once thought that these milestone family gatherings would have been enhanced one iota by my drinking alcohol along with everyone else.

The best way to describe my desire to make tonight a once-in-a-lifetime celebration is to say that I am proud of myself. I can’t believe I did it. I launched my resolution and my blog exactly one year ago today, and went from enjoying a few glasses of wine every night and being a fixture at local wine-and-food-paired dinners to going an entire year without drinking alcohol.

Along the way, I lost well over 20 pounds, cut 23 minutes off my best marathon time, and, more importantly, learned a lot about the power of alcohol in our society and about myself. As added bonuses, I took an unforgettable trip to Laos to celebrate my journey and started writing regularly about my parents’ nearly four decades in the Vermont inn-keeping business.

Tonight, I’ll observe the end of a truly incredible 2014 and the promise of the New Year with family and friends over a bottle of something extra special. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. You can be sure, however, that I’ll let you know in future blog posts. Thanks for following – and, Happy 2015!

No Good Reason

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I woke up early the other day thinking about my blog and tried to come up with one good reason why I haven’t posted anything lately. (Can you believe I wrote my last post about this survey of American alcohol consumption habits six weeks ago?) It turns out there isn’t a good reason. All the things that might have caused me to put it aside—like being so close to the end of my resolution that it just seems too boring to acknowledge again; or that winter meant the end of my running season and also the need for training updates; or even the fact I just started a new job, but still had to finish up a few things for my old one—just add up to pure and simple procrastination.

It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of material. Believe it or not, the blog folder on my computer has a file for each of the five weeks I missed. The week of November 16th, I conducted several interviews and started and re-started a piece for the “Vermont Inn-trigue” thread of this blog about the inn’s most loyal guests, a group of hunters who’ve stayed at the inn each and every hunting season for the past 37 years. I interviewed the leader of this group, Tony, multiple times, heard many of his jokes and stories, and took a look at the scrapbook of his group’s many memorable times at the inn.

Tony has stayed at the Combes Family Inn each and every year over its 37 years of operation.

Tony has stayed at the Combes Family Inn each and every year during its 37 years of operation.

Just a few of the snapshot from decades of visits to Vermont and the Combes Family Inn.

Just a few snapshots from the mementos complied over decades of visits to Vermont and the Combes Family Inn.

Tony saw this flyer in 1968 and decided it would be fun to scare up a group to go hunting in Vermont. The farm became the Combes Family Inn in 1978.

Tony saw this flyer in 1968 and decided it would be fun to scare up a group to go hunting in Vermont. The farm became the Combes Family Inn in 1978.

My first interview with the group was over dinner. When one of them asked “What’s for dinner?” my dad replied, “We’re not changing the menu unless you guys change your jokes.”

“You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning,” Tony replied. That evening, with the barbs and jibes getting lobbied back and forth, was not all that different from my first such dinner with them, when I was just 10 years old.

The night before the hunters left, we all watched the Patriots game and I had a chance to ask Tony if it surprised him that he’s been coming to the inn for 37 years in a row. “No it doesn’t,” he answered. “We’re comfortable coming here. When we leave, we’re already looking forward to coming again the next year. God willing, we’ll be coming for many more years.”

Before I knew it, the hunters were gone and I never turned that great material into a coherent article. The following week, I wondered if I should be concerned about my high levels of caffeine consumption. I vowed to research the pros and cons of caffeine and explain why people who stop drinking alcohol often become chronic coffee drinkers. This post would have been like my article about Crystal Light back in January. I found several articles about caffeine consumption, including this general overview, this one about the role coffee may play in helping people abstain from drinking alcohol, and this one citing 10 reasons to quit drinking coffee. I didn’t get very far in my research. However, I did resolve to figure out eventually which was worse, alcohol consumption or caffeine consumption. I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

Several other blog topics presented themselves in late November and early December. I briefly considered breaking with my usual M.O. by writing a political piece about the disheartening state of race relations in our country. Although I quickly ruled that out, I will share one comment that I left on Facebook that sums up my feelings about what transpired in Ferguson: “Mike Brown’s fate was sealed the moment Officer Wilson saw him him as a crazed demon that needed to be killed, rather than a troubled teen who needed to be saved.”

