Project Healthy Holly
Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday, by far. The costumes, the decorations, the parties, and the booze all fit into my personal version of “These are a few of my favorite things.”
This year was the first sober Halloween of my adult life. Until recently, I could not fathom life without alcohol. Not because I was an insatiable alcoholic, but because it was so woven into the fabric of my social life and identity that I didn’t think it was possible to separate them. Which is funny because if Project Healthy Body has taught me anything, it’s that a growth mindset is the only barrier between success and failure – a lesson I seem to be destined to confront over and over again. Even during the many times that I have tried to break plateaus through stricter protocols like a Whole 30 or an AIP, I refused to give up alcohol. That particular restriction didn’t apply to me, and as long as I did everything else, that would be good enough. This framing is not only narrow minded, but it is also utterly entitled – and as I’ve written about before, entitlement is definitely one of the behaviors that contributed to my obesity.
Even though I never considered sobriety, I have been naturally and steadily curbing the frequency with which I drink over the last year or so. It started with a strategy of permission that my therapist suggested. In any given social situation, I would take a moment to check in with myself and make a very conscious and judgement-free decision whether or not to drink. One that wasn’t based on any pressure (real or perceived). Sometimes, the outcome was a wholehearted YES, and sometimes it was a resounding NO – but it was always empowering because the decision was deliberate and it was mine.
Back in August, I was thumbing through Instagram stories and came across a post from ProjectHealthyAmanda asking if anyone wanted to join her in a September Whole30 with coach Debbie. Women supporting other women is something I am passionate about, especially when it comes to the PHB community so I enthusiastically signed up. I figured it would be good for me. A new semester of PHB had just started and I was riding a recent commitment to healthy eating, which included giving up the “sometimes” foods that were slowing my weight-loss. Basically, it was a win/win – help support a good friend, and get a little more serious about what I was eating (and maybe, MAYBE give up booze for the month, if it wasn’t too hard).
One of the first emails from coach Debbie walked us through the difference between a Me 30 and a Whole 30. A Me 30 is when you take the parts of the program that are easy, or that you’re good at, and forget the rest. The easy part for me was the food, since I basically eat Whole 30 most of the time. The difficult part was, of course, the alcohol. But something about this time was different. I figured there was no better time than the present to give it a real try. My husband stopped drinking entirely when he was diagnosed with Lupus about a year and a half ago, so I wouldn’t be tempted there. Plus, I was (and still am) riding a wave of momentum and commitment to my health that I haven’t felt since I first started PHB. Even some of my best friends, and most likely imbibers were temporarily giving up alcohol. I asked myself, “if not now, when?” and then resolved to complete my first TRUE Whole 30 program.
I have learned a lot about myself since then. I have learned that even one vodka soda will make my heart beat more rapidly at night, and that alcohol also affects my sleep, which is like a domino effect on my mood and energy. I know for certain that the movement and food choices I make the day after even light-to-moderate drinking will be less healthy than if I had abstained. I probably won’t make it to the gym, and I definitely fight cravings for sugar and dairy (which I know for certain no longer serve me or my health goals).
On the flip side, I have learned that I can have fun and experience true joy without cocktails. Even at big events, small dinner parties, on the golf course, and with family in town. Yes, you read that right – EVEN WITH FAMILY IN TOWN. Hell, I learned I can even have fun sober at a theme park! Not Disneyland, of course (not ever Disneyland, probably) but one in Minnesota with a big indoor water-park with swim up bar and six billion soda chugging/candy eating children who are too sugared up to consider getting out of the water to go to the bathroom. That has got to be the holy grail of sobriety, right there! What I learned about myself in each of these situations was that choosing not to drink wasn’t choosing not to have fun.
One of the tenets of the Whole 30 program is finding food freedom, which aligns with Project Healthy Body perfectly. The idea that I can have whatever I want was the concept that catapulted me to quick success in PHB, and freed me from the stress and pressure of good food=good person / bad food=bad person. If food freedom is what PHB taught me, then booze freedom is what this round of Whole 30 has taught me. Is my new name, Holly ‘the teetotaler’ VonDemfange? God, no. First, that would make an already too-long name even longer. Second, I know too well that all-or-nothing behavior is one of the reasons I am in this mess in the first place. For me, alcohol still has its place in my life. It is just a more conscious and deliberate decision now. And like everything in Project Healthy Body, there is a ripple effect and I’m not alone. We now have a group of 30 women who connect in the network to discuss their relationships with alcohol, honestly and without judgement.
Am I back to drinking more frequently today? No. I am still riding this wave of sobriety and Whole 30 eating because I am feeling good and it’s working. But I do have some things on calendar in the not so distant future that I have consciously decided might be worth imbibing for. And when I do decide to have some cocktails, it will be without guilt and I will enjoy it wholeheartedly. Until the following day, that is – but I will have decided that it was worth it.