Sunday, February 28, 2010

Phase II: Shifting from Body to Habit Healing

Today marks two weeks of no intentional sugar, two weeks of no food bingeing (why binge if it isn't sugar?). Much of the physical sense of detoxing has passed or eased: the jitteriness, the headache, the unease of my brain. I think some of that is still going on--I used for a long, long time--but I am feeling better, feeling clearer. And as I mentioned on Friday, the habits are now cropping up.

I went to a play today with a good friend. It was disappointing--not badly acted but outdated and a violent and abusive side to men that I didn't really need to see. As I drove home restless and unsatisfied, I immediately began thinking about needing an almond bar that Trader Joe's has. They aren't very sweet (nuts and a little honey) and so they fall into a grey zone: is this a dessert or a snack bar? The real question is this: Am I likely to eat more than one in a sitting? Am I likely to spend time thinking about when I can have the next one? Am I likely to want to make sure I have enough of them on hand just in case? Am I likely to drive to Trader Joe's to find them?

The answer to the 4 questions: Maybe. Probably. Probably. Yes.

I drove to Trader Joe's. I hadn't been in several weeks and I needed some staples and it's a good place to buy local fruit. And that's all true. But as the same time, I searched the place over and asked a shelf-stocker. No nut bars. He'd never heard of them. Promotional item probably, he said. I knew this was my Higher Power in action, saving me from myself.

And I got an introduction to the next phase of detox for me: habit. Watching my habits, learning what they are, dismantling them. More about this later.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sugar addiction: Does talking about it help?

I'm a veteran of many years of talk therapy. I've had great counselors and some lousy ones but the ones who have been the most efffective are those who have encouraged me to find solutions and do something.

For the last ten years or so, I've been talking about my relationship with sugar, my weight, my relationship with my body, and all of that and its relationship with my past. I've talked about it with friends, with my sister who is a fitness coach, with my other sister who struggles like I do, with my women's groups, even with a special food-problem support group I organized for chronic overeaters. None of that talk ever shifted very much.

When I'd talk about the issue, especially with women, they had lots of suggestions about how I could go about losing weight or staying off sugar. Their suggestions were logical, rational. But it isn't possible to approach an irrational action, bingeing on sugar, with a rational suggestion. Their advice came from their well-meaning logic; my solution needed to come from my own heart.

Then early in January, at my goals and tasks group, I brought it up once again and got lots of supportive suggestions. And I had an aha (sometimes it takes forever to get there!). I realized, really realized, that if talking about it worked, I'd be thin and sugar-free. If other people's ideas about how I could do it worked, I'd be thin and sugar-free. It had to be me doing it, not me talking about it.

Recently, in a chat group I'm in on finding meaning in our lives, a participant quoted teacher and psychologist Eric Maisel as recommending taking a problem into action rather than talking about it. I like that phrase: taking the problem into action.

As a well-tested sugar addict, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to give up sugar, I needed to take action with my cravings, even if that action was sit with it, I needed to stop talking and act in my own behalf.

Yes, I'm still talking about it, hence the blog. But I'm moving into more and more action. Putting down the half-gallon of ice cream, the six-pack of cupcakes, the bag of little Snickers. Putting my health and emotional well-being ahead of my old habits. It isn't easy but it's much more effective than talking about it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Feeling bereft without treats

Being away from my regular routines was probably a good idea for my second week off sugar. I didn't plan it that way, but it helped to have friendly support, things to do in the evening, people to talk to, although I didn't really dwell on it. But driving home today, I felt off, uncomfortable. I had a good lunch and wasn't hungry and wasn't even craving sugar in the physical way I have the last 12 days off and on.

What I felt was heartache. I'm used to coming home to my apartment, unpacking, and heading off to the store to stock up on treats so that the shift from lots of company to cats only isn't so stark, so abrupt, so unpleasant. Sometimes I'd stop on the way home. I know where there's a supermarket on nearly any route I take back from the beach or from the interstate coming south. And my route tonight brought me right by St. Cupcakes, my current favorite before I went abstinent on Feb 14.

