Addiction · Guest Posts

Guest Post: Sugar and Sobriety

"Decorating Sugar" © Gloria García, 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Decorating Sugar” © Gloria García, 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Three years ago to the date, I was living sugar-free. Actually, I was consuming no more than ten grams of sugar per serving. Unless you count naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruit, which I did not. I gave up all sweeteners, including artificial ones, so no diet sodas and nothing in my coffee. I definitely gave up daily dessert and near daily sugar binges.

What started out as Sugar-Free January got a little easier and continued into February until a few bites of rice krispie treat on a family trip started a slow but undeniable unraveling. It wasn’t long before all the wheels came off the dessert cart.

Sugar is a real slippery slope for me. I gave up drinking completely over four-and-a-half years ago and tore open a bag of Starburst in one fluid motion. Sugar didn’t make not drinking easy exactly, but it provided a little cushion. Sugar–cookies and candy in particular–provided immediate distraction from stress and possibly some emotional boost, though I never felt better after a binge. So why do I consume it so compulsively?

It’s no secret that sugar is highly addictive. Some claim sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. Wow, no wonder I have trouble quitting Oreos.

And what happens when I do give up sugar for any length of time? Oh, it’s not pretty. People stop loving me pretty soon after. The sun dims and clouds roll in from the west and I realize what’s the point? There’s an unhealthy side of agitation.

After about a month of this, the sense of power and control (the high?) I get from eating right mostly replaces this, but I still miss that emotional cushion. Not that eating whatever I want makes me feel very good about myself.

This brings me to moderation. Yes, please, I’ll have some of that. What I really want is to have my cake, but make it a small piece and hold the ice cream. And I only want it on birthdays, plus maybe a handful of times a year where cake is appropriate, like Bob’s last day or Polly’s baby shower but not Monday through Sunday.

People I know who successfully kicked the sugar demon have a different tale to tell. There is no such thing as moderation with sugar, they warn. Addiction is addiction, they tell me. I think they’re probably right and look for powdered sugar at the corner of their mouths. They seem pretty normal, well-adjusted, not curled into a fetal position.

So no more ice cream, you say? Like forever? Why can I commit to a lifelong with no booze but the thought of no ice cream makes me melt like a soft serve cone in July? Is it the more addictive thing or is it just that I don’t have much more left to give up? Don’t I get to keep a couple good vices for the hard times, parting gifts for my sobriety?

While there are many similarities between how I drank and how I eat–obsessively, secretively, shame-filled–sugar is no booze. I can eat a pint of Häagen-Dazs and safely drive. A sugar binge might make me a little spacey, but it doesn’t affect motor skills or make me say terrible things I won’t remember later. It is, afterall, just dessert.

Since that Sugar-Free January three years ago, I’ve had a couple more semi-successful quits. I say semi because I’m still eating sugar, overeating it if I’m honest. My weight is about the same now, though it was lower two years ago.

I think I have healthier eating habits now. I strive to eat more greens and protein in hopes I’ll feel satisfied enough not to want to binge on sugar. This occasionally even works, though not as often as I’d like. I also eat better because good food tastes good. I never noticed this before I did my first sugar-quit.

Last month I came this close to declaring another Sugar-Free January. Then I read this post and it hit me. I have never been at a weight where I’m like “okay, perfect” and I’ve always felt anxious about how much I exercised and what I ate. Even when I weighed ten pounds less and ran almost every day, I still thought my ass was too big. I have never been enough.

So I’m taking a break from expectations this month. This week I’ve eaten a cupcake every day, not as some sort of obscene experiment but because my daughters and I made some after school and work on Monday. It was a bad day, a very bad day you see, and I picked the one thing I knew would rouse us all: sugar.

We stirred and mixed and poured and baked and frosted, mouths watering all the way into the first few delicious bites. We laughed and talked and everything became a little sweeter. Sugar saved the day again, it seemed, but really I know it was the conversation and connection. Next time I’ll try it with a nice brussel sprout casserole.

