Monday afternoon I logged onto my facebook account and saw a message from a woman I’d never met, though I knew right away who she was. It was my Godmother’s daughter, delivering unexpected and sad news.

My Godmother, Audrey, held a quiet, steady presence throughout my childhood. Every year around my birthday a giant box arrived on our front porch. Inside were gently used hand-me-downs of her daughter’s clothes and a beautifully wrapped box with a new sweater inside. She always seemed to know my size and what I liked. Even as a kid, I got excited about a box of clothes. It was a connection to my mother and the past that wasn’t ordinarily acknowledged.

Audrey had been my real mother’s best friend in high school. My grandmother loved to look through old photo albums with me, and she always lingered on pictures of Audrey. Audrey and my mom with their dates before some dance, all bouffants and dark lipstick and big smiles. Audrey sitting pensively in her front lawn in full ballerina costume, her tulle skirt arranged around her in a perfect circle. My grandmother told me about Audrey’s elopement. She ran off to marry a man her parents didn’t approve of, or maybe they just thought she was too young. Audrey left my mother’s life, but only for a little while.

The only picture I have of Audrey is of and her young husband holding me over the baptismal pool at my christening. Audrey’s platinum blond hair is cropped fashionably in early 70s style and they both look happy together.

When I turned 21, the annual packages from Audrey stopped, though I recall there was at least one more the year we lived in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember this because I got a box with computer equipment clearly intended for someone else. I had to use detective skills to track her down and when we spoke on the phone I was surprised by how tiny and light her voice was. She sounded like Marilyn Monroe.

We were out of touch for a number of years. I moved around a lot, she got busy, life happened. When we moved minutes from the return address on her cards all those years, I sent her a letter. I held vague fantasies about meeting regularly for coffee at the same mall where she would have shopped every year for my birthday sweaters. When I didn’t hear back, I thought the worst, though I never gave up.

Last February, I found her on facebook. I sent a friend request with a message explaining who I was. It had been about 11 years since I’d heard from her at that point. She wrote back almost immediately that of course she knew who I was and she was delighted to hear from me. I learned she no longer lived in the area, which explained why she never replied to that last letter.

Over the next year, she was my #1 Fan on facebook. Whenever I posted a picture of my girls, she was the first to ‘like’ it and comment. Her comments were glowing and unconditionally supportive. I could have posted a picture of burnt toast and she would have praised how well I burnt it, and genuinely meant it.

I’d stopped posting much of anything on facebook, so the last thing she commented on was my search for cookie bar recipes on an affiliate site just before Christmas. It was one of those accidental postings facebook is so good at, but her comment was just as heartfelt as when I’d posted family photos. She made such an effort to reconnect. I can’t describe how much joy she brought to my life in the last year.

And now she is gone.

The message from her daughter the other night was unexpected and heartbreaking. Audrey died suddenly after routine surgery. Her family was of course shattered by loss, and I felt touched they thought to reach out to me, let alone that they knew who I was. Audrey’s daughter asked me to give her father a call, which I promised I would do.

Audrey was still married to the man she eloped with as a young woman. They were married 51 years, which feels impossibly long in the best possible way. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t scared to call this man I’d never communicated with before. What would I say to him? What could I say to him?

Yesterday morning I was all nerves as I waited for a decent hour to call. One of his sons answered the phone and I spoke briefly to him, but he told me his dad had gone out to run errands and would be back in a couple of hours. I was all nerves again until I had a chance to call in the late afternoon, but this time I got him and every worry I’d had vanished. No surprise really, but he was as decent and kind as Audrey.

We spoke only briefly, but the conversation had substance and comfort. He told me Audrey had treasured our conversations on facebook. He remembered his days with her when my mom was still alive and reflected that both girls are gone now. While I’m not sure of the exact nature of my spiritual beliefs, I like to think those girls are now reunited in some way. The thought brings me peace.

At the end of our phone call, Audrey’s husband asked me if I would keep in touch with him via email, and I said I would be delighted. All of the worrying I’d done to wonder what I could say to this man – my Godfather, really – and how I might honor Audrey now that she is gone, and he made this simple, perfect request. I am not a phone person, but boy can I email.

I am glad I kept reaching out to her all those years, though she is the one who kept it going at the end. I am heartbroken that our time was short and that I will never get to have coffee with my #1 Fan, but I am ever grateful for her presence throughout my life.

