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.