Addiction Recovery Story #20, Beach Rose/Salt-Spray Rose: Slip-sliding, Clinging to the Dunes

I slipped with the food at 12:30 a.m., stumbling down the old pine stairs to the kitchen, flicking on the light, opening the fridge. I couldn’t peacefully rest my head — and mind. Writing this should help me. It is #20 in the series about sugar and overeating addiction started January 31.

Chatham Lighthouse Beach, Monday, August 10, 2020, 7:02 p.m. and Wellfleet, Friday, August 7, 2020, 1:15 p.m.
Exposed roots and seaside plants on the dunes in Eastham, Cape Cod National Seashore, Saturday, August 1, 2020 at 7:16 p.m. Photos by Alice Garbarini Hurley.

I’d like to keep this short, from my perch on this green sleeper sofa (folded up in sofa, not sleeper, position).

I should finish an essay I’ve been assigned to write — and get paid for — about me and my Sis. It can be hard to earn significant money here on Medium; you might spend five hours writing and score 58 cents. (I did finally craft and submit the young oyster farmer story pitch to a magazine; waiting to hear back.)

Writing about my addiction recovery calls to me. It calls to me because I try to report it in real time. I want to provide an honest-to-God account of moving through, progressing. Making my way. Finding my true heart and my true self again — I trust others will relate to a recovery journey, too.

According to a 2014 New York Times piece on addiction, One study has shown that if given the choice, rats will choose sugar over cocaine in lab settings because the reward is greater; the “high’’ is more pleasurable.

It pains me to post the Cape Cod photos (above) from last summer. Taken nearly seven months ago, they capture moments in time, split seconds in rugged, salt-swept nature.

My family was there, just not in these camera clicks.

However — and how can I put this, without breaching the privacy code? —so much of that last vacation on the Cape was so bad, so sad, that as we drove home on Route 6 West in our Toyota Camry crammed with beach towels, laundry, bedding and sunscreen, I thought we could never return there in the same nuclear formation again. I thought the sandy spot in the sea that I had loved since age 4 would be forever marred in my mind’s eye.

That remains to be seen. And: My sugar consumption was erratic and out of control on that trip, try as I might have. When life, and communicating, and compromising, and taking care of and standing up for myself — drawing lines in the sand — got hard, I reached for treats on hand for a child. I was like a coke addict in a room with cocaine or, as my angel in our recovery program says, an alcoholic working in a bar.

But once again, won’t go into details here. Dan and I are in the demanding, dedicated, delicate — and honorable — position of being legal guardians. That is the coat, the cloak, the bulky fisherman sweater we wear with the younger girl in our midst.

Can you hear my Spotify playlist? “Ali Favorites,” started 4.1.17, now contains 515 songs — I added many at first to help Skippy, then 10, rise for school, and to soften her return landing to our home.

They include “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” “Lean on Me,” “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Carolina on My Mind.” (Skip had traveled to North Carolina beaches with her young grandparents, Mimi and Poppy.)

If I am a rose (my middle name, handpicked by my parents, is Rose — after my grandmother, an Italian immigrant), then I am the Beach Rose, the Salt-Spray Rose. Because if I can still produce tightly wrapped rosebuds, gifts for the world — and quite honestly, I sometimes doubt I can — then I must flower in the face of adversity.

Also known by its scientific name, Rosa rugosa, the Beach Rose clings to sandy soil, even crumbling dunes. The species was introduced to America from Japan in the mid-19th century and valued because it can tolerate saltwater spray.*

It is a hot pink present; bury your nose in it and breathe in the gentle seaside perfume.

It spills over split-rail fences on Aquinnah Road (the name means “land under the hill” in Wampanoag). That’s the stretch of smooth blacktop in Eastham where I first rode my ten-speed bike with no hands.

It bursts forth near Nauset Light Beach.

I have loved these Cape Cod roses ever since first noticing them in person and on postcards on the spinning rack in the General Store, right off the Cape Cod Rail Trail bike path — the shop is shoulder to shoulder with the North Eastham Post Office.

Seeing the Beach Rose by the dunes reminds me how far we have come from our New Jersey home. The highways we followed, the curves we hugged, the bridges we drove, the miles we marked — the time it took (six hours plus) to leave everyday life, with daily mail and newspaper delivery, in our rearview mirror.

Now “Backwards Down the Number Line” is playing on my song list. I’m crying. That’s the happy song Skippy’s friend O’s Dad played when we took the ferry out to their Fire Island home for O’s ninth birthday. We pedaled bikes in the sun, went to the beach, had icing-rose-covered cake on the deck and seafood in a restaurant by the ticket office.

Happy happy oh my friend
Blow out candles once again
Leave the presents all inside
Take my hand and let’s take a ride

Backwards down the number line
You were eight and I was nine
Do you know what happened then
Do you know why we’re still friends

Laughing all these many years
We’ve pushed through hardships tasted tears
We made a promise one to keep
I can still recite it in my sleep

Every time a birthday comes
Call your friend and sing a song
Or whisper it in to his ears
Or write it down just don’t miss a year

You decide what it contains
How long it goes
But this remains
The only rule is it begins
Happy happy oh my friend

You decide what it contains
How long it goes
But this remains
The only rule is it begins

— “Backwards Down the Number Line,” Phish, 2009

For now, Skippy is spending remote school weeks — and weekends — at her Mimi’s, because the dunes are shifting dangerously, and Montclair schools are still fully remote anyway.

Skip will turn 14 this month. I pulled out the stops on her previous birthdays — making lofty Baked Alaska with a fudge brownie bottom, her request; Dan renting a minvan to drive a group of girls to Serendipity in New York City; a sleepover in our living room; an afternoon party at the horse barn where she took lessons.

I don’t know what to say.

Massachusetts “Beach Roses” photo by Tricia Marchlik. Link from (I want to get some of her prints on greeting cards.)

So yes, I am a Beach Rose plant.

Waves crash, saltwater is whipped into a froth. I stay rooted.

The forceful waters tumble shells and stones, even sizable ones. I still stand in grace.

Winds howl and tear at the fragile dunes. I hold my place in shifting sand as long as I can, until the ground is pulled out from under me.

Lightning, thunder, sleet, snow, hail — I hang tight, to blossom next summer.

Like all roses, my center is surrounded by petals, and protection. We are not easy to just pluck off. My rose is flatter, more open, more trusting than celebrated long-stem versions, but I still catch the eye like those regal beauties, especially with my pop of color against an endless blue sea.

And if I, Alice Rose, bend in the harsh elements like a Beach Rose might— losing my resolve, reaching for roasted peanuts in their shells, a slice of soft, snow-white Vermont goat cheese, baked crackers, some General Tso’s tofu and a small, spongy dessert shell that Dan bought for berries and cream — so be it. I carry on.

That was bad weather shaking my branches after midnight, stealing some petals. That was despair, hurt, anxiety, fear. Sadness, and owning my truth. It’s not always easy to stand strong and tall and do that.

But I am still here, I am still a rose with the promise of unfolding beauty and I can still look toward the sun.

I pray Skip is a Beach Rose, too.

*Source: Wikipedia.

I published my first story about sugar addiction, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#21, Queen of Night Tulip.” I’m giving the stories flower names, from the tiniest bright yellow bloom I saw as a girl on a summer night in Bedford Park to big, wide-open garden varieties, which I hope will signify my journey to self-knowledge on this sweet and sour road.

Alice Garbarini Hurley has been writing since sixth grade and lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her family. She worked on staff at Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents magazines, and freelanced as a fact checker at Cigar Aficionado. She has blogged daily at her website, Truth and Beauty, since 2010. Alice is in a recovery program.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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