When I knew that sweets were waiting for me, somehow I knew I could make it through the loneliness of coming home to an apartment where I live alone. I'm not always lonely here, in fact, not often at all, but when I've had a great week away with others, my place seems pretty empty for a day or so. And now I'm having to ride through it without sugar support.

I stayed pretty busy the first few hours home. I'd already stopped to fill the fridge with meal ideas and veggies and fruit. I unloaded the car and loved on the cats. I went through the mail and email. Did some bill paying, changed the sheets. I'd have done all that before, but I'd have had sugar waiting for me, that soothing of my nerves and my loneliness. Tonight instead, I'm writing to you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Self-protection from sugar

I’ve been on vacation this week, on a writing retreat at the Oregon coast with women friends. I spoke my commitment to no sugar and the group has been very supportive. We’ve eaten well, had lots of fruit and vegetables, and if others have indulged in sugar, they’ve done so quietly and on their own.

I learned early that the anonymity aspect of sobriety refers for the most part to protecting the anonymity of others. I try not to give away details of someone else’s life that might reveal their drinking or their recovery. But I have been rather blatant about my own recovery right from the beginning. I wanted to protect myself from people offering me drinks, inviting me to events where alcohol was the main attraction. I didn’t necessarily want to talk about it or explain, but just saying ‘I don’t drink’ has been really helpful.

So too, I need to speak my commitment to no sugar. And I’m finding that, just like with alcohol, those who can take it or leave it are happy to go without in my presence. And those who are as addicted as I am deal with it on their own.

As the second week off sugar moves on, I’m finding myself thinking about it a little less, a little less discomfited by cravings. Maybe that’s because I’m out of my normal routine and don’t have some of my usual triggers: loneliness, too much DVD-watching, a heavy work load. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when I go home tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The relationship with hunger

Since I gave up sugar on Feb 14, I'm discovering that I don't like being hungry very much. I don't have a history of childhood poverty or starvation, have never gone hungry except as an occasional intentional fast for political or health reasons, but I'm finding myself panicky when I'm not eating whenever I want. This giving up sugar is more complicated than I expected.

The first step was letting go of eating whatever I want--and I felt ready for that. But I'm noticing that meals aren't enough. I'm used to eating meals and then sugar and waiting a couple of hours and either eating a snack or more sugar. I was seldom hungry but always ate meals and more snacks anyway, as if I could put off discomfort. It isn't surprising that over the last 12 years or so I've put on a lot of weight. So in addition to eating whatever I want, I see that I've been eating whenever I want as well.

I could see this behavior as indulging myself and I could easily make myself wrong about that. Instead I'm beginning to see that there's something else either physiological or psychological going on.

Today I wrote in my journal when I first got up and took advantage of a break in the clouds to take a walk along Netarts Bay, where I'm on a writing retreat. When I got back, I fixed a good breakfast and ate it and felt full. But two hours later, I wanted to eat again. I made a piece of toast and ate an orange. Lunch came at 12:30 about 90 minutes later. I was ready to eat although I didn't eat all that much (one small helping of the chicken, orzo, and broccoli). I was okay then until 3. I ate some pistachios and another orange. I ate a low-sugar, high-fiber grain bar (just this side of cardboard). I was okay then until dinner.

But the idea of not eating between meals scares me. I don't want those feelings of hunger. It isn't just a sensation of blood sugar dropping or a need to fuel myself. There's fear and dread and something restless and miserable about it.

A friend once told me that she believed that all of us bottle-fed babies from the middle 1940s, who were fed on a predetermined schedule, not when we were hungry, have trauma around eating. I don't know if my fear goes back that far but it touches something deep inside me. And that something is unhappy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Post-meal cravings

As Day 10 off sugar comes to an end, some of the jitteriness has been fading and I'm feeling more settled in my body. But one curious and unpleasant thing is happening more and more. I really crave sugar after a meal.

