How to Reduce Your Drinking Around the Holidays (if That’s Something You Want to Do)

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T’is the season for holiday parties and get-togethers and these social commitments can challenge our social fitness and personal comfort levels. It’s easy to see alcohol as the real MVP, lubricating some of those bumpier social situations for us.

Maybe you’ve been finding, however, that nights and evenings spent drinking this year have left you a little more worse for the wear? I must have tried every possible way I can think of to include even a little booze in my life from time to time, but finally reached the conclusion that this substance just does not jive with my system or my goals (ugh, old). This holiday season will mark a year since I’ve had a drink, and over this time, I’ve road-tested some strategies to smoothing over that conversation with loved ones, and other curiously concerned drunk people.

Offer to be the Designated Driver: Simple. Elegant. Remind any folks who are concerned about you “not having enough fun” that you are able to drive them home! Or to their next location! Fun!

Cite your budget, or your health: Drinking is an expensive pastime – a truth universally acknowledged. We are all living hand-to-mouth here (we are? I am.) and so, it’s entirely probable that there just isn’t any extra bill in the budget this month to throw at the bartender. As well, many folks are exploring food sensitivities and fitness goals where temporary abstinence from alcohol is required. You could easily be one of those people!

Taking the month off “for the cause”: There are always plenty of social media driven events supporting doing activities – ice buckets, moustaches, running– for some notable cause. If anyone asks where your beer is, tell them you’re doing No-Drink December to support Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or another great foundation. Taking a month off the drink is no less peculiar than growing a moustache for a month. NO LESS PECULIAR.

Set a limit, and play within it: If you want to have just three beers, only drink three beers. Setting a personal limit is also a good test to see if some other emotion (other than wanting to have a jolly good time) is motivating you to reach for the next beer, and the next level of intoxication. Ask yourself: Are you currently uncomfortable and need a “dose” of the dancing juice? Do you just want to keep the current level of intoxication and are reaching for extra unnecessarily? Do you feel pressured to take shots (and other quick-dosing) from peer pressure or obligation, or politeness? Would you have bought the shot for yourself? Peer pressure doesn’t die in high school like it should have, and you are under no obligation to say yes to that gift. It’s your body, night, and next morning.

Mix in a water – creatively: My friend introduced me to this little trick of refilling her husband’s empty beer bottle with water (with his explicit consent, of course). If he noticed at all (sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn’t) he remained holding the beer without levelling up his intoxication. Having a drink in your hand is a social buffer in itself– any lull in conversation or between topics is smoothed over by taking a sip, or offering to freshen someone’s drink. Social interactions, particularly acquaintance-heavy ones, sometimes require ways to fill silences and drinking can serve this purpose. Find ways to make this social tool work with your goal of reducing your intake. My personal favourite was “club soda, short glass” because I could run with the vodka soda crowd, no problem.

If none of this works? Lie: One of the many, MANY beautiful things about drunk people progressively getting drunker is that they forget things, have limited access to their senses like vision, and generally have different priorities for their night than making sure you’re good and liquored up. Someone catches you without a beer in hand? You’re just heading to get another – catch you later.

Or…tell the truth: If you can, be honest with your loved ones about the kind of nights and next mornings you are having when you over-indulge, and how drinking has not been serving you lately. Unless you have bullies for friends, this answer should be enough.

We forget that folks are incredibly self-absorbed with short attention spans. Your abstinence from alcohol may not even register with most people. For the ones who seem particularly concerned for you, it might be that your reasons for dialing it back may hit too close to home for them. People may behave as though you are judging them for drinking, regardless of your actual reasons, and you can’t control if they project that attitude unto you. Ultimately, you don’t need to drink to make someone else feel better about their own drinking. If they are self-conscious about their habits, that’s a them-thing, not a you-thing.

At the same time, you are not a martyr for choosing not to drink. If you’re miserable to be around sober at a party, that’s something that may require some internal exploration as to what’s keeping you from having fun in these social settings. If you think you “just hate being around drunk people”, again, maybe explore where the distaste is coming from: are people not able to enjoy drinking just because you’re not included? These aren’t easy things to face the mirror about, but try not to judge yourself too harshly – we are all just figuring it out.