Two weeks ago, I almost opted to write about the end of the federal grant that I was directing and my thoughts about how that experience was personally fulfilling and even life-changing. If you get a chance, flip through “Vermont’s Digital Stories,” the final report for the project. I’m proud of the team’s work to improve lives in Vermont’s flood-damaged communities and remain very grateful to have had a meaningful opportunity to give back to others, after my own speedy recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.

Finally, last week, a friend of mine told me that she had heard an interesting radio segment about the different norms and perceptions for alcohol consumption in various countries. The point was that Americans have the lowest national tolerance (so to speak) for alcohol consumption and consume far less alcohol than most other nations. The differences are particularly acute between the U.S. and Europe, especially Italy and France. With such an interesting and relevant topic, I was certain my blog drought was going to be over. Alas, I couldn’t locate the radio piece my friend had heard. And, although I found a lot of articles about similar topics—such as this one, this one, and this one—the weekend came and went without a post.

So, now you’re all caught up on what I’ve been thinking about the past six weeks. Have a very happy holiday season—I promise to write again very soon. There’s no good reason not to.

A Year’s A Long Time

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I’ve learned a lot these past 10 months as I embraced, resisted, and—all the while—kept my New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol for one year. If I learned only one thing it’s that a year can seem like a very long time. Sure, it’s 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, and 31,536,000 seconds. More than that, though, it offers a heck of a lot of time in which to change one’s mind. It’s no wonder that, according to one survey, only 8% of people succeed in keeping their resolutions.

No, I’m not thinking of stopping now! I know that, with two months still to go, it might seem a bit premature to have this conversation. It’s just that I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how long a year is and I decided it would be a good blog topic. Besides, (knock on wood) there’s zero chance that I’m going to take a sip of alcohol between now and midnight on New Year’s Eve. So I might as well write about it, while my thoughts are fresh.

The best part about a year being such a long time is that it gives plenty of time to make great personal progress, which in my case included losing 23 pounds and cutting 23 minutes off of my fastest marathon time. It’s also more than long enough to change not only your habits, but also to evolve your personal thinking and perceptions. Even though I have decided that I will drink alcohol again, I’ll never think about it the same way again. Before my dry year, I never fully appreciated how pervasive alcohol is in our society or how damaging it can be. Many of our conventions revolve around alcohol, despite 30% of American adults not drinking at all and another 30% only drinking one alcoholic beverage a week.

Now that I proved I could do it, reached my goal weight, stepped up my running game, and developed this new appreciation for life, I’m basically ready for the year to be over. That’s one of the reasons why I started to think that a year is a long time. The other is that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to whether or not I will commit to another difficult and/or life-changing resolution for next year.

The one I’ve been tossing around all year has been a resolution not to purchase any material objects. With all the time I’ve spent thinking about it and floating it by other people, today was the first time that I Googled it to see if someone else has done it. Of course someone has.  I found this guy, who had a life-altering experience not buying any consumer durables or clothes for several months and made it about six months, before he broke down and bought a new computer (after spilling coffee all over his old one). I also found this family with two young children that stuck to their resolution not to buy anything new for a whole year (they allowed themselves to buy used clothes and other items). There’s even a Wiki article on “How to buy nothing.”

I have two more months to mull it over. I’m just not sure I have it in me to go from one extreme resolution right into another. Maybe 2015 will be a year of just savoring what I achieved in 2014 and enjoying the wonderful life that I have. Or maybe it will be the year that I qualify for the Boston marathon, publish a memoir, and reconnect with a dozen old friends from college. I’m interested to know your thoughts as we approach 2015.

Will I Drink Again? (cont.)

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My blog post last week generated a lot of comments both in the blogosphere and in real life. It seems my friends are as split as my own mind is on the subject of whether I should drink again when my New Year’s resolution is over.

It seems like those who think I should not drink again are the most adamant. Folks on this side of the ledger point to how much I’ve accomplished in six short months and ask why I would even consider drinking again. A few of these people pointed to the dramatic difference in my physical appearance from the weight loss and another pointed me to my own words in last week’s blog, the part about liking who I am now.

When I was explaining to one of my mother’s good friends how it would be nice to have the option of celebrating special occasions with alcohol, she responded, “Why would you do that? Once you do it for one special occasion, you’ll find a way to make every occasion special.”