I've not been a lifelong dessert eater. I've preferred my sugar on an empty stomach, more buzz for the buck. And in my growing up years, we seldom had dessert as my mother was always watching her weight. I do eat dessert occasionally out with friends, but I much prefer late afternoon sugar or late night sugar, when the fullness of the meal has worn off.

But I find myself restless and unhappy and craving right after lunch, no matter what it is. A sandwich of meat and cheese. Chicken and potatoes and veggies. Soup and salad. It doesn't matter what or how much but all I can focus on is sugar: chocolate, a cookie, something.

I've done a little research on the Internet and can't find anything yet that explains the phenomenon. It's the time of day, post-lunch and a little bit post-dinner, that I really, truly NEED something. I don't know if it's a blood sugar issue or all in my brain chemistry but I don't like it.

Anybody else experienced this?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Step One: Powerless over sugar

Yesterday I wrote about coming to this current commitment to abstinence in a different way. It comes after two years of conversation with a wonderful spiritual director/counselor who has a lot of both personal and professional experience with addiction and in particular addiction to food. It comes two years after the publication of my memoir, Sober Truths: The Making of an Honest Woman, in which I was able to really put my drinking past into its proper place in my past, my present, and my future. It comes after more than 20 years of sobriety from one lethal addiction (alcohol) and the absolute understanding that this addiction to sugar, as I use it, could be just as lethal. And it comes at a time when for some reasons unknown to me, everything is lining up just right to do this (Grace).

I also feel that I have fully and completely taken the first step with sugar. I have no doubt that I am powerless over its many forms: candy, ice cream, cupcakes, cake, pie, scones, muffins, you name it. I cannot leave them be once I start. That is exactly how alcohol played out in my life. Whatever shut-off valve normal sugar eaters (and drinkers) have, I either don't have one or it's broken. I have proven this to myself over and over again.

Not only am I powerless over sugar, but my eating is unmanageable, the second component of Step One. When I eat sugar, I do eat other things but not very good things. To offset the sweetness I crave salty junk food like Cheetos and clam dip and chips and I want pizza and cheese and crackers. I don't want fruit or whole grains or vegetables. I don't want a yogurt or a V-8 juice. I just want crap. And then I want more sugar again.

I don't eat just crap, of course. I'm too knowledgeable for that. I know that you have to eat real food a good part of the time to have any semblance of health so I would eat that and then eat a lot of sugar and Cheetos. It's a great way to gain 100 pounds.

Powerless. Unmanageable eating. I've been here so many times. I'm tired of living that way, tired of being driven by something I can't control. I want my life back, and whatever that means, I'm willing to give it a try.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The meaning of commitment in getting off sugar

The first week of no sugar has gone by. And I'm feeling a little better and a little proud of mself. But I also know that, in some ways, this isn't the real test. The real test is in the long run. I've gone weeks without sugar, even six months several times. So what will be different? I never gave it up before with such clarity about the commitment.

When I've given up sugar in the past, it's been to lose weight, even when I've said it wasn't. My weight would have crept up another 20 pounds and I'd want to try to take it off. I'd go on some diet, usually a pretty sane one as I don't do well with deprivation or monotony (I just like food too much ), and I'd lose the weight or some of it and I'd fool myself into thinking that I could do one piece of cake or a bit of chocolate or a bowl of ice cream at a gathering and not start up the whole cycle. I have to admit that I knew what I was doing. In fact, such thinking was a blatant way to lie to myself because, you see, I'd done it all before with alcohol. I'd give up drinking for a few months and then tell myself I had it all under control and could have a glass of wine with dinner. Well, a couple of glasses. And then in two days, I'd be drunk again and drinking all the time. I already knew what the process was like and what was bound to happen.

