Crutchless, NOT Exactly Ouchless

"To keep the body in good health is a duty... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear."   ~Buddha

Wow, I haven't written in a while.  But work started again, and...well, I'm not drinking caffeine so...um, I was really tired.  Valid?  I think so. 

Bunny and my brain, both pretty mangled after the wreck. 
They say, "no pain, no gain" and gawl-dang-it...whoever "they" are, they are right!  Since being back to work full time as an elementary school teacher, I have had intense, pounding, screaming, crashing, bashing, just plain mean headaches inhabit my brain space every day for about 4-5 hours.  I've also experienced the infamous "fog" that caffeine-quitters have told me about.  Yeah...it's almost equivalent to how I felt after I totaled my favorite car, Bunny, and I had staples all up in my head and my brain was swollen so much in the area that controls speech that I couldn't work my drive-through job or have a coherent five minute conversation for months.  (Ask me to see the scars...I'll show ya!)  Yeah...my caffeine withdrawal is kinda like that.  Gah! 

Well, enough bitching about the "pain", here's some "gain". 


In the Pursuit of Nap-iness

"I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee."  ~Flash Rosenberg

I didn't like coffee for a long time.  I had a coffee maker in college purely for it's use during all-nighters a couple times per semester.  (For all you non-procrastinators, an all-nighter is the 12-24 hours before a deadline when a student starts and finishes an entire month/unit/semester's worth of work with breaks only to pee and drink more coffee.)  After college, I moved to Denver and started my teaching career.  The first two years, I was concurrently teaching and getting my M.A. and daily had about 20 hours of work to do in 16.  So, I started drinking coffee and sleeping less.

Last full-caff latte, last weekend.
At first, I drank coffee because I needed it to wake up or keep moving throughout my day and to-do list while being  in a constant state of sleep deprivation.  As the years ticked by, necessity grew into desire.  I loved the taste, the smell, the tingle on my tongue of super hot, strong coffee.  All my senses sang "allelujah" to the heavens knowing that in mere moments I would feel more awake, more productive, friendlier and possibly, who knows, even slightly more attractive. 

It also was a social staple.  There is nothing more delightful than getting coffee with girlfriends and chatting an afternoon away.  Ok, I have a confession.  Before a date, a party, or some other event where I was really hoping to impress someone...I had to have coffee.  I didn't feel like "just me" would be fun enough, quick-witted enough, or chipper enough.  I wasn't whole till I had that cup or two in me.  Yeah.  Crutches.


Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch: How to Get Off the Crack

"You know how you wake up in the morning and sometimes you look gorgeous and other times you look like you got hit by a mack truck? I realized that my mack truck is food."  -Mariska Hargitay 

Let's start with a throw back to The Four Tops' song "I Can't Help Myself".  I mean it.  Click on the link and listen to this great song...and while you're doing that, please imagine me crooning the lyrics to sugar and all sugary "foods", and that would pretty much sum up my relationship with the stupid stuff.  Is it so wrong to have a passionate, borderline obsessive relationship with a "food" product?  Ummmm, yes.  Hence, this challenge.

I think one of the most commonly asked questions I've gotten after telling people about my challenge (and after the so very appreciated encouragement for my year of substance-abstinence) is what I consider to be sugar.  Some folks were thinking I might not even be partaking in fructose....Oh Em Gee...that would make my life so sad!

I consider sugar to be anything that contains refined sugar by whatever name.  That means no soda, cookies, ice cream, or even most juices.  That also means I won't be consuming the majority of processed foods and sauces and beverages out there, because nearly everything has sugar in the ingredients.

Here is what is passable right now: honey or pure maple syrup (the expensive stuff, NOT the corn syrup with maple flavoring) used in moderation for baking or cooking and fruit (my life saver at the moment).  Sugar withdrawals is one of the worst experiences...mostly because often I end up caving to the craving and wallowing in failure and self pity.  I've discovered that I can't "just do it", I must have a strategy to succeed.

For me, here's what works to get off the sugar train and start having obsessive relationships with more normal things in life, like boys and CrossFit.


3, 2, 1...GO! (And an Invitation)

"Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius and power and magic in it."  -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Well, folks...today is the day.  Today begins a year without my beloved (and also hated) crutches: alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.  Goethe's quote rings true for me on the eve of any great journey or endeavor.  It reaffirms what I know to be true...that we are all so much stronger and more capable than we give ourselves credit for.  So, I begin my journey, hoping for something great and still open to anything that comes my way.

I had sushi last night with one of my dearest friends.  Yes, we ate a "Multiple Orgasm Roll" that was, in fact, slathered with mayonnaise and then fried (it was delicious), and no, I did not have any alcohol or sugar or even caffeine.  It was the best "Last Supper" ever.  He asked me what I thought would happen during my challenge...and what amendments I may have made for myself to survive the year.  My response was simple.  I don't know.  I guess that's the beauty of it.  This will be a journey with highs and lows.  I think I will feel successful if I do my best in each moment and if I have learned more about myself and changed a bit for the better at the end.