With plenty of good reasons for cutting down on the drink, from budget to health, it’s still not always easy to actually go without when it’s so commonplace in social situations. Remind yourself that you don’t owe anyone an explanation if it’s something you are doing for yourself. Let me know how it goes this season!

Be Hard on Yourself

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Whenever I make the mistake of sharing my unfiltered negative self-talk with my friends or family, as in, the really abusive things I can sometimes say to myself that I would never dream of saying to anyone else, I always receive some variation of “you are being way too hard on yourself!” in return.

And I would take this gracious bit of validation that I was doing just fine, doing my best, chugging along. In my lowest places, I really lean into this practice:

Don’t be so hard on myself – the dishes can wait.

Don’t be so hard on myself – I’m so tired, I can’t possibly get to the gym today.

Don’t be so hard on myself – cooking for one is exhausting, I’ll order butter chicken delivery instead.

Don’t be so hard on myself – I’m too sad to take this call from my mom, best friend, auto insurance company… maybe later.

Does it smell like bullshit in here, or is it just me?

Whether this is a testament to my improved state of mind as of late, or whether it’s becoming more work to spin my tendency for avoidance into a cute anecdote, I think I am lifting the lid on some of the ways I am, in fact, way too easy on myself. I’m not sure I want to be the girl surrounded by takeout containers in my bed, cuddling with my computer watching calls go to voicemail between mouthfuls of naan bread. I’m not sure she’s doing her best.

There will always be things we don’t want to do – the tedious administrative parts of our jobs, taking out the leaky garbage, spin class at the gym. And yet, people do them. Those things get done. In my experience, the first casualty of depression is my motivation, and during a depressive low, the list of things I don’t want to do can become quite the long read. How do other people get up on time, even after a bad night’s sleep? They just do it. How do other people save money by meal prepping and grocery shopping ahead of time? They make time. The gym? They go, whether they are particularly feeling like it or not.

I may never feel like doing something, but I should do it anyway. Why? Because there are certainly consequences for doing it (it will be hard, exhausting, take a long time) but there will be consequences for not doing it, and I will likely regret these more. I need to care enough about Future Vic to take care of things for her and to not make life any more difficult than it already is by avoiding it. If I would do something for a friend without thinking twice, I need to do it for myself whether I feel like it or not.

I think we wait for inspiration or motivation or willpower to kick in at some point. And like being stood up for a date in the 1990s before cell phones, we may be waiting a long time. I’ve referenced Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck in a previous post, and I shamelessly do it again to promote his idea of flipping the script on motivation to read something like this:

Action → Inspiration → Motivation

*not the other way around.

The brief moments of motivation and energy are fleeting, and this feeling is usually front-loaded at the top of a project or goal we have some emotional attachment to, like starting back up at the gym after seeing a particularly ratty-looking tagged photo of yourself. But it takes a lot of energy to keep that motivation revving, and it will inevitably wane. This is where Mark Manson says we need to DO SOMETHING, even something small in the direction we want to go in, because the act of doing something – anything – can cultivate some of those feelings of accomplishment and passion that got us started in the first place.

By forcing myself to do something small, like taking a moment to prep the coffee machine the night before, I initiate a chain of steps in a positive direction. With coffee prepped, I can turn it on in the morning while I get dressed, fill a travel mug with the life-giving nectar, leave the house on time, skip Starbucks, save money, and roll into work caffeinated and on the right foot. I didn’t feel like doing it, but I was looking out for my future self #thxbbgirl.

I think I’m particularly prone to the paralyzing effect of being too easy on myself, where, in my desire for comfort while in a particularly bad place, I monopolize my decision-making. I’ve seen my willful ignorance affect my relationships, my social life, my ability to fit into my jeans – most recently, I’ve taken the blinders off to the state of my finances (more on that later).