Sugar was, admittedly, a little slower process. I would manage to eat in moderation for a week or two, rather than a day or two. And the worst part, or the best part, I wouldn't gain the weight back right away. I'd go two, sometimes three weeks, without gaining a pound and then I'd be bingeing again and all the weight would suddenly, or so it seemed, be back. So I would get lulled into thinking I could eat what I wanted and when and as much as I wanted.

This time I have my eyes wide open. I know that it takes what it takes to break an addiction and clearly it has taken me all those false stops and starts and relapses to get to this place. And there's no guarantee that I won't relapse again. It's only been a week.

But this time, I'm doing it differently. We say in AA that insanity is defined by doing things the same way and expecting different results. I want a different result. I want a different relationship with myself and with food. So I'm willing to do it differently this time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My earliest memory of sugar as salvation

The classroom is quiet, save for the quiet rustle of turning pages and the scratching of pencils. Acned skin, cat’s-eye glasses, beehive hairdo. The teacher sits at the desk in front of the room monitoring the work. She strolls the aisles from time to time, straightening the paper on a child’s desk so that it is centered on the slanted desk top, excusing a child with a broken lead to go over to the pencil sharpener on the side wall. She sighs all the while.

The brown-haired girl sits midway through the middle row. She has a name that starts with K, putting her close to the middle of the alphabet. She has finished her worksheet long before and is gearing up for a battle of wills with the teacher. Her legs are long enough to reach the floor and she wants desperately to trip the teacher. Instead she very carefully and slowly pulls the desktop up slightly, almost imperceptibly. She knows without looking where the teacher is in the room. She knows which lines of sight will keep her safe and which won’t.

She slowly moves two fingers into the desk to a strategically placed small white paper bag. The two fingers grasp a square of Hershey Bar, exit the desk, and the lid silently closes. The girl coughs quietly, politely puts her hand to her mouth, and relaxes into the taste of the chocolate.

It is 1956. I am 10 years old. And my teacher, Miss Brockhaus, is turning me into an addict.

One block down 30th Street from our house was the back entrance to the schoolyard. Two blocks down was the Little Store. It may have had another name, but we always called it the Little Store. I never went very far into the store—what I wanted was on the right just beyond the cash register. A heavenly panoply of penny candy—Lik’m’aid, wax figures full of sweet colored syrup, Tootsie pops, gum balls, and chocolate bars.

I don’t remember exactly when I made the connection between the restlessness that I felt in class and the sweet relief of the candy. I know I was unhappy when I had to sit quietly waiting for others to finish their work and I was angry when Miss Brockhaus would scold me for reading ahead in my book when some other kid was reading aloud. I had energy I didn‘t know what to do with. I spent the fall of that year in trouble, passing notes, talking to my neighbor, writing “I will not talk in class” thousands of times over several months. I began to spend more time in the hall, sent out of the classroom for misbehaving, and then eventually to the principal’s office. I felt ashamed and angry. I complained to my mother (“I just need something to do”), who talked to Miss Brockhaus, but nothing changed. I tried to do nothing, but I just couldn’t.

Then one day I went the Little Store on the way back to school from lunch. I bought a few pennies’ worth of candy, and I ate it all on the way to school and felt better for some of the afternoon. I started doing that on the days I got my allowance or could earn a nickel or a dime for extra chores. Some days I stole coins from my mother’s purse or took some of the loose change that my father placed on the dresser each night when he emptied his pockets. So I wouldn’t feel so rushed, I went to the Little Store on the way home at the end of the day, buying enough for after school and the next day in school. Soon not content with sneaking it at recess, I sneaked the chocolate into my desk. Part of it was a game: don’t get caught. It gave me something to do, a way to plan and scheme and pay attention in class. But more of it had to do with how the candy, especially the chocolate, soothed my feelings. When I’d had enough sugar, I didn’t feel so restless, so disengaged from my surroundings. Even better, the sugar helped me not care that I was bored.

I was learning how to take care of myself.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is there a pink cloud from sugar addiction?

