I Gave Up Diet Coke...Now Give Me A Goddam Trophy

Diet Coke used to be a grocery store staple for me. I'd buy 5 packs at a time if there was a deal. I'd drink it before I'd drink water. Sometimes I'd drink it instead of water. I would rather run out of toilet paper than be out of Diet Cokes in the fridge.

I used to work on the Coca-Cola account in college, and I learned people like me are called "Super Dailies"--the term for customers who are obsessed and consume more than one can a day. Cool.

On July 1st, I gave up Diet Coke. Or, more specifically, I gave up buying Diet Coke and stocking it in my fridge constantly. I've had it twice this month: once on birthday with my Jimmy John's, and once at a lunch with my agent (her treat). As a Super Daily, I can honestly say I never thought there'd be a time that I could go without it. It was my one "vice"--I barely drink alcohol or coffee, I don't smoke or do drugs. So what if I started my day with a Diet Coke so I could focus on my work and feel alive? Plus, everything tastes better with Diet Coke and there's no greater DC than the one from the fountain at McDonald's. Fight me.

So why would I give up that goodness? I had an unexplained pain near my groin that freaked me out. I had a hairdresser who told me she had a client who had a pain in similar spot and it ended up being Stage 4 cancer and that story always stuck with me. I knew that wasn't likely what I had, but it still scared me enough to bring my sorry self to a doctor. With all the press about "Diet Coke" causing this, that, and the other thing (read: stroke, cancer, dimentia)...I wondered if there was any connection between the weird way my body was feeling and all the soda I was drinking. So, I cut it out and the lingering pain went away like magic.

The first few days were not hard at all. Not to be dramatic, but my will to live was fueling my decision to go cold turkey. But later on in that first week, I had serious withdrawal symptoms--fatigue, irritability (just ask my husband!), and most of all a headache that settled in everyday around 1pm on the dot and stayed for the rest of the day despite taking Tylenol. It felt as if an ice pick was lodged in my head and there was no way around it.

About a month in, and all of that has gone away. I'm drinking more water than ever in my life (and I feel like my body is thanking me for that) and when I want flavor, I drink tea, lemonade, Arnold Palmers, and the occasional $5 latte. These things may have more calories than a Diet Coke, but I am very active and try not to obsess about ~100 calories here or there.

Other than generally feeling healthier because I know I'm not putting chemicals and food coloring into my body, my skin looks smoother, I'm less bloated, and my bathroom habits (which used to be comical) have chilled out since removing all the bubbles and caffeine. I'm also not eating as many junk foods as I used to like chips, fries, etc. because the soda made them taste better. I mean, who wants to wash down an entire bag of chips with a glass of sink water? A few crunches with my sandwich is all I need now.

I'm not the kind of person who is going to say: "I'll never drink Diet Coke again!" because I don't have to be the kind of person who never drinks Diet Coke again. In fact, the next time I have lunch with my mom at Cheesecake Factory (next week), I'll order one and probably have two refills while I'm at it. But I also know that'll be the only time that week I'll drink it because while it tastes good as hell, I simply just don't need it anymore. It's just “a want” like any other treat, but treats aren’t an everyday thing.

What I am most proud of is getting my mind to a place where it doesn’t think my body needs it. It doesn't have to be in my fridge for me to function. I don't have to spend $7 for a 12 pack that I'll blow through in a week. I don't need to have an existential crisis if a place only serves Pepsi (the devil). I just don't really care, which is sometimes the definition of self-care.

Suffice to say, if you find yourself thinking "Man, I drink a lot of soda," or are ever wondering if you could break your daily/super daily habit, take me as an example of someone who was flat-out addicted and was able to almost eliminate it and live to tell you about it.

40 Ways to Live a Full Life

I recently read a blog post called 40 Ways To Live A Full Life (And Leave Nothing On The Table) By Age 30 by Ryan Holiday. I loved each arching theme and wanted to reflect on a few of them based off the lesson I've learned and what I want to take with me into the New Year.

1. Do Ridiculous Things

This summer, I mailed a Nerf gun with darts to my boyfriend's work. With it was a letter. I was, in fact, challenging him to a duel. Whoever got creamed in the Nerf fight once home from work had to make dinner for the other. That was fun.