I get it. Doing things is hard. Doing things is very hard when living with a mental illness, and all you seek is to feel comfortable in your own head. I can’t promise that you will feel better soon, but I can assure you that those brief moments of discomfort that come from doing something good for yourself, can help.

Flip my Phone, Change my Life

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As you may have read, I’ve relegated my iPhone into semi-retirement, only using it when I am connected to wifi, so essentially, at home or as I pop into Starbucks. At work, in the car, out and about, or hanging with friends, I’m armed with my Alcatel GO FLIP phone, which the lads at the Bell store threw in for free with my $29/month talk and text plan. It was all very easy, aside from the technology being ill-equipped to transfer my iPhone contacts to my new “Address Book” and having to half-halfheartedly joke that I was interested only in simplifying my life, not pushing drugs.

It’s been an illuminating experience so far, with the most notable observation being that, before the switch, I suspect I was edging on an addiction to my smartphone. I realized that I would scroll mindlessly, only stopping once I registered that I had seen this post earlier in the day. Because, God forbid I failed to Like a single photo of someone else’s child the moment one was posted. My phone was on my desk at work, in my line of vision, so that I could respond immediately should a notification come in, so really, there was no reprieve from screen time, and I felt a near-constant impulse to stay in the loop.

At work, screen time is unavoidable. We need to use our computers and be connected in order to carry out the functions of our jobs. And many of us are good about taking regular breaks from our desks to stretch our legs and give our eyes and brains a break. But what do we so often do when we take a break from the computer? My guess is to turn directly to our phones to see what we missed.

So, there is no break.

I would argue that our reliance upon our devices makes us feel more overextended in our lives than we actually are. Finding the work-life balance that is right for us and our families is already a work in progress, yet we allow ever more distractions into our personal lives that interfere with our ability to be present.

When we interrupt an in-person conversation with someone to address a notification from our device, we throw ourselves into a state of limbo. We have plucked ourselves out of the real world, that particular human dynamic, full of non-verbal cues, gestures, and nuanced expression, in order to attend to the digital world. But we are not fully in that world either, apologizing for answering the call or text and feeling guilty for not giving our companion our full attention, we might rush through the digital exchange. We don’t get ahead either way. Once we finish with our device, we have to reset the human interaction with a version of “okay, sorry, what were you saying?” effectively hindering the flow and chemistry of the conversation. Do we ever fully return our undivided attention to our companion, or is half our brain still scanning the digital world for information? There is no rest for the screen-stimulated brain.

The more we allow our device to control our attention, the more we feel like we are missing out on something, and this is certainly not a feeling we welcome. Aside from life-and-death emergencies, and other such situations where we require instantaneous feedback, the information will be there whether we address our device every ten minutes, every hour, or once a day. When we get in the habit of requiring constant stimulation, we may never feel like we have fully decompressed and refueled the tank. If our brain does not differentiate between types of screen time, are we really striking the work-life balance we think we are? We may be away from our desks, but our brains are still very much at work processing information from a screen.

So what started as tossing my smartphone to reduce my monthly cell phone bill, has evolved into a kind of vacation of the mind. My flip phone is no frills by definition: numbered keypad, capped talk and text, and no front facing camera- may my unborn selfies rest in peace. And guess what? I no longer feel the same itch to check my device for notifications. I decide when I check it, and attend to that information when I have a moment. I feel less attached to the social media world and feel a diminished need to scroll mindlessly through apps when I do have internet access at home. I use my phone to confirm plans but avoid long-winded texting conversations for the most part– mostly because texting on the number pad is far too time consuming. I feel more rested, present, and would you believe that, the other night, I read a book in its entirety without once interrupting myself by checking my phone. And I say interrupting myself because I have a renewed sense of choice when it comes to tuning into and out of the digital world.

What is it that we are so afraid of missing out on? Does anyone actually feel better after a deep creep? What “they” are doing out there is not where life is. Life is taking place right here, between your ears, in front of your eyes and in your hands. We should be looking up from our screens once in a while and join in.