A family member even went so far as to imply that it would be a major mistake to go back to drinking alcohol. His words really stuck with me and also got me to thinking that I have really opened a can of worms by asking for feedback on the matter.

Luckily, there are at least an equal number of people lined up on the other side. Another family member suggests that setting boundaries for executing a plan at moderate alcohol consumption would be a great New Year’s resolution for me in 2015. And, certainly my husband and many of my close friends look forward to a day when I will be re-joining them for wine-paired dinners and the like.

It occurs to me now that, whatever I decide, I am certain to disappoint some faction of my followers, many of whom are friends and family. My plan for handling that is to distract them with an even more challenging, more interesting, and more polarizing New Year’s resolution in 2015.

To amuse myself in the interim, I searched for articles by other people who had resolutions similar to mine. I found a former self-described “party girl” who made it through her year and decided not to drink again. Read about her here. Then, there’s this British woman who took her alcohol detox too far and became a recluse and lost most of her friends. She started drinking again. Read an article about her here. And, there’s a sporty guy who quit alcohol for a year to lose weight. He drank after the year was up and then quit again. You can read about him here.

Ultimately, whether or not to drink again is a decision I will make on my own. That said, I love pondering the diverse opinions generated along the way. Please continue to post your views and comments.

Will I Drink Again?

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By far, the question I get most often these days is: “Do you think you will drink again?” This is an interesting progression in people’s reaction to my resolution not to drink alcohol this year. In the beginning, it was: “Do you miss it?” (I answered that question in an early blog post which you can read here.)

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(Above: Me having my last drink, a nice glass of champagne last New Year’s Eve. Was this my last alcoholic beverage, ever?)

Initially, I assumed that I would start drinking again when New Year’s rolled around again. In my mind, I was very clear that I was giving up drinking for one full year and I would start again on January 1, 2015. In fact, I even considered contacting a few different champagne companies to see if any of them would consider sponsoring my New Year’s Eve party.

Now that I have already achieved both my weight loss goal and my marathon PR in just short five months, the question of “will I drink again?” is one that I have started to give a lot more thought. Nearly halfway through my “dry year,” I’m honestly still not sure. There are some pretty good reasons on both sides of the ledger.

3 Reasons to Drink Again:

1. I’ve earned it. I’ve lost more than 30 pounds from my highest point and now weigh my ideal weight for my body frame. Read about how I gained and lost 30 pounds here. Not drinking enabled my weight loss and my weight loss helped my marathon training and propelled me to my fastest marathon time. After all this hard work, haven’t I earned the right to drink wine again (in moderation, at least)?

2. I miss it. Like when I wrote about it earlier this year, there are still times when I miss drinking alcohol. I miss it the most when my husband, Bruce, and I got out for a nice dinner. Great food gets enhanced when it’s accompanied by a great glass of wine. One of the lowest points in this process thus far was when Bruce went to a wine and food-paired dinner without me. I also really crave a beer after a long run or road race. Simply put, there are times when an NA just doesn’t cut it.

3. I’m not an alcoholic. There were times in the past when I was disappointed in myself for drinking too much. And a few occasions when I crossed a line in my consumption. Having alcoholism in my family has always made me hypersensitive to how much I was drinking, and also caused me to worry that I might become an alcoholic. Back in January, I did some research and now feel confident that I am not an alcoholic, nor was I an alcohol abuser. (That post is here.)  

3 Reasons Not to Drink Again:

1. Why go back? This is probably the strongest argument not to drink again, and is one that was raised by my friend, Rose, in response to a very early blog post. A teetotaler herself, Rose asked: “Are you thinking of quitting for good? I mean, after you succeed in losing the weight, and you will, and running so hard that you get your PR, why go back to it?” Considering what not drinking has already enabled me to achieve, why would I go back?

2. I like who I am now. This is really just a continuation of the first reason above. In addition to achieving the goals I set for myself, not drinking has also enabled me to sleep better, given me clearer thinking, and made me a happier person. I just gave up one thing, it was relatively easy to do, and I have gained so much in the bargain. It was a fair trade, wasn’t it?  