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Day 25 and a 35 year old cupcake

About 5 months after I quit drinking, I got my feelings back. At the time I wasn’t very happy about it. I’m sure it was brought on by my decision to wean off of an antidepressant that numbed me even better than booze, and the only way out was through. For a brief period of time that felt like forever, I cried a lot, mostly in my car, mourning things I’d done or had done to me while I was drinking. Even though it was a horrible time, some tiny voice inside reassured me that these feelings would pass if I just let myself feel them.

And they did.

It fascinates me that a similar process is happening now since I cut out sugar. This time the memories are much older, dating back to the late 70s. They weren’t repressed memories, though I haven’t thought of them in some time.

I am 5 years old and sitting inside Michael Moon’s clubhouse having my first piece of Fruit Stripe gum. It is red, so cherry flavor I guess. For about 30 seconds, I’m sure I’ve reached Nirvana.

I am 4 years old, standing inside a girl’s house whose name I forget, though I do remember the modern, chrome style of her kitchen. The kitchen was immaculate and her parents strict, so I only held the cupcake she took from the fridge and handed to me for about a second before her mother came along and plucked it from my hand. Thwarted.

I am 4-ish and at my BFF Robbie’s house for his birthday. I am terrified of his teenaged brother, Glenn, for reasons I don’t remember. Glenn lunges at me like he’s going to grab me as we gather around the dining room table to sing Happy Birthday and I run to hide behind Robbie’s grandmother, burying my face in her cottony housedress. The grown ups around the table laugh.

The only common thread I can identify in these memories is sugar: too much and then too little in the Fruit Stripe gum, not any in the cupcake that never got eaten, perhaps some in Robbie’s birthday cake, though all I can remember is feeling foolish and then angry.

I also remember the time I stood in Robbie’s carport while Glenn and his older friends smacked baseballs into the yard with an aluminum bat. I stood too close behind Glenn and once when he swung the bat it connected not with the ball but my left eye. I remember running the quarter of a mile home while covering that eye and screaming so loudly I scared myself. Parental supervision was lax in the 70s, except when it came to cupcakes.

I also recall the time when my brother ran me over with his bicycle “by accident”.

I try to simply feel these memories without judgement, though I can’t help but look for similarities. The physically painful memories are less curious, but I wonder why sugar struck such a chord. Could I have been self-medicating all along?

This would have been right around the time I learned that my real mother had died from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was still a baby.  Part of me knew the woman I called Mom was really my stepmom, but I was too young to make the connection that there had been another mom, a real mom, before her. My grandmother was the one who told me while I gorged myself on Brach’s candies at her house late one night while my parents were at a wedding. I remember nearly choking on a sickly sweet coconut stripe as I tried to finish it quickly and hearing my dad speak to my grandmother in sharp, hushed tones when they returned to pick me up. I think he was angry because she’d let us have candy so late at night, though I thought at the time that it had something to do with my mom dying.

Unlike the post-drinking memories, these aren’t really painful. Maybe it hurts to understand that I’d never really allowed myself to feel sad about losing my mother simply because I had no memory of her. Like, if I couldn’t remember her, I had no right to miss her, if that makes any sense.

Maybe if you don’t feel something, you can never really let it go.

Self-Sabotage

about-to-fall-off-a-tall-building1
sometimes I think you WANT to fail

Nineteen months sober and I finally got around to reading Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. I have no idea how I missed it in early sobriety, when it would have helped immensely, but I’m glad a friend recommended it now. Maybe I gleaned more wisdom with some context. Knapp had incredible insight into her own motivations for drinking, and I could relate to many of them.

One of the quotes towards the end of the book bothered me, though. She was describing the dangers of alcoholic thinking and how it continues long after we put down the drink:

If it feels warm and fuzzy and comfortable and protective, it’s probably the alcoholic choice. If it feels dangerous and scary and threatening and painful, it’s probably healthy.

Who would stay the course in sobriety if it felt scary and painful? Who would choose anything healthy if it always felt that way?

Then I noticed this quote just above it (both were lines Knapp heard at AA meetings):

…with each decision in sobriety, you are faced with two possible choices: the alcoholic choice or the healthy choice. The alcoholic choice is the self-sabotaging one, the one that makes you feel self-pitying or resentful or somehow defeated. The healthy choice is the one that reinforces your vision of yourself as a better person, more in charge of your life, equipped with options.

Boy, I needed to hear that.

Sunday night I had about as close to a meltdown as I’ve had in some time. After a day of housecleaning/yoga-meditation class/taking the kids swimming, I decided to tackle two recipes that were beyond my skill level. I was hungry and tired and definitely angry and probably thirsty as well, so I was all the things I know better than to let myself get in sobriety. When my husband suggested ordering takeout, I brushed aside the offer in stubborn pride, which is kind of my thing these days. Self-sabotage much?