Hello, Nourished Life

I’m in the process of saying goodbye to somebody. Unlike most goodbyes, that we want to avoid because they are sad, this is a goodbye I happily walk toward. I’m saying goodbye to this girl:


She looks happy right? She seems nice, confident, smiling. This is where she fools you.

Although I was 20-years old when this photo was taken, when I look at this, all I see now is a sick little girl with her collarbones and neck tendons jutting out, thinning hair, and no boobs to hold her dress up. A girl who ate only salads, who tried to literally outrun self-esteem issues at a rate of 15km per day. A girl who was scared of food and scared to miss a workout. A girl who lost her period for months due to restrictive eating and over-exercise. A girl whose problematic body behaviours went unnoticed because her BMI was still “within range,” even when her body was screaming that this weight wasn’t sustainable. A girl who regularly received reinforcement in the form of compliments that she looked great and to “keep it up.”

Imagine how much I could have accomplished had I directed even a quarter of the brain power I had put toward taking up less space in the world, towards my schooling and future career… I like to think I’d be backing up the Brinks truck into the driveway of my summer home.

I won’t say it’s not hard to look back on these photos and know that I was much thinner then than I am now. When these images pop up unexpectedly (Facebook, you’re the worst), I give myself a moment to float around in those feelings of inadequacy – if only I had appreciated my body then, and had not been so self-conscious with it, etc, etc, ad nauseam. There is a part of me who still looks for this girl when I see photos of myself now, and when I don’t see her, the same part of me wants to look away and avoid acknowledging the reality of my actual, real, nourished body.

Soon enough however, in my back of my brain I hear the voice of my best friend Kim chanting, “No! More! Skeletor!” and I’m rushed back to the truth: That girl had a lot to learn. I’m smarter than that girl. I’m kinder. I’m a better listener, a better friend. I love myself more. My hair doesn’t fall out, but grows in long and shiny. I have a butt and boobs (both of which took a notable leave of absence during the time this photo was taken). I have hobbies other than obsessing over food labels and tracking burned calories.

I don’t miss her. Being obsessed with controlling my body and what went into it left little room to think about other people, and for the life of me, I can’t recall many instances during this time where I helped someone or threw myself into a project that wasn’t all about me. Disordered eating and exercise habits are an isolating and all-consuming endeavour in themselves, in addition to the effort put forth to avoid detection from others. This was a lonely, lonely life.

My life now nourishes me. I make a concerted effort to fill my world with good things – good people, good food, good movement, good thoughts – instead of trying to deprive my body and mind of what it wants. I consciously include things in my life that make me feel whole and allow autonomy over my life, something I was always pursuing but never achieved while restricting.

Of course there are moments where I wish I didn’t worry about what my body looks like, and I fool myself into thinking that women thinner than me could not begin to understand how I feel. Of course I deflate a little inside if someone makes a comment about how thin (and blond) I was back then. But I know these feelings are leftover from when I truly believed that my body size determined my worth, and I know better now. Media and society tell us that thinner is better, more attractive, the only kind of beautiful that matters, and we must have either reached that ideal or be punishing ourselves towards it. But at what cost? I will tell you for free that it is not worth everything I gave up in the pursuit of making myself smaller.

Along with a few LBs, I’ve gained self-awareness, true friendship, a passionate career, and a lifetime worth of belly-laughs. If gaining all this means adjusting my ideals of thinness and worthiness and saying goodbye to the sick little person featured above, then girl, bye.

What to Give a Fuck About

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This winter was brutal. After a long and sunless couple of months, I feel like I am finally waking up. As much as I wish my spirit animal is an enthusiastic teacup pig, I know I embody many more of the qualities of a hibernating brown bear.

I feel better. Between the improved weather, bedtime routine adjustments, and yet another change in medication, I am feeling more myself and better able to adapt to life’s inconveniences. Don’t forget the “soft” changes I’ve made in adding more creative and mindful outlets to my day-to-day, which you may have read about here.