Today for the first time, I felt up, energized, even a little happy. I still have the same jittery feeling physically but I feel a little more comfortable knowing what it is--the dopamine imbalance that will take some time to right itself. I also feel reassured that it will pass even though I may have more difficult days ahead.

But for the first time, I'm feeling a little bit of a pink cloud. That's an AA term for the euphoria that we may feel in early sobriety. We begin to feel better physically as our body starts to heal, we are no longer bogged down in the guilt and shame of continual self-destructive behavior, and some of our concerns for our health start to abate a little, as we realize we may just be able to turn this around. Today I find myself cautiously optimistic.

Why cautious? Because I know how difficult it is to kick a habit, especially a pleasurable habit that gives us a chemical rush of relief from the stress of life, both the consequences of our own choice and just what generally comes down the pike.

And I've given up sugar before, just like I gave up alcohol over and over before I finally got sober. I've abstained from certain kinds of sugar for months at a time. I did the Adele Puhn diet, which has much to recommend it, but her suggestion of only eating sugar out with others and only twice a week was a slippery slope for me. I followed her advice, then began eating it only twice a week but at home, then twice a week at home and in large quantities, and then I just couldn't stop again. Several years later, I did a two-month spring cleanse of only eating certain things (we were asked to refrain from the big allergens: wheat, soy, sugar, corn, and nightshades). I lost some weight, felt great, started eating sugar again, and was right back where I started within a few weeks.

And I'm wise enough to know that my habit has in no way been conquered. I'm on day 6 of no intentional sugar. Some believe it takes 3 weeks to kick a habit, some 90 days. I'm not sure even that will do it. Wanting relief from my feelings isn't going to go away. I know that. I'm just going to have to learn to manage them differently, in healthier ways. And sometimes I'm just going to have to ride through them.

But right now, I'm feeling pretty good. And I'll take that.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The roller coaster of day 5 off sugar

It's the evening of Day 5. I had a pretty normal day as far as my schedule went. Wrote in my journal, went to the gym, finished a project for a client, got my twice-monthly massage, worked several more hours on another project, watched the end of a riveting mini-series. All the while my body seemed at war with itself. I don't feel hungry but it's been hours since I ate anything; I just ate but I'm needing sugar; my hands are steady but my insides are as jittery as if I'd had caffeine all day instead of one cup early.

The jitters are from a dopamine imbalance in my brain and hormones. So says Anna, my therapist, who is a psychiatric nurse practitioner who specializes in addiction recovery work. My body is waiting for me to eat sugar to stimulate the dopamine production. Since I'm not giving it sugar, it's not producing. It's just waiting and signalling me to eat sugar. I have cravings. It's been nearly 3 years since I tried to get off sugar, three years of eating lots of sugar every day. No wonder my body is confused.

I love a massage and I love my masseuse, been seeing her for years, but her touch today felt too deep, sharp, jagged. I asked her to go easy, that I was detoxing from sugar, but she got to talking about her own frustration with trying to stay off the stuff and she forgot to go easy. And suddenly it wasn't about me and my problem, and when I get a massage, I want it to be about me.

This morning the sun was shining and I was more alert early in the morning than I've been in months and it was a joy to sit at the terrace window and sip tea and write in my journal. I felt happy. It lasted a few minutes. Then I found out that a big project I applied for isn't going to happen. That's part of my life, applying and not getting jobs. It happens and I roll with it and apply for another and get that one. But today it felt devastating, all out of proportion to the job and its possibilities or even its impact on my bottom line and my schedule.

Withdrawal feels a lot like PMS or menopause. You know it's your own body doing this to you, that if you can wait, it will pass or shift or morph. But in those difficult moments, it's just, well, difficult.

On the up side, I felt less of a need to eat and keep eating. I felt a little less restless while I worked, stood in front of the refrigerator a little less.

Glad the day's about over.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Defining abstinence from sugar

Over the last several days, several readers of the blog have written to ask me what I am abstaining from when I say I've given up sugar. This is a complex question.