3. Moderation is not my strong suit. I seem to have only two speeds: 100 miles per hour and full stop. Luckily, it’s also true that that when I commit to something, I go all in and don’t mess around. (This doesn’t mean that I am always successful.) Suffice it to say that moderation isn’t easy for me. This was why I gave up drinking in the first place, because just cutting back had seemed impossible.

All of the above said, although I am still mulling it over, I’m leaning toward giving moderation a try in 2015.  I think it would be really nice to celebrate all of my 2014 achievements with a glass of kick-ass champagne on New Year’s Eve. And, there’s still plenty of time for me to look for sponsors. Of course, there’s also more than six months for my thinking to evolve even further.

What are your thoughts and predictions about whether or not I should or will drink again when 2015 rolls around?

From the Mailbag 2

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How’s It Going? And, By the Way, What’s a Blog?
The other day, my neighbor asked me: “How’s it going, now that you’re a quarter of the way through?” He was, of course, asking about my resolution not to drink alcohol this year. “Aren’t you following my blog?” I asked in return. “What’s a blog?” he replied.

If you knew my neighbor, you wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that he didn’t know what a blog was.  After all, his pickup truck is vintage 1980s.  What was surprising, however, was that I had trouble coherently and succinctly summing up how I feel about my resolution thus far. What stumped me is that I didn’t have any expectations going into this. I had made the decision to do it on extremely short notice and just jumped in head first with the resolution and the blog, all at once.

After not making sense for a few seconds, I went into the details about my weight loss so far, my running goals, and so on.  My neighbor interrupted and offered: “So, it’s been positive?” I had no hesitation, saying: “Yes. Yes. Absolutely. It’s very positive. I’m at the point where I’m not sure I will drink again when 2015 rolls around.”

Wow. I didn’t see that coming. Did you?  So, for the curious who’ve asked, here are some other Q’s and A’s related to this project:

How Much Was the Weight Loss From Not Drinking vs. Other Reasons?
The first 8 pounds I lost was solely from not drinking. In the beginning, I purposefully did not want to change anything else, including my diet or exercise routine. Without a purposeful diet, I would not have lost any additional weight.

I lost another 8 pounds (and counting) by sticking maniacally to a daily calorie goal that I track in an app called MyFitnessPal. My daily goal of 1,200 calories allows me to lose 1-1.5 pounds per week.  I input everything I eat into the app. When I exercise, I also input that into that app and earn more calories for that day. If I eat too much, I exercise more.  It’s that simple.  Despite the simplicity, it can be very difficult to be completely honest with yourself about how much you have eaten. But if you honestly use the app every day, it will work.

Not drinking is the single-most important factor in my weight loss, for several reasons. Taking those empty calories off the table has made a tremendous difference. In the past, one glass of wine could lead to another glass and that could lead to eating things I didn’t need to eat. Also, I am now able to exercise at night, something I never could have done after drinking wine at dinner.

What Are the Unexpected Benefits From Not Drinking?
This is a great question.  From a general health standpoint, what I noticed within days is that I was getting better quality sleep and was sleeping through the night much more often than before.  Over time, I also started to feel more mentally alert and more confident. Because not drinking has led to losing weight and allowed more time for reading and writing, I also feel happier and more balanced.

Have You Experienced Clearer Thinking?
Yes. Definitely. It is particularly acute when I am around other people who are drinking. It’s a strange sensation of being very present and keenly aware of what is going on.

What’s Up With that Ideal Weight Calculator?
In my last post, I talked about so-called “ideal weight” and used this calculator to confirm that my weight loss goal was realistic. I received feedback from several guys, all of whom felt the calculator was off for them and seem to be reporting unrealistically low weights. One of them even said it reported his weight from 8th grade as ideal! A few of these guys are very muscular. Therefore, I’d like to recommend that they focus on percentage of body fat, rather than weight. Here’s info from Livestrong about that and here’s a body fat calculator.

Also, I want to caution that research indicates women tend to under-estimate their ideal weight, while men tend to over-estimate it.

Regular followers of my blog may recall that my first “From the Mailbag” post answered several other questions back in late February, including “why did you really start this blog?” Check it out if you haven’t already.

And, please keep the questions coming. I promise to answer each and every one.