2. It's Not What Will Pay Me the Most, But What Will Teach Me the Most.

I do storytelling (or "live lit") shows about once a month or whenever I am invited. I don't make money off of these shows, there usually isn't a standing-room crowd, and a lot of time sthey are far away. But I enjoy doing them immensely. I enjoy the freedom to express myself.

3. Quit Dicking Around

I knew the first draft of my second novel was due to my publisher at the end of this year, so in June, I definitely wasn't thinking about it. In November, I was. Even though I procrastinated, I realized just how much life it gives me to get moving on the things I love.

5. Get Married. Be in  Long Term Relationship.

For a long time, I believed that your significant other should/could not be your best friend, too. I take that back. The most beautiful, kind, loving relationship I've ever known is also the sexiest, most passionate, fiery one, too. Find yourself a partner who can be both.

6.  Steer Clear of the Toxic

It's hard to cut people off, especially if you're like me and wish for a more peaceful solution. But what you wish for and what is reality are two different things. In rare instances, a happy medium isn't possible. Accept it and focus on the healthy relationships you do have.

7.  Keep a Journal

Three things you're grateful for. Three bullets about how you feel today. Three bullets of what you want to do about that.

9. Live in New York or Los Angeles (or a city like that).

I already live in (a city like that) -- Chicago, but spent almost 2 years living in Southern California. Glad that I did, if only for the weather alone. But I saw "what California did" to those around me and it scared the living hell out of me. Glad I got out.

10. Quiet Moments are the Best

Happiness is: fireplace on. Christmas tree plugged in. Movie on. Dog snoring. 

11. Have a Philosophy

For me, it's "I believe you can do anything." in the voice of someone else. When I imagine that coming from someone else, I can't let that person down, so I work harder; smarter.

17. Be Responsible

Having insurance and going to the dentist every six months is actually not a bad look on someone 30+.

21. Travel With Purpose

2017 marked the first year I traveled. I mean, really traveled. I went to Punta Cana and Maui a week apart from each other. I hiked my butt off in Seattle. I visited Texas for the first time. I flew Coast to Coast for work. 2018, I have my sights set on Europe. More to come.

25. Don't Waste Time Being Offended

You will never be everyone's cup of tea. Social media, etc. makes it easier for that to become apparent. Oh well. Revert to caring about the relationships that matter.

31. Read Books. Lots of Them.

As a writer, I don't have a lot of time to be a reader. But when my boyfriend suggested we read a book together (i.e., out loud, switching off each chapter), I was surprised by how quickly we were able to finish one and how excited I was to start another. Also, it was fun.

35. Know Your Why

My "why" became more apparent than ever when I felt like it was being taken away from me. I am a storyteller. My "why" is to make human connections with people who I otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to sit and have coffee with. That makes me feel alive.

36. Know What's Enough

I used to never say no to a project. I liked being busy and the paycheck was an added bonus. For the first time ever, I'm finding myself turning opportunities down if they get in the way of time off, or if my schedule is too packed, or if I just don't want to do it. I have enough.

There are so many others in Ryan's original piece. I encourage reading them all and even doing what I did--reflecting on the ones that are most poignant to you. 

A Win for Passion

A year ago, if you were to ask me what I'd like to do on a cold, damp, windy November night, I'd say curl up by my fireplace and order cheese fries on GrubHub while watching a murderous episode of Dateline. That's a dream Sunday night if you ask me.

Last night, was a night like that: chilly, soggy, and blustery. But instead of reveling in the comfort of my highly-functioning HVAC system, I spent several hours of my night outside. Voluntarily.

See, I was cheering on the North Park Vikings, a collegiate soccer team that has advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen for the first time in their history. I have no further sport-related commentary to offer about this monumental event so don't even ask, but my boyfriend is an alumni and assistant coach for the team. This is an incredible time for them and for some reason, I felt the excitement, too.

There's no part of me that screams "soccer mom." But sure as shit,  last night I found myself dressing in layers and packing a bag of blankets, hand warmers, snacks, and towels (you know, to wipe the bleachers down). And at the main event, I even jumped out of my seat at least six times (final score: 6-1, good guys).

