The night before I quit smoking forever, 25 years ago, I chain-smoked a whole pack of cigarettes. I had a smoker’s cough; I wanted to free myself from the tyranny of nicotine; and I did not want to follow in my father’s wake and die from lung cancer. But I also didn’t want to lose my friend, my companion, my crutch that helped me cope with feelings of uselessness, self-pity and fear.
The toxic inhalation of 20 cigarettes in a few short hours, to help quell the panic I was feeling about quitting, satisfied nothing, but made me feel sick enough the next morning to delay the inevitable craving I knew would come. And other than a cigarette here and there over the years—when I spent three months in Paris in 1997 I would sometimes smoke in an outdoor café while sipping my café au lait; I told myself it didn’t count, it was Paris—I never returned to the habit.
Today is the day, once again, to give up refined sugar, the drug that doesn’t look like a drug.
Two nights ago, in preparation, I ate a 12.6 oz bag of my favorite poison—the one I consume when I’m lonely or depressed or angry—M&M’s peanut chocolate candies; hoping it would make me sick enough to stay away from sweet things for a day or two. It didn’t work. I loved eating every sugar-coated-chocolate-covered-colorful peanut. And I wanted more the next day! I didn’t have more but I did eat another chocolate treat last night for my final hurrah.
Proof that I’m a sugar addict: I cannot eat just a bite, I cannot order a sweet with my café au lait in Paris, I cannot not want more.
It was about 20 years ago when I first decided to swear off sugar. I don’t remember exactly the day or the year as I hadn’t yet admitted I was an addict, but I was on a health kick and knew sugar wasn’t healthy, so I stopped eating it and felt better. But I do remember exactly when I decided to fall off that wagon and eat some chocolate.
It was April 1992 and I was living in a Zen Buddhist Monastery. I had lost my job and I was somewhat lost myself. My favorite monk had died early in the year and I wasn’t sure why I was there. All my usual touchstones, grounding me to life as I knew it, were not available. I still have a visceral recollection of missing my phone and answering machine—there were no cellphones yet—every time I walked into my austere room. I was lonely, out of touch and scared. It was a very strict environment with no entertainment or distraction. Except, each morning, there would be a small sweet offered with our tea. I caved early on in my stay and savored every tiny morsel. There was never enough to over indulge so I convinced myself I could finally eat sugar responsibly. Until I returned to the real world, when slowly but surely my consumption of it escalated into the danger zone and once again I had to quit.
Much as I hate to admit it, I’m an all or nothing gal when it comes to addictive substances.
I have been refined-sugar free for most of the past 20 years. I wish I had kept closer track. Today, Monday, August 13, 2012 I once again swear off eating refined sugar products—no matter how I’m feeling, no matter what is going on, no matter whom I offend by declining an offer of sweets.
I choose this date because I know I’ll remember it: two years ago on Friday, August 13 I got married. I wasn’t depressed or lonely or sad. I was happy. I wanted to celebrate. I ate the dessert. It was beautiful, it was scrumptious, it was perfect.
I told myself that would be it, just one day of indulgence. Instead, no surprise here, it triggered the sugar craving that lasted two years and culminated with that bag of M&M’s.
Already I am beginning to bargain with myself about this resolution. At the end of this week I leave for a two-week vacation in the country, where most of the entertainment is self created. A visit to the local Creemee Stand each night after dinner is our recently established custom.
I’m thinking that I may allow myself a scoop or two and start the no-sugar-no-matter-what diet after vacation. But I don’t have to decide that right now. All I know is that for today I vow not to eat any refined sugar products. We’ll see about tomorrow, tomorrow. Wish me luck!