How did I get to this place of taking on more than I can reasonably handle? Is it part of the same masochistic mechanism that has me buying bags of adorable heart-shaped peanut butter cups for the freezer and obviously not me this month? Am I pushing myself so close to the edge to feel pain or the after-effects of relief? If it’s the latter, I can tell you the high is not worth it.

The lesson I learned is to force myself to scale back. The whole reason I’m taking meditation class in the first place is to learn to fucking relax, so next time I won’t pack so much into one day. I will note those recipes beyond my skill level were totally worth it, but I have no business attempting two at the same time, no matter my state of mind.

This is what the right choice probably looks like, and it did wind up being painful and uncomfortable, though it should not stay that way. Recognizing those attempts to self-sabotage, however curious and maddening, helped me understand what I need to do differently. This is the better vision I have of myself, someone who recognizes when I’m stewing in frustration and self-pity and scales back and accepts help. Ultimately my goal is to stay far from the edge in the first place, and this too feels possible.

Note: Day 22 of the sugar-quit and still holding. A little crazy(er) and beaten perhaps, but still holding. 

Day 14

The 30 day sugar quit is going well. I haven’t succumbed to temptation, though I’m surrounded by sweets at home. It reminds me so much of the months after I quit the drink. I’d be in the kitchen making dinner and see my husband’s beer on the counter and think “oh there you are”. The crushing disappointment and resentment that swelled up seconds later was I guess why they recommend you remove all alcohol from the home in early sobriety. Whoever they are. It wasn’t an option for me then and it isn’t an option now with dessert. To tell the truth, I take almost sadistic pleasure in depriving myself and not giving in to these base urges for comfort. This would worry me more if I didn’t remember how badly I felt while strung out on sugar just last month.

I lost the rest of the holiday five last week. I’m eating a lot better and mostly untroubled by cravings during the week. My trigger times are weekends, which probably explains why I had a rough time emotionally on Saturday. Little (big) things set me off that normally don’t. I don’t have my crutch of sugary, numbing foods anymore. It is no coincidence that I breezed through the holiday season and abused sugar throughout. Now it is is time to find healthier ways of coping with stress.

I took my first meditation class yesterday. Actually, it was a combo yoga/meditation class, and best of all it was included in our Y membership. The instructor seemed peaceful and centered. As we say in recovery, I want what she has.

She started with about 10 minutes of instruction, which focused on the throat chakra. I’d heard the word chakra before, but if someone had asked me what it meant, I might have guessed something you eat or wear on your feet. How fitting then that I started class the day she talked about the importance of opening up your throat chakra not only to say what’s in your heart, but to communicate it in a way that is loving and respectful. I waiver between stifling and stuffing down what I really feel and letting it spew out in scalding sheets. I am ready to work on this.

The good news is the lack of sugar hasn’t triggered any cravings for drink. I was worried about this before I started, but if anything I feel more reminded of how deep and ugly that need for alcohol was at the end of my drinking days. This unleashing of old, painful memories reminds me of where I was around the 6-month mark in sobriety, when I started feeling feelings again and they just kept coming at me. I remember it as a scary, trying time, but one I got through. This time around, the challenge of what to do with uncomfortable feelings is more familiar. I know I will get through it and I also know a little better what helps and what doesn’t. I guess this is the whole point.

Day 7 and dreams of people-pandas (but still no cake)

Friday night I even resisted cake in a dream. Then I dreamt I walked to the grocery store to buy food I could eat, only to look down and notice I wasn’t wearing any shoes and couldn’t go inside.

Last night I went so far as to dream I was pregnant and having a baby shower because even my subconscious knows baby showers serve cake. The last thing I remember before waking were people dressed in panda costumes pretending to be real pandas, and no food of any kind had been served.

In case it isn’t obvious, I am struggling with this no-sugar 30. All day yesterday I caught myself thinking “why am I doing this?” That’s a copout, I know, but I feel decidedly more hopeless about a long-term goal than I did on day 3. That’s probably the drop in glucose.

AnswersWillCome wrote a great post about this yesterday. She’s doing the Whole30, which is like my sugar-free fling on steroids. She experienced the same restless why? on Day 6 and then realized something I had not yet. Diets of any kind, while cruel, force us to eat more mindfully. This is a chance for me to observe and learn why I binge in the first place.

Part of my frustration right now comes from the fact that the scale hasn’t budged since I started skipping sugar. Weight is the elephant in the room because although I never mentioned it before, one of the main reasons I wanted to do the sugar-free 30 was to drop the 5 pounds I picked up over the holidays. I envisioned cutting out sugar and immediately watching my newly energized body get back to where it was before, and then some. I think I need to settle the fuck down and be patient, but it’s hard to do this without cupcakes, apparently.