Last November I began my giving up. I committed to no ice cream in my home. Ice cream is something I love and can eat unconsciously until there is no more, no matter how much there was to begin with. Although I've had ice cream twice since then, once at a birthday party and once at a baby shower, I've been able to let it go. And I'm glad I did that initial withdrawing.

But I found that I did not stop bingeing on sweets; it just changed form: cupcakes, chocolate bars, pastries from New Seasons with whipped cream, pudding, cookies and whipped cream, Dots, caramels, if it's here, I'd eat until I was sick. And what I really wanted was ice cream, of course.

Our culture is addicted to sweetness. In 2008, we were consuming an estimated 165 pounds of sugar per person. Per person! That means if you don't eat much, somebody's eating theirs and yours. Yikes. Most of this is due to the ubiquitous nature of sweeteners in our food: most processed foods of any kind contain sugar in one form or another. Salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, ketchup and barbecue sauce. Best Foods mayonnaise has high-fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient. It's everywhere and in nearly everything, unless you cook from scratch. And the more sweets we eat, the more we seem to want.

Many people who go off sugar refrain from eating all refined sugars and flours, no matter the quantity--these refined carbohydrates can create similar responses in the body. There's even a special Overeaters Anonymous sub-program for this group. However, it's very hard to stay abstinent on that plan.

When I stopped drinking in 1989, I became vigilant about alcohol: I didn't eat desserts or sauces that contained it or use mouthwash and tinctures. Since then I've eased up a little. I still don't do alcohol in food or use Listerine and I make sure I get a kid's alcohol-free cough syrup, but I do take some herbal tinctures, a few drops in a full glass of water. It hasn't set off any cravings.

So, in this next phase of giving up, I'm choosing to let go of the obvious sugar treats, what I call "intentional sugar": anything that can be construed as a dessert, a sweet treat, a sugar fix. That includes cake and cupcakes, ice cream and sorbets, pie and pastries, doughnuts and candy, muffins and maple bars. These are all foods I have used to sedate myself. And I'm clearing my cupboard of items with corn syrup or other fructose ingredients. I think the stuff is evil.

Down the road, I may need to let go of less obvious food stuffs with small amounts of sugar if my cravings don't subside. But for now, one step at a time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sugar Addiction and the Sensitive

This morning I checked Yahoo news to see what was up in the world. There was a local article about 1000, yes that was the number, 1000 trees that were going to be taken out to make room for a new overpass here in Portland. 1000 lives, 1000 homes for critters, 1000 sources of oxygen for all other living creatures, all lost so traffic can move a little more smoothly. I don’t know for sure but I suspect no one in the Oregon Dept of Transportation sees those as lives. I began to weep.
I’ve known for decades that I am a sensitive, someone who feels things more strongly, my own emotions, those of others, the suffering of the world. And for more than five decades I’ve used sugar, and then alcohol, and then sugar again to put a buffer between me and those feelings. As my heart ached for those trees, I felt a surge of panic. How am I now to buffer myself against all the suffering?
From clinical studies done, an estimate 15% of people are sensitives; some believe we are born this way, others that it is the result of early trauma. Either could be true in my case. I’ve met lots of sensitives—they’re often in recovery from drugs or alcohol, they’re often spiritual seekers, they’re often artists or other creatives. We’re loners because the world gets to be too much for us; we avoid conflict and anger because it paralyzes us; we’re highly observant of details and small changes that go right by other people; we sometimes feel raw and exposed and battered by the world. No wonder we seek comfort in substances.

I wrote in my journal about this for a while, then went to the gym, came home to breakfast and a shower, started my work day. But I was just putting off my feelings. I tried to sit with it, to really feel my anguish but it became more than I could handle and so I got busy again. I didn’t eat, but I’m not sure whether that’s a victory or not. I’ll see my spiritual director tomorrow and we will have much to talk about it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 2

Day 2 done. Today was a little better although I felt very low this morning and stayed in bed as late as my schedule would let me even when that meant that my morning rituals were very rushed. Even the sunshine and blue sky wasn't tempting.