Once the game ended, it took me three hours to thaw and just as long for my hat-hair to come back to life. What has gotten into me? Why did I brave the elements to watch some kids kick a soccer ball?

I realized then that when someone is genuinely passionate about something, it is contagious. There comes a moment when the sparkle in someone's eye about something is so compelling, that a person from an unrelated track in life picks it up, too. For no other reason than...they just feel it.

Of all the amazing things the human body can do, this is one that the human spirit can do. 

For example, I sometimes wonder how and why my boyfriend never misses a storytelling event of mine. Sure, it's polite to support the things your significant other is a part of, but I think it goes beyond a simple call of duty. I believe that my passion for the craft and the gusto I put behind each word might actually be some pretty exciting stuff.

Everyone has a passion like this--be it soccer, storytelling, whatever. And when you open up about the things you love to do, authentically and unapologetically, you light the world up. We need more of that. Let your life's passions ooze from every orifice of your body, and see who shows up to witness it firsthand.

You might be surprised to see what people will give up an episode of Dateline for.


Take A Lap

Well, I made it all the way around the sun again.

In the past, these birthday blogs have been a summary of the life lessons I’ve accumulated over that particular year, which is a fancy way of saying: a recap of all the times I’ve fucked up and what I learned from each episode. But the older I get, the less I’m fucking up (finally). I’m starting to figure things out, become the person I am meant to be, and live that life confidently. 

That doesn’t mean this last year was devoid of a blooper reel. You know, the moments of pain and struggle that can make you feel like a stranger to your own self.

But this lap around the sun proved to me that moments of pain and struggle are scary, but okay. They’re okay because they create boundaries regarding what you will and will not accept from that point forward. In that sense, the pitfalls are actually the pivot points that move your life in a better direction.

Recently, I saw a chalkboard sign outside a coffee shop. Instead of a flowery Pinterest quote, it had a single, unassuming question: What has been meaningful to you this year? I liked it because it was a departure from the trendy, meditative crap that’s absolutely everywhere these days. Instead, this sign inspired mindfulness in a bullshit-free way.

I thought about this sign immediately after seeing it. Then again for many days to come. Now, the question floats into my head every now and then and it each time I answer it, it makes me feel alive and in touch with my own life story. Because answering that question truthfully forces you not to discount the troublesome times. Things that are meaningful in life aren’t always positive. But shortcomings have a way of evolving into something bigger and better over time.

So, yeah. I took a lap around the sun but I didn’t get burned. Instead, I got in touch with what has been meaningful to me and it illuminated my world as I know it.

Cheers to 31.

Not Strong

Unless it's No-Shave November, I don't pay much attention to "themed months". But recently it came to my attention that May is Mental Health Awareness month. I found this out when a former classmate of mine, always known for being hilarious and popular, posted the reminder as his Facebook status. 

In it, he said the pressures of always being "the good single dad" in the neighborhood, as well as the funniest person on Twitter, can sometimes get to him, but it's okay to not be okay--and to talk about that.

I've always prided myself on "being strong." Stronger than anyone else in the room. But when there's no one else near me, and I don't  have to be the captain of the cruise ship, something comes over me. Hint: it's the temptation to lie on my bedroom floor in the middle of the day and literally-cannot. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what giving into anxiety looks like.

Unlike my classmate, I may not have to fake a smile while running carpool or deal with the pressure of anyone actually reading my tweets (unless they are about Harry Styles, then it's a different ball game), but there are things in my life that choke me out more than they should. There are DIRECTV bills to dispute, impossible deadlines to meet, difficult people to please, places to be that I don't necessarily want to go, dogs to walk in the rain, etc. 

As insignificant as any of those seem, let me assure you that "being strong" sometimes doesn't even begin to make a dent in any of that.

But what I've learned is that strong doesn't mean you are a 24/7 QuickStop, servicing all things for all people. Being strong doesn't make you a vending machine that hums with the light on and never gets unplugged. Strong also doesn't mean you can't ever be sad. It doesn't mean you can't struggle. Or that you have to do everything alone. Or carry all of the weight, at all of the times.