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Kristen lives in the northeast US and writes about important life stuff and assorted nonsense at Bye-Bye Beer. She has also written about recovery for After Party Magazine and The Fix.

Interested in doing a guest post for this blog? Send an email to ruby@rubypipes.com.

Autobiography · Relationships

Decisions

Inside the clock” © “Rachel Pasch, 2009. CC BY-NC 2.0.

“Keep the rubber side down,” he said. Bicyclist slang for, “Be safe.” I had to look it up.

Felt more like a demand than a request. A way to assert dominance. My molars clamped down on each other and I pressed my tongue hard against the roof of my mouth, eyes narrowing.

“No,” I whispered, “he didn’t mean it like that. Of course he didn’t.” I shook my head and tried to stop the line of thinking I was about to follow.

But my neurons were already firing off in the same way they had been for years. I caught myself wanting to say, “You’d like that? Wouldn’t you?” All spit and vinegar. All angry teenage girl seething, “I do what I want to do.”

I wanted to lash out at every person who has ever assumed I took their opinions or desires into consideration when making my decisions. Who thought their preferences were floating around in my head while I debated what to do, what to wear, how to cut my hair, what scent to put on in the morning.

“No, actually. You never crossed my mind at all.”

When I dropped out of Berkeley my ex reached out to me and said he understood. That Cal wasn’t what he thought it would be, either. Followed with, “But why don’t you just admit you’re not cut out for it? That you only went there to spite me.”

To this day, my skin crawls when I think about it. How he could think–months after our break up–that my choices were bound to him.

Nobody spends that much time thinking about you, kid.

Thinking about me.

That’s the only consolation we get, isn’t it? The realization that no one spends their days wondering if what they’re doing is okay with us. That most hurts, joys, disappointments, heartbreaks, and wonderful surprises are all decided by chance.

Very few things in life are done to lift you up or to hurt you. You just happen to be there at the time.

It’s empowering and soul-crushing. We are small and insignificant. We can do anything without making much of a difference. May as well do what we want. Love fiercely and risk everything. Work hard and learn all we can. No one is watching.

This one’s for me.

Personal Development

Downpour

"Wind Turbines at Sunset" © Adrian S Jones, 2009. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Wind Turbines at Sunset” © Adrian S Jones, 2009. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
This isn’t working.

I catch myself flipping through ten different open tabs in my browser. Rechecking my email. Picking up my phone and sending text message after text message. Staring out the window, pacing around the office. I get up and do a circle. Grab a snack, refill my ridiculously gigantic water mug, talk to someone for a minute.

I’m firing on all cylinders. But not in the way that’s helpful. I’m not zoomed in, hyper-focused. I’m not tossing around the same problem and working it from all angles. I’m overwhelmed. I’m fumbling. There isn’t a starting point and I don’t even know what finishing would look like.

Hours go by and don’t think I’ve gotten anything done. Don’t feel like I can form a sentence to explain why that is or what it feels like. The crawling skin and pounding head that beg me to crawl under the desk, curl up, and cry.

There is nothing tragic happening here. Overall I’m pretty good. Nothing much to complain about. I sleep hard through the night. But my brain is trying to stretch itself out in every direction. Clawing at the inside of my skull, hoping to find a rough surface to latch itself to.

Traction.

Always looking for traction. I can make the lists. I know the things I want to do, but I have no sense of slow progression. I am a conveyor belt. Want to churn through everything as soon as it is set in front of me. No time for it to dry around the edges. There is urgency everywhere, for everything.

Just get it done. I don’t want to think about it anymore. I don’t know how to just let it sit. Let the pot simmer on the back burner and come back to it. There’s too much I want to spend my time on to offer any of it any room to marinate.

Move.

I like to think I could learn to give myself some leeway. Settle into the idea it’s okay for things to take time. To figure out how to be okay with things sitting. Undone. To let them be without letting them unravel me.