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. ย 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.

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25 thoughts on “Day 25 and a 35 year old cupcake

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  1. I am wondering why, as someone who craves salt and not sugar, I suddenly want to run to my kitchen and grab some cookies? This is an inspired post, and I am in awe of the clarity with which you are remembering these old memories. I wonder if I give up salt will the same thing happen to me? Something to think about. Congratulations on this accomplishment, you are doing amazing!

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  2. Fruit Stripes gum is literally the sugary equivalent of heroin. That first piece is like kissing the face of Jesus — and then the flavor is suddenly gone, and no matter how many pieces you have, you cannot re-obtain the magic high of the first piece.

    When I was kid, every Christmas my grandmother would give both me and my sister each a shoebox filled with full sized candy bars. We’d get like 20-30 candy bars EACH. There were no rules about the candy. It was mine and I could eat it exactly as I pleased. I’d have like 3 for breakfast, 1 or 2 after school, 1 for dessert. The candy would usually be gone within the week. I grew up in a house always fully stocked with snack cakes, ice cream, pastries, candy etc — and again, there were no rules. I always had to access to having whatever I wanted. The wife grew up in the exact opposite type of environment. I love watching the differences in our families even now. When we have dinner with her parents, there’s is always a lot of guilt-tripping and commenting before a dessert gets put on the table. Meanwhile, my parents will have like three different desserts on the table. I see both as a kind of sickness — the overindulgence on one side and the strict shaming on the other.

    I still live on the overindulgence side of things. The 3 days before January started, I had cake for breakfast each day (and a buffet of other treats throughout the days. I still keep our pantry stocked with lots of snacks.) The 30 days challenge has been the first time I’ve ever restricted myself. Clearly the answer is moderation — that boring place in the middle — my 30 days insight has been that I’ve found a surprising peace in abstaining. Interestingly, the wife has been planning and talking about the “big sugar celebration” she wants to have in February by getting some gigantic muffin at a great bakery — whereas I’m thinking maybe I want to keep this thing going a bit longer.

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    1. I am where you are, leaning towards keeping this going another month, at least. With some minor adjustments.

      I grew up in a house where we had regular access to sweets, but only at specific times and strict portion control all around. It was like this love-hate relationship with indulgence and, gee, where do I get that from.

      A box full of full-sized candy bars? Your grandmother may have been Santa.

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  3. Wow. Stuff from early childhood is really weird. I think because we are so young, we don’t feel the feelings of things quite as big because we simply can’t comprehend. Like the day my dad announced he was moving out, I remember just being like, “Ok,” and going back to playing. I didn’t feel sad or much of anything at all. It was just something that was happening. Who knows? But today I can look back on the situation and that little girl and acknowledge that the situation was deeply fucked up and very sad. I can feel it from where I stand today and put him on my 4th step and blah blah blah. She was your mom and you have the right to grieve her from any place that you are able to.

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  4. “the first piece is like kissing the face of jesus – and then the flavor is suddenly gone”…
    omg, I laughed so hard at that, and it was exactly (tho not in those perfect words) the same memory I had when I read about it in the blog! I used to get that gum in huge packs, chew 2 minutes..new piece, and on and on.

    I’m with you here too….
    I don’t have cravings and feel like this might be the answer to some health problems I have.
    But I am having some extra feelings, and, at least this alkie, does not enjoy that at all.

    Loved your last line….did you figure it out?

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  5. How do you feel about the game of baseball today? I figure you still enjoy cupcakes and the occasional stick of gum but I wonder if the bat in the eye thing turned you off to America’s pastime. Which makes me think of my early affairs with alcohol and the part overall experiences played in the collective voyage to nowhere. As far as baseball goes, I had some early age negative ball and bat run ins but thanks to beer I began to attend or watch baseball games, or any sporting event (let’s face it, any type of event, anything or anywhere at all), as long as alcohol was involved. You know you’ve got a drinking problem when ALL the beer vendors in a 50,000 seat stadium know you by name. My wife figures half of those folks had to look for new jobs when I quite drinking. Anyhow, it turns out we still enjoy going to games even without the booze. The minor league hockey season has gone well with coffee and tonic water and we have our first baseball experience tomorrow with a meet and greet involving some players and coaches followed by my personal former drunken favorite, the Auto Show. I think my wife is a little nervous about the agenda but it should be an interesting day and I’m ready. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires.

