Addiction Recovery Story #23, Snowdrop: Beauty & Strength in a Baby Bulb
I’m popping up again, reporting from the green couch (eight-pound white puff dog, Sug, snoozing by my side now) to write in real time about my efforts to recover from compulsive overeating/sugar addiction. I pledged on January 31, 2121 to record what came up when I put down the food. It is March 15. Miss Sugar Addiction really and truly digs in her sharp designer heels and does not step off easily.
The dolly-sized snowdrop, a perennial, has a single small, drooping bell-shaped flower with petals.
Known by various names, in 1753, it was labeled Galanthus (from Ancient Greek gála, “milk”+ ánthos, “flower”).
New species continue to be discovered.
Most flower in winter, before the vernal equinox (March 20/21 in the Northern Hemisphere), but some flower in early spring and late autumn.*
So I am a Snowdrop, a late-blooming one.
Some people join a 12-step group and arrive at/walk in abstinence quickly. Some do not fall back into that painful, erratic, poisonous place. I marvel at them.
I have been consistently attending weekly 12-step meetings, sitting on folding chairs in church rooms, since Figgy was in high school (about 2012).
It is nine years later.
It is okay.
I have had stretches of clarity and recovery but never fully left Miss Sugar Addiction. In her guileful, deceitful way, she managed to keep her stance on my back, in those fashionable heels. I see that clearly now.
I wobbled, she held fast.
For months now, this time around, I’ve skirted bakeries and cookie aisles, ice cream parlors and candy shops (except sometimes “just to look,” or to buy a cup of coffee, or a single treat for Skipper, Figgy’s teenage sister).
I stopped baking desserts (unless baked apples count) and focus on using the oven and my stylish bakeware, such as the Emile Henry Modern Classics Ruffled Pie Dish — in color Sugar — for dinner foods, including chicken potpie, spanakopita and panfuls of roast veggies.
Last week, I peeled the waxy purple-tinged skin of spring turnips, then mashed them with a bit of butter and cream, fancy salt, freshly ground black pepper. Sweet and soothing, like nursery food.
Yet for months in the fall, I persisted in buying the finest 100 percent cacao craft chocolate, 3-ounce bars carefully wrapped in silver foil inside beautiful, pink floral boxes, shipped to my doorstep from the coast of California. It was a splurge, but unsweetened. I allowed myself a square or two daily and hid the cache in a high cabinet, so others would not eat it.
I couldn’t bear the thought of needing it and finding it gone.
That (mostly) worked for a while, but then, when life got rough, tough, stressful or rocky—unmanageable —or I felt angry, panicked, disappointed, rejected, unloved, lost, powerless, worried, resentful or like a failure, I helped myself to an extra square or two, sometimes dipped into a jar of crunchy peanut butter.
And then in autumn, Miss Sugar wriggled her way in again, sharpening her four-inch heels. With her coaching, her voice in my mind so meltingly smooth, yet tinged with excitement and danger, I edged back into fine dark bars that were 88 percent cacao — just 12 percent off fully pure, still very low sugar. I got them at the supermarket, along with baby spinach and roasted chicken.
But soon, the day came when Mast Coffee Chocolate caught my eye one evening at Whole Foods, near the cheese section. I caved. I ate that 2.5-ounce bar a half at a time, over two days.
I am nothing if not honest. When I told my support angel in recovery, she said I better stop with the daily chocolate, even if it was pure cacao. That for me, chocolate of any kind in the house was calling out to be eaten.
I went into mourning for a few days. I was sad, and mad. What was the point of life without any chocolate pleasure?
I have not brought bars in since.
Yesterday, Dan returned from ShopRite like a hunter with his haul. I noticed two sweet treats: a jar of fig jam and raisins, in that bright red box. He needs raisins for his annual Saint Patrick’s Day Irish Soda Bread, baked by the recipe he asked my grandmother, Alice, to dictate years ago.
But here is what it means to be a sugar addict.
It means that the fig jam and the raisins called to me. It means that when I couldn’t drift peacefully to sleep, I came downstairs and ate, alone. First a couple of slices of ham and light Swiss, then peanut butter, then, in a frenzy, almost all of the fig jam spooned from the jar and many grabs of sticky raisins.
Fifteen hours later, I am glad to see this clearly, and report on it here. I didn’t merely observe myself as with a lens above the kitchen table, dropping raisins on the floor as I stuffed them in my mouth, but I am lucid enough today to face this overeating incident/binge, remember it and crisply record it, so that maybe I can finally wrestle Miss Sugar off my back and stay sane one day at a time.
When Dan and I were dating, I spent a night at his Brooklyn studio apartment while he was out of town. He left me the keys, and also a note on the table and a new, narrow box of dried figs.
Dan has been an insulin-dependent diabetic since age 18, and generally taken very good care of his health.
The figs were a treat, a gift, from my boyfriend.
That night, alone in his apartment, I poured myself a glass of cold skim milk from his bachelor’s quart and had some figs. They tasted good. They tasted sweet. They hit the spot. I was touched that Dan was so thoughtful.
But back then, I could stop at a few.
Now, it is harder — returning again to my therapist’s point that for most/many of us, the farther we travel on addiction’s road, the more of our substance we need to get a satisfactory hit.
I hope and pray I can continue on this journey and part ways with sugar addiction and compulsive overeating.
I pray that I can pause rather than proceed in these crazy eating moments.
I pray I can turn my back once and for all, stand up straight, slam down the receiver, shut down Miss Sugar, with her sexy heels and maple-syrup voice, and say hello to a healthier me. I want to be like the Snowdrop — the ground may be rough, not sown and smooth, but I patiently hold my promise inside, waiting to emerge and to bring the beauty. (BTW, I just saw a winter-white Snowdrop in our back garden today.)
Lightbulb lesson today: Being honest and accountable for actions helps. It’s good to write the stories here. But next time (since you didn’t try the iPhone meditation app), text your angel in recovery support before heading to the kitchen at night. And: Stop thinking of food as exciting. Other things in life are sweet and exciting, too.
*Snowdrop details from Wikipedia.
I published my first story about sugar addiction/recovery, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#24, Gladiola.” 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 lives in Montclair, New Jersey. She worked 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.