I think the most important adjustment I’ve made involves a change in mindset that I’ve adopted from Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, a book that supports understanding what you value, discovering what is really important and not letting everything else bother you so much.

The book doesn’t pretend that life can exist without problems – life will have problems and that’s all but guaranteed. But Manson asks the reader to determine what problems we wouldn’t mind having. If someone wants to make a ton of money and be highly successful in their career, they may have to deal with the problem of working late and spending most of your time at the office. For one person, working late is a problem they wouldn’t mind having – they love what they do and want to spend lots of time doing it. For someone else, working late means time away from home, which would be a problem they could not happily live with.

Someone who wants kids and who values raising a family will have their own problems – sleepless nights, less free time, hundreds of loads of laundry, and the parents’ own needs and wants taking a back seat initially. These are problems that many parents would gladly choose as they raise their kids.

As I surface from a depressive episode that took me out at the knees, I’ve started identifying what I give a fuck about and what kind of problems I don’t mind having. I give a fuck about showing up for my family and friends, recognizing the big and small wins with them. This means hustling across this great province to do so, which costs money. I don’t mind having money problems in exchange for healthy relationships because my people make me happy. For someone else, they couldn’t live with money problems and would choose to have another problem instead.

Taking the pressure off to care about everything has significantly improved my mental well-being. Being more selective about what I give a fuck about has made room for the things that are really important, and also recognizing that life is not designed to be comfortable at all times. If my expectation is that my life is supposed to be free of hardship, perfectly organized and with gorgeous filtered lighting, I am setting myself up to be sorely disappointed. Instead, I give myself permission to be less than perfectly put together, to choose a few things to care about and work on those, and cut myself a little slack for the rest.

 

A Case of Self-Care

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With the ever-increasing awareness of mental health issues, we’ve likely come across the concept of self-care as it pertains to reducing stress and managing mental illness. If you’ve been encouraged to take a bath on occasion, exercise, or unwind with a glass of wine the evening, it might have been in the name of self-care.

Having worked in a university setting as a student and professional staff, I have been encouraged to engage in self-care practices since I was a teenager. Perhaps in its overuse, self-care has lost its meaning for me, or I’ve convinced myself I don’t have time for it. Either way, until recently, I had considered self-care and its practice to be a touch “froufrou”. Of course taking time for oneself would be nice, however, things need to get done, and quite frankly, I’m tired.

In the past month, however, my therapist and I discussed reframing self-care into a concerted effort to engage in a relationship with self. Another frilly thought, at first glance. But then I thought about the relationships in my life and the effort it takes to maintain and nurture them, and realized that if I was dating myself, I would dump me.

Looking at healthy relationships around me, I see people making an effort to listen and understand their partners, taking on an equal of household responsibilities, cooking healthy meals together, trying new things, and occasionally unplugging from electronics and social media. In short, making their relationships/friends a priority and behaving as such. When is the last time I made my relationship with myself a priority? As my own oldest friend, I admit, I have neglected myself shamefully.

So this past month I have focused on jumping two feet into a relationship with self, reminding myself to take it slow and not rush into things. Wouldn’t want to scare myself off, after all.

This month, I rekindled a creative outlet in crafting and even entertained the idea of learning to crochet. I have had a quiet night in binge-watching Glee. I have taken myself to a movie. I have gone on long bike rides. I got my hair cut and made time to put make-up on in the morning. I unplugged from social media when I maxed out my cell phone data (not my choice). I did my dishes right away, because if I would do that for someone else, why wouldn’t I do that for myself?

I tried to take the pressure off myself in terms of attempting to remove all the negative symptoms associated with my illness, but instead worked to add things to my life that bring me closer to my most authentic self. Why? Because all of the loved ones in my life are in receipt of my generosity, my thoughtfulness and my time, and I need to devote just as much of that energy into my oldest and greatest relationship: the one with myself.

I’m stuck with me for life, so if that relationship is suffering, it’s no one’s responsibility but my own.

In this case, it’s not you, or anyone else.

It’s me.