I had an early morning appt with my doctor about blood work. I feel grateful that my blood sugar is not elevated (there is a family history of adult onset (type 2) diabetes, and alcoholism and diabetes are closely linked in many people). But my cholesterol levels aren't stellar and she wanted to talk about medication for it. We had a good conversation. She was most supportive of my getting off sugar and she knows how long I've been trying to do this. So we've agreed to check blood levels again in 3 months and see what the dietary changes can bring.

My housecleaner Jane came today. She's a lovely woman and it felt good to have her here and to have my house clean and sparkling--that shifted the energy in the house and my energy as well. I also told her what I was up to and she decided to join in by giving up sugar for herself. In fact, several readers of the blog are also making their own changes so I feel much less alone in this adventure.

I got more than a dozen emails of support and some of you also commented on the blog and I so appreciate your kind wishes and solidarity with me in this.

My sobriety from alcohol was solidly based in Alcoholics Anonymous and I had hoped that Overeaters Anonymous would work for me in the same way. But it hasn't, and maybe because it isn't Sugar Eaters Anonymous. While addiction is addiction is addiction, there are differences with each substance of choice that are crucial in the recovery conversation. I hope to explore some of those differences in upcoming posts.

I took it easy today. Let my schedule be fluid, watched some very funny episodes of 30 Rock. Laughter as medicine seemed a good idea. I'm still awfully restless and there's a kind of internal jitteryness that I associate with a hangover and withdrawal, something I haven't felt for a lot of years. I know that will pass as my pancreas rests and the rest of my hormones settle down but it is unpleasant now.

Thanks again for your kind wishes. Glad to be headed off to bed.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

First day jitters

It's been a long first day without sugar. I did okay this morning. Went to the gym, had a good breakfast, did a little work, got a shower, went up to the Japanese Garden and saw the great art exhibit up there. Got home about 2:30 and I was really hungry. And I ate, and I ate, and I ate. I felt restless, unsatisfied. I was full, I wasn't hungry, but I couldn't stop eating. I was searching for that feeling, that shut-off valve that I associate with lots of sugar and I just couldn't get there. Finally after I'd eaten a far amount of fat (nuts and cheese), the restlessness got a little better.

But all afternoon I had a hard time sitting still. I'd read for 10 minutes, jump up and do something, turn on a DVD, check email. I was anxious, anxious, anxious. I kept thinking I should get something done, be creative, or get something checked off my very long to do list around the house but I couldn't settle on anything. I couldn't settle down. For a very long time I've used sugar to do that.

My very knowledgeable therapist suggests it will take 3-6 weeks to right my brain chemistry. That's right, my brain. I've doping myself with sugar and that impacts the levels of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good chemicals. My body is used to sugar providing that hit and today I clearly didn't have much.

I do feel glad that I gave everything sweet away and put the bits and pieces of leftovers in the garbage with the kitty litter. No temptation there. But I sure would have liked to postpone day 1.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The final lonely treats

I've spent the day eating sugar. Maple bars, chocolate, a truly wonderful doughnut, gelato, the last of the cupcakes. It's excessive even for me and I can eat a lot of sweets left to my own devices. Surprisingly, I don't feel bad. I used to get this way with alcohol toward the end where no amount had any effect on me.

I've just thrown away everything that's left over--part of a dark chocolate bar, some pudding, a pastry that was forgotten a while back in the nether reaches of the fridge. I've put into a bag a box of cookies, a cake mix, and a package of one of my current favorites: Trader Joe's Sweet and Salty Trail Mix, which has peanut brittle in it--I'll take that to my sister tomorrow to give to her kids.

I do need to say I wavered at that last one. I love that trail mix and I wanted to convince myself that because it was mostly nuts, it was a fairly healthy and satisfying food, but of course that was my demon talking, the demon of denial.