Thank you to all who checked in via comments. I listened to those who recommended good fats to cure cravings and picked up avocado and almond butter, among other goodies. I also picked up almond milk, but I don’t think I’d call that a goodie.

Happy Monday to all and here’s to hoping week 2 is dreamier.

Day 3 (of what might be a long year)

2012 was very good to me. Scratch that…it was great. I’ve had a harder time in recent odd numbered years, so I’m trying not to be superstitious, even though this year ends in 13.

Happy to report I’m doing well on Day 3 of the Sugar-Free 30 so far. I can’t really call it sugar-free, though, since I’m still eating about 4 servings of fresh fruit a day. This is a lot for some, but I’m keeping it for now because it’s keeping me going. This is markedly different from south beach phase 1, which is the only other strict diet I tried and which does not allow any fruit. I felt sugar withdrawal acutely and frankly it sucked and didn’t cure my sugar cravings in the long term anyway.

Speaking of, a commenter on my last post said she had been through several of these 30 day quits and was quick to point out that it doesn’t mean they don’t work. She said they’ve taught her how to unhinge (great word) from addictive foods like sugar more easily…that the cravings will always be there to some degree, but it sounds like she is in a better place to resist and make better choices because her experience was pleasant. The only reason we’d probably be moved to make permanent change is if the rewards from the new behavior outweighed the old. It stands to reason this will be a slow, gradual process, but staying on track is the only way to really get there.

I find it a huge relief to think of January as a step towards permanent change. It’s not about kicking the sugar demon to the curb because he’s just gonna saunter back when he gets bored.  Instead it’s about eliminating the worst offenders for a month and paying attention to how my body feels on natural sugars, and perhaps adjusting that where needed. Hopefully this will reinforce what I already know: too much sugar is not only bad for me but also unnecessary.

Another commenter shared this helpful quote by Jason Vale:

“I’ve been on so many diets,” says Vale, “and I would immediately start to feel deprived. Think about that. If I weren’t on a diet I could have gone sometimes to two o’clock in the afternoon without thinking about food or even consuming any food. I never thought about it. But the very second I told my brain that I was on a diet, I went into the mode of can’t. What I mean by can’t is this: CANT, constant and never-ending tantrum. That’s all it is, a tantrum. And it’s constant and never-ending.

“Now if you go from ‘I want that but I can’t have it’ to ‘I can have it but I don’t want it,’ there’s a major paradigm shift.”

At Day 3 of low-sugar, I find CAN’T more helpful than frustrating. When I reach into the pantry before dinner, a bit beaten down and hungry, my eyes snag on forbidden treats and my brain says CAN’T. The same happens an hour later when I clear dishes with a little dessert remaining. CAN’T. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. 

The tough decisions have been taken off the table for the month and this feels an incredible relief.

At some point, CAN’T turns into deprivation and an inevitable tantrum-based revolt, so I very much hope to get to this place of knowing I can have it, but not wanting it. In the last year, I’ve experienced this over the odd processed food, so I know I have it in me to develop more. It’s a lot like alcohol. I know I can have it, but I seriously don’t want it. The reward is cheap and short-lived and comes with snowballing side effects I can’t afford. Sugar is like alcohol’s Cousin Oliver if he had been evil and not just clumsy. Or something. Remember that I’m sugar deprived.

Seriously, though, I feel pretty okay. No headaches, some crabbiness and irritability, but so hard to say what is from lack of sugar and what is from having to go back to the grind in the middle of the week after a holiday. So far the major change in my diet is no cookies/candy/sweets of any kind. No sweetener in my coffee and I even tried it black this morning and think I like that best. No processed foods with more than 10g sugar per serving.  Next week I will incorporate more lean protein and healthy fats. I’m still drooling over one commenter’s suggestions for treats she finds particularly satisfying:

A slice of chicken breast with mayo. A sliced half of an avocado on salad with a nice low-carb dressing. Almonds. I made sure to have high-protein, low-carb and good fat snacks and I made sure to never let myself get hungry. Even a hard-boiled egg works, too. A deviled egg is even better, lol.

Could a chicken breast with mayo possibly sound better than standing in my kitchen, surreptitiously shoveling seven cookies in my mouth? Actually, it does. So far, so good.

Thank you to everyone who commented so far and please sound in with how you’re doing if you’re embarking on any 30-day quits (sugar, booze, annoying relatives) this month.

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