And most of all, strong is not powering through, it's working through, so that you can in fact come out a bigger, better person. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to be late for therapy.

Just Stop

It's an incredibly challenging time to be alive. And trust me, that's not a political statement.

I'm managing more work than I've ever taken on, all conveniently bound by ironclad contracts that make slacking off or even asking for a mere extension damn-near impossible. Additionally, my 12-year-old dog was vomiting for a week straight, I'm playing landlord to multiple properties that are thousands of miles away, and for the first time in my life, I'm doing things like "forgetting to eat lunch" which is a huge red flag for someone who finishes one meal thinking about the next.

Here's the sick confession though: I kind of like it. The chaos, that is.

I feel alive when I'm busy. When I'm firing off emails and turning in work. It's the reason I can't meditate or take a vacation without wifi. And for the most part, I handle it all well. "High functioning" is what the therapist calls it.

But I'm still human. And the same thoughts that keep you up at night are the ones that keep me up at night. I just have a triple order of them, which is only a good thing when you're talking about French fries.

That said, I haven't slept much lately. Every night, I lay awake in my bed planning my next move, trying to get ahead of tomorrow, and attempting to answer a myriad of questions that flow in while the rest of the world winds down. And then I wonder why I'm exhausted and defeated in the morning.

But last night was different. In an unprecedented moment of clarity, I said just two words to myself as I crawled into bed: "Just stop."

Just stop because tomorrow isn't here yet; now is here. And now is bed time.

Just stop because you don't have the answers to the questions. And they won't come to you between now and 7am.

Just stop because the scenarios you are going over in your head are out of your control. And no amount of ruminating changes that.

So just stop before you even start. And go to sleep.

It was like five-second truce I made with my inner self and I couldn't have been more OK with it. I put the phone on the charger, turned my white noise app on, gave my dog a smooch and shut my eyes. I had the best sleep I've had in months.

There's a degree of peace you need to make with yourself, on your own time, in your way. It's like a deal you have to strike, especially when times are tough. For me, that'll likely never come through things like meditation retreats, traditional prayer, or even regular exercise.

But I have been newly-enlightened by the concept of "just stop" and am ready to make that part of my fresh start. 






Give It A Year

I'm of the minority, but I loved 2016. I achieved my life long dream. I spoke to my family almost every single day on the phone. I moved 60 seconds away from a frozen yogurt place. But the year wasn't free of challenges; especially toward the end. And while "another year" doesn't mean there's some scientific change in the air, I welcome the opportunity to audit how I'm going to do life moving forward. Three thoughts:

Make Mentally Sound Decisions.

The nature of my life (re: crazy) means I'm near-constantly making decisions. From what to eat for lunch, to what word to type next, to what seat to select on an airplane. But as of late, decisions have felt more complicated and complex than ever, which makes me want to do nothing at all. So, in 2017 I will no longer worry about making the "right" decision or the "wrong" decision. And when a decision feels "hard" or "sad" I will push through and make the choice that causes the least impact on my mental soundness. 

Deal with Negativity Appropriately.

When someone brings negativity into a situation, I circle around like a Life Flight coming in for landing. I immediately ask: What can I do? How can I help? What can I change about myself? No more. Negativity is what happens when someone cannot process challenge. It is not my job, it is not my bag to pick up, it is not my cause to take on to figure out the way. It is my empathy that is needed. So in 2017, I will protect my most valuable resources - problem solving, true compassion, charity - for when they are thoughtfully needed, and I will exercise empathy more freely than before.

Dismiss Fear.

I was with a friend recently and caught myself saying, "I would do THIS, but what if THAT." Translation: "I would [do this thing that makes total sense], but what if [something uncomfortable happens]." I was letting fear, some inanimate object that doesn't even exist in the universe as an actual situation, dictate my actions. When I saw it like that, I became repulsed. I'm stronger than that, and I know it. So, in 2017 I will acknowledge my fears, but then I will dismiss them and I will just DO. I will write the sex scene into the book. I will travel to the place I've always wanted to go. I will not apologize for being myself. 

How about you?