Change Through Community (Or Why My Gym is My Church)

"We don't accomplish anything in this world alone ... and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something." - Sandra Day O'Connor

I used to be so proud of my ability to "go it alone". My independence was something of a badge of honor, a chip on my shoulder, an aura I wore on my being like an overpowering perfume. I don't know how I got that way or what made me so dang proud of being able to do everything on my own and not needing anyone. In some ways it was magnetic to others...people could sense my vibe of confidence and my ability to just go solo into the world. However, at some point in my twenties, the success of my extreme independence began to crumble. Relationships failed because, in the end, I didn't "need them in my life" to be ok. I couldn't argue that, it was true.  I realize now that to be so rigid in my self-reliance, I must have built these huge walls up as to not risk vulnerability. Sadly, to not allow vulnerability meant I never really got close to anyone.

Over the last seven years, I have discovered the sweet, awesome, badassness that lives in a community. The first time I recognized this was as a teacher, when I tried to work alone and failed. Miserably. Success in that arena literally meant I had to open up, ask others for help, and lean on friends when I needed to (which was alllll the time). Reluctantly, I let down some barriers and found that it was ok to need others and for others to need you. It made relationships more meaningful and much harder to blow off. My heart became softer, and I was able to empathize in a way I hadn't been able to since I was a kid. It was a painful journey, but a necessary one.

In January of 2009, I discovered a new kind of community. One that buzzed with energy and support. I began to connect with people of all different walks of life, to truly understand that deep down...we are all the same! We want to be loved, to be accepted, to feel successful and to make a difference. I met some of the goofiest, smartest, most passionate people I know. Here was a place that every single time I walked in the doors, I was able to drop all the "life/work stress" and just be me. Here was a place that people greeted me and took time for me whenever I needed it. Here was a place that when others looked at me they saw the best of who I was, and who I could be. No, it wasn't a church or a support group (although it very well could be!), it was a gym.


The Definition of Success

"The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it."  -Michelangelo

If only it was this easy!
I have only told a handful of people in my life about my upcoming endeavor.  Responses have been mixed...mostly positive, some a little concerned that my objective is too large, too challenging, that maybe I should take some baby steps instead of jumping in with both feet.  Granted, these are the people who know me...and my love for my substances...the best.  All of their thoughts and comments helped me start asking myself some questions.  How do I define success?  When have I been successful in the past and why?  What will it take for me to be successful now? 

For most of my life, success has been equal to nothing less than perfection.  Maybe it's the "first child syndrome", but all I know is when I did not live up to my own demanding standards, I felt frustrated, defeated, and just plain "not good enough."  As life breaks down my perfectionism bit by bit, my definition has morphed into a more loving one:  success simply means doing my best in each moment.  And we all know that our best will change according to context.  That frosty brew in my fridge might not even phase me on a relaxing Saturday as I'm leaving for a hike, but that same hoppy deliciousness will quickly be bubbling in my tummy after a grueling twelve-hour day of teaching and parent teacher conferences.


So...What's the Problem?

"There is a great deal of pain in life and perhaps the only pain that can be avoided is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain." -R.D. Laing

I turned thirty-one last month, in the middle of vacation from my job as an elementary school teacher.  It was my birthday, I had wonderful friends and family surrounding me and I was leaving to Iceland the following morning with one of my very best friends.  So...why wasn't I happy?  Why was I plagued by this empty feeling in my gut?

I had a lot of time on Icelandic buses the following two and a half weeks to think about this.  I reflected on my behaviors and lifestyle when I've felt the most "whole" and my behaviors and lifestyle when I'm feeling dangerously "empty" as I have been most of this last year.  I noticed undeniable patterns.  Stress in my life often results in my consumption of three mood-altering substances: alcohol, caffeine and sugar.

After hard breakups, stress at work, or a fight with a loved one, I often turn to food to make me feel better.  For as long as I can remember, I've battled this ever descending spiral of salty-sweet-salty-sweet indulgences, each bite setting off intense cravings for more, and more, then even more.  My relationship to alcohol is love-love.  For the last decade, I have a beer when I'm happy, sad, angry, bored or stressed.  I drink to celebrate or to de-stress and sometimes even to forget.  I didn't drink coffee until I started teaching six years ago.  The intense stress and little sleep I've experienced while teaching at a high needs school quickly led to a severe caffeine addiction.  I drink coffee EVERY day during the school year, up to 3-4 cups a day during more stressful times. 

I literally wear my stress and emotions on my body because of my reliance on these substances.  My weight fluctuates, I break out on my face and body, I don't have energy, and my moods maintain at a much lower baseline than normal.  My coping mechanisms are my "life crutches" and my defense system that allows me to avoid fully feeling and experiencing all the stress, pain and uncomfortable parts of life.  However, avoidance takes a lot of work.  And a lot of continued consumption.  It's time to stop the cycles, to begin living life real and raw...life without crutches.

My challenge begins soon: one full year with no alcohol, no caffeine and no sugar.  I feel excited and apprehensive, sensing that my life could change in amazing ways in those 365 days.  I'm nervous I won't be strong enough to succeed, that the dependence I've built on these substances will be too strong for me to overcome.  I'm petrified to strip away the walls that stand between me and a lot of pain and fear that I've been holding at bay with my "stress trifecta".  What will happen when I have to face it for real? 

I guess that's what this is about.  After taking away my crutches and falling to the ground, seeing if I have it in me to get up and continue to walk.