    Looks like you’ll make your non sugar goal. You’ve done extremely well with that difficult item. Congratulations! Wonder what you have up your sleeve next? How about the rest of you? I figure whatever choice you all make will make good sense. Keep smiling. Hope everyone has a great weekend.

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    1. Baseball got a free pass because my grandfather had season tickets behind home dugout and even a little girl could appreciate the sight of Earl Weaver (RIP) kicking dust in an umpire’s face.

      Isn’t tonic water great? I had to switch to decaf coffee in the afternoons/evenings, but after awhile stopped missing what I was replacing.

      I’m glad you’re getting out there and kicking tires. Your attitude is inspiring.

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      1. Weaver, that banty rooster. And Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken. Wow, those guys helped build the game. Must have been a helluva thing to sit behind the dugout. Would love to hear about some of those games and your Granddad.sometime.

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      2. I have a sad story about Eddie Murray ignoring me when I asked him to sign my hat, but I’m a terrible storyteller because that’s the story.

        I was a very lucky kid ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Great post! I’m curious: what are you not eating? Any and all…sweets? Does this include “sugars” like breads, fruits/juices? I NEVER used to be a sweets person, but now, I crave chocolate and soda to an irritating degree. I wish I could lick it, and am thinking of simply going “carb”-free for a while, like, no sweets, no soda, no chocolate, as well as no bread or fruits.

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    1. Basically a no dessert plan. Rules are 1) no added sugar, sweeteners (incl artificial) and 2) nothing over 10g sugar per serving in processed foods (which rules out juice and dried fruit). Try to stick to whole grains but didn’t make it a rule. I definitely eat (and adore) fresh fruit. For me personally, a low/no carb diet feels too restrictive.

      Good luck with whatever you decide!

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  7. Powerful, powerful work here. As one doing therapy yet again (and thinking in just these same kinds of terms), I recognize this stuff you wrote is priceless. I loved reading it, and it made me think about my own journey with sugar (a more powerful and addictive substance than most people realize).

    Brilliant stuff, BBB.
    xx
    Celeste

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  8. Wow. This one really got to me. I never really looked back on my extreme cookie-eating as a child as self-medicating. But you are really onto something.

    When I was a kid, my mother kept giant bags of thin mints in a drawer in the kitchen. They were reject batches of girl scout cookies from the Burry Cookie Factory. They came in big bags. I would go Hannibal Lector on them when I came home from school. School was a very stressful place for me: too much sitting quietly in class, being made to pay attention, never able to relax.

    If my parents were drinkers, I probably would have raided the liquor cabinet!

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  9. So interesting how those memories are coming up with sugar abstinence. Some of my earliest and most powerful memories are of maple sugar trees and people we got in our Christmas stockings. It’s powerful stuff. Loved your post.

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  10. Yes, it’s amazing how – after we stop drinking – we suddenly have feelings. We aren’t numb anymore, and that is scary as all hell.

    I can imagine that sugar addiction and the chemical reactions in one’s body after eating sugar can also have a ‘numbing’ effect. If we can’t deal with something, we just dull it, take the edge off, swallow it, stuff it down, self-medicate.

    Great post… amazingly thought-provoking.

    Michelle

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  11. Great post! It’s amazing what kind of stuff comes up when it comes to sugar. Some people may think it silly about how we self-medicate with sugar (“oh, what’s a few M&M’s anyway??”), but it can get as tiresome and problematic as alcohol was…except for the obvious inebriation thing. I am now 6 weeks without sugar – no sugar, sweeteners, honey, agave, maple syrup, corn syrup, etc. Not even ketchup! But I try to keep it under 5 mg per serving. Other than the obvious health benefits (greater energy, weight loss), I found that it caused me to look at myself in times when I wanted to self-medicate. My wife is away for a week, and last night was the first night alone (the kids were at a sleepover), In the past, it would have been a booze-soaked event. Last night, a part of me craved chocolate bars. It was like there was something there still poking it’s head out, wanting to blot myself out of me. I didn’t indulge, but I remember those kind of impulses.

    So having one less thing for me to “reach” for, it’s another layer of stripping down. And I was doing the same thing you did – look back and wonder if I self-medicated when I was younger, when all we (thought) we wanted was just a little something sweet! But keep at it – the longer I am at it, the more I have to face things about myself, the uncomfortable bits, the moments where I want to bolt out of myself. But man, are they important moments to reflect!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts…wonderful.

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