I've mentioned what I'm doing to a few people but none of them seemed all that interested. I don't think they realize how huge a thing this is for me, as important perhaps as my entry into a treatment center 20 years ago. When you say you're an alcoholic going to treatment, it's a big dramatic deal. How brave! How courageous! Good for you. Those of us with sugar addiction don't get the same reaction. We're just chronic dieters with little will power. Not many see yet that all addictions are a disease, the same disease, the desire to feel better (not a bad thing) and using excessive amounts of certain substances (not a good thing) to do that.

I feel nervous tonight, and in particular, I feel lonely. A lot like I did the night before I gave up alcohol, my other best friend.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Au revoir, Saint Cupcakes

Today after teaching a class of graduate students, I drove home via Belmont St. and made my last pilgrimage to Saint Cupcakes. They have a wonderful vanilla cupcake with cream cheese frosting that I'm very fond of. I don't go there often and usually only when I'm going to have friends over but lately, I've been going more often and buying a half dozen just for me.

When I got home, I ate three rather quickly. I enjoyed them; they were delicious, but in typical fashion for me, it was less about the taste than getting satisfied. I've learned that more and more, when I eat sweets, I'm not looking for the taste, the deliciousness of them, but rather to have some restlessness, some craving shut off. That was the same thing I looked for in the last years I drank. I wasn't tasting the wine or the bourbon, I was looking to get okay, to feel complete in some way that I wasn't without it.

I don't know what is going to happen with that restlessness when I stop eating sugar, when I go cold turkey on Sunday. I'd been fooling myself for a while that I was weaning myself off sugar but that isn't really true. So it's abstinence starting Sunday.

Tomorrow I'll eat the other three cupcakes and maybe some of the other sweets that are in the house but everything left over will have to go tomorrow night into the trash. Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Goodbye, fructose!

When my friend Leslie heard I was about to go off sugar, she sent me a link to a video on the dangers of consuming fructose, the natural sugar that's in all corn products, including modified corn starch and high-fructose corn syrups, unfortunate staples of the processed food industry.

Although the video was rambling and way too long, the pediatric endocrinologist was most convincing. In the 1970s we were all warned to cut down on fat and we did and heart disease continued to increase and we all got fatter. Why? Because the fat in our foods was replaced by more sugar, specifically high-fructose corn syrup, which impacts negatively the LDL portion of the cholesterol pattern.

Our foods are sweeter and more fattening and it makes us want sweeter, more fattening foods. Sound familiar? It does to me. I love all that stuff and I've come to depend on it in ways that just aren't healthy.

I was geared to go off sugar anyway, but that video was like the last nudge. Goodbye, corn products! Hello, fruits and vegetables!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Life isn't a box of chocolates

A few years ago, I was in San Francisco visiting friends around this time of year. They had a tradition of exchanging chocolates on Valentine's Day. I was in a period of no sugar and when my friend asked if getting a chocolate tulip would be a problem for me, I lied and said no. I ate that tulip, several of the chocolates out of her box, bought my own box of See's at the airport, and was off on another several years of sugar addiction.

Last September I celebrated 20 years of sobriety from alcohol and drugs and yet my sugar addiction is in full bloom. For a year, I've been working with a great spiritual director/counselor who has had her own issues with food. We've been circling around the issue of abstinence for all those months. In early November, I gave up ice cream, my sugar of choice. Dreyer's Twice Churned Caramel Delight to be exact. I've had ice cream once since then at a party but I'm feeling a bit clearer about letting that go. But I'm still eating sugar and using it to numb my feelings, both past and present.

Valentine's Day this coming Sunday seems a good day to let it go, as a gift of love for myself. I'm not dieting, I'm not abstaining from other foods, I'm just going to let go of what I call "intentional" sugar, the sugar I eat to slow down, to relax, to numb out, the sugar I take as a drug.

I can feel my resistance, I can feel my fear. I don't know what is going to happen. But I'm going to let it happen. I don't want my life to be about a box of chocolates.